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Your resource for business in Philadelphia

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How-To Take a Vacation

Take this to heart, and don’t argue with me: it’s important to have fun.

For many entrepreneurs and small business owners, obligatory fun is a difficult lesson to accept, particularly during tough economic times. True, there’s the argument that doing what you love as a profession qualifies as “fun”, but I’m talking real fun. I’m talking vacation fun.

Self-employment carries with it a daunting list of sacrifices (no health insurance, no set workweek, no regular paycheck…), but foregoing fun should not be one of them. Time-off imbues people with a renewed sense of purpose and a fresh set of eyes. Beyond rejuvenation, vacation gives you the opportunity to test your business and isolate any holes in its operations.

But tearing yourself away isn’t easy. Maybe you’re short-staffed during the summer season. Maybe you feel guilty for leaving your work behind. For this week’s “How-To Tuesday”, I’ve compiled some tips on how to overcome those relaxation hurdles and kick up your heels.

  1. Plan in advance. When your vacation is motivated by stress, it’s tempting to disappear for a week with little notice. Scheduling your vacation well in advance, however, will insure a more relaxing experience: “Put your vacation on your calendar and take steps to prepare for it, just as you would any other project. This kind of advance planning will allow you to project potential snags, and take steps to ensure that they don't deprive you of needed time off.”
  2. Cede control to staff before your departure. According to “A Small Business Owner’s Guide to Vacation”: “Taking a vacation is the perfect opportunity to test the abilities of your trusted staff members to handle the ship. Have your staff make a list of top priorities to have them buy into the accountabilities of running the office before you leave. Remember to let go of control and you'll have greater success in delegation.”
  3. If you must check in, set limits. In order to keep your work at bay, Amanda of “Small Business CEO” writes: “I don’t see anything wrong with taking an hour out each day to quickly check over things back home. It’s a necessary evil of running your own business. Keep it limited to a very small time frame and avoid inconveniencing anyone else on the trip.”
  4. Don’t rush the reentry. Leaving work seems less stressful when you have a cohesive plan for your return. A survey conducted by American Express OPEN recommends: “One-quarter (26%) will prepare a to-do list before leaving, return a couple of days before they are due to the office or refrain from scheduling appointments the day they return. One in five (20%) will ease back into work by getting caught up on emails the day before they return.”

So, unless you’re in a business that thrives during the 4th of July weekend, reserve some time for yourself over the next few days and plan something big for the upcoming year. Get out of town or check out yesterday’s “stay-cation” suggestions. If you’re really struggling with the whole concept of a vacation, tack some personal days onto the end of a business trip. I don’t care how you do it; just make sure it’s fun.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Let Freedom Ring

Yes, it’s only Monday, but it’s never too early to start fantasizing about a long weekend. After considering the options, I think our celebration plans are pretty clear. We’re watching ?uestlove go head to head with Sheryl Crow in a jam to the finish then kicking back for some firework action. Right? The parkway concert is a 4th of July favorite, but what you do after the concert is just as important. Where to walk, where to hang out, where to eat! So many questions, let’s throw down some answers for the everyday small business patron.

In the spirit of celebrating our forefathers, and for proximity sake, the Kite and Key Tavern is a good bet after the last rockets red glare. Named after dear old Benjamin Franklin, owners Jim Kirk and Jake Hampson created an ambiance that reflected its namesake; a beer list that was innovative, rouge, and independent. Check out their local draft list, chock full o’delicious options.

Keeping up with the historical theme, McGillin’s Olde Ale House has been a Philadelphia watering hole since 1860, previously owned by William McGillin and his wife Catherine. Back in the day, he offered free potatoes with butter to accompany a chilly pint. Oh, those were the good old days. Stop by after the fireworks to keep the party going in this historic small business.

Stroll down to Old City to visit City Tavern, the unofficial meeting place for the First Continental Congress in 1774. George Washington and his cronies used to patronize the City Tavern to entertain foreign diplomats and dignitaries. See, even George Washington was a fan of small businesses! The current ownership is following in the historic footsteps, offering fare similar to the 18th century vibe. Stop by for a pint of lager and a dose of history.

Celebrating independence is always important, especially when you’re supporting those who are strong enough to be independent business owners. Take this weekend to combine your love of the Roots, Sheryl Crow, independence, and small businesses. Yes, it IS possible.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How Randomness Rules Our Lives

I’m taking a break from my normal topics of discussion this week to break into usually uncharted territory for me: probability.

With that disclaimer, it’s obvious I’m no mathematician. What I am, however, is an avid reader, and a book that recently came across my desk caught my attention (even if some of it is a little to numbers heavy for my word-oriented brain to retain):
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives.

What Mlodinow uncovers in The Drunkard’s Walk isn’t meant to be disheartening; it’s meant to be an eye-opener in world where the odds are, more often than not, against you. This holds especially true in the business world, as Mlodinow points out, because individuals can’t open 100 businesses to find their median of success.

Consider the crux of Mlodinow’s argument:
“There exists a vast gulf of randomness and uncertainty between the creation of a great novel – or a piece of jewelry or chocolate-chip cookie – and the presence of huge stacks of that novel – or jewelry or bags of cookies – at the font of thousands of retail outlets. That’s why successful people in every field are almost universally members of a certain set – the set of people who don’t give up.”

As I started reading the book, I wanted to find out just how much luck or chance actually had to do with any of my successes (or failures, for that matter). Some of
Mlodinow’s probable truths were mildly disheartening to learn because they seem to go against the grain of how we operate as individuals in an unsure world.

One example: Whereas humans generally attempt to identify patterns in confusing situations to guess the outcome, rats and other “nonhuman” animals guess based on what they notice occurs most frequently. Taking the rat route ensures a success rate of about 75%, whereas the human pattern route yields about 60%. Humans? Outsmarted by a rat? It’s true.

But, as Mlodinow’s says: “A lot of what happens to us – success in our careers, in our investments, and in our life decision, both major and minor – is as much the result of random factors as the result of skills, preparedness and hard work. So the reality that we perceive is not a direct reflection of the people or circumstances that underlie it but is instead an image blurred by the randomizing effects of unforeseeable or fluctuating external forces. That is not to say that ability doesn’t matter – it is one of the factors that increase the chances of success – but the connection between actions and results is not as direct as we might like to believe. Thus our past is not so easy to understand, nor is our future so easy to predict, and in both enterprises we benefit from looking beyond the superficial explanations.”

I recommend this book to anyone – entrepreneur or not – that’s interested in a deeper understanding of the way chance rules many of life’s outcomes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ode to Fishtown Ladies

If it weren’t for women business owners of Fishtown I would probably starve. Or die of thirst. Or have a really bad haircut. I’m not sure in which order. The business savvy ladies of 19125 have already graced the pages of the Be Your Own Boss Blog. If you remember back to Entrepreneurship Week, or as we like to call it, “the time we went to Sketch Burger and EG picked up the tab”, you’ll remember the artful combination of Kobe Beef, cheddar cheese, bacon, avocado and aioli.

This Friday we’re celebrating the women business owners of Fishtown and nearby neighborhoods, at our monthly Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle, a gathering of aspiring and established entrepreneurs. Katharine Livingston, owner of the Angler Movement Arts Center, is the gracious host of our celebration featuring local food, artists, vendors, and chance to rub shoulders with top notch, local businesswomen.

Speaking of local businesses, let’s mention a few. Because that’s what we do here on Wednesdays.

Summer do’s are in full swing at Plume (111 E. Girard Avenue) with Tina Antonelli. Tina’s cozy alternative to the traditionally sterile salon style welcomes her patrons with plush couches, ornamental stations, and a glass of wine if you’re game. Since her opening Tina has received rave reviews for her down to earth vibe and stellar style. Stop by, let her work her magic. Appointments suggested. Highlights recommended. Dead ends eliminated.

If you’re feeling a little hungry, or in my case, very hungry, stop by Ida Mae’s Bruncherie (2302 E. Norris Street). Whether co-owner Mary Kate McCaughey knows it or not, it is clear to friends and family that she stole my heart with her soda bread. This local favorite boasts mouth watering Irish favorites alongside American classics using the freshest ingredients around. The only downside is that in addition to Monday mornings being…well, Monday mornings, Ida Mae’s is closed on Monday’s. So check out this Galloway girl Tuesday through Sunday.

Last but not least, let’s end this post like a Friday night, at Fishtown Beverage (1511 Frankford Avenue) with Terry Kirk. Terry has been saving my house parties and beach trips since I moved to Fishtown. The welcoming environment they create makes you feel you are in anything but a beer distributor. It's clear that this family run business is invested in their community and cares about their customer base. Sometimes I just don’t want to leave.

If you want to speak to all the ladies that are running Fishtown, be sure to stop by the Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle this Friday from 7-9:30 at the Angler Movement Arts Center (1550 E. Montgomery Avenue). Or use our trusty map, courtesy of New Kensington CDC, to find a store near you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How-To Pick a Card

Credit cards always make me feel like I’m being played. Impenetrable guidelines, too-good-to-be-true rewards, and fine print that gives a little wink. Somebody is making money off my cycle of debt, and lots of it. If it were up to me, credit card companies would be put in the same category as ticket scalpers and loan sharks.

Unfortunately, life usually requires us to purchase things outside our immediate means, especially when small business is involved. Credit cards fill the void left behind by strict bank loan standards and the general scarcity of personal wealth. For better or worse, the question of credit cards is often less of a “why” and more of a “how”.

This week’s “How-To Tuesday” compiles some expert opinions on the current credit card landscape and what it means for your business. Follow the links for the full scoop.

What’s in the Cards for Credit?

Congress recently passed legislation to hamper the credit card industry’s more exploitative practices. As things stand now, however, the new rules only addresses the consumer side of the industry—a focus many believe may harm small business (that is, any small business not using personal cards for business expenses. I’ll leave that can of worms to another blogger.)

Beginning in February 2010, credit card companies will have to give customers reasonable notice when changing rates and assessing fines. Raising interest rates on existing balances will also be off-limits. To make up for the anticipated lost revenue and to crackdown on “delinquency”, companies are squeezing already-squeezed small business owners with unexpected rate hikes and slashed credit lines. An article in Thursday’s New York Times does a good job of explaining this recent development: “A Credit Squeeze for Small Business Owners”.

While some business groups disagree with the legislation, many would like to see the protections extended to small business owners. Congress will most likely consider that possibility in the coming months.

How-To Pick a Card

Despite these unfriendly times, credit cards are still an important part of the financial picture. So, how do you sift through all the talk to find one that works? Picking a card that is right for your business is largely dependent upon how you plan to use it. According to creditcards.com, businesses principally use cards for one of three things: extended cash flow, business travel/entertaining, and periodical expenses.

Each use demands different attributes. Are you going to need a big spending limit to extend your cash flow? Will the payment schedule of your customers fit into a 30-day period or will you need to carry over a balance? Once you assess the purpose of your credit card, you can then isolate a plan best-suited to your needs.

Creditcards.com offers a chart highlighting the annual fee, APR, and rewards program of a number of different cards. Business Week has also compiled a list of business cards and their various offerings. There’s certainly a lot to consider when looking over this data and a lot of variables. Don’t be afraid to call up companies and ask them questions—transparency is the order of the day. For more tips, check out these articles:

“6 Steps to Effective Small Business Credit Card Management”

“Choosing a Good Small Business Credit Card”

“5 Things to Know About Small Business Plastic”

Of course, the use of credit cards to sustain your business ties into much larger questions of cash-flow, working capital, and operating costs—issues far too complex to address in a single blog post (or even a dozen blog posts.) Decoding the promises of “plastic” is just one piece of your overall financing strategy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Making Word of Mouth Advertising Work

Word of mouth advertising is an incredibly effective tool – if you know how to use it. Most entrepreneurs don’t. They work hard to put out a quality product and are pleasantly surprised when people start talking about it. But they’re not in control of what people say about them, or how they’re saying it. Worse, discovering that your customers are spreading the news about your company encourages an entrepreneur to rest on their laurels. Just because you’re getting good referrals does not mean you can neglect the rest of your marketing plan.

Luckily, there are a few easy things you can do to get more control over your word of mouth advertizing.

1. Ask for testimonials
If you suspect some of your clients are spreading the good word, ask if they could make a few statements for your publicity material. It not only gives you a better idea of what customers appreciate about your service, it allows you to build your relationships with your strongest supporters.

2. Create a referral rewards system
Offer incentives to those who send business your way by giving store credit or discounts to people who refer their friends. This will drum up your business, strengthen ties to your best customers and give you a better sense of how your word of mouth marketing network is working.

3. Ask for help
If you’re not sure your clients are giving referrals, don’t be afraid to ask. This opens up a dialogue between you and your customers, allowing you to become more sensitive to their needs. What you learn about how they view your company may surprise you. And if your clients tell you they don’t feel comfortable referring their friends, don’t despair. Think of this as an opportunity to address the gaps in your service.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Avoiding Look-a-Like Logos

Last Thursday, I wrote about the different logo options available for small business owners. This week, I wanted to write more about logo design, specifically the importance of originality when choosing an image to represent your business.

These days, a lot of designers hide under the guise of “this has all been done before.” And sure, of course it has. Over at
LogoDesignLove, I’ve recently come across a lot of posts that talk about similarity in logo design. You’d be surprised how many logos use standby symbols, crosses or generally look the same.

It’s hard to avoid duplicity in logo design. Even Empowerment Group’s logo has striking similarities to a few I found after a quick search.

The similarities to our logo in the examples above aren’t detrimental; each logo retains its unique characteristics, and confusing one for the other would be nearly impossible. But looking like the others can make it hard to stand out from the crowd.

What can you do to ensure your logo designer gives you an original, creative concept?

Research your direct competitors. Observe their brand promise, logo and language. How can you make your company more unique? How can your look attract your customers?

Check out the logo tag cloud on GoodLogo.com. Words that appear bigger in the cloud are more commonly used. It tells you a lot at just a glance: circles are one of the most used logomarks around.

Spend time browsing BrandTag.com. After you tag 5 logos with phrases, you get to browse BrandTag.com’s huge database of word clouds related to logos. Observe what people say and think about other brands, and imagine the words you would want people to tag your logo with.

Research is key.

Once you’ve got a handle on what can make your logo different, find a professional designer. The most important thing you can tell them is what you don’t want.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Too wet to go out, too cold to play ball….

Or is it? This weather is really throwing us all off. It’s June, right? Either way, let's all take some time this weekend to get out of our house and enjoy some local events and openings.

This Saturday, June 20th starting at 11am, the residents and business owners of Northern Liberties will host the Second Street Festival. Come rain or shine, this festival guarantee’s a good time. With two stages (one at 2nd and Poplar, the other at the new Piazza at Schmidt’s) booming local bands and tunes, vendors lining the streets, and food from local restaurants, how could this festival not deliver? The festival will run down 2nd Street from Girard Avenue to Spring Garden Street. Driving tip: don't try to drive near 2nd Street this weekend, take the El.

If you more of a night owl, you’ve got two new locations to relax the night away. The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. has taken over the old residence of Bar Noir on 18th Street between Chestnut and Sansom Sts. All of us that are still mourning the loss of the Bar Noir dance floor should soon be put at ease with this classy newcomer. The Franklin soft opening is scheduled for this Thursday.

Also new in town is Smokin’ Betty’s at 11th and Sansom Streets. After soft opening this previous Monday, Smokin’ Betty’s is gearing up for a summer filled with local drafts and delectable BBQ. This two-floor restaurant boasts 16 rotating drafts, open air dining, and menu to keep your stomach and curiosity asking for more. Tur-Duck-En burger anyone?

If you have a new business opening near you we want to hear about it! Leave a comment, drop a line, shoot over an email, knock on our door, send a bike messenger. You get the point.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How To: Be a Good Neighbor

Small businesses are often touted as the “backbone of our economy”. That phrase, when levied by politicos and economists, usually refers to revenues generated or taxes paid or jobs created. The numbers always take center stage because the numbers are straightforward and easy to digest.

On the ground though, we know the whole “backbone” bit is deeper than the dollar signs. You all—Philadelphia’s small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs—are community leaders and change-makers. You treat your customers with respect and respond to the needs of the storefronts, rowhomes, corners, and sidewalks all around you. You’re good neighbors.

For this week’s “How-To Tuesday,” I’m going to outline a few ways in which you can amp up your community accountability. But when I’m done, I need your recommendations. Why are you an asset to your neighborhood? Tell us in the comments below.

  1. Keep up appearances. Sweeping your sidewalk or painting your façade may sound superficial, but these little things can add up in a big way. Bonus: Customers like an attractive storefront and they like to see you care. Operating a home-based business? Grab a broom and chat up some neighbors while you do a little tidying up.
  2. Hire Locally. Need to expand your staff? First, read yesterday’s post on effective hiring practices. Then, type up a job description that mentions “neighborhood familiarity” as a preferred qualification. Or post an ad in your store. Or mention the position to regular customers/neighborhood fixtures. Attracting candidates who live in the neighborhood boosts the dollars circulating locally and your customer cred.
  3. Support area non-profits or community groups. Small businesses boast a unique advantage when it comes to supporting local non-profits or community groups. Because of your relationship with the neighborhood, you understand the needs of the community and the organizations best-suited to meeting those needs. Removed corporations don’t have that sort of insight. You can spend your philanthropic dollars or donate your time in ways respected by your neighbors and attract new business at the same time.
  4. Join area business or civic associations. Being present and involved keeps you abreast of what’s going on and gives you the chance to influence it. We know you’re swamped, but having a say in neighborhood affairs can be good for your business and your block. It’s worth it.
  5. Be your block’s eyes and ears. You’re “holding down the fort” when your neighbors are at work or cooking dinner. Your consistent presence contributes to the stability of your surrounding area, and stability cannot be overstated.

No one said being a backbone is easy, but the body can't stand up without it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hiring New Employees

Last week I hired someone for the first time. It was a milestone in my professional life that I’d always assumed would come later. You know, once I became a CEO, or at the very least an HR director. But over the years the demands of my job have become too big for me to handle alone, so before I knew it, I was drafting job descriptions and reviewing resumes.

The experience was eye-opening. And while I’m excited to welcome my new coworker to our office, there are a few things I’d do differently next time around. Since hiring employees is something many small business owners have to undertake at one point or another, I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned.

1. Give yourself time
The first, and biggest, mistake I made was assuming I’d be able to put out the job listing, interview and hire someone in just a couple of weeks. Setting such an unrealistic deadline only led to more stress. Allow yourself ample time to think about the position you’re posting and the characteristics of your ideal candidate. Give time for resumes to come in, then more for interviewing and deciding. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

2. Define the position
It’s one thing to put together a smooth-sounding job listing. It’s a completely different thing to really understand what you want from your new employee. Think about the objectives you’ll want your new hire to complete in the first year of business, the sorts of personality traits that work best in your organization and how this position will be supervised. The more you understand what you’re looking for, the greater the chance you’ll find what you want.

3. Be a responsible correspondent
Remember how nerve-wracking it is to apply for a job? You send in your resume, maybe sit for an interview, and then wait by the phone, hoping it’ll ring. Hiring someone may be just one thing on your very busy schedule, but you owe your applicants the courtesy of keeping them up-to-date on the status of their application. A brief email letting them know you received their CV does a lot to put minds at ease and maintain good relationships. After your selection has been made, likewise, let them know promptly whether or not they made the cut. It’s only polite.

4. Read the resume, but don’t bring it to the interview
Resumes are great introductions. They give a picture of where each candidate is coming from and, more importantly, what they think of the work they’ve done based on what they prioritize and what they gloss over. But when it comes to interviewing, leave the resume on your desk. Relying on it too heavily means you never learn anything else about the person you’re talking to. I’m not a fan of interrogation-as-interview-style, but I do like to put people off balance a little in order to see how they think on their feet. Asking questions directly from a document they’ve prepared allows applicants to remain in their comfort zone.

If you’re starting the process and need a few more resources, try searching the web. About.com has a great set of ideas when it comes to hiring a new employee, and Inc.com provides a list of steps you should take. The lessons above helped me, but maybe for you it’s a completely different process. What are some strategies you’ve used to interview and hire new employees?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ins and Outs of Logo Design

It’s no secret: every business needs a logo. But which type is right for your business?

In logo creation, there are
3 basic types of logos: Iconic/Symbolic, Logotype/Workmark, and Combination Marks. Iconic logos, like the Nike Swoosh, use imagery that conveys a literal or abstract representation of your organization. Logotypes, like the FedEx logo, incorporate your company name with a uniquely styled font. Combination Marks, like the Starbucks logo, incorporate both imagery to convey your organization and a memorable typeface.

Each type has the potential to work for any business, so choosing a final logo can be a difficult and overwhelming process. Will your target market identify with the mark? Will they remember it? Will they like the colors? Will it look good on promotional materials?

The answers to some of those questions can be answered through good
market research, the rest by good design. Check out the Top 10 lists (below) of logo design tips to see how your graphic designer will approach your logo.

10 Tips for a Logo Design That Works, via DailyDesigner.com
10 Logo Design Tips from the Field, via LogoDesignLove.com
Top 10 Logo Design Tips, via LogoBee.com

Think you need more guidance? Check out Google’s search results for “
client logo worksheet” and attempt to finish some of the exercises you find.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Scoop on Small Business

Each year summertime rolls around, and so does the compulsive need to walk to the ice cream store. The idea of sprinkles melding perfectly with fudge and ice cream is enough to get the worst sun-burnt legs off the couch.

Lucky for us, the genius behind Capogiro Gelato Cafe are spreading the love to South Philly and University City. The Passyunk Scoop Shop (1625 E. Passyunk Ave.) is a far cry from the normal mod-getup of its sister café’s, tucked into a quaint row home in this South Philly neighborhood. The University City (3925 Walnut Street) location also boasts a welcoming vibe providing a little bit of Italy and a little scoop of heaven all under one roof.

If you’re more of a traditionalist, looking for old time hand scooped ice cream, stop through the Franklin Fountain in Old City for a cone and a soda water. Philly Flavors is also a staple in the Fairmount section for their homemade ice cream, and Philadelphia favorite, water ice.

Feeling a little guilty from the ice cream intake? Slow down your schedule for the newly opened Pureflow Yoga Studio (444. N. 4th Street) neighboring healthy favorite Café Estelle. If you’re new to the yoga scene, or a returning veteran, scope out the studio during their Special FREE Class on Saturday, June 20th from 4:00pm-5:00pm. Limited free parking available in spaces labeled “Café Estelle” after 4:00 pm.

Take this weekend to support a small business near you, whether is a scoop or a downward facing dog, we can all take steps towards a sustainable local economy. Do you have a community event coming up? Is there a killer small business in your neighborhood that deserves the spotlight? Let us know about it!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How-To Use Customer Testimonials

Choosing a business to patronize can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. To simplify the decision process, customers often seek input from friends, online review sites, other businesses, and gut instincts. As a small business owner, you have little control over this exchange beyond providing good service and a solid product. You can mediate your image by making yourself available and responding to criticisms, but customers are going to express their opinions whether you like it or not.

Posting customer testimonials on your website, however, gives you the chance to make sure the good opinions get noticed. But how do you convince your loyal customers to share their praise? For this week's "How-To Tuesday,"I'm going to direct you to the guidance of online media extraordinaire Lisa Barone. Lisa outlines five ways in which small businesses can fish for compliments without looking like they're fishing for compliments. She recommends:
  • Company E-mailings: "Create a snippet at the bottom of your mailing that encourages and makes it easy for a customer to comment on your company. People want to talk to the companies they love. Give them that chance."
  • Order Confirmations: "Seven to 14 days after that confirmation goes out, send them another email to follow up (there are auto responders that can help with this). Ask them how their experience was and whether or not they’d tell their friends about you."
  • Create an Event Around It: "Not so long ago, Duct Tape Marketing’s John Jantsch had the idea to create an entire event around gathering testimonials. The idea was to invite your best or most enthused customers in for a networking happy hour and, while they are there, to take photos, videos and gather feedback that you can use later."
  • Other Incentives at Checkout: "Instead, hand them the comment card right at checkout. Have it pre-populated with questions to guide good, specific testimonials, and tell them they’ll receive a discount or special gift if they fill it out before leaving today."
  • Challenge Customers to Create their Own: "Hold a contest asking your customers to submit the best company testimonial they can — challenging them to use video, images, audio, whatever they can think of."
For detailed descriptions of these suggestions and Lisa's commentary, follow this link to the full article.

Be aware, though--not just any good review will do. Marketing expert Susan Gunelius lists a few caveats of publicized praise, as well as some constructive tips for proving the worth of your testimonials. She suggests the following traits:
  • Authentic: "One of the main problems with customer testimonials is their believability. Prospective customers need to believe the testimonials you provide are real."
  • Quantifiable: "Add meaning to your customer testimonials by putting hard numbers in them whenever possible."
  • Specific: "Effective customer testimonials won't leave a prospective customer saying, 'Why should I care what that person thinks?' Instead, effective customer testimonials tell prospects exactly what's in it for them when they choose your business based on another customer's prior experience."
  • Diverse: "Not only is it useful to obtain customer testimonials from a diverse audience who your prospective customers can relate to, but it also helps in terms of keeping your testimonials meaningful."
  • Approved: "Always obtain approval and written permission to use any customer's testimonial, name or likeness in your marketing and business materials."
Get the full run-down of Susan's tips here.

Do you know any examples of businesses using testimonials effectively? First, give them a shout-out in our comments. Then, determine what you like about their set-up, and get your customers to share the love.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Top iPhone Apps for Your Small Business

True confession time: if you see me on my iPhone, I’m probably playing a computer game. But iPhones and other PDAs are great tools for getting real work done, too. Check out a few apps designed to help your business run like a dream even when you’re not in the office.


This all-in-one document reader opens PDFs, Microsoft Office and RTF files, not to mention GIF and JPEG photos. Wow! At $14.99, ReaddleDocs seems expensive, but since no one else has developed anything close to the functionality of this app so far, I’d say it’s worth it.

Bonus: Be sure to check out other Readdle apps if you’re interested in downloading the full works to William Shakespeare to your phone or a program that calculates the potential effects of a nuclear blast.

Accept Credit Cards

Sure, there are other credit card-reading applications out there, but none of them are free. This program scans and processes credit card payments over a secure network, allowing you to make sales on the go.

Remote Desktop

Although the iPhone is great, sometimes you really need a computer. This program gives you access to the desktop, programs and documents of your office computer for $5.99.

QuickBooks Online

For $9.95 a month you can access your office’s QuickBooks program via your iPhone. Great for keep tracking of bills and invoices on the go.


Twitter is a great way to stay connected to your friends and networking contacts. Twitterrific lets you do this from your phone. This app is free, so don’t worry about wasting money. I’d be more concerned with wasting time once you get hooked into this social network.

Audio Notes

Record presentations, meetings and conversations on your phone even while it’s in sleep mode. This program not only records what you’re saying, it also transcribes what your conversations and uploads the notes to your computer. Price: $2.99


If your job requires a lot of traveling, use this mileage counter to keep track of how far you’ve gone. As a bonus feature, the Mileage program also calculates your vehicle’s fuel consumption. $1.99


Keeping your business and personal finances separate is one of the hardest, and most important, things you can do for your business. This personal budgeting app lets you enter purchases, receipts, savings and credit card info into your personal budget from your iPhone for $1.99.


This one’s for the fellas. At your next business meeting, why not wow them with a half- Windsor? This free application takes you through the steps for tying each of 12 different knots. Never attempted a Onassis knot before? Now’s the time.

Got any more great business apps you just can’t live without? Let us know in the comments. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some downloading to do.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Grading Your Website

Websites are imperative to business success. More often than not, the web is the first place today’s consumers go to find out more about your product or service. But once it’s built, how can you tell how successful it is?

To add on to my post on Quantcast last week, I want to introduce you to another tool imperative for tracking the success of your site: Website Grader.

Website Grader is a free site than ranks your website among the Internet’s sea of websites. In their words, “Website Grader is a free seo tool that measures the marketing effectiveness of a website. It provides a score that incorporates things like website traffic, SEO, social popularity and other technical factors. It also provides some basic advice on how the website can be improved from a marketing perspective.”

When I ran Empowerment Group’s URL, I returned a score of 77. That means that of the 998,890 websites that have been ranked so far, www.empowerment-group.org comes up 227,835. Not bad, right?

When I looked at areas for improvement, I was a little surprised at how easy it would be to improve our score by 10-15 points. Check out our complete report here.

Our major areas for improvement are in our meta keywords and descriptions, page headers and setting up a permanent redirect so the Internet always knows where to find us. But we’re also going to work on increasing our number of inbound links and listing ourselves in a variety of online directories: DMOZ, Yahoo! Directory, and ZoomInfo to start.

Even though our website was recently launched and developed after nearly a year of planning and implementation, there are many areas for improvement. Because the web is ever-changing, it’s important to keep up to date on how you rank and how effectively your site is reaching your target market.

What do you need to do to improve the grade of your site? Study your report over the weekend, and strategize ways you can take action on Monday morning. Your website can’t wait!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Keep it in the neighborhood

Summer is rolling around, and it's second nature to bolt for the beach as soon as we're off the clock. But consider hanging back from the sand and sun, to enjoy the many events that the city o' brotherly love has to offer.

There is so much going on in Philly during the summer. Between the Roots Picnic, the Art Star Craft Bazaar, Center City Sips, and First Fridays our schedules are booked solid. So, while we’re adding to the pile, don’t miss these heat-wave friendly events in a neighborhood near you!

For those that missed the oyster shucking fun last weekend at Otolith, you’re in luck! This Saturday the sustainable front runners will teach us to forge the flavors of the sea during their event, The Art of and Preparation of Sushi. Never rolled your own sushi? Come learn how to impress your friends with your beautifully crafted sushi rolls and hear about why supporting sustainable fisheries is the way to go. For tickets and info visit Otolith Online.

I’m not sure how everyone else feels, but my heart flitters whenever “a-thon” is added to an event. Think dance-a-thon, math-a-thon, tel-a-thon, bird-a-thon, tweet-a-thon…I digress. I’m happy to report that Hyperion Bank is hosting its 1st Annual HyperBowl at North Bowl (909 N. 2nd Street) on Wednesday, June 17th.

Starting at 6, this bowl-a-thon will send local businesses head to head in a bowl to the finish. Every pin down is a dollar contributed to community enrichment initiatives. After two hours of fun filled fundraising, the group will enjoy a cocktail reception with complimentary beer from Philadelphia Brewing Company, Three Olives Vodka tasting, and light hors d’oeuvres.

Teams forming now! Need a teammate? Consider joining the ever-talented EG team! Email esmith@empowerment-group.org for EG team information and visit Hyperion Bank for more event details.

Have an event in your neighborhood? Something wonderful opening around your corner? Tell us about it!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How-To: Get Your Product Made

So, you came up with this product idea: cube-shaped pillows with Velcro-lined sides. You have a vision of building gigantic pillow skyscrapers out of your individual pillow cubes, or maybe just a unique cushion for your couch. You want your pillows to be available in a variety of colors, fabrics, and patterns for maximum personalization. You have the picture of the website in your head, the ads in the craft magazines… but you don’t know how to sew.

Yep, you need to locate a manufacturer. With so many possibilities and so many uncertainties, the process can seem really daunting. The know-how is out there, but who has the time to search for it? I’ve collected a few jumping off points to help you get started.

Below, you will find an abridged how-to penned by the inimitable Martha Stewart. Follow this link to view the full article. For a more local perspective, the Urban Industry Initiative is flush with resources connecting local manufacturers to potential customers. Just fill out the free registration form and search their database by product type.

Interested in starting a manufacturing business? Local manufacturing in Philly (and its impact on community revitalization/job creation) is gaining steam. Just this morning, some folks from Empowerment Group attended an event put on by the Sustainable Business Network and Green Village Philadelphia to discuss the future of manufacturing in this city. Stay tuned for an update. Until then, get your gears in motion with Martha’s how-to.

Step 1: Creating a Prototype
Creating a working prototype or finding someone who can do it for you is the first step in the manufacturing process…Once you have a prototype, there is quality and design testing and tweaking. At each stage of development, and every time I received the newer version of my product, I washed, dried, pulled, stretched, zipped, unzipped, and put my product through the proverbial "ringer." Making sure your product will exceed your customers' expectations is a sure way to keep them coming back and referring your product to others.

Step 2: Finding a Manufacturer
I located my overseas manufacturers through referrals, which provided me with an immediate level of comfort and confidence with these factories…Ask everyone you know if they know someone who manufactures the type of products you are creating. Search online for companies with products similar to yours and call them. Who do they use? How did they get started? My experience is that most people will want to help you.

Step 3: Quoting the Project
Once references and the signed NDA are in your possession, it's time to send your sample to the factory and have them provide a quote for your project. When comparing quotes, it's important to make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Have the factories quoted the same quantities and quality of fabric? Do the quotes include shipping, duties, customs fees, etc., or are you responsible for these?

Step 4: Beginning the Production
ProcessNow that you have selected the factories to work with, it's time to start production and see who produces the best product at a fair price… Learning what is right and wrong about your product during this part of production is a lot easier to confirm and/or correct than when your product is in production!

Step 5: Placing the Order and Taking Delivery of Goods
After you have received a quality sample and decided which factory or factories will get your business, it's time to place the order…It is important that you are specific and detailed…Initially, the manufacturing process can be stressful, frustrating, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking. But it gets easier and less intimidating as time goes on. When your product arrives at its final destination, beautifully packaged and ready for sale, there is no better reward.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Business Ideas on a Budget

These days people are turning to entrepreneurship more and more to give themselves financial options. Whether you've been laid off and need something to bridge the gap or you're feeling the pinch of a tight economy, business ownership can give you that boost you need.

We've posted before about deciding if entrepreneurship is right for you. But what happens after you decide to go forward? How do you choose the right business to open? It's all about finding something that fits your schedule. Here are our top ten business ideas you can start on a shoestring budget, from home, and even part-time.

1. Personal trainer

Do you enjoy working out? Maybe you've been taking a yoga or Pilates class for a few years and want to take it to the next level. After taking a few certification classes, you'll be able to teach clients from their homes or offices.

2. Secretarial services - typing/editing/desktop publishing

Many offices need these services but don't have the time or man-power to do it themselves. If you've got a computer and a printer, consider targeting small businesses and do these tasks for them.

3. Consulting

Do you have specific expertise that other people are looking for? Can you teach them to do what you do? Consider consulting. This job can be done part-time and start-up fees are very low. Be prepared to do a lot of networking to get this business going.

4. Personal organizer

People's closets are packed and they don't have the time or energy to deal with putting everything in order. That's where you come in. With a little organizational know-how and some familiarity with the Container Store, this job could be all yours.

5. Personal shopper/Concierge service

Personal shoppers help their clients create their own style by creating a new wardrobe for them. Concierge companies work with busy homeowners and businesses to get whatever they need. Since your customers pay you for your transportation and the things you buy, it's a very affordable option.

6. Cleaning services

If you're good at cleaning and wouldn't mind doing it for a living, try taking up residential cleaning as a way to create some extra income. Even cleaning a few extra houses a week could bring in enough to make it worthwhile.

7. Pet-walking/House-sitting

Busy people will pay good money to make sure their pets are taken care of during the day and that their houses are kept safe while they're on vacation. All this idea takes to get started is an ad in the paper.

8. Event planning

If you've got a lot of energy, a great organizational mind and a ton of contacts, consider becoming an event planner. There are a number of certifications available online, but you can start small by organizing events for friends and family.

9. Tutoring

Start tutoring students after school to earn some extra cash. With college admissions more competitive than ever, parents are eager to get their kids all the extra help they can.

10. eBay seller

Laguh if you want, but people are making good livings for themselves buying items cheap at auctions, flea markets and thrift stores and reselling them online. Pay special attention to packaging, pricing and smart customer service and you could be on your way to something quite lucrative.

These are just a few of the options out there for an enterprising entrepreneur. Check out entrepreneur.com's Business Idea Center for more inspiration. Starting a business doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Get started today!

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