Friday, December 30, 2011

Sell to China

Now's the time for service providers and small companies to look into doing business with China, according to long-time export consultant James Chan.

There's both great opportunity and great risk, but nearly unlimited potential, Chan says in my column today. I'll be discussing it on the Bloomberg Small Business radio report next Tuesday.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


I'd given up years ago on New Year's Resolutions. I could never think of any inspiring goals, and that made me feel guilty. When I decided to give up guilt a (blessed) decade ago, I also gave up resolutions.

But this year, a couple of 'em popped into my head spontaneously. One is to put what little extra cash I have each month into a trip fund, so I can take a real vacation every year (or maybe every other) and finally get cracking on my lifelong ambition to be a well-traveled individual. The other is to research an ancestor whom I've always been curious about and determine whether there's enough material in his life story for a novel or non-fiction book.

I really like both resolutions, so I'm going to actually put them on my "task list" and try to follow through.

Well, service strategist John Tschohl, founder of The Service Quality Institute and author of seven books, recommends that small businesses make 2012 resolutions as well. Here's a look at his top five:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fathers and Daughters

I interviewed a researcher who has written a new book on father-daughter business succession around the world.

I thought it was very interesting. Check it out and see what you think!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Top Ten 2011

This is the time of year when we get inundated with Top 10 lists for movies, TV shows, albums, you-name-it.

One that's a little different stood out. Check out this Top Ten Emotional Intelligence moments of 2011 and you'll find Justin Timberlake, Anthony Weiner and two - count 'em two! - appearances from Anderson Cooper, who's apparently become our national emoter-in-chief.

Just for fun, this list of comments on Top 10 lists cracked me up.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A True Meritocracy?

Women still participate less in the global economy, are less likely to start businesses and run established businesses and are less confident about their ability to be entrepreneurs, according to this Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study I reported on last week.

The facts, much as we dislike them, are in. The statistics speak for themselves, no matter what culture or country is studied - though there are degrees better and worse in terms of women's outlook.

But what's the cause? Let's start with the fact that in the U.S., women have not had the vote even for a century. That's right; my great-grandmother never cast a vote and my grandmother could not vote for most of her young adulthood. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So, societal factors. Gender differences. Parenting differences. It's complicated because every factor plays some role, major or minor.

Last week at a TEDx conference, long-time entrepreneur and economics professor Vivek Wadhwa detailed his findings on how women and certain racial minorities have fared in the so-called "pure meritocracy" of Silicon Valley. He also talked about the reception he got from the powers-that-be when he challenged their most cherished assumptions. Let's just say it wasn't pretty.

A fantastic talk and well worth watching.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sources of Information

Where do your potential customers get information about where they should go to shop and dine out?

The Pew Research Center asked that question and the answers they found are online in this report:

The internet is the source that people most rely on for material about the local business scene and search engines are particularly valued. Newspapers and word of mouth also rank high as sources.
I'm glad to see that newspapers - both the printed copies and newspaper websites - are still making it up near the top of the list.

Word of mouth is another important source of information. Social media, for all we hear about it, is way down near the bottom.

Takeaways? Read the report, it's interesting and you'll likely draw some conclusions that apply specifically to your 2012 marketing plan. For my part, I'd say you'd better have a strong, search-engine-optimized presence for your business online.

But that's not news anymore.

I'd also venture that while social media will continue to grow in influence, it's not as big a factor as most of us would think, given how much buzz it engenders. In an interview with one of my favorite consultants this week, he mentions how many clients want to abandon all their traditional advertising for Facebook - and how he counsels against it in many cases.

I remember, more than a decade ago, interviewing some forward-thinking techies about entertainment media They assured me that by the early '00s, we'd all be downloading movies and television to our computers directly and traditional media would be on its way out.

About two months later, the Netflix concept - sending physical DVDs by the old-fashioned postal service model - really caught on. It's only within the past year that streaming has truly become accessible to the masses.

So just keep that in mind: Whenever you hear something's hopelessly old-fashioned and "on its way out," including newspapers, figure you've got at least a decade or more before that really comes true.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Communications Blunders

Every time I talk to self-employed women and women business owners, the same stumbling blocks to success seem to crop up. 

"I get shy" about promoting myself, one amazingly talented and successful woman said recently. This is an accomplished writer who is not someone you would ever identify as "shy." But when it comes to self-promotion, it's difficult even for many confident, extroverted women to do it.

Yeah, it's difficult for some men, too. But I think they are less apt, as a group, to fall into this trap. What do you think?

Here are some additional blunders that women seem to make, as identified by Roshini Rajkumar, a communications consultant and author of, "Communicate That!"   

  • Apologizing for perceived short-falls: Stop apologizing because it makes you sound weak. Instead, come up with a suggestion.
  • Bad posture: This includes rolled shoulders and shifty feet. If you stand up straight you will appear more confident and people will take you more seriously.
  • Lack of voice projections and weak vocal behavior. Having a weak voice, including nasal or ultra-feminine tones, gives others the impression you are not capable. If you adapt a stronger voice you will have a better chance of not being second guessed.
  • Lack of pride in accomplishments: Take pride in what you’ve done, and others will see how you can be beneficial to the team as well.
  • Less is more: Be very intentional about what you say and how you say it. Don’t be too wordy.
  • Ill fitted clothing: Clothes that don’t fit is unprofessional. Get your clothes tailored to fit you perfectly -- the extra money makes a huge difference.
I don't know about bad posture, but I've certainly seen otherwise-professional women in ill-fitting or inappropriate clothing at business events. Either they're wearing baggy, shapeless outfits, they're too casual or they're in clothes that probably fit nicely - a couple of sizes ago.

Not a good look, either way.

And the apologizing, preemptively and totally unnecessarily, really is a pet peeve of mine. I just hate to see women starting off a conversation with "sorry" when it is not expected or needed.

What about you? Are there blunders that bother you, or others that you've noticed - among men or women - when it comes to communication? 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Favorite Mistake*

One of my best Smart Answers columns in recent years was a Q&A with the author of a book about business failure.

When you think about it, most business books fall into either the "inspirational" or the "how-to" categories.

The tone is relentlessly optimistic, laying out one five-point plan after another for how entrepreneurs can duplicate the success of Amazon, Google or Wal-Mart, all within a couple of years and funded by chump change.

But maybe a more useful program for success would simply involve studying failure. It turns out that few people ask why companies go under, or systematically study failure. There's just not much market - or much "ca-ching" - associated with that topic.

There is a new entry in the thin ranks of "mistake literature," however. It's "Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure," by Paul Schoemaker (Wharton Digital Press). And as part of the book launch, the publisher is holding a contest to pick the best "mistakes that jumpstarted success."

Take a look and submit a mistake. The deadline is Feb. 1, 2012.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Free Shipping Day

Online shopping is way up this year, according to retail stats.

If you plan on ordering online for your holiday gifts, think about doing it this Friday, Dec. 16. That's Free Shipping Day, an Internet phenomenon that I documented in a podcast when it started four years ago.

Basically, participating merchants offer free shipping and guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve if you order with them online Friday. More than 2,000 retailers, including many small businesses, have signed up so far.

Me? I'm making my list and taking it to my local bookstore, my local stationery store and an artisan marketplace this year. These are small businesses that I want to see survive and thrive. I figure this way, I can help them out and not have to pay shipping costs at all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Up For Debate

The dreadful hoax that passes for "debating the issues" is the main reason I swore off cable television news this year.

You know what I'm talking about: The opposing lineups of usual-suspect pundits relegated to tiny on-screen boxes on either side of the screen. The host posing some nutty question, and one "expert" after another attempting to boil a complicated policy discussion down into a 15-second sound bite.

Almost inevitably, the thing devolves and a shouting match ensues. The issues don't get anywhere near a full airing. Then, the host announces s/he has to "leave it there" and move onto another pressing agenda item, usually the celebrity scandal du jour.    

Well, the debate format has not deteriorated completely, as I learned this year when I belatedly found Intelligence Squared US, a British export that started in New York City in 2006. The format, a series of live,  Oxford-style debates, pits top thinkers on really important issues. Because there are rules and sufficient time allotted to real discussion, the debates are interesting and enjoyable.

I find the debates a tonic to the ridiculous nonsense on TV. It's especially valuable to have both leading conservatives and liberals participating. Too often, we have one side or the other preaching to their own base and there's no airing of ideas across the ideological divide.

The lineup for 2012 has just been announced. While it would be a lot of fun to attend one in person, for those of us who can't, there are a number of ways to watch them online or on PBS or hear them on NPR or on a podcast. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tax Essentials

'Tis the season to be jolly. And 'tis the season for small business owners to think about that gripping topic: Tax planning.

I wrote about some year-end tax planning tasks last month

If you're looking for additional help, check into the live web chat hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration this Thursday at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern time. Chat participants will get "valuable information on how to prepare now with useful tax savings tips and a set of red flags on mistakes to avoid." 

You can submit questions now at the SBA website and log in Thursday to watch CPA Edward S. Karl, of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, answer others' questions about tax deductions and credits business owners can use.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Babbling Fish

Another one of those weird, unintentionally hilarious auto-translations of a column popped up in my Google Alerts today.

According to Movimento degli Africani, I am the "Intelligent Answers" columnist. I suppose the wording could have been a lot worse!

Here's just a snippet:

Once tiny organization proprietors understand what the quantities mean, they are able to strategy more knowledgeably and steer clear of getting blindsided, says Hettinger. Edited excerpts of his current conversation with Intelligent Answers columnist Karen E. Klein comply with.

I wouldn't say the translation software did a very good job with the headline. It changed "Building a Business vs. Making a Living" into "Developing a Enterprise vs. Creating a Residing."

Ouch. I think I'll stick with my own editor, who does a great job writing headlines - in English.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How AdWords Works

How exactly does Google make money on its AdWords and who determines which ads go where and what they cost?

The answer is pretty complicated, as illustrated in this infographic from WordStream.

"Millions of web advertisers really don't understand this," WordStream founder Larry Kim says. Um, yeah, no wonder they don't understand it! Whew ...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Don't Blow It

Retail sales are up this holiday so far and that's a good thing for the economy.

But what's good on a macro level is not always good on a micro level. If you are someone who finds herself in serious debt come the first of the year due to holiday overspending (or seriously overweight due to holiday overeating!), here are some moderation tips from personal finance author Dani Johnson, author of "First Steps to Wealth."

Cut down on your activity level: Stop feeling obligated to attend every party. If you normally commit to 15 holiday events between work and family, cut it down and only attend half -- the most important ones. Give yourself permission to be in control and remember it is okay to say “no.”
Stop buying gifts nobody needs: Make a pact with your friends and family to give back instead. Pool a percentage of the money you were going to spend on gifts and give a “secret blessing” to somebody who is truly need. Bringing food to a family in need will cost much less than buying gifts.
Set attainable New Year's resolutions: Make sure you are aiming high but being realistic. Use the time off to organize your finances and plan for the year ahead. Knowing where you stand financially dramatically decreases stress.
Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving: I am not talking about a flat screen TV. Pay off your debt! You will feel better about yourself and set the stage for a great year ahead.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Compete to Win

Another exhibit in the ongoing discussion about women in business.

This one asks "Are women competitive enough?" and points out that women are plenty competitive - with each other! - over men, clothes, etc.

Some interesting discussion follows in the comments.

Meanwhile, here's an illuminating infographic from The Economist on women in the labor force internationally. It was brought to my attention by SwayMaker on Twitter - thanks SM!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sin or Survival?

What's the best business idea? One that appeals to our "sinful nature" or solves our worst problems?

An intriguing question from one of my readers: I answer it in this week's column.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don't Mess With Success

Today was one of those days that underscores the foolishness of trying to "time the market." A day I'm glad I didn't miss out on!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shop Local

Since today is Small Business Saturday, I hope you will do some shopping at a small business in your neighborhood, village, town or city today! 

The concept was created last year in grassroots fashion and has spread, with a number of important business sponsors this year and the U.S. Small Business Administration also on board. According to their data, small businesses have generated two out of every three net new jobs in the U.S. over the past 15 years and they employ over half of all private sector employees.

For more information on how to support Small Business Saturday in your area, check out the SBA site, the Facebook page (which had 2.6 million "likes" as of yesterday) or use #SmallBizSat on

Happy shopping!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Startup Help

Thinking about starting your own venture in 2012? Take advantage of some excellent, free business startup resources online.

The National Association for the Self-Employed has put together a small business startup kit  on its website. Topics covered include: how to think like a business owner; how to handle your tax responsibilities; choosing the proper business structure for your company; how to fund and market your business.

The Startup America Partnership, an Obama Administration initiative that has brought together some of the brightest U.S. entrepreneurs, has a dynamite website packed full of great resources and information.

And of course I would be remiss if I didn't plug our fantastic small business channel at Bloomberg If we haven't already written about your business problem or issue, email me and I'll try and address your question in an upcoming column.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ways To Help

A new study reports that 7 in 10 Americans say they will cut back on charitable donations this holiday season. 

The good news is that there are ways to give without getting hit directly in the wallet.

First, shop small and shop local. Studies show that every dollar you spend with local merchants gives back exponentially to your community.

If you're shopping online, use, a site that funnels a percentage of every purchase you make back to your favorite charity. The site also donates about a penny to your designated charity every time you do an Internet search., an affiliated program, does the same for your restaurant purchases.

Both American Express and CitiCard allow you to donate unused reward points to a charity of your choice.

If you work for a large corporation, they may have a Volunteer Time Matching program that donates funds to match the volunteer hours you put in at your local food bank or community charitable organization. I volunteer at Foothill Unity Center every year, setting up several of their big events, and I wish I had a way to get matching funds for them.

Collect old cell phones and other electronics and donate them to a group such as You can use such a donation to raise money for a community group or have cash generated from your donation go directly to a charity you designate.

For even more good ideas, check out this slide show from

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Close the Gap

"Until women are as ambitious as men, they are not going to close the achievement gap." 

Read more from this interview with Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg. I think she is finally someone who's willing to tell it like it is for women entrepreneurs and executives.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Global Entrepreneurship Week

This is Global Entrepreneurship Week and 123 countries are reportedly participating this year.

The idea, launched by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship, is to focus efforts on helping "current and aspiring entrepreneurs gain the knowledge, skills and networks necessary to grow sustainable enterprises."

This year, there are 1,400 organizations signed up to host 3,500 events in the U.S.

If you want to find out what's going on in your area, check out this list of state-wide activities.

Friday, November 11, 2011

America's Vetrepreneurs

Most Americans are grateful to our military for the sacrifices they make to protect us.  The majority of service members report that they get "thank-you's" when they're out in public and strangers buy them coffee or pick up their tabs in restaurants.

But once they leave the service and shed their uniforms, veterans are not easy to identify. Turns out while we hear a lot about disabled veterans, homeless veterans and jobless veterans, many veterans are becoming entrepreneurs. 

I write about some "vetrepreneurs" and some efforts to support them in today's Smart Answers column. Check it out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Visionary Interview

I had the chance to talk to serial entrepreneur Bob Young (of Red Hat and Lulu) for a Bloomberg Entrepreneurs profile. 

What a fascinating guy. He has a way of looking at the world - and at himself - that is both refreshing and charming, and all too rare among very successful people.

We talked about the future of print media, and he was pragmatic. "The people who started making car parts are not the same people who made carriages and buggy whips," he told me. "The people who started monetizing the auto industry are the ones who grew up immersed in it."

In other words, it's not traditional media that will succeed on the Internet. It's people who can bring innovation like my kids, who grew up online and don't know any different. It's a sobering view, but I think it makes a lot of sense.

He has great admiration for print and gave me half a dozen reasons why physical books are superior to e-books, though he said that overall electronics are far superior to print. Young believes that half the jobs in print media will disappear over the next decade or two.

He ended on this sobering thought: 'If you can't move your job in publishing from paper to electrons in the next 10  or 20 years, you have a 50 percent chance of being out of work." Check out the whole article - and Bob's trademark red socks, they're a hoot.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fighting Age Discrimination

I know more than a couple people of a certain age who are discouraged about finding new or better jobs.

"There are so many 20-somethings out there looking for work!" they exclaim, with the implication being that not only are the youngsters better-versed in technology, they're also willing to work on the cheap.

"But you bring so much experience and authority to your field," I reply, knowing deep down that some employers don't want either quality in their employees. (Makes them too difficult to boss around and exploit, I'm afraid.)

Anyway, the difficulty is out there, so I thought I would share some tips for avoiding age discrimination, from career coach and author Ford R. Myers. Take a look after the jump. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

What's Your Story?

Got a great story to tell about your business?

Put together a short video or essay and submit it to the My Startup Story Contest sponsored by Hiscox Small Business Insurance.

You could win $10,000. And even if you don't win, it's a great exercise and a way to practice your "elevator pitch." And you can check out the startup stories of some terrific entrepreneurs on the company's Facebook page.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

New Resource

You may or may not be familiar with the SBDC (Small Business Development Centers). As a long-time source, entrepreneur and author Bob Reiss says, they've "never won any marketing awards."

Nevertheless, the SBDC network has more than 1,000 U.S. offices and their sole purpose is to help entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses. Their services are free or low-cost and I have no doubt they are also underused.

Now, they have a revamped website that you should visit sometime. A link to Bob's blog is there under "inspiration."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy Holidays

A new survey of micro-retailers has found nearly half more optimistic about holiday sales this year than last. And with consumer spending up 0.6% last month, they may be right.

The poll of 1,000 retailers by, a online small business community, also showed that 75% of respondents will use social media to promote their holiday specials. Some said they feel that the message about the benefits of shopping locally are getting through to their customers.

Unfortunately, says the survey, "... retailers’ optimism for the holidays isn’t translating into jobs. An overwhelming majority (86 percent) doesn’t plan to hire additional holiday staff; half say it’s because they don’t need the help and one-third because they can’t afford it."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Planning, American Style

My story on immigrant financial planners and the clients they serve hit the Interwebs today.

Check it out. I love the headline they gave it.

What's Luck Got To Do?

Readers frequently ask me about the role of luck in starting a business. And I've always been curious about it, too.

Certainly persistence, planning, education and a positive attitude are crucial to small business success. But there are also a host of factors that can't be controlled: timing, big picture economics, competitors, trends and plain old luck.

So how big a role does good (or bad) fortune really play in success? The New York Times business section had an author who has written a book on this very topic opine on it in Sunday's paper.

He analyzed extremely successful businesses to try and isolate the role luck played and came up with a ROL (return on luck) factor that takes some of the uncertainty out of it. Fascinating stuff - give it a read.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Due to a particularly unforgettable - and harrowing - episode of This American Life, I have a developed what is likely an irrational fear of bed bugs. Or perhaps it's a healthy fear, I'm not quite sure.

Either way, I never travel now without inspecting hotel room mattresses and dumping the contents of my suitcases into the washer (and more importantly a hot dryer) upon my return.

Seems I'm not the only one obsessed. Entrepreneurs are catching onto this phenomenon, not to mention cashing in on it, according to a report I received recently from the North American Bed Bug Summit.

This Chicago event attracted more than 700, double last year's attendance, and the number of vendors exhibiting also more than doubled, to 75. Because there is no "silver bullet" to rid the afflicted of bed bugs, inventors and marketers see a wide-open field in which to sell their solutions, at least until Big Pesticide weighs in.

As the summit organizers put it, "Because bedbugs are lucrative, entrepreneurs are hopeful their product will be a hit among customers." Because hey, when you've got bed bugs, you'll buy anything that claims it can help - or so I imagine.

I'm glad that entrepreneurs have a new market, but I hope someone invents that silver bullet (or silver cross, or garlic necklace) soon. My mother used to tuck me in every night with, "Sleep tight, and don't let the bed bugs bite." I'm sure she never realized that one day her catchphrase might be taken literally.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Small Business Saturday

The Saturday after Thanksgiving (yes, it's coming up sooner than you realize!) has been declared Small Business Saturday.

More than 100 advocacy, public and private organizations, including American Express OPEN and Clear Channel Radio, will be encouraging Americans to get their holiday shopping started at a small business on Nov. 26, 2011.

I know I'll participate. Will you?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

What's the small retailers' secret weapon this holiday season? Greeting customers by name and making personal recommendations for them.

This according to American Express OPEN's latest consumer survey on small business. The survey showed that nearly three-quarters of consumers shop at small businesses in their community because they do not want them to go away. 

So, here's the thing: They like you - they really, really like you! That's if you like them first. So, love your customers. Treat them like friends. Hire smiling sales clerks (hint: dimples really, really help) who are as genuine as they are smart.

Check out the other key findings from the survey, including who spends more money at small businesses, men or women; and how your customers find you depending on where you're located.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Post

Note: Patricia Sigmon is founder and president of LPS Consulting, a 30-year-old technology firm that specializes in creating technology solutions for small to midsize businesses, with profit generation and return on investment as the focus. A successful entrepreneur, Patricia is author of "Six Steps to Creating Profit: A Guide for Small and Mid-sized Service-Based Businesses" (Wiley)

Five Reasons Your Business Should Join the "Cloud Crowd"

By Patricia Sigmon

The phrase cloud technology may be part of business lexicon, but how many small and medium-sized businesses are really taking full advantage of the cloud's time- and money-saving advantages?

If you engage in social networking such as LinkedIn, or use an email system such as Gmail, you're already in the cloud. But there's so much more to cloud technology. Here's a taste of how you can use the cloud to benefit your business, and why your business should join the "cloud crowd."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

AdWords Grader

How well are your Google Ad campaigns really working? Check out the AdWords Grader from Wordstream and find out.

Larry Kim, founder and CTO of WordStream, which puts out the AdWords Grader, says it is important to check metrics on your AdWords buys because:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hiring Diversity

Why hiring disabled employees is not only an ethical act, or a patriotic one, but a bottom-line benefit for small business.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What Business Structure Is Right?

Here's an infographic that you may find helpful, from

Thursday, October 13, 2011

At CUNY Grad School of Journalism learning about digital efficiency for business reporters and editors. Pretty cool stuff!

SABEW Conference starts this evening.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Women For the Nobel Win

I am so pleased and happy to see three peace activist women get the Nobel! Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of my heroes. And if you want to be inspired, put "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" on your Netflix list. It's the story of the brave Liberian women who crossed religious barriers to insist that their men stop fighting each other.

Chatty Cathy

The more things change, the more you stay the same. I don't know about you, but I am totally turning into my mother.

Last weekend I found myself chatting with cashiers at clothing stores and the girl making my chai latte at Starbucks. Then I stopped myself and wondered, "What in the world am I doing?"

Mom had a habit of telling strangers all our private family business. The clerk at the store, the person behind her in line buying groceries, the cute gas station attendant (this was in the days when guys in uniforms actually pumped gas for you): They all got an update on what we were doing and thinking, whether they wanted one or not.

It might have been fine in Portland, Oregon when my mom was growing up during the Great Depression, but this was 1970s L.A. and I assure you, it was weird.

The low point occurred the day after I had foolishly given in to the idea of letting my aunt cut and perm my oh-so-sleek, long, straight hair, parted-in-the-middle just like the cool older girls at school. It was one of my worst-ever decisions, but what can I say? Mom and Aunt Helen, a hair dresser, caught me in a weak moment and finally wore me down.

The result was a tortured few hours bent over the kitchen sink, nose plugged against the stink of a home-permanent kit. At the end, there was the horrifying realization that I had not only survived, but I looked like a cross between Shirley Temple and Phyllis Diller.

Surely my education had come to premature close; I could never show my face to the outside world again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Smart Girls

Last week, I reported on a paper showing that women entrepreneurs start fewer companies than men, and their startups tend to be weaker financially.

That's the bad news. The good news is that there are a bunch of smart, determined women working to change that state of affairs.

One of them is called Smart Girls Way, a Seattle organization that describes its mission as: "A social venture dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs to create significant economic breakthroughs."

The aforementioned paper lamented the lack of female entrepreneurial role models for young women. Smart Girls is trying to change that with something called the 100 x 100 Project:
Each weekday for the next 20 weeks, the 100 x 100 Project will feature a different video interview with a woman entrepreneur who shares her experiences and advice firsthand. 
Sounds like a great first step to me. Check out some of the stories and see if you can find some inspiration!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Customer Service

Personal, friendly, go-the-extra-mile customer service is the secret weapon of successful small businesses. But you'd never know it by visiting stores populated by surly, unconcerned staff, whose standard response to inquiries seems to be "the shrug," combined with "the mystified look."

"Huh? Why can't you just leave me alone, dude!?"

So it was a pleasant surprise to get timely, helpful and friendly service last weekend at a new camera and photo shop I ventured into to have some old photos copied. 

The staffer noticed me walk in and approached me immediately with a smile. She helped me scan my photos, cropping and improving the quality for me, and then apologized that it would take her 10 minutes to get the prints done.

No problem! The finished products were beautiful, done in no time and cost less than $10. The staffer also pointed out the store's holiday specials (bring in a shoebox of old prints and get them transferred onto a CD for $39.99) in a manner that was informative, but low-pressure.

I'll definitely be going back and may even take them up on their special offer. What a great holiday gift for that relative who is tough to buy for!

Every small business owner should have employees so engaged and positive. "A company's frontline associates can be an organization's best competitive advantage and the 'secret' to securing repeat business," says Richard Shapiro, author of the forthcoming book, "The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business" (Feb 2012).

Take a look at Shapiro's Top 10 Tips for repeat business after the jump...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Millennial Blues

I recently mentioned the phenomenon of adult children moving back home - so called "ricochet kids."

The PNC Financial Independence Survey (enter "financial independence survey" in the search box to get a link to the full results) shows why the kids are ricocheting. Millennials, also known as 20-somethings, are struggling to get their careers on track. Only 23 percent say they are financially independent and only one-third have an established position in their chosen career.

In fact, 40 percent rely on two or more sources of income, including multiple part-time jobs or help from their parents.

Nearly half rate themselves as "behind expectations" when it comes to personal finances.

Perhaps most upsetting, just 14 percent of late-20-somethings say they are optimistic about their financial futures.

Not happy news, especially for those of us whose kids fall into this age group.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Here's a kind of cool idea, based on the Wiki model of crowdsourcing: WikiOrgCharts.

The web platform allows users "to pool their business contacts and collaboratively map the relationships that exist within a company," according to the company's founder and CEO Farhan Memon.

How do small businesses benefit? They can register their companies on the site for free, but more importantly,  "WikiOrgs could become something of a Wikipedia for small businesses looking to find the right C-level executives, VPs of Biz Dev, and other decision-makers at appropriate levels for pitching B2B services, new products, new retail items for in-store distribution and much more," says spokesman Mark Lindsey.

One unique offering at the site is the 1.2 million list of U.S Civil Service employees, claimed to be the first of its kind. For small companies looking to find procurement contacts, that could be invaluable.

Check it out!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Importance of Things

As Alzheimer's disease increasingly claimed my mother's memory and cognition, her things grew ever more important.

As her life shrank itself down into smaller and smaller proportions, the little trinkets she kept with her transformed themselves from tchotchkes to treasures. Whenever I visited one of her last apartments, she would pick up the items she had displayed and tell me the stories that went with them: Where she bought this one, what that one meant, how long she'd had it.

These were tiny trinkets, most of them, and I'm not sure whether she was inventing their histories or not. But as she went from a home to a condo to an apartment and then to assisted living and finally a nursing home, what struck me was how poignant it was to winnow her life down from truckloads to suitcases and finally an overnight bag - for a trip from which she would not return.

One of my favorite journalists, Dan Barry, wrote about the mundane relics of 9/11 on the anniversary a couple of weeks ago. His column echoed the sentiments of many who were interviewed about surviving that awful day: They couldn't bring themselves to throw out the tattered shoes, crumpled train ticket or ash-covered jacket they had worn on that September morning.

We're often told that it is the big ideas, like love and loyalty and courage, that matter in this life. So why do we attach ourselves so thoroughly to our objects: Could it be an antidote to lives that are oh-so-transient and temporary?

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes often about this concept of objects. Here's her take on it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Update Your Resume

So September is "International Update Your Resume Month." Who knew?

Not surprisingly, this observance originated from a resume company, Career Directors International in Melbourne, Fla.

But okay, let's go with it. Everyone should have a valid resume on file in case disaster strikes or opportunity presents itself, right?

After the jump, I'll list some tips from author and career coach Ford R. Myers for making your resume stand out from the crowd:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Get 'Em While They're Young?

Research from the University of Arizona shows that high school and college students who are exposed to cumulative financial education show an increase in financial knowledge, which in turn drives increasingly responsible financial behavior as they become young adults.

As part of a study called Arizona Pathways for Life Success in University Students, or APLUS, researchers surveyed more than 1,500 students and drop-outs four years after they entered the University of Arizona in the fall of 2007.

Results show that parents, more than any other factor, exert the most influence over their children when it comes to developing positive financial attitudes and behaviors – 1.5 times more than continuing financial education and more than twice as much as what young people hear from their friends.

I'm more and more coming down on the "nature" side of the nature/nurture debate, and the importance of parents (read "genes") here is interesting to me.

My mother and her whole side of the family were terrible with money, a failing that seems to go back generations, according to my genealogy research.

My father, on the other hand, came from a long line of thrifty (I won't say cheap) Eastern European Jews. "Money goes through my fingers like cement," he used to say, only half-joking.

I was raised primarily by my mother and didn't get a particularly responsible example of personal finances from her, to say the least. However, since I started working at age 15, I've been a natural saver and cautious about spending. 

My siblings split, with one similar to Dad and one following in Mom's footsteps (he does have great taste and gorgeous things, I'll give him that!).

So yes, I'm a big proponent of financial education. In fact, my Smart Answers column this week is on a nonprofit that teaches kids about finances and entrepreneurship. But I think at least some - if not most - of the way we handle money is hard-wired and pretty tough to change, no matter how much teaching we do.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

500 Entrepreneurs

My long-time source, attorney Jeff Unger, has started a new program for first-time entrepreneurs.

Jeff's firm, Ungerlaw, wants to help 500 entrepreneurs launch their businesses for free - and they'll even pick up the filing fees if the business meets their criteria (for one thing they have to be located in California or New York, where Jeff practices law).

Ungerlaw is looking for first-time entrepreneurs who have:

1. Passion: "We’re looking for enthusiastic first-time entrepreneurs."

2. A Serious Plan: "We’ll need an organized business plan and a bio from the founder."

3. Skin In The Game: "Our entrepreneurs should have sufficient resources to make the business successful; and we need a commitment that the entrepreneur will pay his or her taxes, engage a CPA, and maintain the company properly."

In return, Ungerlaw asks the entrepreneurs that participate to keep them posted on their progress, their challenges and their successes.

I have no skin in this game, but I figured I'd point it out to my readers in case they want to check it out. Let me know if you participate and what you think of Jeff's program.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Government Contracting

The federal government is by far the biggest purchaser of goods and services in the United States. That means that government contracting can be unbelievably lucrative for small businesses - if they know about it and can navigate around the red tape involved in government contracting.

I spoke to the Office of Naval Research for my column last week. They are one of the rare government agencies that actually fund R&D, mostly for new military weapons systems and battlefield applications.

But every kind of small business that's willing to try can probably sell something to the government. In 2010, small businesses received $98 billion in government contracts - and yet the government's "set-asides" for small business are never completely fulfilled.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Shop Local

It's back to school season: Some students are well into their fall semesters, others (like my UCI junior) have another week or so of freedom.

I always waited a week or two to do the back-to-school shopping trip because teachers inevitably had long lists of supply needs that we parents didn't know about until the handouts went home.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ricochet Kids

Accordung to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 40 percent of non-student U.S. adults ages 18 to 39 live at home with their parents or have in the recent past. In this down economy, "ricochet kids" have become commonplace.

And while we all want to do whatever we can for our children, especially in these tough financial times, there are conseqences:

A recent NEFE poll found that among parents with adult children living at home:
  • 30 percent have given up privacy
  • 26 percent have taken on debt
  • 13 percent have delayed plans for a major life event, such as getting married, taking a vacation or buying a home
  • 7 percent have delayed retirement

    The NEFE lists these tips for responding to a request from an adult child who wants to move back home:

Friday, August 26, 2011

My Interview with Tim Berry

Is up on my brand-new YouTube channel!

You can also see my earlier interview with John Suh, of LegalZoom, and soon I'll be adding footage from a talk I gave to a small business workshop.

Thanks to the marvelous Paula Johnson, my web guru, for sprucing up my online presence.

She's the best.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Powerful Women

My friend and business source Glenn Llopis writes about the Four Skills That Give Women a Sustainable Advantage Over Men.

Glenn is a visionary. I hope that he's right, and that more women will recognize their skills and use them to advantage in business and life.

Just for some examples and inspiration, check out this gallery of powerful women.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Women Entrepreneurs

Women business owners are positive about their long-term business growth, says a new survey from PNC Financial Services Group, but nearly half of them favor intuition over analysis.

And twice as many cite "passion" - rather than financial success - as their reason for staying in business.

Passion is essential for small business success: The work is too hard and the hours are too long for anyone who is lackadaisical about entrepreneurship.

But while passion is a good element, I don't like to see 45 percent of women CEOs point to their passion for the company, while only 22 percent cite financial success as a primary motivator.

I learned one thing about entrepreneurship early on: Companies primarily exist to make money. (Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that men aren't so ambivalent about this point?)

Yes, you can have a double bottom-line. And I'm all for doing well by doing good.

But the key is this: Your company has to get to the point where it can do good. And that means it has to be healthy - able to pay its bills and its employees, turn a profit, and earn a solid ROI for you as owner. Once it gets to that point, the sky's the limit as to where your passion can take you.

Running a business as a hobby - for the passion, not the profit - will never allow you to get to that point. Women are smart enough to know that. I wonder if there's a reluctance to admit it? Here's the deal: There's no shame in being concerned about the bottom line.

Some more results from the survey:

. An overwhelming number of women, 8 out of 10, have said that economic volatility will not deter them from their professional ventures.

· Social Business: Only half (51 percent) of respondents use interactive online channels to promote their businesses. Of those who are using social networks, 40 percent use Facebook, 27 percent use LinkedIn and 13 percent use Twitter.

· Head v. Gut: When making business decisions, women are split between analysis and intuition. Fifty-five percent say they opt to analyze the situation, with 45 percent going with their intuition.

· Advice at home: When looking for professional advice, women owners consult their spouses most often (49 percent). Professional advisors (40 percent) and peers (30 percent) are also seen as valuable sources of information.

· Who you know: Nearly seven out of 10 (68 percent) are affiliated with at least one industry group or business organization. Chambers of commerce and national industry groups are the most popular.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ask What You Can Do

The new Sunday Review section of the New York Times (which I like very much) adds an interesting feature: Readers respond to a provocative letter to the editor.

This past weekend, the "Sunday Dialogue" was sparked by an executive recruiter. He offered several ideas for ending the financial crisis:

... creating jobs by investing in infrastructure, and for reducing the deficit by increasing the age for Medicare beneficiaries, using means-testing for Social Security recipients, reforming the tax code to close loopholes and make it fairer, ending subsidies for giant corporations, bringing all of our troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas and eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich.

Oft-discussed solutions, none of which seems very do-able considering the gridlock in Washington. What intrigued me, though, was this response from Rebecca Zicarelli of Maine:

With all the daunting problems we face, the questions being asked are: What can President Obama do? What can the Fed do? What can Congress do? We’re so focused on government, we forget the private sector, as Mr. Lowenstein did in his letter.

The private sector seems to be waiting for some far-off day when government gets out of the way. It’s time for the private sector to stop sitting on the piles of cash we hear about and use it to create new demand, to create growth. Stop overworking your existing employees. Hire new employees.

I keep hearing that “government’s the problem.” Well, if you run a company and you’ve got the ability to hire but you’re not hiring, you’re the problem.

We need to talk about what you can do for your country.

I've been waiting for someone to start talking about the responsibility of the private sector and the encouragement of consumer confidence. I wish the idea had been raised by someone in a leadership role, no offense to Rebecca (who writes a darned good letter).

I'm frankly surprised it hasn't been.

During 11 years of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave 30 evening radio speeches dubbed the Fireside Chats (you can listen to the first one at the link and hear him tell people that banks are safer than stashing money under their mattresses.)

The chats were short, plain-spoken and aimed directly at regular folks. They earned FDR a great deal of trust and affection with the public, at a time of great panic and fear, and influenced positive public response (such as halting a run on the banks).

It seems to me we need similar calls to calm and to patriotism right now. The constant drumbeat of doom and gloom (delivered almost gleefully in some corners of the media) has been extraordinarily - and measurably - destructive to our economy.

"Confidence and courage are the essentials of success," Roosevelt says. I think we need a similar message today. And I think Rebecca's echo of JFK is right on: Someone needs to talk about what we all can do for our country.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top 10 List

What are the Top 10 challenges for a small business in its first five years?

Answers from a variety of experts in my Smart Answers column.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Plan A, B, C

How clueless is clueless? Even a small amount of research on entrepreneurship should yield two conclusions: It's risky and extremely time-consuming.

Yet the professionals-turned-small business owners profiled in this weekend's New York Times Style section seem surprised at how hard it is to succeed in business.

Honestly? I understand, especially in retail, that it would be more hectic than even a well-prepared individual had anticipated. But the subjects of the piece apparently wanted to downshift, take it easy, smell the roses and lead "healthier" lifestyles.

Becoming independently wealthy is probably a good way to achieve those goals. Starting up a business? Not so much.

The weird thing is that I and many, many other small business journalists, experts, advisors and CEOs have been warning about the pitfalls of entrepreneurship for years. Do it if you must, we say, but make sure you go in with a very realistic understanding of what it will take. And if you're not ready for the risk, keep your day job.

I don't know whether that word isn't getting out there, or whether it is but people don't believe it, or whether people bulldoze headfirst into business ownership without reading the instruction manual. Probably a combination of all three.

The good news: By the end of the piece, we learn that most of the business owners are happy they made the switch. I just think the transition might have been easier if they'd read the fine print.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Get Real, Granny

The New York Times reports that Baby Boomers are rejecting the terms "grandmother" and "grandfather":

“My wife and I were somewhat serious about being called Irene and John,” Mr. Dawson said. “We like our names and that it’s real. Grandpa, Grandma, Granny, Nanna, Gramps, etc., give off a vision of being old."

Now, I don't expect to be a grandmother any time soon, so maybe I shouldn't talk. But this trend annoys me no end. The allergy to aging smacks, to me, of the worst stereotypes about Boomers: vanity, exceptionalism and self-absorption.

Who me? Get older and become a grandpa? Never!

I can't quite detect the harm in cultural honorifics that convey respect, tradition and great affection. And can you imagine a toddler rushing up to hug ... Irene and John?

Those who think they're never going to get old should read "Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age," by one of my favorite authors, Susan Jacoby.

When I turned 50 last year, several people offered condolences. I didn't need them. I have several friends who never made it to 50, and a few who never made it to 40 - or even 30.

I was grateful to hit the half-century mark because, when you think about it, what's the alternative?

My parents met and married late in life and by the time I had children, my father was gone and my mother was declining. My husband and I watched enviously as we saw young-ish grandparents spending time with their grandchildren. Not only did our children not get those wonderful relationships, we didn't get the parenting breaks we desperately needed.

Few words, besides Mama and Dada, are more comforting and homey than Nana or Gramma, Gramps or Papa. Other people can stick with Irene or John. I'm looking forward to the day a toddler runs up to hug me and hollers "Grammy!"

Friday, August 12, 2011

Triumph of Low-Tech

I was fortunate enough to interview LegalZoom CEO John Suh last month. (Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and you can watch our interview in full.)

This was my first time live on the Internet and there were some technology glitches. (I attend lectures at CalTech, and even the world's top geniuses grapple with technology bugs, so I'm in good company.)

But it was a low-tech trick and long years of experience that saved me from disaster. Here's what happened:

We tested the iPad I was to use to take questions from a live audience online. But we tested it about 90 minutes early. By the time we were live, the iPad had been thrown offline by a Wi-Fi security program that none of us knew about, nor anticipated.

I didn't know what was wrong with this cute little gadget, but I knew I wasn't getting any questions from the audience. And half the program was supposed to be questions from the audience!

Fortunately, I knew from experience to prepare about three times as many questions as I could use. Also fortunately, I insisted on keeping my trusty yellow legal pad in front of me. iPad, schmiPad - I need to scribble during interviews.

Thank goodness I had it there: As I was trying to decide on my next question and listen and interact with John as he talked, I managed to scrawl a "Help!" note and pass it to the tech team. As I tap-danced away, getting deep into my "extra" questions for John, the fantastic tech guys spirited away the iPad and fixed it.

People who watched the session live had no idea anything untoward was happening. I was sweating bullets underneath what looked like a calm exterior. John just soldiered on with terrific insights and innovative thinking.

Despite the near-disaster, it was a lot of fun to do the interview. I'll be doing another one next week, with the equally fascinating Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software.

You can be sure my pen and paper will be within arm's reach.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Interview with John Suh of Legal Zoom

CredibilityLive Event Upcoming

Exciting news! I'll be interviewing Tim Berry, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Palo Alto Software, for another CredibilityLive event next Thursday. Info/register online.

It's free, fun and informative.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do Social Media, But Safely

Everybody is on the bandwagon about social media. As usual, I'm skeptical.

Yes, you need to have a Facebook page for your business or brand. And a LinkedIn page for your career, and Twitter for exposure and fun.

But social media is also the latest Trojan horse for malware, viruses and scammers, who hide their malicious packages in fake social media invites and weird "look at this YouTube video" emails.

Here are some best practices from Don DeBolt, director of Threat Research (what a title!) at Total Defense:

1. Share wisely
Most users, especially younger ones, don’t put much thought into the repercussions of sharing too much information, even though they should. Last year, a woman posted on Facebook that she was leaving town for a week. While out, her house was burglarized by a Facebook ‘friend’. Now that’s a real hack!

2. Don’t forget to log out
Most online users opt-in to automatically log-in to at least one Web site. Many are logged in to e-mail, Facebook and Twitter accounts all the time, at the same time, in multiple locations. It’s easy for someone to get a hold of your personal information in any one of these online locations at any time, if you simply forget to log-out.

3. Don’t click on funky links
If social networking had a constitution, this would be the first amendment. It’s clear as glass that it’s a bad idea to click on a link without prior information, that doesn’t appear to be appropriate based on the URL, that previews questionable content, etc., but a recent report found that 73% of users are still clicking on malicious links in news feeds.

4. Update your AV, ASAP
This is no sales pitch. It’s pretty simple. The only way to stay as protected as possible is to update your AV software. With new bugs hitting the Web by the minute, it’s important that you have the latest technology to protect yourself from possible hacks.

I have seen some funny-slash-embarrassing repercussions for people who forget about tip number two, above. Have you?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reality Makeover Show

Just passing this along: An L.A. production company, A. Smith & Co. Productions, is looking for local small businesses to participate in a makeover reality show.

If you're interested, email Include your name, location, phone number and a brief description about your company, along with a picture of you and your biz.

You get an expert "makeover" of your company if you are chosen to participate.

I can't vouch for them personally, so caveat emptor on this one!

Monday, August 8, 2011

To Cold Call - Or Not

Quick heads up on my recent contribution to the Future Simple blog.

Should you use cold-calling as part of your sales strategy? Maybe.

It's nearly always better to have a personal contact or solid sales lead. But for some companies, in some circumstances, cold-calling is almost inevitable.

The good news: There are ways to make it less painful and more productive. Check out the blog for some advice and let me know whether it helped.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

'Lope Springs Eternal

I have had a fruit-and-vegetable garden since my father showed me his tomato plants when I was about six. I don't know what made a bigger impression: The fact that he was producing something I thought only came from the grocery store, or the fat, ugly horn worms that he picked off and tossed over the fence.

Either way, that afternoon put me on the path to lifelong gardener. I've had mixed results, but managed over the years to produce bushels of tomatoes, squash of all kinds, peppers, beans, cucumbers, corn, eggplant, lettuce, kale, chard and others.

I also had a holy grail: Melons.

Oh, I tried, believe me I tried. Watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupes. They died out fast, never germinated, started off swell and then petered out.

One year, my cantaloupe vines actually set fruit. I was elated. Then, just as the baby melons started to swell up, the plant shriveled and died within days. Heartbroken, I pulled up the gnarled roots and took them to the expert Japanese-American gardeners at my local nursery. The discouraging diagnosis: Nematodes.

Another year, my watermelon plants seemed to thrive. The baby melons set, the fruit grew. It looked like I'd finally achieved the impossible: Beautiful, green stripers sat in the garden patch ... and they sat ... and they sat. The vine gradually died back, the fall rolled around and when there was nothing else to do, I picked them. Inside, the fruit was yellow tinged with pink. The melons had never ripened.

That was pretty much the end of it. I'd given up. Until this year:

There are about half a dozen more in various stages of ripening on the vine. The irony is that I didn't do a thing. I didn't even plant this cantaloupe, it showed up as a volunteer, probably originating from a melon I tossed into my compost pile sometime last winter.

What I love about gardening: Nature constantly surprises. Life will out. Things want to grow and produce and thrive. I post this not to brag, but to encourage. Even when you think you're beaten, and your plants have died and your career is over, a small shoot will push its head out of the soil.

With a little TLC, you may even wind up with a cantaloupe.