Sunday, December 30, 2007

5 New Year’s Resolutions for this Small Business Owner

Determined to be successful as a business owner in 2008? Me, too. Here are my New Year's resolutions. Have some of your own to share? Let us know!

1. Check out assumptions.

When I launched Maternitique last month, I had a promotional plan in place. I executed it. I held my breath and watched as the results fell short of what I expected.

I did the right steps of researching, planning, budgeting. What I didn’t do was ask those more experienced—or even anyone at all—what to expect. My steps were correct, but the expectations were too high.

In 2008, I resolve to more frequently ask fellow business owners for feedback and to consult with my team of advisors.

2. Enlist help.

Friends and family have been offering for months to help me check in inventory, spread the word about my store and take some of the grunt work off my shoulders. In 2008, I resolve to accept help.

3. Set SMART goals, not just goals.

I’m notorious for ingenious ideas, creative suggestions and out-of-the-box thinking. But my goals are often lofty, complicated and ambitious. There are often so many players to involve, so many elements to coordinate and so much labor entailed that they don’t come to fruition in the timeline needed or as flawlessly as imagined.

In 2008, I resolve to narrow down my big ideas into specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely (SMART) goals. At least I resolve to try.

4. Make better use of my time.

The most SMART goals in the world won’t go anywhere without investing time and effort into them. To select the best of my ideas, involve other people in testing them for appeal, and really sink my teeth into executing them, I need to focus, create detailed plans with objectives and show up to work each day to make it happen.

In 2008, I resolve to be more respectful of my time.

5. Be a better boss.

Being my own boss is a joy. I love having freedom and no higher authority to report to. The downside is that when I’m not performing at my best, I become an irritating, frustrating boss.

Lately, I have lost my focus, thrown up my hands in frustration more times than I care to count, avoided working on problem areas and could probably have earned some kind of award for procrastination. Have you ever had to work with someone like that? It’s demoralizing. In 2008, I resolve to be a better boss to myself. I resolve to treat myself as if I were one of my employees.

Other suggested New Year’s resolutions for 2008:
Chicago Daily Herald

Small Business: Canada at About.com

Small Business Trends

San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Contemplating Existence

This morning my father gave me a 1983 article from Harvard Business Review called, “The five stages of small business growth.” In it, author and accounting professor Neil C. Churchill labels Stage 1 as “Existence.”

In this stage, businesses struggle to stay open. The business owner *is* the business. Existence depends on the owner’s investment of considerable personal energy, direction, capital and time.

The professor continues to explain that at this stage, there are three critical issues for businesses. They are:
  1. attracting enough customers and performing the tasks of the business well enough to be viable

  2. expanding from initial customers to a broader sales base

  3. having enough money to meet the cash demands of the start-up phase

    Both of my businesses—the copywriting one and my new maternity retail store that opened last month—are in Stage 1. With both efforts, I’m attracting customers and succeeding in delivering the services. The question of viability, however, is still up in the air for both entities, as is the consideration of expansion.

    As I distill all of the questions and worries I have about my two fledgling businesses into those three, small-but-significant ingredients, I find some relief from the start-up stress.

    I am confident that I can meet the first two challenges. I believe that both businesses have the capacity for success in their quality, concept, service delivery and in meeting genuine consumer needs. The remaining challenge, according to Professor Churchill, is money. From where I sit, though, there is one more: time. I need time to gain traction and critical mass, as well as enough money to buy the time and the means to gain traction.

    What a relief, then, to know I can access more money (I haven’t yet maxed out credit cards, sought a business loan or tapped my friends and family for cash).

I guess now I must learn to be patient with myself as I learn how to use my time and money to their greatest impact.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dusty Widget Blogger MIA?

Since the beginning of November, I've been quite busy gearing up for the opening of my new store store, Maternitique.

Many things went according to plan, but some didn't. Some of the results were expected, but some -- not so much.

I could blog about how to plan a grand opening (and how not to!), lessons learned with publicity and online PR, the people and resources that helped me along the way, the stress, the veering off the business plan, the value of the business plan, the unexpected discoveries...and I will.

But not right now.

It's really, just all too fresh. I'm going to try to take a step back from it all, smile through the holidays and...breathe.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Elements of a Press Kit: The Executive Photo

I’m in the process of telling the story of my second company to the world.

To do this, I’ve hired a publicist and worked with her to create a press release. She distributed it and now the dialogue with the media is open.

Would I like to do an interview? Can we have your bio? Do you have a photo?

As a matter of fact, I do (<- that's me).

Thanks to Daniel Payne, I have a professional corporate portrait for my web site, executive bio and press kit.

I met Daniel at an OEN event over the summer and we discussed high-tech start-ups and marketing. Later that month, he was kind enough to make an electronic introduction for me to a marketing and PR firm that might need contract copywriters. In his email introduction, I saw that his signature line said he was a photographer. Knowing I might need a photographer someday in the near future, I checked out his web site and liked the quality of the corporate portraits he included in his portfolio.

So when the time arrived for me to get my picture taken, he was top of mind. I called him two weeks ago and arranged for him to meet me at my house for the sitting.

It was easier than I could have imagined! Daniel brought and set up all the equipment he needed while I touched up my make-up. We talked about backgrounds and looked at the design of my new web site and the clients of my copywriting business to pick the look that would best match both of my companies.

Then, in the matter of only a few minutes, he shot about two dozen pictures of me. At his laptop, we looked at them, rotated some, and picked the one that fit best. In less than 90 minutes from beginning to end, I had exactly what I needed for my web site, my press kit, and my bio.

If you’re like me, you might balk at the idea of having your professional portrait done for small business promotion. I assumed it would take a long time to get the proofs and final images and I expected it to be expensive and inconvenient to arrange.

I can’t say enough how happy I am that Daniel made it so easy, affordable, and convenient!

Think about the benefits to your small business. It is a reflection of you, after all, isn’t it? Why not personalize some of your promotional materials with your face? People like to buy from people; they like to know who it is who will be on the other end of the phone when they call.

And besides, when the hot moment hits and a newspaper or trade magazine wants to feature your business, you’ll be ready.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Stand Back and Take Notice

"One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done." -- Marie Curie, French scientist

On July 31, I wrote about my electronic to-do list. When I began my list back then, it was daunting. A full paged of typed tasks in 10-pt typeface is a lot more than a full page of handwritten ones. There were full categories of steps to accomplish, from operations to marketing.

Now just three months later, I've not only crossed off everything on that list, but I've added two additional pages of work that lies ahead.

Although there is still much more to accomplish in launching my business, I did stop for a moment yesterday to soak in the significance of seeing that entire first page with lines through every task.

It felt good.

The things on that list were important, fundamental steps: interviewing and selecting an illustrator and graphic designer to create my company's identity; registering the DBA (doing business as) with the state; opening my corporate bank account and credit card; capitalizing my corporation by making my equity contribution; connecting a dedicated business phone line; registering the domain name for my company's web site; and purchasing office supplies, file cabinets, and the like.

When I stop the whirlwind of motion, stand back and look at how much I've done in only three months, I'm a bit stunned.

And proud.

I write this post today for myself as much as for anyone else. I hope I remember to notice in the months to come not what remains to be done, but how much I've done already.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Find Your Passion and Follow It

Last night I was at a party and found myself answering a lot of questions about my businesses. Because I'm so close to the launch of my second venture, I naturally focused on how hard I'm working these days. I talked about the long hours and how focused I've been on dedicating my energy to both companies.

When one of the guys I was talking with said, "It must be a drag to work that hard," I was surprised. I hadn't meant to sound like I was complaining. I'm not. But it is what it is: a lot of work.

"I'm happy to work this hard," I said, "because I'm excited about what I'm doing. I love what I'm creating, and I love that it's mine."

On Thursday, I wrote to my public relations agent about my ideas for an editorial pitch to a major women's magazine. She responded this way:
"Looks good Tara! You can tell your heart is really in this. I was just reading
an article this morning from one of my favorite motivators and he quoted:
When starting your business look for a product that you really like, use and
enjoy yourself personally. You can only sell something to someone else if your
heart is in it. And if your heart is in it you will enjoy using the product
yourself and be successful and the money will follow."
I know the advice to "love what you do and the money will follow" is trite, but people keep repeating it because it's true.

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, you really do have to be passionate about the business you're starting or running. To keep yourself energized and pushing forward when the going gets tough, it takes something more than the draw of a paycheck. It takes love, passion, and intensity. And like the romantic equivalents, when you share your passion, you might be surprised at how it grows and turns into something more beautiful and amazing than you had imagined.

Friday, November 2, 2007

“Just Start” Your Business—Enter to Win $50,000!

When I said earlier this week that October was the month of QuickBooks, I may have been mistaken.

So far, Intuit and its leading small business accounting software are making a strong showing in November as well.

Yesterday I discovered the Just Start contest, sponsored by Intuit. Targeting the supposed 72% of Americans who yearn to start a business, Intuit is promoting an “entrepreneurial revolution,” and encouraging the undecided to “just start” making their business visions come true.

Free Software & a $50,000 Prize
Visit the web site to sign up to receive a free copy of the new “QuickBooks Simple Start 2008” small business accounting software and learn how to submit your entry to the Just Start business contest. The Grand Prize winner will receive $40,000 in cash and $10,000 in services to help her or him with a new entrepreneurial effort.

Entrepreneur Events
In addition to the contest entry, you can find out about Just Start entrepreneurial events happening around the country, and add your own pledge to Just Start doing what you love.

Contest Info
The contest started October 12. Entries will be accepted through December 15, 2007 and the winner announced the first week of February, 2008. Awards will be made on based on the feasibility of your business idea and the strength of your presentation.

I would have told you about it yesterday, but I wanted a head start in assembling my entry. Kidding.

Good luck! Let me know if you enter; I’ll mention your entry!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Last Word on Country Music Inspiration

As I put up Radney Foster's song last night, it didn't feel right to do so without mentioning another inspiring tune I listen to when I'm feeling discouraged.

At the risk of being cheesy, here's Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband performing "Dream Big" on YouTube.

I won't go further sharing my favorite music, but I know there are other aspiring or struggling business owners who love music as much as I do and will appreciate having these performers in their collection.

Besides, even Presidential campaigns have theme songs. If I were to have a theme song, this would be it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Country Music Inspiration

Are you on the brink of starting your own business? In a low spot after a discouraging day?
While I was working late tonight, I had iTunes on shuffle and found my spirits lifting as I listened to Radney Foster's "Never Gonna Fly."
Here is an excerpt to give you a lift. (click to hear the sample)
You wanna feel the wind, you gotta take the ride
You better dream big, you wanna touch the sky
You can't be scared to risk it all
No, you're never gonna fly if you're afraid to fall

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Joy of Bookkeeping

October has been the month of QuickBooks.

I'm learning how to keep my business's books and all the component parts included with that responsibility: setting up the chart of accounts; viewing and reading reports; customizing invoice templates; and creating the record-keeping systems that will help me track my profitability, sales, and inventory.

Because the extent of my knowledge about QuickBooks, accounting, bookkeeping, and business reports could fit in a sandwich baggie, I planned on hiring professional help to get me up and running when I launched my new businesses. I wanted to be trained and at a conversational--if not fluent--level of competency by the time we were done. After all, I'm the CEO of one company and the sole proprietor of another. I should know my books like the back of my hand.

With a $2,500 budget for my first year's accounting expenses, I expected to be able to get the training and set-up I needed, plus my first year's taxes. Since I'm only going to be open for business for two or three months of the entire fiscal year, it seemed like plenty of money.

So in August I had a junior associate at my financial firm come and spend two hours with me setting up my chart of accounts--which she did incompletely. A week or so later, I opened a business bank account and in September I had to write my first check. Stumped as to how to enter my equity contribution and bank information into QuickBooks, then how to write a check, I called my firm and spoke for 20 mintues with another junior associate about how to complete those tasks.

Then last week, I received my first bill from my firm. It's more than $1,000.

Time-out.

At this rate, the $500 online course from Intuit sounds like a bargain.

But I'm a hands-on learner, not someone who retains and integrates information gleaned from a computer screen. Reading about the nuances of double-entry bookkeeping on a white window doesn't sound wise knowing my learning style.

It was time for a new strategy or a new accountant! I opted to seek less expensive help from someone who could walk me through the basics of QuickBooks and save the financial firm for tax time.

I reached out to Richard Witherspoon, of Witherspoon and Heath business consulting. My friend and fellow business owner had introduced me to Richard several months ago and I was impressed at the time by Richard's knowledge of IT systems and QuickBooks. How I wish I had begun my QuickBooks learning curve with him first!
For 1/3 of the price tag, I've been able to spend several hours with Richard setting up my systems and operations. Without fear of what it will cost me, I've been able to ask questions. What's even better, he's given me written, customized, step-by-step instructions. If I forget what we did together, I have typed notes from him after our session.

A god-send!

Plan A sounded good and looked good on paper, but like every part of my business plan so far, the reality didn't match the paper image. Thanks to Richard's help, however, I'm likely to stay within my budget, and even more importantly, I'm ready for business.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Market to Previous Customers: Look to the Past to Build Toward the Future

...or Happy Halloween from Your Real Estate Agent

Real estate agents, like other commission-based sales professionals, know that staying in touch with everyone in their address book is essential to growing their business. Referrals are a salesperson’s bread-and-butter; sales are easier to make when you have a prospect’s friend or relative greasing the tracks for your deal.

Dana Griggs, my parents’ real estate agent with Hasson Company Realtors, knows that one of the cardinal rules of successful marketing is to stay in front of people. And she does it so well.

More than a decade after she helped my parents find and buy their home, she continues to regularly send cards to them. Last winter, Dana sent my mother a holiday greeting that was customized with a picture of my parents’ house on front. My mother, who really loves her house, told me it was her favorite card (after the one she received from me and her grandchild, I’m sure).

This morning, my father sent me Halloween greetings via an email forwarding of an electronic card from Dana.

Every time you reach out and stay in front of your previous customers or clients, you give them the opportunity to pass on your information to others. Not only have my parents talked to me about Dana and her cards, they’ve shared her name to many other people as well. And now, I’m sharing her information with you.

By consistently making yourself visible to those you’ve served in the past, you remind them of what you do and how you helped them. It keeps fresh the positive feelings they associate with your assistance and skill. And because of those positive feelings and your past relationship, they are your best source for repeat and new business.

There’s no need to be pushy or glitzy. Even a simple letter on stationery can be effective. But to ensure your business is remembered, thought of, talked about—and maybe even displayed on your customers’ refrigerators—the key is to find timely, thoughtful, and simple ways to remind them of you and your business.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I Win, I Win!

** For Immediate Release ** Contact: Tara M. Bloom Communications
503.233.1527
tara@bloomcopywriter.com


Local Writer Wins Honorable Mention in One of the World's Largest Writing Competitions

Portland, Or.--Portland essayist and professional copywriter Tara M. Bloom received an exciting letter in the mail last week from the editor of Writer's Digest, the world's most popular magazine for writers.

Her entry to the 76th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition was awarded Honorable Mention in the Memoirs/Personal Essay category.

Ms. Bloom's manuscript, Blues Dancers, was among more than 19,000 entries to the contest.

Her name will be listed in the December 2007 issue of Writer's Digest magazine, among the top 100 winners of the contest's 10 categories. Bloom will also receive mention in the competition collection book, published by Outskirts Press.

"It's ironic to admit that I don't have words to capture how proud I am,” says Bloom. “Receiving this acknowledgement from Writer's Digest is an amazing accomplishment. It's not only an honor from my peers, but it's also a nod to my work's market appeal. My next step is to submit the manuscript for publication."

Tara M. Bloom is a copywriter and marketing consultant who helps small businesses break through sales plateaus, turn around poor sales trends, and realize more profit from their marketing dollars. In 2003, she won First Place in the Non-Fiction category of Whidbey Island Writers Conference's Celestial Writing Contest for her manuscript, The Pill: Revolutionizing How We Feel.

About Writer’s Digest:
Writer's Digest is the world's leading magazine for writers, founded in 1920. Writer's Market, the bible for writers seeking to publish their work, was first published in 1921. Together, they form the foundation of a wide range of informational, instructional and inspirational offerings for writers.

###

Friday, October 12, 2007

Make Your Life Easier: (Nearly) Instant PDF Conversion

Have you ever wanted to upload to your web site a report or examples of your work? Maybe a coupon for your customers to print out or your restaurant’s latest menu?

Have you ever spent too much time trying to figure out how to acquire and run Adobe Acrobat Distiller so you could make your own PDFs? Or maybe you don’t even know what I’m talking about when I ask you that question?

Take a look at the left bar of my blog for the widget labeled, “Biz Tool: Make a PDF.” Although it doesn’t fit perfectly into the Blogger layout, this tool is completely useable and indispensable for the small business owner.

The little gadget brings PDF conversion capability to your fingertips.

To use it, simply type your email into space that’s entitled, “Email,” and use the “Browse” button like you would on any Microsoft Windows Explorer navigation to find the document on your computer that you want to convert. After clicking “Convert and Send,” you’ll receive an email that has the newly created PDF as an attachment for you!

The conversion is done is in less than 30 seconds and works with any Word document (and probably any NotePad, WordPad, text file, or WordPerfect document—I haven’t tested those).

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Another Great Small Business Resource

I love one-stop shops. With so much to do each day in getting my businesses off the ground, finding a destination that provides me with numerous resources in one location is a boon ~ and noteworthy enough to pass on to you!

I visited AllBusiness.com this morning. With an entire catalog of Forms & Agreements, do-it-yourselfers will find inexpensive and professional templates ranging from press releases (starting at $15 to download) to domain name purchase agreements to instructions for registering a trademark (only $5).

The site's extensive categories of business advice include very useful articles on the essentials of business ownership ~ legal, hiring the right people, choosing the right accounting software and method ~ as well several sections that other sites ignore, such as business travel, developing your management skills and franchising.

In an earlier blog post (Sept 12), I mentioned the importance of belonging to trade associations for your industry. Round out your industry tracking efforts by subscribing to your profession's periodicals. Find a directory of industry publications under "Professional Journals."

I especially love the "Business Answers" section under Tools & Services. Who among us doesn't have a question in mind that we think is too minor or too obvious to ask about? Find the answers to those unasked questions there. You'll also find a Franchise Directory, Glossary, Podcast Library and more in Tools & Services.

I'm in business web heaven. And to show my gratitude, I'm adding the AllBusiness web widget to my blog. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Sustainable Venture Capitalists: OSA

Be part of the sustainable economy!

Check out Oregon Sustainability Angels (OSA). An invitation-only membership organization, OSA exists to “provide investment capital, strategic advice and mentoring to early-stage companies to help them achieve market leadership in 'sustainable' business opportunities, with a particular focus on clean energy.”

Start-up companies seeking investment capital should be based in Oregon or Washington. Instructions for submitting your business plan are given online.

For more resources related to social entrepreneurship, read “Save the World and Make Money” and check back here for additonal updates and resources as I find them.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Air Your Commercial on YouTube

I received an interesting email yesterday from a small business. They wrote to their newsletter subscribers to invite us to watch their home-made commercial on YouTube.

First of all, I love the novelty of writing to people to invite them to watch your commercial!

And second, what a clever way to harness the power of the Internet and today's tech fad to inexpensively spread the word about your business.

My hat's off to A Natural Home for the small business innovative marketing idea of the week.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Celebrate Your Successes

Yesterday I hit an important and exciting milestone on the way toward my upcoming major deadline. Because I was in such a good mood about the accomplishment, I bought myself a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers when I went grocery shopping.

As I shared news of the milestone to my friends last evening and sipped a glass of wine, I realized how good it felt to pause and celebrate the day’s success.

I still have the deadline looming in the not-so-distant future, but keeping myself encouraged is important.

I don’t want my enthusiasm for the project to wane. I want to keep my energy up for the hurdles I face on the way toward my goals. Taking the time to pat myself on the back for the progress I’m making helps keep me energized and excited for what’s to come.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Don't Stop Marketing!

This morning I had coffee with a fellow entrepreneur who launched his business just over a year ago.

As we talked about how things had been going for us with our respective companies, he mentioned that many of the sales efforts he and his partner had made in the very beginning were just starting to pay off.

As promote my copywriting services, I notice something similar. Contacts or advertising efforts I made in the first weeks and months of being self-employed are only recently yielding contracts.

The moral of today’s story: stay dedicated to ongoing marketing efforts. While it may not seem to be doing any good, it will.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Advice for starting your own business

As soon as I announced that I was starting my own business, people began to comment.

From the well-seasoned to the just-well-intentioned, perfect strangers to best friends, everyone has had advice to share. And the amazing thing is that some of what I’ve heard in the last five months has been just the nudge I needed at the time to help me overcome an obstacle I was facing.

As I reflect on how far I’ve come in such a short amount of time, I want to share some of the best advice I’ve received so far. If you’re facing doubts or are stuck with a problem, I hope these simple-but-effective thoughts help you, too.

Trust your instincts.

If your instinct is that a product won’t sell or a service you could offer would be a hit, trust what your nose tells you. Our instincts exist to propel us forward and help us thrive. Learn to follow them.

Go with your gut.

Where our instincts propel us forward, our gut reactions keep us back when necessary. If a potential deal, partner, investor, location, or supplier doesn’t feel right, trust the gut feeling and avoid it.

Give yourself options.

A few months ago, I had to choose between paying my illustrator for either two or five renditions of new logo designs. Obviously, there was price difference. A fellow entrepreneur ~ and graphic designer ~ advised me to give myself options and ask for the larger package. I’m glad I did. There’s something to be said for casting a wide net.

Just get it done.

Then again, sometimes there can be too many choices. Sometimes, you just have to push forward and get things done. When you’re stuck or overwhelmed, make yourself jump into a task and knock it out of the way. You’ll feel better afterward. And remember: not everything has to be perfect the first time.

Protect your confidence.

It’s easy to look at some of the things you have to do to start a business and think that someone else could do them better than you can. My mentor shared this common experience with me and gave the following advice: “Protect your confidence.” Don’t let anyone or anything erode the confidence you have in yourself and your idea. Sure, others might be better designers, or manufacturers, or whatever…but your business idea belongs to you. Only you can make it happen. Find supportive mentors and friends and soak in their support and encouragement.

Write down your mission and keep it visible.

One day while I was lamenting how easy it is for me to get distracted from my purpose, my boyfriend suggested I copy my mission statement from my business plan and tape it onto my computer monitor. “Keep it eye-level,” he said. “You have to be able to see it at all times.” It’s helped. Whether I’m discouraged, distracted, or bored with what I’m doing, I just glance up at my words of purpose and I instantly feel encouraged. Try it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Save the World and Make Money: Be a Social Entrepreneur

In the Cascade Business News I was reading on Saturday in Bend, there was an article entitled, “Are Short Term Financial Gains Killing Our Planet?” Subtitled, “How Reforms to Capitalism Can Save the Environment,” the article shared the views of Jonathon Porritt, sustainability advisor to the UK Prime Minister and author of Capitalism: As if the World Matters.

Pollitt argues for a more “positive and profound change” in the way the world’s economies work, and suggests several concrete, albeit radical, ways that capitalists can save the planet. Namely:

  1. Pay real prices for what we take from nature
  2. Balance short- and long-term economic interests with environmental interests, and
  3. Promote responsible consumption.

His organization, Forum for the Future, exists to push for just such a change.

If Pollitt’s suggestions are a bit radical, his agenda certainly isn’t. Capitalist concern for the environment and social welfare is more mainstream than ever. On CNN’s web site, would-be capitalists can search “America’s Best Colleges for Entrepreneurs” by the sub-category of Social Entrepreneur programs.

Socially responsible businesses aren’t anything new, but the explosive proliferation of them in the marketplace is. From earth-friendly car care and dry cleaners to wind power plants and biofuels, nearly every one of our daily consumption choices includes some form of socially responsible option.

At least, if you’re in Portland.

And if you’re in Portland, or even in Oregon, you’re also in a great place to join the social entrepreneur movement.

Through the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, I’ve met some exciting innovators with up-and-coming enviroventures. The ladies behind OsoEco and the guys at End Outdoor are among the next generation of entrepreneurs, intent on showing the world how to develop profitable companies that also do right for our bodies and our Earth.

They, of course, are inspired by forerunners like Nau, New Seasons Market, Hot Lips Pizza, and Patagonia, to name just a few of many pioneering, Oregon-grown socially beneficial businesses.

Whether you start your business from the ground floor with social responsibility in mind, or you have a desire to back into it slowly and gradually, there is no good reason not to do it.

Following are some resources to help you become a social entpreneur.

Read More, Get Smarter

GreenBiz.com, Green Biz Essentials

The New Green Economy Archives at The Lazy Environmentalist Blog

Eco-Entrepreneurs Articles atGreen Options Blog


Network

Opportunity Green Conference: Shaping the Future of Sustainable Business
November 17, 2007, Los Angeles, CA

Eco Packaging

Sustainable Packaging Coalition

Earthcycle.com

Treecycle.com



Sunday, September 23, 2007

Feel the Beat: Central Oregon Business Pulse

A pleasure jaunt with my boyfriend and the mutual friend who introduced us led me to Bend yesterday ~ one of my favorite destinations in Oregon.

While the men were doing "men things," my dog and I hiked through Shevlin Park*, shopped in the Old Mill District, and trolled around Wall and Bond Streets downtown. With some hot cocoa at Thump Coffee, I picked up a copy of Cascade Business News and rested my feet for a bit in the pre-autumn afternoon chill.

I've been saturating myself with the business resources available here in Portland (The Portland Business Journal, Oregon Business, Oregon Entrepreneurs Network). To have a glimpse into the world of small business in Bend ~ a rapidly growing small-town-cum-small-city ~ was a treat worth sharing.

What I liked the most about the array of articles in CBN was how practically helpful for small businesses they are. In addition to the expected business profiles and plentiful columns of business announcements and "Who's Who" updates, CBN included several short articles with hands-on information that can help every small business owner.

In "Exit Planning: How to Make the Business More Valuable," for instance, Bruce Juhola explains how to retain or attract a management team for your business that will help fetch you the premium price you want when you sell.

In another brief but useful article, Jim Kress, who teaches marketing at Central Oregon Community College, writes about the "ingredients" for small business marketing plans.

Both articles indicate they are parts of a larger series of articles about business valuation and marketing, true nuts-and-bolts information that every business owner needs. (Sorry, neither article was available online.)

Editorial, community involvement articles, and legislative updates also round out CBN, presenting an integrated perspective of how government, media, and social services intersect with businesses. I applaud the newspaper's refreshing effort at highlighting the community's influence on business ~ and vice-versa.
Wherever you are, I think you'll find a visit to CBN's web site ~ and their "Business Tips" section ~ a useful way to spend a cup of hot cocoa, too.

* To give credit where credit is due, I grabbed the photo of Shevlin Park from a housing development's web site.

Monday, September 17, 2007

How to Get Your Own Toll-Free Number

Like direct mail, a toll-free number is a simple, tried-and-true business essential that gets a bad rap nowadays. In the land of wireless phone networks and voice-over-internet-phone services, some futurists declare a toll-free phone number to be archaic.

Despite the proclamations, however, a toll-free phone number on your business stationery still imparts instant credibility.

Whether you want to increase your sales, look bigger than you are, add substance to your company's claims of superior customer service, or just think your business has the perfect name for a vanity phone number, here are the three main things for you know in order to get your own toll-free number.

1. Select Your Carrier

With telecommunications deregulation, there are now dozens, if not hundreds, of companies you could choose for toll-free service. While AT&T, MCI, and Sprint are the giants, there are numerous small companies competing for your business.

I found Tollfreeforwarding.com through a Google search for toll-free service providers and I was drawn in by their pay-per-click ad that offered a free trial and $10 free credit. While I had some issues at first with the service (see below), I've been happy ever since.

As a small business person, I appreciate vendors who can make my life easier. Tollfreeforwarding.com earned my trust with the free trial, has lower rates than the big guys, and has an online command center that enables me to easily see my bills, track my calls, and set up call forwarding rules whenever I'm away from the office.

2. Select Your Number

Getting any, old toll-free number isn't a problem. Getting one that matches your business phone number or one that spells something particular is a bit of a trick. Not only are you going to find that most 800- prefix numbers are already taken, so are the 877-, 866-, and 888- versions.

The big dog in all things phone, AT&T, has a useful toll-free search tool that lets you plug in one or more digits and find the phone numbers with the digits you want. As a personal note, I admit to spending WAY too much time with that search tool.

3. Test Your Number

Once you pick your number, take it back to the carrier you've chosen (or stay with AT&T if you prefer) and sign up. It will take a few days to activate the new phone number.

Despite your excitement to tell the world about your 800-number, don't rush out and do that. Before you publish your new toll-free number, make sure it works to your satisfaction! Check sound quality, crispness, stability in length of calls, and make sure it works from calls coming from all areas.

My first week with Tollfreeforwarding.com wasn't looking good. My friends, family and vendors in Canada weren't able to use the number and my first two emails to Customer Service didn't elicit any response. My third email connected me with a Customer Service rep who worked for several days to solve the problem. He was professional, personal, and saw the job through to completion. Problem solved, phone number works well, and I'm happy to tell others, namely you, about my experience.

Other Resources

Business Week: "Toll-Free Service Buyer's Guide"
eZine Articles: "Selecting a Toll Free Number?"
PhoneSpell.org: Enter up to 16 digits to see what words can be made from them.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A "Yoga-as-Business" Metaphor

When I first started learning yoga, I was stunned at how holding my body still in a pose could appear so effortless from the outside, but feel so intense on the inside.

As I was going through my series of yoga poses this morning, I thought about how learning to be a business owner is similar.

For years, I used to look at successful people who own their own businesses and think that they made it look so effortless. But just like practicing yoga, it only appears to be effortless from the outside. On the inside, both require strength, discipline, and focus.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Buying a Business: Questions to Ask in the Process

Before I decided to start my own business, I had gone thorough two attempts at buying other companies.

The first time, I decided not to make an offer after thorough examination of the sales and financial reports with my CPA showed how long I'd have to pump my own capital into the business before I could turn a reasonable profit.

The second time, I was looking at a business that wasn't "market-ready" (the owner was privately in discussion with me to buy, but hadn't listed the company or prepared it for sale). In that case, I consulted with two banks and my CPA to determine the value of the business, made an offer, but was met with an unrealistic counter-offer from the owner that was more than triple the value of the company.

Both experiences were tremendous learning opportunities and I have no regrets about the money or time I spent on them, even though they didn't turn into what I expected or hoped.

If you're considering buying someone else's business, ask the broker or owner the following questions to try to determine if the business is the right fit for you.

(Note: This is by no means a thorough list! The due diligence process of learning about a business can take weeks or even months. These are just some starters to help you get a feel for the circumstances the business faces--and that you would face if you were to take over. I strongly recommend you to work with a skilled accountant and attorney if you're interested in buying a business.)
  1. What's the corporate structure?

  2. What are the posted (or regular) business hours? How many days a year is the business open? Has it varied greatly over the years or stayed relatively the same?

  3. Why specifically do the owners want to sell now? Are there any threats or problems on the horizon? Has there been major displacement by a competitor?

  4. Has anything changed with any suppliers? Any terms of contracts different now? If so, why?

  5. What's motivating the sellers? What do they hope to walk away from with the sale?

  6. Are there any filings against the business of any kind (tax, legal, financial)? (Note: you should pay your accountant and attorney at some point in the process to conduct a search for this information on your own. Don't take the seller's word at face value, no matter how much you trust them.)

  7. What kind of financing are the sellers offering? On what conditions?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Trade Associations Aid Small Businesses

For entrepreneurs just starting out, as well as for more established small business or sole proprietors, trade associations provide valuable connections and tools you can use to catapult your business to the next level.

Trade magazines and memberships to writers’ associations have provided leads and resources to me that I wouldn’t have been able to access on my own. From national research on setting copywriting rates, referrals to companies that specialize in answering my profession’s business management needs, and newsletters that connect me to project postings, I can find a wealth of helpful information from the handful of trade sources I’ve joined.

Whether membership is charged monthly or annually, the network will give you back more than you pay for it, especially if you mine it for all it’s worth.

Membership really does have its privileges.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Double-Edged Sword of Perfectionism

I’m curious how many other small business owners feel both compelled and trapped by perfectionism.

On the one hand, my desire to present a polished final product to customers is driving me to pay attention to the smallest details. This is a good thing because the attention will yield a result that makes me proud and that people will respect.

On the other hand, it’s taking so long to learn about those details and to make every minute decision so carefully, that I wonder if I’m making it harder for myself to do what I need to do. It’s a bad thing if I’m not able to move forward on other objectives and higher priorities because I’m “sweating the small stuff.”

For example, I’m spending a surprising amount of time trying to create business cards that represent my commitment to quality—without spending a fortune on four-color offset printing. I’ve been on the phone with my graphic designer and a friend of mine who manages a print shop. I’ve driven out to look at Pantone books and spent close to an hour with both of them trying to explain the difference to me between Pantone colors and CMYK blends for digital printing.

I’ve reviewed one set of proofs, was unsatisfied, and now have to go look at another proof sheet, even though the machine that created the second proof sheet can’t use the heavier stock paper that I want.

Ultimately, I may end up choosing a specialized digital printer from California, and then flying proof sheets up to me in Oregon.

And all of this is will be to create a product that isn’t even up to the high standard that I want—recycled card stock paper printed with environmentally-friendly ink.

My way of coping with my own perfectionism: I allow it to exist and give it space, but I reign myself in, too. I set a time limit for how much I’ll work on the source of vexation and at the end of the time, I move on to more important priorities.

A waste of time? Or a valuable commitment to quality? What do *you* do when your perfectionism crosses the line from being useful to being an impediment?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Plan Seasonal Promotions Now

On my daily walk yesterday, I spotted a lovely, but frightening thing ~ chrysanthemums planted in a tree stump in somebody's yard.

I know the first day of school was Wednesday, and I know the days are getting shorter, but it was the yellow and brown mums that made me feel the chill of autumn.

Many small business owners have high revenue expectations for Q4. (I've mentioned that I have a direct mailing planned myself...)

If you haven’t already begun to plan your strategy for holiday marketing, now is the time. November and December will be here before you can say “Boo.”

Friday, September 7, 2007

Apple "Oops" Offers Lesson for Small Businesses

When I watched the news Wednesday evening, I was surprised to hear the announcement by Apple that it was cutting the price of an iPhone by $200 (photo courtesy of Apple).

“Wow,” I thought, “there are going to be thousands of very upset iPhone customers.”

People waited in line for days to get their hands on one of the new toys ~ I mean tools ~ and paid $599 (and up) for the privilege. Not only that, but those dedicated Apple disciples hyped the phone and added to its market value by giving it cache.

This is the thanks they get for that loyalty? To see new customers pay 2/3 of what they did?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs said yesterday in an interview published in USA Today that the first iPhone customers would have to understand “that’s technology.” He weakly suggested that they return to the store where they bought the iPhone and try to get some money back from them.

What the?!

Jobs must have heard the sound of pitchforks and torches from the angry mob by the time he returned to HQ from that interview because within hours, he issued an apology to iPhone customers and offered a $100 rebate to those who paid the full price.

While most small businesses will not be in a position to create so much outrage or offend quite so many of its loyal customers in one swift motion, small businesses can still take note of the importance of owning up to mistakes. Jobs’ quick turnaround provides the best “teachable moment” of this story.

Oftentimes, companies—especially small businesses—drag their feet and take too long to correct errors. I’ve seen small businesses take months, even up to a year, to remedy mistakes in shipping the wrong merchandise, or applying a credit for returned merchandise. By the time the error is corrected, the customer’s loyalty has already been lost.

When you make a mistake with your small business customers—and you will, it’s part of life—move swiftly and sincerely to make amends.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

As a small business owner, you love to do everything, don’t you?

Why not? You can. You’re a multi-talented individual who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “can’t.” You get things done. You move things forward. You’re a builder, innovator, visionary and technician. You aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

But just because you *can* do everything, doesn’t mean you *should.*

To be able to grow your business, achieve personal and financial freedom, and lead others to be the best they can be, you have to turn things over to others. Otherwise, as your business grows, so do all of your job responsibilities. Sooner or later, all those balls you juggle will become more than you can handle.

Letting go doesn’t mean abdicating your managerial duties or ignoring how your business is running. It means setting expectations of what should be accomplished and how. It means documenting your expectations in writing and communicating them verbally to staff and contractors. It means monitoring people’s ability to meet those expectations and it means rewarding them and celebrating them when they get there.

Identify the jobs you do best and focus your energies on doing those things yourself. The other stuff – delegate!

Smart delegation is the best way to ensure that your business fuels your life, as opposed to sacrificing your life to fuel your business. As Michael Gerber says in the E-Myth, the excitement of being an entrepreneur is in working *on* your business, not working *in* it.

Have a story about how smart delegation saved your sanity? Share it!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Happy Labor Day


When I was an employee first considering going into business for myself, I would often ask small business owners I met, “What is it like to own your own business? How is it different?”

Over and over again, entrepreneurs would describe the long hours they devoted to growing their businesses. “There are no such things as weekends anymore,” they’d say. And to underscore the point, “I don’t feel like I’m ever NOT working.”

Their comments would bear out in my observations. I would watch my boss, the owner of a small company, work 60-hour weeks. She was frequently at the office for 12-hour days and came in nearly every weekend.

For several years, fear of losing my life was the main reason I didn’t pursue owning my own business. I enjoyed being able to leave office troubles behind at the end of my work day and to relax at home. I enjoyed pursuing recreational activities and new relationships outside of work and wanted to continue investing my time in social, rather than professional, pursuits.

But my life and needs changed. I’m now in a place where I’m ready to devote more time to professional interests and where my excitement over pursuing my creative ideas trumps my fear of being consumed by them.

That said, today is a holiday. Most employees are enjoying the day off and I’m at my computer, preparing quotes and editing a client’s web copy. And you know what? I’m happy to be doing it.

I’m working today because I choose to…because on Friday I chose to do other activities instead of working on these items. I love having the freedom to decide when I’m going to work and how I’m going to work.

And on this Labor Day, that’s what I’m celebrating.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Widget Blog Blog Widget

To create some visual interest and value-add to the content of my blog, I've posted the "Jump Up Small Business Stories" widget from Intuit to my blog (see below, bottom left).

I use Intuit's Quickbooks software for my business accounting and believe the company's programs and services do make life easier for small business owners. I hope you find the small business profiles a useful and inspirational complement to the information in my blog.

And speaking of my blog...as of this morning, you can add a "Ditch the Dusty Widget" blog widget (aka, "blidget") to your own blog! My blog widget from Widgetbox can be customized to blend with your blog template and is easy to install.

Click here to add my blidget to your site:

Do it now and in less than 1.5 minutes, you can have "Dusty Widget" advice and resources streaming to your viewers 24/7.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Direct Mail 101

I'm preparing a direct mail campaign for my new business. I've run many campaigns in the past and I think they're great fun.
Part scavenger hunt, part fishing expedition, and part gamble, they require resourcefulness and creativity to design, as well as skill to manage the details and deadlines of production.


The Direct Mail Stigma

"Direct mail" is usually associated with junk mail. And, yes, it's true, that the people to whom you are sending mail are not inviting you to solicit them. But that doesn't mean that they won't be happy to hear your message! You're in business to provide a valuable service or solve some kind of problem, aren't you? With a helpful and friendly message, your unsolicited mail will provide at least one recipient with an answer to a dilemma. Don't avoid direct mail because of the stigma attached to the phrase.


Types of Direct Mail Campaigns

There are two types of direct mail campaigns ~ acquisition campaigns and conversion campaigns. In other words, you either want to acquire new customers, or you are mailing to current customers in hopes of coverting them to better customers.

Acquisition campaigns generally have a very low rate of return, at or below 1%. If you're mailing to only 500 people who have never heard of your business before, don't be surprised if only 3 people respond.

I usually budget for a .5% return so I can be sure that my mailing, even with poor results, will still break even. In other words, if I know I want to get 25-50 customers, I plan on sending out 6,000 pieces. I pay attention to every line item of cost associated with that mailing so I know that even at the lowest end of expected response, I'll recoup my money.

With conversion mailings, you can achieve great results. Your rate of return from a mailing to hot prospects can be very high, above 30%. The success of this type of campaign depends on how conditioned your prospects are to responding to your offers, what type of products or services you offer (e.g., a consumable vs. meeting a one-time time), how compelling your message is, and the timing of your campaign.


The Mailing List

In an acquisition mailing, you rent a mailing list for a one time use and send out a direct mail piece to the people on that list with the hope of inspiring them to become your customers.

Finding the right list to use is what feels a bit like a scavenger hunt. For general regional or national audiences, you would likely use a mailing list service like InfoUSA. You can work with this kind of list service company to target specific types of households by income, zip code ~ even by magazine subscription.

If you have a very specific type of audience in mind, you might look to rent a private organization's mailing list, such as a membership list from a professional association. Or, you might look to public records or notices, like the type that are published in business journals.

The Call to Action

Because you're mailing to a list that doesn't belong to you, your piece has to spur recipients to give you their information. This when a direct mail campaign feels like fishing. You cast your net knowing that most of the fish are going to get away, and hoping to capture just a few.

To make people respond to your mailing, you have to be able to get them in touch with you. This can be as direct as asking them to call you, or as back-door as asking them to enter a contest in which you collect their personal information for later sales follow up.

This part is referred to as "the call to action." It's the critical element in determining the success of your mailing. Calls to action have to be timely ("act now" or "limited time offer"), specific ("call now" or "enter today") and compelling ("receive a free gift" or "risk-free trial").

Designing Your Mail Piece

You greatly increase your rate of return and the success of your acquisition or conversion mailing by having it professionally prepared.

Many small business owners with great sales instincts can write a good call to action and believe it will stand out on its own without great design and production. They have an office assistant write the mailing and put it together using clip art, Microsoft Word and a desk jet printer.

Don't do that!

The postage and mailing list costs are going to be the biggest expenses of your mailing; don't waste that money by skimping on the design!

Digital printing services are so inexpensive that they're a cost-effective way to get a professionally printed piece. There are even digital printers who can be a one-stop shop, offering list rental and mailing services (check out ModernPostcard.com).

And there's just no substitute for great graphic design. Pay a professional designer to integrate your logo and call to action into a compelling visual piece. You'll probably double your rate of return with that investment and you can find great designers who can do your piece for less than $200.

If your mailing is more complicated than a small postcard (oversized postcard, invitation, letter), you should also hire a professional copywriter to craft the message for you. While a great visual design will grab recipients' attention, great writing will spur them to act. For an amount as small as $75 to $150, it's worth using an expert who can help increase your rate of return.

Let the Money Roll In

Now you get to sit back and wait for the results. If you were clear about the goals of your mailing, made your call to action timely and specific, you were realistic with projecting your rate of return, you should find direct mail a rewarding and effective way to grow your business.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Purge Your Dusty Widgets

A friend of mine owns several e-commerce stores and has some of the infamous “dusty widgets” lying around his warehouse.

Most of the widgets are discontinued products from manufacturers he represents. Because his companies have a strong reputation for their direct connection with the manufacturers, his web stores prominently feature newly released merchandise lines, or highlight what’s coming up before it’s even available. New products and regular updates keep customers returning to his sites, knowing they’ll find the latest items.

It’s not in keeping with his company’s brand promise, then, to put up discounted old merchandise. But to reclaim the inventory cost and clear out the warehouse shelves to make way for new product, he needs to ditch those dusty widgets.

We talked about listing some of those discontinued products on eBay under an unrelated user name, but he and his staff are too busy to make all of those posts. He prefers to outsource it. Being the friend I am, I didn't offer to help.

Fortunately, he found someone who is. Kathy owns Purge, a small business that helps individuals and businesses clear out the old to make way for the new.
The down side is that merch has to be worth at least $50 and Purge takes commission of up to 30% of the sale price. But the up side is that Kathy will pick up your dusty widgets, dust them off for you, present them quite nicely online and hand you the cash when they sell. Could it be any easier?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss EPK

Following up to my post about "strange pairings," here's Robert Plant and Alison Krauss talking about their new album "Raising Sand" available on rounder records:


Online Videos by Veoh.com

Don't Get Scared, Get Organized


I have a big deadline approaching. A really big deadline.

And all of the tasks in front of me that I have to accomplish to meet that deadline seem overwhelming at times.

A colleague offered this advice to me this morning as I notified her of my time crunch:


It may sound silly but the best business advice I ever received was from McGruff the Dog...it was:

"Don't get scared...get organized."


As this woman is an event organizer for some of the biggest West Coast retail trade shows and previously started and ran her own retail store, well, I’m inclined to consider her a credible source.

So it’s back to my to-do list. Back to filing and sorting. Back to the tasks at hand.

Thanks, McGruff.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Strange Pairings Stand Out

Listening to Kink 102 this morning, I heard a surprising combination of voices. It was Alison Krauss and Robert Plant singing the Everly Brothers' song "Going Going Gone" from their cover album due Oct. 23 called "Raising Sand."

I was so struck by how well their voices blended together and immediately I started thinking about how businesses could take a lesson from these two.

Two pop artists together wouldn't have caught my attention in the same way. Artists from the same genre with the same sound wouldn't be so distinguishable. But two artists branching out of their comfort zones to make something unique together is both innovative and distinctive.

Marketplace distinction can be the reward for small businesses that use the power of incongruity.

It won't work for every type of business, but you can find success by putting odd couples together and marketing the offspring. One small Portland business that has emerged and grown using this strategy is Voodoo Doughnuts, where you can find bacon-glazed, Cap'n Crunch, and Pepto-Bismol flavored donuts ~ and where you can also get married. Odd combinations pair together to provide an unforgettable and notable destination.

Unusual couplings can also help companies tell stories. In the recently redesigned bridgeport brewpub + bakery, thirsty would-be quaffers enter the pub only to be greeted with a baked goods case, begging the question: What's a bakery doing in a brewpub?

The answer is that the origins of beer are in baking. It was in the use of yeast in baking that brewing came to be discovered. Getting consumers to ask the question enables the company to tell its story and reinforce its brand position as Oregon's Oldest Craft Brewery. Good marketing arises from a seemingly incongruous launching point.

Sometimes, a jarring juxtaposition can be used to gain attention for a business's ad campaign. Immediately I think of Les Schwab Tire Center's "Free Beef" promotion. Giving away red meat with the purchase of tires works. Why? Because it's attention-getting. And digging deeper, the red meat is a symbol of the ranch community of Eastern Oregon that is the company's headquarters. While at first glance it seems a random combination, in fact, the meat giveaway is good marketing that also reinforces the company's brand.

Not sure what strange combinations you can concoct to promote your businesses? Find inspiration at a beer and chocolate tasting at Pix Patisserie. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What is a Dusty Widget? Part II

A reader (okay...my dad) just asked me today to explain more about the origins of "Ditch the Dusty Widget." (View Part I). So here goes:

In a previous small business in which I worked as the sales manager, I noticed piles of dusty merchandise in the warehouse. When I'd ask the owner what it was doing out there, she dismissed the inquiry and said the items weren't good sellers.

The merchandise appeared to be of high quality and from strong brands, so I was surprised at her reply. My Internet searches revealed that, in fact, the items seemed to be popular with online shoppers.

Day after day, I'd walk by that merchandise. Finally, I dusted off those items and put them on our web site store as limited stock. I found great photos of the products, wrote some sales copy and sold them all at almost full retail price.

In small business after small business, I see a similar scenario: dusty merchandise sits high up on the shelves or tucked away in a corner. I came to realize that most business owners face the same business development and marketing problems and need the same information at times. Hence...the blog.

The dusty widgets you have on hand are a visual barometer for your small business's vitality. The more piles of dusty widgets you have, the more likely your business is in danger of stagnation or decline.

Sometimes widgets get dusty because owners are overworked and the business is understaffed. Sometimes owners lose interest in moving those widgets because they're burned out on the business. Or perhaps it's time to realize that you just don't know the best presentation, market, and sales message for those widgets after all.

Use your widgets and think about what they say about your business. Whatever the cause, it *is* possible to ditch those dusty widgets!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Do the Right Thing

Driving down SE Stark this morning near Laurelhurst Park, I stopped to let a little old lady cross the street.

This is noteworthy because I tend to be somewhat oblivious to pedestrians who aren't standing in a crosswalk.
But this morning I wasn't in any particular hurry and I happened to notice the white-haired woman clutching a bag and gazing expectantly at the other side of the road.

As she smiled at me and inched across, I felt good ~ that unmistakable warm, fuzzy feeling that you can only get when you do the right thing for the right reason.

It made me think of business dealings and how important it is to do the right thing with people when you're starting or running your own business. Your store or company policies are a reflection of you are. They communicate your character to others, leaving your mark on the world.

There are corporations, and then there are corporate citizens. To be a corporate citizen, you have to stop to let little old ladies cross the street ~ or more specifically, your business dealings must be characterized by integrity and concern for people, for your community.

It's tempting to speed by and cut corners when the pressures build. It's easy to get distracted and let the little things slip through the cracks. But I believe that doing the right thing for people is part of doing the right thing for business, too.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Oregon Small Business Fair

If you're considering starting a small business or are ready to take your endeavor to the next level, set aside Saturday, September 8 to attend the Oregon Small Business Fair.

The annual fair features information booths and seminars to assist entrepreneurs--both experienced and aspiring. On hand to provide information about funding sources, small business taxes, licenses, workplace safety, business development and more are exhibitors such as: Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon; Oregon Department of Revenue; and U.S. Small Business Administration.


Beginning at 8:30 are numerous workshops that cover topics including: cash flow; sales; bookkeeping; networking; and regulations.
Whether you're ready to grow or ready to start something new, this event is a must-see.


Mark your calendar:

When: Saturday, September 8

Time: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Oregon Convention Center, Hall B

Cost: Free

More: Schedule of events and list of exhibitors

Sunday, August 12, 2007

So You Want to be an Entrepreneur?

As I start up my business, I often find myself asking, "How do I...?"

Sometimes, friends and colleagues have the answers I need. Sometimes, I know another entrepreneur I can ask because it's a universal question. But sometimes my question is specific to my industry and or it's something I don't feel comfortable asking an associate in my field.

Enter Entrepreneur.com, the online portal for Entrepreneur magazine. Chock full of resources, articles, advice, tools, and start-up guides for the first-time entrepreneur, it's a web site I find myself bookmarking often.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Mastery

I once received a fortune cookie message that read: "Success is a journey not a destination. Stop running."

Michael E. Gerber begins E-Myth Mastery: The Seven Essential Disciplines for Building a World Class Company with a similar perspective.

To build a world class company, he says, you must turn yourself into a world class entrepreneur. And to be a world class entrepreneur, you must practice being an entrepreneur.
See yourself as a work in progress and make a commitment to practicing excellence. Extraordinary business growth won't happen without extraordinary personal growth, he insists.

Like reading his 1995 title The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, this book sets me on fire.

I began reading Gerber's book yesterday. As often happens when I speak with other small business owners, I found myself relax a little with his message.

Well, maybe "relax" isn't the right word. I gave myself permission to slow down.

Success isn't a destination, and the path toward it is not a race. It's my journey to make, one step ~ and one lesson ~ at a time.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Small Business & Computers: Can I Hear an “Ugh?”


One of the most unpleasant parts of being a sole proprietor, at least for me, has to be gaining competence at managing computers, software, servers, etc.

Unless you’re already a skilled specialist in tech support, software or database programming, networking solutions, web developing, computer hardware maintenance, or online marketing, you probably spend a significant amount of time trying to figure out what all of the above mean and which solutions will work best for your small business.

If you have little or no fluency in computer language (Don’t understand how to attach a file to an outgoing email? Can’t change your preferences on your desktop?), or you can’t afford the time to manage your tech needs on your own, find an offsite IT solution.

On-call service technicians, think Geek Squad or Rent-A-Geek, exist in most communities. They are often available 24 hours, travel to your location, and, while not inexpensive, they do solve your computer headaches.

Call to inquire about regular rates, emergency rates, average response time, and platform specialties (Mac? Windows? OS?) to find the team that will best meet your business needs and budget.

Then schedule a service call ~ before it’s urgent. By arranging for the technician in advance, you’ll get a chance to witness the company’s response time, professionalism, and skill before your business depends on it.

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer or want to keep yourself versed in technology vocabulary, subscribe to RSS feeds or newsletters related to computer issues. For a resource geared to small business owners, check out the Small Business Computing Channel.

Happy computing!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Don't Do It Alone When You Go It Alone

Starting up a business as a sole proprietor or sole owner can be, well, lonely.

Sure, there are vendors to talk to, clients to work with, and all sorts of people to interact with during the day. But from the daily mundane minutiae to the gargantuan "what-ifs?" all the responsibility, the decisions, the risks, and the questions are yours and yours alone.

How-to books and business counselors are a help, but they can't take the edge off our human need for real support.

I had lunch this week with my mentor, a successful CEO of a leading women's health care products brand. I can't begin to express how grateful I am for the time she gives me. Her advice is invaluable, for one. But more than her answers, I rely on her validation.

In our lunch visits, I find space to put down the business burdens I'm carrying. I speak with her about my fears and ideas, the things I don't know and the things I'm finding out. When she relates to me the similarities on her own journey, it boosts my confidence. When I confess my worry that I don't have what it takes to be on my own, and she responds with empathy because she's felt the same way, it neutralizes my fear.

After I've had an hour with my mentor, I feel recharged and ready to take everything back on again.

Reach out and connect with other entrepreneurs. Join a networking group or club. Think about a person you admire and ask him or her to be a mentor. Take other entrepreneurs out to coffee and vent a little, share your fears, ask questions.

Going it alone doesn't mean doing it alone.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Creating an On-Screen To-Do List

The nice thing about other people being on vacation is that I can use the time to get organized. I'm rediscovering the joy of creating to-do lists.

Normally, I write down my to-do items on a piece of note paper or in a note book and keep it by my desk.

For the last week, however, I've been keeping a running to-do list on my computer desktop in a Word file. As I accomplish items, I highlight them, select "Font" from the "Format" menu and then click the "Strikethrough" option to cross it off.

For items that require further action, I type a note in parentheses on the same line. I change the type to red (to make sure I don't ignore it) and usually note what time or date I left a message, sent an email, or what my next step is.

Being a long-time user of to-do lists, I've been surprised to discover that this new way of organizing myself has many benefits. Chief among my unexpected success with the on-screen method is how much it's helping me prioritize.

When jotting things down on paper, I tend to try to "go down the list" and get things done in the order I've written them down. For some reason, I'm unable to effectively rank things in order of importance. Instead of marking the "big deal" jobs, I feel immediate pressure and jump in wherever I am most inspired.

On the computer screen, however, I can cut-and-paste. I easily move things around in order of most important to least important and I also group related tasks together, helping me cross off several action items more efficiently.

I still type down action items as I think of them, but after brainstorming, I reorder things sequentially. That way, I make sure I approach "first things first."

The list is open and showing on my computer screen at all times ~ except when I decide I'm done working for the day. Then I close it. Being able to actually "close" the file mentally helps me leave work when I walk out of my office ~ so important since I'm working from home!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Timing Is Everything

Unless you're selling ice cream, gelato, or bathing suits, summer may not the best time to launch your new business.


I'm finding myself getting frustrated lately. It seems that each contact to a potential vendor, media specialist, designer, client, and accountant elicits the voice mail message: "I'm on vacation through the week of..."


I'm on a vacation of sorts, too ~ but not one that I planned!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Co-Op Advertising Works

But what is co-op advertising?

Co-op advertising usually refers to an arrangement between you and one of your suppliers to create a mutually beneficial promotion. You both contribute toward the cost of advertising your business, and in the ad, you prominently feature your supplier’s product.

Another way to create a co-op advertisement is to partner with other small businesses and go in on sharing the cost of ad space.

In this morning’s “Downtown” advertising insert in the Oregonian, a “Fiber Arts District” ad demonstrates this latter type of co-op advertising.

Josephine’s Dry Goods, The Button Emporium & Ribbonry, Fabric In The City, The Playful Needle, and Let It Bead all share space together to invite the craft-inclined to visit them for new ideas and products.

Had each of the above small businesses advertised alone, they would have had a harder time garnering attention. But working together, they create a visually compelling and sizable ad that inspires consideration and reinforces their participation in the newly designated “Fiber Arts District.”

Small business owners take note!
Ask yourselves if there is any similar type of business with whom you can partner to create a co-op ad. Approach the suppliers of your best-selling products and inquire about a joint promotion. If they’re a large, national company, they’ll likely be interested in boosting their presence with you locally. If they’re a small, local company, perhaps you can share space side-by-side instead.

Not only do you get more bang for your buck with co-op advertising, you can also strengthen your relationships with your suppliers and related businesses. In the best situations, you might even find that working together is what it takes to create exciting new momentum and demand for your products or services.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harness the Power of Publicity

Today is the grand opening of the new IKEA store in Portland. Traffic is expected to slow and snarl for the next two weeks as people swarm to the big blue-and-yellow box.

Local residents began to line up on Monday to be among the first shoppers at today’s opening. Along the same lines of the recent Harry Potter mania and iPhone enthusiasm, many people consider today the culmination of a consumer fantasy.

I’ve never been inside an IKEA store (nor read a Harry Potter novel, nor seen an iPhone for that matter), but even I’m not immune to the excitement surrounding IKEA’s Portland arrival. I’ve heard so much about IKEA that I feel I know the store, without ever having been shopping there.

Since IKEA began building the colossal facility out near our airport last year, I’ve been hearing about how it’s not just a store, it’s a destination. I’ve heard about IKEA’s furniture and how it’s easy-to-assemble, affordable, and contemporary. I’ve heard about its lingonberry preserves and Swedish meatballs.

And I’ve heard about all of those things from publicity and word-of-mouth. IKEA only started putting ads in the local newspaper and on the radio in the last two weeks!

Ah, the power of a public relations campaign.

Publicity seems to be something that many small businesses feel is out of reach, but that isn’t necessarily true. No matter what your size of business or sole proprietorship, you can benefit from publicity, too.

In Guerrilla Publicity (by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, and Jill Lublin), you'll learn the step-by-step how-to’s of building your name recognition and getting publicity for your small business.

While it’s possible for you to create and manage your own public relations campaign, you can always call in professionals to do it for you.

Think PR firms are just for the big boys? Think again. Talk to Deborah at The Swift Collective. I spoke with her yesterday and I was impressed by her company’s dedication to meeting small business needs. She offers marketing and public relations expertise with the kind of flexibility and support needed specifically by small businesses.