Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I think this is one of the more interesting/exciting things happening around entrepreneurship right now. I'm not really sure how big of a problem it is, but is seems worth digging into.
Knowledge Genes is a unique free website with a library of useful best practice guides (Knowledge Genes) mainly covering business topics. Additionally, users can clearly map their own business processes in terms of WHAT they need to achieve, WHY this is important and exactly HOW this is achieved.
To quote business guru Peter Drucker:
"There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all."
"The first question in increasing productivity in knowledge and service work has to be: What is the task? What do we try to accomplish? WHY do it at all?"
For more information go to:
Monday, September 28, 2009
If you think this is an exaggeration, consider that in August 2008 Comscore indicated that YouTube had already become the internet's #2 search engine.
However, there are 2 problems small businesses face with getting into online video:
The first issue is pretty clear--the lowest quality production studios usually won't go lower than $5k. The more insidious problem is distribution: Many companies spend heavily for a promotional video only to see it languish on YouTube with less than 1000 views.
Zadby addresses both issues with a single innovative solution--charging only for distribution. In other words, businesses pay (and risk) nothing for the video creation and only pay for the audience that watches the video.
Zadby manages this innovative pricing solution by connecting clients with online video producers who already have large, loyal audiences that are relevant to the product or service being promoted. Zadby's producer community includes over 500 of popular online video producers who produce videos ranging from sketch comedy for young males to cosmetics videos for young women to health and wellness videos for baby boomers. These producers have large relevant audiences so they are willing to shoot videos on spec and take on the risk of successful distribution so Zadby clients don't have to.
Zadby only charges $50 per 1000 views for 100% branded videos (and less for videos with lesser branding requirements). So for the minimum $5k you would pay to a low quality production studios just for 1 video, a $5k Zadby campaign would deliver a video plus at least 100,000 targeted views plus a money-back guarantee.
There are example videos on Zadby.com of work done for big brands like Pizza Hut and Animal Planet, but the links below include a 2 smaller videos done for smaller businesses. Examples relevant to almost any type of business can be shared with interested parties upon request.
For more info on Zadby video marketing services go to:
For examples of Zadby video marketing for small businesses go to:
Video Marketing Example 1
Video Marketing Example 2
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Two great blog posts I came across today offer an interesting juxtaposition.
Caterina offers the idea that much of "working hard" can often be "freaking out" and working for the sake of working rather than working smartly.
My colleague Tina Seelig notes that we should worry more about how we are investing our time than how we are investing our money.
Both are good points.
By the way, thanks to everyone who came by my housewarming party last night! Hope you all had as good of a time catching up with everyone as I did.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Here's one beneficial software program that needs to be in your tool box .... and will definitely make your life easier:
* Quickbooks ......
In my experience, many small businesses are not very expert in managing the financial side of their business (because they're understandably so focused on creating and selling whatever their business is about).
Quickbooks is extremely user-friendly and intuitive. It enables anyone, even those without any understanding or knowledge of accounting principles, to keep an accurate set of financial records which can then be turned over to one's accountant for tax planning and preparation. Because QuickBooks is so easy to use, it also facilitates becoming more familiar with the financials of one's business and provides a clear picture of financial status (assuming it is kept up-to-date!).
Need more convincing? QuickBooks won the best Accounting / Finance software category in the Small Business Computing Excellence in Technology Awards for 2009.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Accounts receivable management (ARM) outsourcing is a cost-effective business resource available to companies of any size in any industry or vertical market. ARM outsourcing allows business to focus on finding and securing new sales rather than executing previously rendered sales, providing significant opportunities for the business to focus on sales and revenue growth rather than maintenance of previous sales.
Additionally, alternative financing for consumer sales is often available by cashing out existing receivables. Using existing A/R portfolios to secure funding is the quickest and easiest way for a small business to secure additional capital in lieu of attempting to qualify for a direct or traditional business loan.
One excellent resource for ARM support is a company called Conrad. Conrad provides complete receivable management including alternative consumer financing, account/loan servicing, and collections. For more information on what they can do for you go to: ConradCo
Monday, September 21, 2009
Some are finding opportunity.
Some are hurting or even failing.
Some are simply surviving .... hoping to make it through.
Recession, depression, inflation, cap and trade, stimulus package(s), bank bailouts, company bailouts, health care reform, credit crunch, job loss, energy prices, tax proposals, consumer confidence, stock market fluctuations, investment / funding decline, business debt, consumer debt, declining consumer spending, going "green", construction slow down, real estate depreciation, and much more .... it all seems to be coming at you from every direction. That's alot of pressures to deal with ... if it applies to you at all (somewhat depends on your business niche of course).
So what is the effect on YOUR business? (Positive, painful, not much, making changes to get through it, etc.)
What opportunities are YOU finding? (there are some ... believe it or not)
What problems are YOU having? (please be specific ... plus what did or can you do about it OR what can someone else do about it for you e.g local, state, or federal goverment/agency)
How are YOU surviving? (again please be specific, what tips or insights could you share that others may benefit from)
Here's YOUR chance to weigh in ... and LEARN FROM EACH OTHER.
Speak up, speak out ... make yourself heard!
Sort of like your own townhall just for small businesses. ;)
Please leave a comment ... as long as you'd like.
My request .... "say what you think, think what you mean, mean what you say".
Friday, September 18, 2009
Twenty-five years ago their founder saw some holes in the transportation solutions of the major carriers. Many of the "small" businesses were ignored for the larger more glamorous accounts. With that he set off to fill those holes and Mercury Business Services was founded.
In a nutshell, Mercury offers great transportation services at competitive rates. In addition, they back that service up with exceptional customer service. For example, they proactively track each shipment and notify the client of any issues. They work with the major carrier to address these issues and keep the client informed.
Resources, both cash and personnel, are scarce for small businesses and start ups. Each person wears a number of hats. Mercury helps by becoming an extension of the clients customer service and operations saving a lot of time and money. They do the tracking. They work with the carriers should there be an issue. They fill out the international paperwork at no additional cost, etc. This saves the clients money and countless hours of additional work.
You can check the out at Mercury Business Services or view a slideshow at Transportation Solutions to get an idea how they work.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
You'll find it here:
As you may know, over 99% of all business owners begin through bootstrapping! But many new entrepreneurs feel they are held back because they have no money. So not true! Author Marjorie Geiser has grown a successful business, as have many of her clients, through the efforts of successful bootstrapping.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Seems to me the answer with the US health insurance providers, is to create a similar ecosystem where there are more providers in play, where they are held to certain standards, and are regulated with how they price their services. The caveat is to ensure this ecosystem is managed effectively. If the government can help kick-start this ecosystem, them I'm all for reform. The key is to create a competitive environment where the government only needs to step in to ensure everyone in playing by the rules.
But .... how should they accomplish that?
The problem with a government insurance alternative is that it won't create a competetive market. Subsized health insurance is not playing on a level field as private health care. The appearance of lower cost (not taking into account the taxpayer subsidized premiums) premiums to an employer will be too big a carrot for them not to bite.
As more and more people are driven to the illusion of lower cost government health care, it will drive up the cost of premiums for the rest of the private health insurance holders. At some point, either only the extremely wealthy will have private insurance, or they will be self insured. At that point, the only option will be government health care.
It will be like the worst of all the HMO's as there will be no competition and no incentive for efficiency or effectiveness, since the motivation will be power and self preservation of bureaucratic jobs.
If people were allowed to purchase insurance across state lines, and if the for profit trial lawyers were limited in their insurance claims (thus discouraging multi-million dollar lawsuits, and as an added result, lower cost by negating the need for numerous unnecessary tests so doctors would not need to fear malpractice suits due to negligence charges), we could start to see some real reform in the medical field.
For starters ... I believe the 1st step must acknowledge that there are over 1000 health care insurors in the US. The problem is that they may not compete across state lines. Eliminate that provision and you have instant private sector competition. No need for the extra-constitutional federal intervention. Regulation is the problem. Remove the regulation which does not allow for free transactions within the insurance delivery system.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Now, assuming you don't have a business plan .... this is what I suggest. It is simple ... to make you think ... and fill in the "effort" blanks. This also isn't meant to be "THE" list. I'm sure others may have suggestions too. If so, by all means share them as comments.
1. Develop a business plan. This will be your roadmap for what, how, when, where, etc. Plus .... if/when requesting funding from anyone they will ask to see your business plan anyway.
2. Completing #1 will help you define who your target market is. Once you define that .... determine the best way to reach that market. Online (where, how), and/or offline (where,how).
3. Develop your marketing strategy based on #2 (in keeping with your process, goals, resources, budget, etc. defined in #1).
Since your focus is online marketing (per the boundries of this article) .... develop and execute your online marketing strategy to include SEO (search engine optimization), social media marketing (branding), building a customer list (attracting target market), and email/follow-up marketing (with your list).
For offline .... what opportunities reach your target market? Define those and pursue them. For example ... trade shows, local special events (e.g. fairs, festivals, open houses, etc.), local media.
4. Develop partnerships with local businessses where synergy exists between your products and theirs, and your target market and theirs. For example pet health products in a Vets office or pet store. Offer a win-win relationship of some kind (profit sharing or customer referals). These partnerships can be with brick and mortar businesses or online businesses.
5. Develop and implement metrics to enable constant evaluation of results. "When we do this .... this happens." Make business decisions based on data .... not the seat of your pants. These are called by some "business analytics".
I hope that helps some. Pretty genric but will hopefully give you some ideas.
Now don't just sit there .... get going!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
What's Your "Soup To Go" Strategy?
I write about exceeding expectations in business quite often. I happen to think it’s one of the secrets to success in business and life.
The thing is, it’s not really that hard sometimes because people have grown to expect so little. Just giving a little something extra, after the deal has been agreed to, can go a long way towards creating good will and word of mouth.
For example, my wife and I tried out this new restaurant in town. Meal was great, service very cheery, atmosphere appropriate, price in line. All of these things added up to a nice experience that had us agreeing to come back some time. But, when our server brought the check she also brought a pint of soup in a go container and told us to let them know what we thought of it.
Now I’m not just going back, I’m sitting here at my computer telling you about Cafe Augusta. As I said, that soup didn’t set them back much, but I had found memories of my visit the next day over a bowl of warmed up soup.
So, what's your "soup to go" strategy? Can you add something to the box, repair something for no charge, provide a free analysis of other systems, or give free stuff from your strategic partners?
I would love to hear your stories and examples of this concept.
Here's a point my friend Kurt Schweitzer made about the "soup to go strategy" ...
"Whatever you do needs to be integrated into your product delivery process so that you ALWAYS deliver a little something extra. And note that this ISN'T part of the "sales" process - this is only given to CUSTOMERS who have PAID, not to prospects who MIGHT buy."
I have to drive home another point here too. Do you see how POWERFUL this is? Your customer is impressed with your business, how you go that "little extra", and is reminded of a fantastic experience everytime they "see your soup". Do you think they'll come back? Do you think they'll tell others? So .... does this give you any ideas?
Monday, September 7, 2009
The most recent government accounting office report indicates that Medicare will be broke by 2017. We still have more people working and contributing to Medicare than using it, so how can the government insure everyone and not totally bankrupt our country.
The other area where the government is already heavily involved in health care is the VA, and have you seen some of the reports in the last couple years about the horrendous conditions at some of the VA hospitals?
I will readily admit that I do not believe that insurance companies have done as good as they could and should have. Let us not confuse the terms health care and health insurance. The root of the problem is the escalating cost in health care, and those escalating cost directly impact what insurance companies have to charge in premiums. The main thing I think insurance companies need to reform is denial of coverage ....and exclusions to coverage ...so that everyone can get coverage.
My biggest issue with the government plan is that it need not compete fairly with private plans, and it won't. Private plans must make a profit. The government plan is subsidized with our tax dollars and need not make a profit. It won't take very long for them to drive private insurors out of business, which would fulfill the administation's objective of having federal government power over your health care decisions. It's all about power.
Having said that, what are the alternative solutions. There is only one. Self-insurance. If the person seeking the health care is the person paying for the health care, then, and only then, will the proper cost/benefit decisions be implemented. If the costs are paid or subsidized by others in any form of risk pooling, whether it's taxpayer funded government risk pooling or subscriber funded private risk pooling, the impetus is always to buy more service. The result of more demand is of course higher prices.
Risk pooling is also the genesis of denial of service, or rationing. Private risk pools ration by denying service for pre-existing conditions. Public risk pools will also ration. We can look to subsidized health care in other countries for the myriad of forms that rationing takes.
Risk pooling also reduces supply of health care by "income averaging" providers. When you reduce the ability of individual buyers and sellers to negotiate prices by "risk pooling", you may cap prices at an imposed level where suppliers choose not to operate. See Florida's current shortage of Ob-Gyn's. This is the same mechanism which encourages some Drs. to not take new patients or new medicare patients. It's the financial mechanism also responsible for our shortage of GPs and RNs.
So for all these myriad of reasons, the only solution to improving health care is to take the governors off the industry by removing imposed caps and by allowing people to self-insure. There is no federal place in this process.
You may ask "what about the people who can't afford to self-insure". Those people have decisions to make, as we all do. It's the price of freedom. You don't get everything handed to you. You make choices in your life which lead you to results, including health results and financial results. If the choices are poor and the results are poor, you have the freedom to make new choices. And no, it's not easy. It may require sacrifice. That's the price of freedom.
And of course there is the subset of people who are less than fully abled and therefore may not be capable (as opposed to willing) to make the decisions and sacrifices to ensure their own freedom. This is why we have private charity. And there is a huge benefit to private charity over public assistance. With private charity, there is a judgement. A person must earn private charity. It's not a birthright. This promotes social value. People behave kindly toward others in their own enlightened self interest. Social outcasts and misfits don't receive charity when it's needed, so there is a vested interest in not behaving in such a manner.
Anyway, my two cents. The answer is less government, not more. People need to take personal accountability for their own health care to the degree they as individuals value it.
For those who suggest that this will change healthcare costs, I'd like to remind people that insurance companies don't impact health care costs. They only pay the price of health care. They can reduce the price paid for health care by refusing to go to the price charged by the provider, but that doesn't change the cost. It only squeezes or eliminates the profits accrued to the insurance company, the provider, or both. And when the profit from practicing medicine or insuring health is less than the profit from other alternative uses of resources, those resources are redirected. Shortages. So again, yes, government can "force" insurors to charge less. But they can't do so without creating shortages of Drs, insurors, or both, depending on how the reduction in profit is shared. Economics 101.
The supporters of this proposed Bill understand neither business behavior or personal behavior.
Business want to make a profit. They'll "do the right thing" as well - but not at the expense of reasonable profits. That's why insurers will leave the field when profits start to fall.
Personal behavior - they may not say it, but at the heart of it, people want "something for nothing". If they can't get that, they'll take "something for really cheap" (that's why discounts, rebates and garage sales are so popular).
When the "irresistable force" (e.g., "private medical insurance") meets the "immovable object" (e.g., "patients with preexisting conditions who are looking for reduced medical insurance costs"), "something's gotta give".
In this case, it will be medical insurers leaving the market - just as property insurers abandon the Gulf coast following a major hurricane.
HALF the reason our costs are so high is because of the quality AND level of care that (nearly) everyone gets. No other country pays for such aggressive cancer-fighting treatments, heart transplants, quadruple-bypass etc in the "average Joe" -- even if you're 80 years old or 100 pounds over-weight. In the US, it's joint-replacement surgury for everyone!
The other HALF of the reason our costs are so high is because someone will pay the price. The health companies would not charge such high rates if someone would not pay them (with government collected taxes, or by forcing businesses to pay). The critics say that already no one can afford health care. Well that is not true or the companies providing the services would not provide them, or they will lower their costs.
Is it just me, or is the plan to have the government throw more money at the problem the wrong way to go? Stop subsidizing health care with so much tax money and prices will come down. Stop increasing the burden on businesses and the prices will come down. Stop encouraging everyone to have an MRI every time they have a headache and the prices will come down.
Only problem: Perhaps the health-care industry will not be able to employ 11% of the entire work-force. But then, is it really necessary for one in every fifteen people (6.8% of the total US population) to be working full time to care for the rest of us? Then again...maybe we wouldn't need 10% of the entire population (15% of the work-force) employed in government either. That's right! Fully 25% of everyone working in the US is employed in either health care or government. What are the chances of "right-sizing" that mess without a full-blown default?
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Is the process of business the same as the scientific method? My contention is that especially for high tech start-ups, it just might be analogous in more ways than we tend to think.
When I used to work at a venture capital firm we used to think in terms of testing hypotheses. This appealed to me very much as a former scientist in genetics and neuroscience labs. However, I wondered how accurate the analogy really was. The view of business as science has grown on me over time however.
I think especially for start-ups they begin, like good science with an idea. It's an idea that the scientist, or entrepreneur holds great conviction in and wants to show the world is right. We often hear entrepreneurs speaking in these terms. "I wanted to prove a point," they say when referring to their business. The start-up process may well be one of testing and disproving or proving a hypothesis about a market.
In the venture capital world we were often trying to do as much work as possible to narrow down where the risk was in a new venture. What bet exactly are we making was what the partners would always want to know. In more precise terms, we were trying to figure out exactly what the bet or the hypothesis was that this venture was going to test and how likely that hypothesis appeared to be true. Like in science it is possible to have a good hypothesis but fail in the execution of the experiment. Similarly, you want a good scientist doing the research, you also want a founding team that is likely to be able to execute on the experiment so that if it is true then you are able to successfully show it.
In business, like in science, if you are successful and show that your hypothesis is right then others begin to follow you down that path. Also like in science, in doing a start-up you want to generate the correct data that will show your hypothesis is right as quickly and efficiently as possible. I think this is the thrust behind the trends for releasing early and the minimum viable product.
I'm interested in exploring this idea further that business is akin to the scientific method in many dimensions.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
1. Transparency .... Each party must be clear about why they are contacting one another, meaning what do they hope to get out of this relationship? Also, be forthright in defining the relationship and the terms associated with it.
2. Follow through .... When you say you'll deliver something, do it on-time or before the agreed upon deadline.
3. Respect .... Acknowledge the time and energy that each party is giving to the relationship. So for instance, don't ask for things to be delivered on one date and then not review them or provide feedback for weeks. Or don't show up late to meetings. Respect one another's time.
To elaborate even further .....
1. LISTENING - more business relationships are botched because the parties are not listening to one another. New business relationships involve people and in order to earn respect you must exhibit the behaviors that show you care about your audience. Filter out all unnecessary interruptions, restate what you have heard and seek public positive feedback from the audience.
2. THE FIRST CUSTOMER SYNDROME - Develop the habit of considering the new business relationship as important as the very first business relationship you formed. Ask yourself, "How far was I willing to go to secure my very first successful business relationship?" Go the distance for all business relationships as if it is your first and only opportunity to put food on the table.
3. LIVE THE GOLDEN RULE - constantly remind yourself as to how you would want to be treated in a great business relationship. Paint the ideal picture in your mind's eye and then work towards delivering that experience to your customers, suppliers, associates, partners and employees. Understanding that the customer is at the center of every action will help guide relationships in a prosperous direction.
So what's next for you? You should honestly evaluate your actions according to these qualities. if you aren't exhibiting them ... why not? It's time you should. If you are .... good on ya!!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Powerful business relationships don't just happen from one-time meetings at networking events--you don't need another pocketful of random business cards to clutter your desk. What you need is a plan to make those connections grow and work for you. And it's not as hard as you think.
Here are 3 essential tactics:
1. Build your network .... it's your sales lifeline. Your network includes business colleagues, professional acquaintances, prospective and existing customers, partners, suppliers, contractors and association members, as well as family, friends and people you meet at school, church and in your community.
Contacts are potential customers waiting for you to connect with their needs. How do you turn networks of contacts into customers? Not by hoping they'll remember meeting you six months ago at that networking event. Networking is a long-term investment. Do it right by adding value to the relationship, and that contact you just made can really pay off. Communicate like your business's life depends on it.
2. Communication is a contact sport, so do it early and often. Relationships have a short shelf life. No matter how charming, enthusiastic or persuasive you are, no one will likely remember you from a business card or a one-time meeting. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they come home from networking events and fail to follow up. Make the connection immediately. Send a "nice to meet you" e-mail or let these new contacts know you've added them to your newsletter list and then send them the latest copy. Immediately reinforce who you are, what you do and the connection you've made.
You rarely meet people at the exact moment when they need what you offer. When they're ready, will they think of you? Only if you stay on their minds. It's easier to keep a connection warm than to warm it up again once the trail goes cold. So take the time to turn your network of connections into educated customers.
3. Loyal customers are your best salespeople. So spend the time to build your network and do the follow-up. Today there are cost effective tools, like e-mail marketing, that make this easy. You can e-mail a simple newsletter, an offer or an update message of interest to your network (make sure it's of interest to them, not just to you). Then they'll remember you and what you do and deliver value back to you with referrals. They'll hear about opportunities you'll never hear about. The only way they can say, "Wow, I met somebody who's really good at XYZ. You should give her a call," is if they remember you. Then your customers become your sales force.
If real estate is all about location, location, location, then small business is all about relationships, relationships, relationships. Find them, nurture them, and watch your sales soar.
For most people in start ups any monetary advantage they get will be temporary, but the people will be there for the rest of your life. Make sure you’re building and enjoying the relationships along the way :)