Monday, June 29, 2009

What's The Best Way To "Get The Word Out" About Your Small Business .... Word Of Mouth Or Social Media?

If you have a small local (niche) market, cheap local advertising is somewhat effective for the purpose of exposure. However, I've found that word-of-mouth exposure pays off the best.

Thus, I recommend asking your happiest (perhaps even most enthusiastic) clients to recommend your services/products to whomever they feel might be able to use them. Offer them discounts or even freebie incentives to encourage them to refer your business.

If your referral network grows, you might find your existing clients doing most of the selling of your business/products/services for you. Resulting in reduced courting time and cost of sales for you.

However, I think this only works with higher quality or lowest cost positions on the offer curve. Otherwise, your customers would have a difficult time explaining to others why they should use your business.

On using social media ......

Firstly, your focus should be on the long term rather than short term. In the short term it's more about giving value than getting it. Building relationships and gaining trust is the first aim. Another aim is to drive people to your website, where they can gain value without spending a cent. But of course, as they experience your "expertise", some will become more predisposed towards your products/services.

Before I describe how to use LinkedIn (LI), FaceBook (FB), and Twitter, let me say that the sooner some platform emerges that combines the functionality of all three, the better. They each have their good and bad points.

Linkedin is where you'll probably find your most serious B2B connections. Joining groups and contributing to discussions in the "Answers" section is good way to boost awareness of your profile, and to give value. LI lets you maintain lifetime connections with former colleagues, clients and referral sources. Having said that, LI is quite static, and in some ways just sits there like a plate of cold porridge waiting for Goldilocks.

Twitter is a very open platform, and can look like utter rubbish until you work out how to find the gems among the rocks. You should have a couple of aims on Twitter. For business purposes, seek then follow folk who may share your target market, plus potential clients. Then start to converse with them, and often they'll follow you in return. Generally try to tweet wit or wisdom, not what you had for lunch, like the airheads do. Add na URL in your tweet, sending them to your website to expereince about your business. Other folk send followers to their blog, where they receive further value.

As you identify serious contacts via Twitter, suggest to them that you connect on Linkedin.

Another aim with Twitter is purely social. Being a sole operator, based in a home office, it's fun to participate in lighthearted conversations about topical issues, from swine flu to Somali pirates. Simple is that.

Facebook is more the place where you have friends, family and like minded colleagues. It's a good way to maintain a sense of connection, because of its greater multimedia capabilities. However, I know some who hate the coldness of LI and migrate their Twitter contacts to FB.

Just imagine if LI had the microblogging capability of Twitter and the multimedia, interactive functions of FB, but all integrated in a way that each user could control to suit their needs. That's what will one day emerge, I hope.

As I said, online networking is about giving value before getting it. I hope you get some value from these comments.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Resources For Video Advertising For Small Businesses

Many small businesses require some sort of corporate video or commerical for advertising purposes, whether online viral video, public service announcement or full-on production.

Also, many small businesses require A/V services or equipment for their offices, buildings or events/conferences. allows you to search and find endless video/digital media/film/live event production resources. also features business directories and classifieds where you can find new or used specialized equipment, all with easy-to-find services by category or location.

Possibly the most useful tool is the complimentary Request Engine on ProductionHUB:

* ProductionHUB does the searching for you.

* Users type in their request (i.e. I need a new projector installed in my office, I need a new Audio Technician/printer/ad agency/set caterer, etc.).

* Request generates competitive bids to your inbox from high-end companies within 24 hours.

Starting up a business takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Don't let yourself waste time searching for production services or quotes when you have resources like ProductionHUB at your disposal.

About ProductionHUB -

ProductionHUB, Inc. is the global online resource and industry directory for film, television, video, live event and digital media production. The service was developed ten years ago as a tool for anyone with an Internet connection to locate production products, equipment, services and professionals. With over 2.7 million user sessions and 20 million page views in 2008, this vertical B2B and industry portal has grown to become the world’s largest and most active production community search site.

For more information go to .... ProductionHUB

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Initiatives ‎(Entrepreneurship at Duke)‎

Great to see so many new e-ship initiatives at Duke. None of these existed when I was there from 1998-2002 except for the Duke Start-up Challenge.

Initiatives ‎(Entrepreneurship at Duke)‎: "There are a number of initiatives related to entrepreneurship at Duke University. These initiatives cover the many areas need to help create a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit.

* Duke Start-Up Challenge
* Duke Entrepreneurship Education Series
* Duke Global Entrepreneurship Network (DukeGEN)
* DUhatch Student Business Incubator
* Duke Student Ventures
* Entrepreneurship Week at Duke University
* Program for Entrepreneurs"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Small Business Resource For Lead Generation

DNAVertical is an affordable lead generation program for small business. You provide them a with calling list based on your target customer criteria, you provide them with the elevator pitch and they provide you with approximately 50 outbound sales calls per day.

As they call, their goal is to set appointments and provide warm leads for follow up by your team. When an appointment is made or a warm lead is generated they will send you the contact information, and a recording of the actual original call so you can prepare for the follow up.

If the prospects are interested or ask them to send more information, they build an email list that you can then market to after the fact on a regular basis. It is a one-two punch that works nicely. They provide you with weekly call results in Excel format.

They work month to month as long as you are satisfied. If you are not satisfied after 30 days with the results .... you can discontinue the contract no questions asked. There are no set up fees or long term contracts.

On the average this program is generating 2-5 solid sales leads per week and about 5-10 new emails a day. In the matter of a month a small business could have appx. 100 warm leads to email market to once or twice a month and about 2-5 qualified prospects per week to give a follow up call to by appointment. The close ratio for the lead generated typically depends on the quality of the list you provide and the ability of your internal team to close a lead. The primary benefit to you is that your team can focus on selling instead of cold-calling.

For more information go to .... Lead Generation For Small Business

Monday, June 22, 2009

Small Business Resource For Time And Expense Management

Managing and reducing operating costs is critical in these difficult economic times. Integrating automated time and expense data collection into your business process must be a key component of any small business strategy.

If you can't measure it you can't manage it!
But how can you make this labor intensive evolution less stresful?

Easy ... there's a simple to use resource that does all the heavy lifting for you.

Journyx Timesheet is a time and expense management solution. Any company that bills for its services, performs project-oriented work, or tracks absences for a employee-intensive business can benefit from Timesheet. You can easily manage employee timesheets and expenses for project control, customer invoicing, and payroll automation with Timesheet.

For more information check out Time And Expense Management


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Came across a pair of interesting articles recently on work/life balance

Feld on Life Balance: “Accomplish What You Want, Not What You Think You Have to” | On the Radar...

Feld professed a belief throughout the interview that work-life balance is an important issue to everyone, yet he acknowledged that each person’s approach will be different. In fact, Feld expressed equal skepticism towards those who say “here’s how you achieve work life balance” in a one-size fits all approach as towards those who claim “work-life balance is bullshit” and life is only about working hard. But the venture capitalist did draw a line in the sand by saying that balance is an important issue to consider at all ages, as many make the mistake in believing they will “get the balance on the back half of life” an find it shorter than they hoped (“you don’t know when the lights are going to go out”). With this frame of reference, Feld spent most of the hour discussing his personal journey towards better work-life balance over the past eight years.

Doctor and Patient - Taking Time for the Self on the Path to Becoming a Doctor -

According to a study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, I am far from the only doctor who has behaved this way. The researchers interviewed residents, or doctors in training, from seven different specialties and found that they set themselves up for burnout by accepting, even embracing, what they believed would be a temporary imbalance between the personal and professional aspects of their lives. While the young doctors interviewed defined well-being as a balance between all those parts, many felt that their medical training was so central to their ultimate sense of fulfillment that they were willing to live with whatever personal sacrifice was required, even if it meant a temporary loss of a sense of self.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Does It Make Sense To Start-Up A Business During This Recession??

In times of economic turmoil and consequently higher unemployment, it is usual that some of the professionals that were laid off may take the initiative of beginning a new career path ..... as an independent consultant or as entrepreneurs by beginning a small business.

Although it is probable that most entrepreneurs will fail 2 years after having begun ..... and angel investors with the willingness of contributing with capital will be scarce ..... past history has taught us that many of the innovations that generated new and revolutionary products were initiated in times of economic uncertainty, market instability, and financial restrictions. And were consolidated once the economic landscape began to experience a healthy and sustained recovery.

Being so, the adagio that says that "Necessity is the Mother of the Invention" appears to be true.

In my humble opinion, this wave of innovation happens when talented professionals .... after being laid off from companies where they worked unhappily in the past and without a promising professional future .... feel compelled to be creative, to develop an innovative mindset, and explore beyond their comfort zones to survive, grow, and succeed.

In the long term, small businesses are key for the financial recovery. Irrespectively of the extent and depth of the current economic turmoil .... there are always likelihoods of success in developing an entrepreneurial venture.

In a nascent business, the experience of being an entrepreneur is a role highly emotive and gratifying when its founders are smart, disciplined, and persistent. Plus, when they assume a passionate attitude, build a sense of purpose, share an inspiring vision, and create an exhilarating climate for young professionals who are willing to accept the challenge of growing professionally with a small, although promising company.

A small business offers the unique and valuable opportunity of building from the personality traits, business vision, managerial style, and professional experience of their leaders and founders. The values, principles, policies, and beliefs that are inherent to the organizational culture must be shared in such a way that they become a key factor of success ..... and propel organic growth for the company for the long term.

Small businesses that are successful in creating customer loyalty, are smart in managing their finances, and provide the means to assure employee satisfaction .... may experience the unique opportunity of enjoying extraordinary patterns of organic growth that increase and multiply their valuation as an ongoing business. And the likelihood of being acquired or merged by a bigger company in such a way where all the involved parties greatly benefit.

Highly motivated "former" employees who are close to their customers, and have the willingness to learn, capacity to innovate, and desire to integrate multidisciplinary teams to work hard and with proved efficiency ...... can transform a dream, a project, and illusion into a highly profitable business.

So the short answer .... is yes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How To Pick A Name For Your New Business

There are many sites that generate random names (for businesses or other things), so many that I've stopped bookmarking them. But while they might loosen up your mind for a brainstorming session, if you really want to name a new business, I doubt you want a name chosen at random.

As for doing a search on the availability of a name, there are several places you'll need to do that, depending on where you plan to do business. I'd start with the USPTO trademark database, because if someone else has trademarked the name you're thinking of, you have to start over and come up with another one. But you'll also have to check the corporate/LLC databases for your state and the fictitious business name database for your county.

Dot-o-mater is a great website for generating a business name. It's primarily geared toward Web 2.0 companies, but I find it can be used for anything. It has a simple mode of just generating pseudo-random names and a more sophisticated, and I find more useful, mode of combining different permutations of prefixes and suffixes to generate unique names. It also has a very useful feature to bulk check which domain names from the list are unregistered.

The orignial random name generator for businesses is also quite useful. I doubt it checks the business name for matches to domain names, but still, it is easy to use and will inspire some ideas ......

Random Business Name Generator

It has a nice touch of giving you the option of business you want to start, matching the result to how companies in that field are typically named.

However, if the aim is also to have lots of Traffic at your business website, it might be more productive to start with brainstorming your business ideas. Pick the best concept. Find the most profitable keywords ..... and incorporate the best keyword(s) as part of your domain name.

There are +56 million websites out there. Without proper planning, you'll be lost in the multitudes. With proper planning (and it does not have to be a costly exercise) you can be in the top 10% of websites. A proper keyword-rich domain name gives an added boost.

Going about it as most people do costs not only money and dismal results, but also time lost. Lost time cannot be recovered or recycled.

So .... although the above may give you some ideas. There's no substitute for a little old fashioned brainstorming and creativity. All depends on what your purpose is for the name you finally choose.

YouTube - Stanford Open Office Hours: Tina Seelig, Part 1

YouTube - Stanford Open Office Hours: Tina Seelig, Part 1

Monday, June 15, 2009

How To Improve Your Business Efficiency

An important key focus every business should not over look is improving the efficiency of their business. If you can save X hours a week this will increase your profit by around X%. If you don't know what the "X's" are .... you need to figure it out. Those are numbers you should always consider any any planning and decision making. This will ensure you continue to deliver a consistent and quality service to your clients.

You can start by identifying the largest bottlenecks .... and then started working through the list in order of priority (biggest positive impact on your bottom line).

Here's some example actions you could consider ........

* Develop a process document for each product. Create templates for meeting agendas and brainstorming sessions

* Set up a default diary (e.g. Monday - planning, Tue-Thur - client work and business development, Fri - review, finance management and product development)

* Reorganize the documents in your computer system as per the flow of your business e.g. business planning, marketing and sales, client work, financial management, product development

* Purchase and set up ACT! to manage relationships

* Synchronize your laptop and computer

* Set up purchase orders in MYOB so you can forecast your cashflows faster

* Hire an operational efficiency expert to help you organise your office and implement their recommendations

* Lay office out as per the flow of your business e.g. filing cabinets and shelving all follows the process of business planning, marketing and sales, client work, financial management, product redevelopment

* Color coding your files as per above flow of your business

* Buy a new filing cabinet

* Buy a ptouch labeller

* Buy a planning board and locate in front of your line of sight

* Buy a brainstorming board and put it on the wall.

OK .... above is a good roadmap to get you started on the way to improving your business efficiency. Of course you can add on any other ideas you brainstorm that also lead to the desired impact. Don't hold yourself back .... be creative, simplify, organize, stay on track.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wine tasting

House nestled in Vineyard, originally uploaded by Batikart.

A couple months back, the graduate dorm that I live in "Sidney Pacific" sponsored a wine tasting. It was my first wine tasting so I took some notes on the handout that the nuclear engineering professor at MIT who led the wine tasting handed out.

Here are the wines that we tried and their prices (which were only given to us at the end):

Alfred Gratien Brut 1989 - $90
Savennieres 2002 Clos du Papillon (Baumard) - $28
Cloudy Bay Marlborough Savignon Blac 2007 - $31
Riesling Spatlese 2005 - $34
Alsace Grand Cru Gewurztraminer 2002 Mambourg (Pierre Sparr) - $26
Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay 2006 - $53
Beaune du Chateau Premier Cru 2005 (Bouchard) $40
Lucius Chianti Classico Riserva 2000 (Viticcio) - $36
Burgess Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - $80
Cote-Rotie 1998 Les Grandes Places (Jean-Michel Gerin) - $90
Ridge California Zinfandel 2006 Lytton Springs - $37
Peter Lehmann Barossa Valley Botrytis Semillon 2005 - $12 half bottle

He also recommended the book: The World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley, 2007) by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

Friday, June 12, 2009

How Do You Convince Someone That They Need Your Small Business Services?

My answer may sound a little unusual at first but think about it, perhaps it may be the way forward;

If you're talking to someone sceptical of your product .... firstly I'd suggest you try to find out why it is that they feel this way and address this. Should this fail you should consider whether or not you actually want this person as a customer or not - Stick with me on this for a moment....

If you decide that you do really want this person as a customer my suggestion would be to offer them your service for free..... Hang on, don't give up at this point, keep reading....

Let me clarify "free". Outline what it is that the client requires of your service and clarify that your service CAN meet (or exceed) their requirements .... and then provided you are confident that you can deliver as required, offer them a free trial of the service after which time if they are unhappy they can walk away with no obligation to pay. On the other hand .... if they are happy then they need to agree to purchase (and if the service is one where they pay monthly, that they also pay for the services used during the successful trial period).

I can't guarantee you'll win the business by doing this. However it'll certainly help you to identify which prospective customers are just wasting your time.

Where you are up against a competitors product, my view is that it is all about meeting the needs of the prospective customer. Most people are averse to change and need a compelling reason to do so.

If you are targeting a business customer, you'll need to provide them with a compelling business case because their drivers for change are likely to be increased functionality and/or decreased cost. The barriers you'll need to overcome can include a temporary loss of productivity, financial investment required, and that "hassle factor" which invariably has a dollar value attached.

From a marketing perspective, you need to remove the objections that are coming up for this prospect.

The biggest objection is the fear of the unknown (will I get my money's worth? will they deliver? will this guy be a nightmare to work with?). You need to make these fears go away.

How, you ask?

Give examples of your past work. Let them talk to a happy customer with a similar problem. To the extent that you can quantify your results, do. (Numbers speak louder than words. Anyone can say they deliver "cutting edge software and services," but only a few will be able to say "I saved [company] $2 million last year.")

Ideally, find someone that has used you and the competitor, and can talk to why they continue to work with you.

Also, with some products and services, you can offer a "try before you buy" version. For a services company, this might be a free 15 minute "check-up," that give them free advice, no strings, that lets them see how you think and work. For a products company, this can be a trial or review product.

Whatever you do, do not go for a competive jab. That is seen as a sign of desperation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Is The Benefit Of Social Media To Small Businesses?

Consumers now more than ever want to develop an intimate connection with a brand and want to know that companies will be loyal to them by supplying them with what they need and by listening to their demands and forming them into the products that would be useful to them.

Also you can use social media as a way to test a group of people with a product and see what their response is. Social Media is the best form of Word of Mouth Advertising. Your product can be out to millions of people in a matter of hours for free.

Think social media platforms such as YouTube videos, Twitter "tweets", business blogs, event podcasts, Facebook, and Linked-In.

These are just a few examples of how Social Media can benefit a Small Business....I think the biggest challenge is having experienced people approaching small businesses and being able to explain to them how Social Media can take their business to the next level. Though you may not see immediate effects .... the Long Term Value of that customer may be forever.

While selling on social media isn't popular (or a big no no), it is about conversation. Creating friends, building trust etc ...... and in that conversation people will talk about or bring to the surface their skills, products and services. It is whilst creating this tribe that you subconsciously sell and more importantly others buy.

For more detailed background, information, and tips on employing the use of social media for your business read the insights shared here:

Social Media Tips


Monday, June 8, 2009

How To Find A Small Business Mentor

It is always worth having a business mentor.

A good mentor will see your business in the context of the life you want to lead .... and work with you to clarify the direction of your business.

They are also there to help you work through the stream of problems, issues, and challenges that naturally come as a result of being in business.

It is all to easy to get caught up in the day to day operations of your business .... and neglect the growth of your business as its own entity. A mentor brings you back to focus on development.

The analogy that I like to make is with kids and sports.
If there is a team .... and all they do is play the game against opponents .... the team may improve some. But not nearly as much as it will if there is a coach putting together practices, working on skill development and strategies.

A good coach or mentor will effectively challenge the players and draw out their best performance over both the short & long term.

Finding a good mentor is always interesting.

There are lots of people who think that they can do it. But often they don't have a systematic approach or they just consistently push their own agenda and ideas.

You have to talk with a few prospects until you find one that is interested in you, the future of your business, and can articulate what their role in the process is. If you find that ..... you've got a good one.

As far as finding the right person goes - this does depend on your goals. However, I would recommend that you ask for a free intro session to check if the fit is right for you, and I would ask about their approach. There are vast differences in style - some coaches do "colour by numbers" where you have to fit into their systems and processes, and others are much more flexible and focused on fixing challenges and helping the client achieve their goals by providing the 'how-to' knowledge that is so often missing.

Mentors often offer a lot less structure and are good for bouncing ideas around. All of these styles can work very effectively - it depends on your personal preferences regarding how you work best!

A good place to start thinking about what you want out of the relationship is an article on "50 things a mentor or coach can do for you" You'll find it at - see the Ultimate Small Business Coach Checklist article

One option is an organization called SCORE that provides assistance to businesses. The mentors are retired business executives from all walks of life and all types of industries. This non-profit is part of the SBA and is free. For starters you might try to contact someone there for help.

Here's a link for more information: SCORE

Mentorship is extremely important! It can absolutely save you and your business countless headaches as you move forward.

I'd caution you to be very careful about who you choose as a mentor. They need to be able to teach and guide you in areas that you need to get stronger in.

Unlike a coach, a mentor has already traveled the road that you are attempting to travel. They can teach you where the greatest obstacles are and show you what to watch out for. They can help you understand exactly how to pace yourself, judge your performance, and help you set up the proper interim steps along your success journey.

They best way to pick them is to interview their former or current protege. They'll give you the kind of straight talk that you'll understand and enjoy.

Finally, be prepared to offer something of value to your mentor. I'm sure that you have some skill or talent that the mentor can put to use for his/her benefit. This will keep them from feeling like they are wasting their time with you.

Oh! Don't forget to perform well! Your mentors reputation is at stake as well if you fail.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


MIT Graduation 2009:

I get my degree at 1:36:40.



Posted by Picasa

Graduation from MIT 2009


Sung Joo, my officemate took this photo while we were waiting for our names to be called.
Posted by Picasa

Graduation from MIT


Here are a few photos.
Posted by Picasa