Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Small Business Saturday

First came Black Friday, then Cyber Monday, and now, on Nov. 27, comes Small Business Saturday.

It's a national movement launched by American Express, the 3/50 Project and more than a dozen partners to drive demand for goods and services sold by small, independently owned brick-and-mortar businesses.

Cinda Baxter, retail expert and founder of The 3/50 Project, says that it is not always cheaper to shop at the big box retailers. Money spent on local merchants stays local, she says, and you get the added bonus of connecting with your neighbors and community.

You know I don't need any persuading! I'll see ya on Main Street on Saturday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Explain Away

I've mentioned it here before, but it's worth repeating: If you're not listening to Planet Money, you're missing out.

The reporters translate complex macroeconomic concepts into meaningful and even entertaining broadcasts or podcasts a couple of times a week. I got at least a basic understanding of dense concepts like toxic assets and the health insurance market from this great team of journalists. And last week, they explained why gold is indeed our most "precious metal."

My friend, medical writer Jane Rollins, recently recommended this video that I also found excellent. It's part of a thesis project from a student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Thanks, Jane!

Strap On Those Boots

Are you bootstrapping a start up company - or thinking about it?

If so, you may want to check out this experiment in transparent bootstrapping by a couple entrepreneurs named Jared and Adam.

They read a column I wrote about bootstrapping and contacted me:

We're in the process of bootstrapping a company and we decided that we want to make our experiences as visible and tangible as possible so as to potentially help future bootstrappers.

They promise to be honest and upfront about their business efforts, including "exposing our internal workings more than most companies would be comfortable doing." Sounds interesting.

My initial feedback, which I'll send them directly, is that the blog is tough to read on my monitor. The type is small and the white/red on black makes it worse.

Do you have any advice for them, or thoughts about their experiment?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Status Symbol

The other day, my son informed me that success is demonstrated with three status symbols: A good job, a fine watch and a nice car.

That conversation came to mind this week while I was waiting in the valet queue at The City Club at Bunker Hill.

Suit after suit accelerated smoothly away from the scrum: Here a Lexus, there a BMW, then again a Mercedes. And then up rattled The Big Orange, noisy tailpipe vibrating away against after-market trailer hitch, hood full of scratches from its long use as an extension of our garage laundry area.

The Big Orange is the affectionate moniker we gave our (you guessed it) bright orange, manual-transmission, two-wheel-drive Isuzu Rodeo when we motored off the used car lot in Chino 11 years ago. The salesman was clearly thrilled that someone - anyone - was interested in this odd duck. He named a ridiculously low price, we paid cash and climbed in. Best vehicle negotiation ever.

More than 100,000 miles later, the old girl has been a jaunty companion, taking us to the Grand Canyon, the Bay Area and over dirt roads south of the border. We've crammed the back with dorm furnishings and loaded the roof with camping gear.

Put down her middle seats and The Big Orange can bring home any kind of cargo. Her brilliance makes it impossible to lose her in a parking lot, no matter how crowded. We've maintained her well and in return, she's never refused to get us where we need to go.

I held my head high as the curious crowd watched me claim my wheels. Nope, I'm not a big banker or a wealthy investor. I also didn't get bailed out or rip anybody off lately.

The Big Orange and I drove away and left the other cars cooling their heels. Someday, probably sooner rather than later, I'll need to buy a new car. But I'll never find one as loyal, or as beautiful, as my status symbol.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Future of Marketing

I have a lot of friends and colleagues who are marketing gurus and might like to spend an hour at a virtual marketing conference next week.

The Future of Marketing features 60 leading thinkers sharing key insights in 60 seconds each. The event is free and you certainly won't get bored with the speakers shuffling through that quickly.

If you decide to attend or get the transcript tomorrow, Tuesday Nov. 16, let me know what you think.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Put Down That iPad

A few people I know freely admit that they are "addicted" to technology. They get cravings and, eventually, the shakes when they are away from the computer or smart phone for more than a few hours.

I used to share the malady. But I've been able to temper my addiction in recent years. I don't always do it, but I can log off at the end of the work day now and not feel compelled to check email or Facebook until the next morning. (I'm sure that not having a smart phone helps in this regard.) When I took a week-long cruise last summer, I had no trouble ignoring the siren call of the on-board Internet lounge.

But what if you need help prying yourself away from the pretty screen? Check out Offlining, a movement to "highlight America's ever-growing addiction to technology."

The offlining movement was founded earlier this year by a couple of advertising and PR guys. The idea is to get people to log off at certain times, especially family dinners or gatherings. Their next big push is No-Device Thanksgiving. Presumably, people who join the movement will abandon their BlackBerries and iPads in favor of the traditional knives and forks on Turkey Day.

Of course the irony here is that the movement is taking place - where else? - online. I got a press release touting the founders' facility with Twitter and their growing number of fans on Facebook.

That seems a tad ironic. But I see their dilemma. You can't reach addicts unless you're willing to hang out in crack houses.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Best. Truly. Yours.

I had an editor years ago who was - to put it mildly - difficult.

Generally, I'm ridiculously easy to work with and rarely object when an editor makes word changes or cuts to my stories. But when this woman edited my work, I knew that a tussle would ensue. Let's just say that she didn't want the facts to get in the way of a good story. Her versions of my work often read more like creative writing. It was my job to reel her in and try to preserve the truth.

Anyway, you'd hardly expect me to emulate this person - right? But I did adopt one of her habits: She signed all her email with "Best." This was back when email signature files were just becoming ubiquitous and I was wrestling with how to sign off on correspondence.

Sincerely? Fondly? Good luck? Another editor used "Cheers," which is perky and rather British, but not always appropriate for my purposes. I know a business writer who made "Success!" both her catchphrase and her sign-off.

After some thought I followed the "Best" trend, figuring it is contemporary, professional and cordial, if a tad dull. Then the other day, I got an email signed simply "XOXO," which took me back a bit, considering I don't even know the signee.

Here's a fun discussion of email signatures and what they say about you and your business.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

From The Archives

Certain columns of mine have taken on a life of their own. They may have been posted or printed years ago, but they turn up again and again online.

I'm glad that people find these columns evergreen, and believe that their information and advice stays relevant and useful over time.

Here's one oldie but goodie that I refer to in conversation all the time because it came out of a unique idea. I was really happy to see it reposted by a small business website just this week.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What's The Word?

When I ask business owners to tell me what their company does, in a nutshell, they often stumble, hem, haw or guffaw.

Eventually, most read off or stumble through a recitation of a formal "mission statement" that they've cooked up with their marketing team. Since it's typically a string of oddly related, formal words incomprehensible to the average reader, I usually have to boil down what they do by myself.

It's amazing to me how few CEOs can succinctly and spontaneously say what it is their business actually does.

That's why I like this one-word mission statement, proposed by a long-time Internet marketing source, Todd Miechiels.

It got me thinking about what one word would best encapsulate what I do writing about and for entrepreneurs. Explain? Encourage? Nurture? Advocate? I'll have to think about it.

What one word best describes your company or personal mission in life?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sad Reality

I've been incredibly fortunate to see my way through this horrid recession and most of my friends and loved ones (though not all) have similarly been able to stay afloat.

But not everyone has been so lucky, by any means. This week, I answer a question from a former small business owner who not only lost his bagel shop in Claremont (the long-time local favorite Tasty Bagel) but also pretty much his whole life in the past couple of years.

Interviewing people like this really bring home a few things: The tragedy of our economic downturn; the crushing damage that a sliver of greedy, short-sighted individuals unleashed on "the least of these" in society and how fortunate those of us who've escaped ruin really are.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ice Creamery Says Thanks

One California small business shows how big an impact access to credit - made possible by the 90% loan guarantee in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the ARRA or stimulus bill) - can make.