Your resource for business in Philadelphia
Thursday, July 30, 2009
But there's another type of user the site seems to be attracting. I'm talking about con-men, scam artists and charlatans. And I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill phishing schemes or 'you already won an iPod Touch!' claims. The most recent wave is directed at hopeful business owners. The Better Business Bureau put out a press release warning Twitter users about a crop of get-rich-quick scams making the rounds. These campaigns prey on the 14 million Americans currently out of work and looking to generate some extra income. They promise the ability to make big bucks working from home, simply by using Twitter.
Highlighted in this press release were companies such as EasyTweetProfits.com and TwitterProfitHouse.com. The former site promises the ability to make hundreds of dollars a day, provided you sign up for their instructional CD-ROM. What most buyers don't notice when signing on to this supposedly free seven-day trial is the fine print, which states that the trial starts from the moment the contract is signed, not from when the CD arrives. If the business owner doesn't cancel within seven days (usually before the CD is received), they're charged $47 a month. The latter site is even worse, charging users $99.99 a month for this phony "service".
These hoaxes work precisely because they're so tempting. To someone sitting at home, searching for a way to support their family, it seems like a fool-proof idea. But job-hunters have to be careful, and skeptical. Something that sounds too good to be true - like the ability to make thousands of dollars with little effort or experience - probably is. And these are just the latest in a long series of online scams directed towards potential business owners. You may have seen similar claims in the ad sections of your Google searches, or stumbled across obviously fake promotional blogs. You've got to use judgment when evaluating whether these opportunities are legit.
At the same time, don't be afraid to get back in the water. As we've mentioned before, Twtitter can be a hugely valuable tool for business owners, both potential and current. Leah has given us all a few tips about how to use the site to our best advantage and how to decipher the language of Tweeters. Using this advice, you can build a vibrant, dynamic network of people, excited to hear about your latest ideas and promotions, and ready to give you feedback on the stuff you've done so far. For a fledgling business owner, this kind of support can be essential in getting your business off the ground. I guess what I'm saying is not to let one bad apple spoil the barrel. Just use caution when navigating the world of Twitter and pretty soon, your business - your own, legit business - will be up and running.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
So in an effort to stay upbeat, I’ve dug up some steals and deals about town for everyone feeling the same way. Who says being a small business patron can’t be free or thrifty?
Midtown Village Wednesdays : The shops of Midtown Village offer an eclectic mix of home wares, clothing, soaps, restaurants, and items to pamper your pups. Two of our Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle hosts have included deals in this promotion. FruitFowers owner Susan Ellman is offering 50% off their weekly selected item, and owner Michelle Cimillo of Scarlet Fiorella is welcoming customers to buy one home accessory & receive 50% off any other home accessory of equal or lesser value. Visit the website for more deals throughout the neighborhood.
Restaurant Week does lunch! Now you can host your lunch meetings in style with affordable options through the Center City Districts’ Restaurant Week. Three course lunches are being offered at select Philadelphia restaurants for only $20! If you can’t make it out for lunch, don’t forget the option to sample some of the cities best restaurants for only $35 during dinner. Visit their website for a full list of participating restaurants.
SOS Spells Summer Outdoor Screenings: The business owners of South Street have joined forced with the South Street Headhouse District to offer free outdoor screenings of your favorite movies on Wednesdays throughout the summer. This Thursday Jim’s Steaks is teaming up to show Rocky under the 2nd Street Shambles. This event is BYOC (bring your own chair!) and ends on September 9th. For a full listing of upcoming movies and the sponsoring small businesses visit the SSHD website.
Just a few of the free and thrifty offerings nearby, but I’m sure there’s more! Add to the pile of upcoming steals and deals in the comment selection below. We want to hear from you!
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I am terrible at working from home.
Maybe it’s the TV table desk, the looming threat of spilled coffee, the pajamas, or the siren song of Spider Solitaire. Who knows. Whatever the cause may be, the results are indisputable—my productivity plummets when surrounded by the comforts (and inconveniences) of my living room.
At this point in my professional life, my aversion to home time isn’t a dire issue. I, like many of my business casual cohorts, work in an office space. There may come a time, however, when I will be expected to sleep and work in the same building. In anticipation of that future, and for all of you who currently work from home, I’ve compiled a list of expert tips on creating a functional home office.
Here’s hoping it’s the lighting’s fault and not my work ethic.
- Cancel the clutter. This is one of those all-purpose life tactics, but I think cleanliness and orderliness is particularly important in a home office. It helps you demarcate your work space from the rest of the house (see tip #3), allows you to find things with ease, and opens up room for new business. Going paperless whenever possible is a quick way to reduce your clutter. In her piece on clean slates in ‘09, Heather Cabot offers some additional advice on downsizing a desk disaster.
- Get a good chair. And then get a good desk, a good lamp, and good storage. You don’t need tons of furniture to outfit a home office, but you should secure a few essential pieces. A solid office chair provides the proper support for extended computer work, and in my opinion, sets a professional tone for your work space. When I sit down in swivel wheel-y chair with arm rests and pleather, I know it’s time to work. Similarly, a nice-sized desk, ample (but soft) lighting, and efficient storage create a stable work environment. Tiana’s post on smart business record-keeping delves into the specifics of proper storage.
- Set boundaries. Whether you erect physical walls or simply shift design elements, it’s important to designate your home office as a distinct and private space. When I work at home, I work in the living room, and all my personal aspects bleed into my professional time. Professional designer Jo Heinz warns against this tendency toward lax living space/working space boundaries. Check out her other opinions on equipment, lighting, lay-out, and ergonomics in this comprehensive article.
- Introduce greenery. It’s pretty. Sometimes it even produces flowers. But beyond that, bringing plants into your office can create a healthier work atmosphere. Sophie Keller maintains: “The office is a hot bed of electrical equipment and EMFs. One way to absorb some of it is to have a large plant in the room. This also helps to soak up any poisonous construction materials and formaldehyde if you have carpets.” Bonus!
And the best part of it all? Some folks in Congress are trying to make it easier to apply for the home office tax deduction. That’s right—someone wants to give you money to wear your pajamas to the office. (Warning: wearing your pajamas to the home office may hinder productivity.)
Other fun links:
The Sub-$1,000 Home Office
Outlaw Design Blog Ultimate Home Office Set-Up (w/lots of neat pictures!)
Monday, July 27, 2009
From meetings at The Rocket Cat to post-work snacks at Johnny Brenda’s, here at Empowerment Group, we benefit greatly from the
This week I’ve been reading “Remembering Kensington & Fishtown:
One chapter highlights the local shops along the
On the 1700 block alone (between Palmer and Eyre), one could purchase cigars, watches, jewelry, men’s furnishings, groceries, secondhand furniture, and “dry goods and notions.”
Next time you visit the Philadelphia Book Company or the
Interestingly, the space north of
Milano ends the chapter with a request to local property owners:
As you can imagine, there was an incredible amount of goods and services available on
I recommend “Remembering Kensington & Fishtown:
Friday, July 24, 2009
First, let’s look at some Twitter stats that I watch weekly (if not daily).
Twitterholic: This is a great site to watch your growth on Twitter. I’ve heard many individuals new to Twitter say they feel like giving up on tweeting because they have few followers, rarely get re-tweeted and have a hard time starting conversations. And they’re right: it is hard to start.
When I started the Empowerment Group account, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I started tweeting for EG on June 2 and by June 8, our account had 83 followers. I was happy with the number of followers we gained in the beginning, but I’m happier with the steady amounts that add us each day. And that’s the key to getting started and gaining followers: you can’t let a slow uptake in followers get you down. The more quality content you tweet, the more likely others are to follow you!
Tweetburner: If you’re wondering whether your follows are clicking the links you post, Tweetburner is the site for you. When I review Empowerment Group’s stats on Tweetburner, I look for trends in clicks. Are my followers more interested in technical assistance for their business? Do they like the click-throughs to our blog posts? Are they most likely to click on upcoming event information? By checking which links get the most clicks, I’m best able to cater our content to our audience.
Aside from these sites, I always have Tweetdeck open on my desktop while I work. Tweetdeck is an application that allows you to get real-time updates on your followers and watch direct messages and @replies. (If this sounds distracting, it isn’t as bad as you think: you can turn off pop-up notifications and only check when you have a moment.) Not only does Tweetdeck easily allow you to communicate via Twitter, but it also allows you to create and save custom columns of searches. What that means is that I also watch certain terms – entrepreneurship, business and Philadelphia, etc. This helps me find new people to follow that are interested in the same things as me.
These are just a few ways to keep up with Twitter and track your progress. There are hundreds of other resources available on the web, and I highly recommend checking out this list of items you need in your Twitter toolbox.
And now, I leave with you this: The Story (so Far) of Twitter.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Thinking back on the best bosses I've had, it seems to me that they each had two main strengths: vision and implementation. First, vision. A good boss sees in his or her mind the path their company should take. They understand their company's values and goals and use these values to guide their initiatives. Further, they communicate their goals clearly and directly. Supervisors with strong vision lead charismatically, inspiring those around them with their powerful, yet simple, message.
Complimenting a strong vision is capable implementation. As a supervisor, can you walk the walk? Can you do everything you're asking your employees to do? Delegation is certainly an important part of effective management, but it's important that a supervisor understand the technical side of their business as well. This helps them explain exactly what they need their employees to do, and when something's not going right, allows them to step in with timely, helpful suggestions.
Of course, if effective supervision were as simple as all this, no one would ever have to work for a bad boss again. There are plenty of nuances involved in the task of being a good leader, and more than a few websites devoted entirely to the finer points of effective management. I would argue, however, that you can go a long way by having a clear vision as to what your employees should be doing, complimented by the technical skills needed to achieve those goals.
But, as I mentioned before, I'm no expert at this. These reflections are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my nascent career as a supervisor. Do you have experience managing employees? What are some of the tips and strategies you've picked up? Any advice you have would be much appreciated!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
However if you’re like me, and not prepared to tackle the rain, you’ll probably spend more time on your couch this week then about town. However, don’t distress! You can still be a responsible small business patron from the comfort of your home!
- Shop Etsy.com:
If you’re looking to get sucked into a vortex of online shopping fun you need not go further than Etsy.com, haven for homemade goods. This global collective of more than 150 entrepreneurs offers handcrafted home decor, clothing, jewelry, paintings and other fabulous gifts waiting to be delivered to your front door! Peruse their site to learn more about the entrepreneurial principals behind their business model.
- Read your neighborhood community page:
Take time to scope out events happening in the area by keeping up with community listings. Many community events such as fundraisers, store openings, summer block parties, and store promotions are listed on community pages. Take this time to plan for a sunny day or to find a new store opening in your area. Here are a few to get you started:
Phila Inquirer: MyCommunity
- Play Hidden City Philadelphia:
Hidden City makes it easy to brush up on historical landmarks in Philadelphia, testing your knowledge of well known sites while exposing the artistic community. If you’re feeling up for game, you can join by purchasing a deck of cards and following the rules online. You’ll learn your Philly grid and stumble across local artists.
- Write a nice Yelp Review:
Man those reviews can be rough! Honestly, people really let loose. When was the last time you said something nice on Yelp? Take some time to write a rave review for your favorite small business to boost morale and let them know you're taking note of their hard work. They can use all the encouragement they can get!
- Visit Phila.gov:
Legislation is always in the works that affect the small business community. Do your part by reading up on recent laws passed and prepare for upcoming changes that will impact commerce and business in the area. Show your support with a well informed vote next time you step into the booth, or contact your local representative to voice your opinion.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Determining the cost of your product is one of the most fundamental decisions of business ownership. And, of course, one of the most complicated. You’re talking about market rates and lists of inputs and brand identity and customer expectations. You’re talking about a challenging mix of knowns and unknowns mashed together into a single critical number.
In this week’s How-To Tuesday, I’m not going to tell you how to do that. Pricing your product requires an intimate understanding of your business goals, your personal goals, your operations and a slew of other things I don’t know about. I will, however, offer some tips on figuring out that most elusive of variables: the cost of your labor.
Decide how much you want to earn. The considerations that go into this figure are manifold. I’d recommend gathering together a list of your expenses, both personal and business, and diving into one of the many online rate calendars. They’re pretty fun, and they allow you to see how different factors affect your paycheck.
Understand how long it takes you to do things. Whether you’re determining your hourly rate or estimating the length of a whole project, you have to take into account your time contributions. Don’t forget to include things that don’t feel as labor-intensive, like stuffing mailings while watching TV, and don’t hesitate to add a buffer.
Temper your desired rate with “real world” standards. Consider factors like market demand, industry standards, skill level and experience. You know how long it takes you to do things and how much you need stay afloat, but will anybody actually pay you that? Explore other pricing structures and check out the Salary Wizard listed below for annual salaries in comparable fields.
For creative professionals and people who deal in services, your hourly rate is your bread and butter. For those of you who sell more tangible goods, you still need to figure out how to get paid. As entrepreneurs, you realize that steady and adequate payment may not always be in your future, but that doesn't mean you can omit it entirely. Even if it’s just in your fantasy projections, everyone needs a paycheck.
“Pay Yourself Right When Being Your Own Boss”
“Salary Wizard: Do You Know What You’re Worth”
“How Much Should You Charge for Your Services?”
“How To Determine a Graphic Design Hourly Rate”
Monday, July 20, 2009
This past Saturday, Black & Brew, a
The intimate coffee shop sits on a bustling corner of
Black & Brew’s co-owners, Colleen DeCesare and Jennifer Kaufman, shared stories from their years in business. For those of you who couldn’t attend, we thought it would be nice to pass on some wise words from these friendly, energetic entrepreneurs. Here were their biggest bits of advice:
- Be consistent. Kaufman shook her head at the idea of coffee shops putting up “be back later” or “out for lunch” signs. Black & Brew has the same dependable hours each week; they’re open 7a.m.-7p.m. on week days and 7a.m.-4 p.m. on the weekends. This consistency is extended to customer service as well. “Be nice to everyone!” said DeCesare of their philosophy, “Everyone gets the same smile, the same service."
- Take a Vacation. We blogged about this the other week. DeCesare emphatically agrees. Sharing the importance of taking a break, she exclaimed “Do it! Find the time! When the holiday comes, we’re closing. I’m going to try not to think about [the store].”
- Keep up and be the best. Both DeCesare and Kaufman related their coffee shop business to other entrepreneurial ventures. There’s always competition and the field is always changing. “We just keep on trying to make it the best it can be!”
If you had to miss this Women Entrepreneurs' Circle, our next one is going to be the annual Success in the City event. We're hosting it at the Center for Architecture in Center City on Wednesday, August 26. Tickets are $10 and include light hors d’oeuvres and beverages from Philadelphia Brewing Company. RSVP for the event and learn more about Empowerment Group by visiting our website or by calling (215) 427-9245.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Why bother, indeed? The truth is, all these rationalizations are just that: ways business owners talk themselves out of additional expenditures. But just like you wouldn’t own a car without insuring it, and just like you’ve probably got some kind of insurance on your home, your business needs the same kind of protection.*
Beyond how much sense it makes to protect something that’s valuable, there’s also a chance you could lose business opportunities if you’re not properly insured. One of my clients owns a residential cleaning company. She recently tried to break into commercial cleaning. She’s done great business for years and her clients love her, but when she started approaching restaurants to see if she could take on projects for them, none wanted to take the gamble. Why? She didn’t have insurance. Without it, they weren’t willing to deal with the consequences if something went wrong on her watch.; it would’ve cost them too much in time, money and reputation. In the end, the restaurants chose someone else and my client got insured.
But what if the thing that’s keeping you from getting insured isn’t any of these excuses but rather that you don’t know how to find the right insurer? It can be difficult to pick an insurance agent, and to be sure you’re not getting fleeced.
Before you take your first step, be sure to read this article. It explains the differences between insurance agents and insurance brokers. Different types of insurers are better equipped to meet the needs of different businesses.
After that, go to your state’s insurance department website. This will be your best resource for all insurance-related questions and concerns. You can find quotes and comparisons, buying tips, and more. Find your state’s insurance department here.
And remember: insurance agents are there to work for you, not the other way around. Always contact at least five agents to be sure you know the range of prices available. At each office, ask for a current, valid agent or broker’s license, as well as customer references. If they’re reluctant to give these out, you know something’s wrong.
Use these tips, along with the resources listed below, and you should have no problem getting the insurance you need at a price you can afford.
*Oh, and to the person who thinks their business is too poor to insure, take note: everyone and every business can be held accountable. And judges can wait. Once a money judgment has been weighed against you, your wages can be steadily garnished, your equipment seized and your assets high-jacked. So, yeah. Get protected.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
That may in fact be true. Honestly, most of us can't. But entrepreneurs are nothing if not risk takers!
Tonight kicks off Waterfront Wednesdays, a FREE concert series hosted at
Tonight’s kicks off the series with musical guest Charanga, belting out Latin sounds and soul stepping beats. Strap on your best dancing shoes for an introductory salsa lesson before the concert, then Milonga, Salsa or listen the night away.
If you’re feeling especially inspired after the concert, consider taking up a summer hobby with the many dance studio’s in the area. Our most recent Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle met at the
Want to give it a try? Two left feet? Not to worry, local instructors are waiting to tackle even the most challenging students, awakening the dancer within. Test these studios in the area to get in rhythm with the summer, and to eliminate any post workday entrepreneurial stress.
Katharine Livingston opened the
Offering “101” courses in Salsa, Swing, Hip-Hop and more, this versatile dance studio is beginner friendly with an encouraging and accommodating staff. Group classes on Thursday nights boast the healthy alternative to the traditional bar scene. Ask about group lessons, parties, and reduced parking prices while rates last!
Take the Lead Ballroom & Latin Dance Studio (
Co-owners Garincha Hilaire & Jennifer Janson were kind enough to host our Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle last September, when they taught even the most uncoordinated of the Empowerment Group staff how to move with the music and give Latin dance a try. Stop by the studio on July 24th for a Salsa Beach Party or give their friendly staff a call for class schedules and private lessons.
Kelly & Lesley Argentine Tango & Social Dance (
Kelly Ray & Lesley Mitchell have been immersed in the study of Argentine Tango for over a decade, and together teach the fundamentals to enthusiastic beginners in the streets and studio’s of
If we’re missing something we want to know about it! Call, email, or knock on our door with event information or a special small business opening near you.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Networking events terrify me. Strangers asking me probing questions, the vitality of my business on the line. All right, so that more aptly describes a police interrogation than a mixer, but you get the idea. It’s scary in there.
If you’re like me and see a networking event as a room full of potential missed opportunities, take a look below. I’ve assembled a list of tips from the experts on how to relax at your next networking event and enjoy the company. And who knows, maybe you’ll make a few leads in the process.
- Think of what you hope to achieve before you arrive at the event. Like most aspects of small business, realistic goal-setting is paramount. If you attend a networking event with the expectation that you’ll develop one promising business lead and meet two really nice people, you won’t feel so disheartened when you leave without that big contract.
- Listen to other peoples’ goals for the evening, think about how you can help, and seek out common ground. This tip is plastered over just about every networking site on the Internet. Why? Because cooperative relationships between small business owners are the most long-lasting, productive, and supportive kind. Learn more about good listening at “The Ten Commandments of Networking”.
- Bring a friend. Having a familiar face in the room can make the prospect of unfamiliar faces a little less daunting. As long as you promise to brave it on your own for a little while, don’t feel sheepish about bringing some back-up. According to John Wall at Media Bullseye, your networking can be 8x more effective with the buddy system.
- It’s OK to own up to your newbie networking status. People rarely frown on honesty, and you may discover a kindred spirit in the process.
- Don’t forget to say goodbye. Saying goodbye to your fellow networkers is not only polite, it reminds you of the evening’s successes and the fun you had while doing it.
Consider taking these tips for a test spin at Empowerment Group’s upcoming networking event. Tiana will set the stage for purposeful socializing with a presentation on the benefits and tactics of business bartering. Tuesday, June 28th, 6:30pm to 8:30pm @ Smokin’ Betty’s (11th and Sansom, Philadelphia, PA)
Monday, July 13, 2009
Some small businesses put flyers in people's doors. Others set up stands at events. Others just open up shop and hope for the best. In Philly's Fairmount neighborhood, small business owners promote their services by dressing up in 18th Century garb, offering French-themed specials, setting up stands in the street, and chopping watermelon with a 30-foot guillotine.
This weekend the Eastern State Penitentiary hosted its 15th annual Bastille Day Festival. Visitors flocked to the historic former prison and the neighborhood's surrounding shops and eateries for a weekend of French-themed festivities, like the French Fling Bar Crawl and the Tricycle Tour de France.
Although everyone came together to "storm the Bastille" at the Penitentiary entrance on Saturday afternoon, the local businesses did an excellent job accommodating the variety of visitors. Daytime activities included face-painting, croissant specials at Mugshots, and French-themed crafts for the kids. Local bars like Rembrandt's, The London Grill, The Bishop's Collar, Trio, Jack's Firehouse, The Belgian Cafe, Bridgid's and others offered special French-inspired menus and drink specials late into the evenings.
London Grill Co-owner Terry Birch-McNally played the important role of Marie Antoinette, screeching "Let them eat Tastykake!" from the top of the penitentiary as local reenactors threw pastries down at the crowd. While the dialogue contained other bits of local flavor, jokes about current newsmakers (from Michael Jackson to Sarah Palin), and historical references, she also had ample time to plug her restaurant. Sipping on a can of champagne (this year's sponsor, Coppola's Sophia Blanc de Blanc), Birch-McNally urged festival attendees to pick up their own cans at the London Grill.
Birch-McNally didn't even need to risk her life for the publicity; the festival's guillotine is only used to chop watermelon.
Even without the danger of execution, she proved that a bit of unconventional publicity can do wonders for a small business. Other small business owners should take note that even without the French wigs and fanfare, getting involved in local events and making news in positive, offbeat ways can build valuable buzz around your business. For some reason 18th century execution devices are more conducive to bringing thousands to your doorstep than flyers ever will be.