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Monday, August 31, 2009

Proofreading for the Time-Pressed Entrepreneur

Typos. They can happen to the best of us. We know that entrepreneurs are time-pressed, money-pressed, and we don’t all have eager English majors waiting, red pen aloft, to prevent them from looking stupid. And even if we all employed hoards of copy editors, some errors still slip through the cracks; just ask Philadelphia Weekly about their recent cover slip-up.

The English language has plenty of pitfalls, and even tiny, easy-to-make errors can ruin your credibility. Since we know that you don’t have hours to pore over Strunk & White every night, here are some practical, time-efficient tips for busy entrepreneurs.

Take some time away from the document, and read through it later. Cultivating a good document is like cultivating a good relationship: sometimes you just need a little space. Once you finish a first draft, go do something else: take a coffee break, answer a few e-mails, etc. You’ll come back to the document with a fresh pair of eyes, so proofreading will be more accurate, and a faster process.

Use Spell Check, but don’t rely on it solely. Spell Check knows a lot of things, but it gets easily confused with proper nouns, and many common usage errors. Spell Check should always be supplemented with an alert pair of human eyes.

Lay off the quotation marks and apostrophes. These errors are so easy to catch, but they still pop up everywhere. Entire blogs are devoted to quotation mark and apostrophe errors. Quotation marks shouldn’t be used unless you are quoting something. Otherwise they are read as a wink, an indicator that the word doesn’t actually mean what it does. This is the last mistake you want to make when marketing a product. Apostrophes should only be used as possessive. I’m always hesitant to go into any coffee shops that advertise their great “panini’s” and “latte’s.”

Know the accidents you’re prone to, and keep an extra eye out for them. The “E” button on my keyboard sticks sometimes, so I’m always extra cautious when I use it; I don’t want people thinking I’ve changed my name to Mily. Similarly, we all have our common mistakes. Here at EG, we’ve gotten pretty good at typing “entrepreneur,” but all those Es and Rs can slip a lot of people up. Are you ever tempted to slip an extra “C” into recommend? Are you in the bad habit of making “a lot” one word? Look at a guide to commonly mispelled misspelled words to see if you’re guilty of any of these errors. Keep dictionary.com open in your web browser. Always look up “hors d’oeuvres,” because nobody knows how to spell it. Know your weaknesses and address them.

Get by with a little help from your friends. Two heads are better than one when it comes to most things in life. Grammar is no exception. Your friends don’t need to be geniuses to help you out. Often text may make sense in your head, simply because you’re the one who wrote it. An extra pair of eyes is great for improving clarity, eliminating redundancy, and catching common style errors.

Use the tricks of the trade. Sometimes you’re under deadline and there’s nobody available to proofread. The best way to catch your own errors is to read the text out loud to yourself. This is great for finding syntax errors and making sure your punctuation aligns with the natural stops and pauses of the text. Next, start at the end of the document and read each word. It’s easier to find spelling and usage errors this way, when you’re not distracted with the message of the text.

Good luck and happy proofreading!

Friday, August 28, 2009

With Love, Philadelphia XOXO: A Brilliant Marketing Campaign

When I first saw the With Love, Philadelphia XOXO campaign on Philebrity’s blog in May, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. At first I thought it was a little cutesy, borderline hokey. I wasn’t sure how many people would respond to a line like “Dear Powdered Wig Lovers,” and I thought some of the content might be a little too local to pull in tourists from afar.

But then the campaign launched, with more than 55 different versions of the creative, and I realized I was wrong.

They made me smile: “Dear World Champions, Oh wait, that’s us. See you at the game.”

They made me laugh: “Dear Guy Who Claims he Never Cried During Rocky IV, We all know you did. It’s okay.”

They taught me fun Philadelphia trivia about things like the Liberty Bell: “… Then there was 1777 when we got word the British were coming so we hid you in a church basement.”

They made me remember why I love Philadelphia, one ad at a time. And they also made me remember why I love the complexity that goes into launching a successful marketing campaign. The Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation knew what they wanted this campaign to do: bring tourists to Philadelphia. They knew that Philadelphia has a ton to offer, and they also knew their target market distribution was pretty wide.

From a marketing standpoint, here’s why I love this campaign:

It’s Simple. This campaign loves white space. It knows how to use white space. Instead of just being empty space, white space in visual arts is imperative for the breathability of the design. The With Love, Philadelphia XOXO campaign is a great example of how white space on a page can create a classic feeling, or a feeling of elegance, while still maintaining a striking and impactful visual experience.

It’s Creative. This is not your mother’s tourism campaign. It doesn’t rely on the crutch of people selling a place; it made the place the crutch. By focusing on what Philly has to offer, this campaign came alive with anecdotes and quick quips on things that make Philly well, Philly. This campaign is also creative because it isn’t just ads, or radio, but also now merchandise (who doesn’t want one of those coffee cups?) and mailing events, where the With Love, Philadelphia XOX promoters visit bustling Philly spots complete with thousands of postcards and postage for you to invite your friends to the city you call home.

It asks for a Call to Action. All good advertising requires a call to action. What do I mean? I mean that the primary purpose of an ad is to get people to act quickly, preferably now. In order to make that happen, ads need to ask viewers to do something, buy something or go somewhere. And the ad needs to tell them they have to do it now and not in 6 months or a year. The With Love ads do this intrinsically, with their content, but also by adding little things like, “It’s only around until Sept. 7 so…”

It has Variety. This campaign wouldn’t have been as successful if it didn’t have so many different versions of the creative. With more than 55, The Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation was able to reach their broad target market and highlight more than a few of the things you love about Philadelphia. Though this kind of variety makes a campaign vibrant, it also makes it expensive, so small business owners beware.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Using Corporate Sponsorship as a Small Business Marketing Tool

When I think of corporate sponsorship, I tend to think big. Coca-Cola's red and white plastered all over the Olympics. Giant billboards lining a ballpark. Racecars covered, bumper to bumper, with logos.

It isn't always like that. There's another form of sponsorship that's more accessible to the small business owner. Think Little League jerseys sporting the name of a local hardware store or microbreweries providing beer to a city festival. By donating their products, time, or money, these companies create positive buzz for themselves while marketing to an entirely new audience. This is sponsorship on a small scale. These are the opportunities you should be aiming for.

As a marketing tool, corporate sponsorship is tremendously flexible. It can take many forms, as long as you're creative. Don't limit yourself to sporting events; you can create partnerships with organizations hosting charity drives, parades, concerts or radio shows. The opportunities are endless. Before you get started, however, there are few things you should do:

Set Your Goals

First, identify what you want to get from this sponsorship. Are you in it for the PR? Are you trying to break into a new market segment? Promote an upcoming event? Outlining how the promotion fits into your overall marketing strategy will go a long way towards helping you find the right opportunity. Be sure to think about how it fits into your budget as well. Before you sign anything, be sure this promotion won't negatively impact your bottom line.

Hone in on Your Target

Who are you trying to reach? This is most important question to ask yourself, as the answer will shape your entire campaign. This article talks about the importance of aligning your marketing with your ideal client's interests. It makes sense: if your target clients are mainly young, female, and vegetarian, sponsoring a rib-eating contest at Old Uncle Bill's Hawg Farm probably won't go over too well. Be sure to consider who your clients are, where they are, and what they like. Then create a sponsorship opportunity that puts your company's name and logo in that space.

Don't Over-Extend Yourself

Once you start sponsoring community events, other organizations will take notice. Soon, they'll be knocking at your door, asking for help with their own activities. At first, the attention is flattering. Later, you may find you've given away your entire inventory and you don't have anything to show for it! This article outlines a few considerations to weigh before donating your wares. Though it focuses mainly on evaluating online sponsorship opportunities, the advice applies across the board. In a nutshell, evaluate how many customers your sponsee has and how strong their client base is. This gives you a good idea as to what kinds of people will be reached by your donation and how much value they'll place on your sponsee's endorsement of you.

Keep Good Records

After sponsoring a particular activity, keep an eye on how it affects your business. Ask new clients how they heard of you. Track new hits on your website. This lets you know how well your promotion is working. Even if the sponsorship doesn't seem to be generating as many sales as you'd hoped, don't assume it's failed completely. In many cases, sponsorship is a slow-burning flame. You many find that, in the long-run, consistently good PR is worth more than a flashy one-time campaign.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Get in Tune with Your Business

We run into a lot of business owners here at Empowerment Group. Naturally, it’s what we do. However, I’m always shocked when we stumble across artists, designers, and musicians, and have an all-too-familiar conversation. “How’s your business going?” “What business?”


I’ve been hitting up the local music scene noticing the difference between an enterprising, entrepreneurial musician and a run-of-the-mill garage band. There’s a different tempo between the two. The enterprising musicians have great merch, a comprehensive price list, CD's available for sale (or free!), stickers, and generally know how to work the crowd. Other’s don’t. And the difference is striking.

There’s a reason why Jay Z has a brownstone facing Central Park, his own record label, and a successful clothing line. And a profitable one at that. He took an opportunity to look beyond his music and create an enterprise. He now ranks as one of the most profitable artists and CEO's in the country.

Think you’re an enterprising musician? Prove it! We want your band stickers and well organized, cataloged merchandise! If you need a venue to find and support local music, check out these small businesses that help our enterprising musicians along the way:

Kung Fu Necktie (1248 N. Front Street):
I stopped by this fine venue this past weekend to scope out some local up-and-coming musicians. KFNT is notorious for supporting local artists by making an amazing venue accessible for all bands. New and seasoned musicians alike find their way to this stage just about every day of the week. Frequent their calendar page to stay on top of upcoming shows.

Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus (847 N. 3rd Street):
I spent some formative years in this little whole in the wall, back when it actually was a hole in the wall. After a recent change in ownership, this club has a renewed vibe and line-up of musicians to fit the bill. A good tip: Sit closer to the kitchen, then you can chat with the band between sets.

World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street):
Big fans of WCL here at Empowerment Group, and not just because I want Hal Real to be my father in-law. With two floors of tunes, this venue is a big player the Philadelphia music community. Friendly to local bands, as well as known bands traveling from a far away land, Hal and his team never fail to put on a great show.

North Star Bar (2639 Poplar Street):
Billed as the "Legendary North Star Bar", this notorious music venue lives up to it's name sake, attracting some of the biggest names in music on it's unassuming corner of Brewery Town. Not limited to any one genre, North Star welcomes rock, indie, folk, pop and just about every other tune you can find making it's way through the country.

North By Northwest (7165 Germantown Avenue):
NxNW has found a home in Mt. Airy, offering a relaxed atmosphere and a musical line up to match, featuring local artists that specialize in jazz and blues entertainment. Also boasting a full service restaurant and bar, this venue is an excellent retreat from the hustle and bustle of down town Philly.

Need help turning your band into a business? Empowerment Group is here to help. Call and ask about our upcoming Entrepreneurship Training Course today! Or at the very least, invite us to your next show. We're always listening.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How to Maximize Your Mentorship

A few months ago, Tiana wrote a piece about finding a business mentor. I assume you’ve all found one by now (kidding!), so I wanted to build off her post and discuss the next steps of mentorship. It began with a passionate courtship and a stomach full of butterflies, but now the honeymoon is over—how do you sustain a healthy relationship?

For this week’s “How-To Tuesday,” we’re going to determine how to make the most out of your mentorship. Someone who may not have much free time to spare has agreed to guide you in your business journey. A unique opportunity like this should not be squandered due to lack of preparation or uncertainties about your responsibilities as mentee. To maximize your mentorship, read the tips below, and don’t forget to include some tips of your own in the comments section.

Lay some ground rules. From the very beginning, determine what you will discuss and how you will discuss it to avoid misunderstandings. Are you horrible at responding to voicemails, but prompt in your e-mail reply time? Make sure your mentor knows that. You’ll also want to hash out appropriate topics (marketing—yes, overbearing parents—probably not) and some meeting parameters. This blog post offers a quick recap of boundaries to consider and lines of communication.

Outline your goals and track your progress. You and your mentor should work together to develop goals for the mentorship and assess your progress on a regular basis. Scott Allen at about.com recommends: “Take time to review your notes and to set action items based on your notes. Before your next meeting, review those items and make notes regarding their status. Bring the notes to the next meeting for discussion.”

Listen. This one’s pretty straightforward—your mentor has agreed to give you advice, and it’s in your best interest to listen to it. Discussing your business difficulties may put you in a defensive mindset, leaving you eager to justify or explain away your “unsuccess”. Save the nay-saying and trust the advice of your mentor. Otherwise, you’re just wasting their time.

Give thanks. Make sure your mentor knows how much you appreciate his or her time through frequent recognition. Everyone likes to hear “Thank you,” or “Wow, you’ve really helped me further my business goals.” This sort of acknowledgement reminds your mentor of why they wanted to be a mentor in the first place and helps cement a nurturing and reciprocal relationship.

So, get out there and soak up some knowledge—it’s yours for the asking. And for more mentoring tips and notes, check out these resources:

SCORE--Counselor's to America's Small Business
University of Washington Mentee Guide

The American Physiological Society Guide for Mentees

Monday, August 24, 2009

Entrepreneur Profile: Olga DeJesus of El Cafeito

Olga DeJesus and her husband, Osvaldo, capitalized on an old dream this past April. They purchased a blighted property at Third and Cecil B. Moore Streets—blocks from where Olga grew up—and transformed it into El Cafeito, which they describe as, “a little taste of Old San Juan in Old Kensington.”

DeJesus joked about her newfound lack of personal time. Both she and her husband have kept their day jobs, but the business venture has pushed their family closer together. “We’ve been married 31 years; we’ve always been partners. Our kids are also very proud and into doing this.”

With an adorable space, a supportive family, and a great recipe for the quesito, a Puerto Rican cheese pastry, you’d think they’d be set. However, El Cafeito didn’t get started without its share of problems. After taking a hit-the-ground-running approach and getting her business education the hard way over the past four months, DeJesus has plenty of helpful tips for fellow entrepreneurs.

Reliable employees are everything. “Good people are a huge asset to making this happen. We’ve been repeatedly troubled employee-wise,” she said, shaking her head. Over the past four months, the DeJesuses have developed more skill in learning what to look for in hiring the people to run their project while they’re not there.

Her biggest tip on handling employees is to not wait too long to get rid of someone. “Read between the lines all the time,” she advised.

Conversely, she described her indicators of a good employee: someone who has your best interest in mind, with quiet diligence. “They do things without a lot of fanfare; they just do it.”

Use Your Network. DeJesus repeatedly mentioned the comfort of confiding in other small business owners. She said that there’s a lot of understanding among fellow entrepreneurs: "When there are problems, I can’t take it as it’s only me.”

In addition to building rapport, she said her network was important with technicalities as well. Friends and business contacts helped her come to anticipate unexpected expenses and get past timing roadblocks with Licensing & Inspections.

Figure out Pricing, sooner rather than later. “The biggest thing is that you have to adjust and readjust all the time,” DeJesus said. She elaborated on one of the greatest challenges of running a gourmet coffee shop in a low-income neighborhood: “I have to be really careful with my pricing. I’m still trying to adjust. Our coffee is expensive—it’s gourmet—but we can’t price out our customers.”

“Customers don’t like price adjustments,” she said, although she finds it necessary sometimes, “I found out that my initial ‘high’ prices still weren’t high enough to make it work. If it doesn’t work, change it. You can’t be too rigid in this, or you’ll dry up.”

They've found success with their most recent price adjustment, which makes savings fun for the customers. All iced coffee beverages are as many cents off as degrees Fahrenheit it is outside. For instance, on a 90 degree day, their iced coffee is $.90 cheaper.

While the price adjustments have been tricky to figure out, the DeJesuses have adapted to their diverse clientele with their menu. They offer both the popular locally roasted coffee, La Colombe, and a robust Puerto Rican coffee, Hacienda San Pedro. On a recent visit, students sat in the café’s corner, refilling mugs of coffee during study breaks, while young boys ran in from the street to grab pizza subs. It’s clear that DeJesus knows what her customers want; the details are still just getting sorted out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Video: Social Media Revolution

I'm a firm believer in social media, but I know there's a lot of naysayers out there. This week, a viral video hit the web: Is Social Media a Fad? The video reinforces what I've thought all along: absolutely not!

The short video uses different facts to prove the point, and for me the most impactful set detailed the years it took different forms of media to reach 50 million users. Radio: 38 years. Television: 13 years. Internet: 4 years. iPod: 3 years. Facebook: 100 million users in less than 9 months. Wow!

If watching this video isn't enough, there's tons of stats around the Internet that cement the fact that social media is here to stay. But this revolution isn't much different than the ones brought on by radio and television; it just requires a different reaction, and a shift in the way we all do business with each other.

When users can gain information about your business from each other, and not you, it could spell trouble (or triumph!) for your sales. Getting involved in the conversation on different social networks is the best ways to have a voice in the tangle of the web.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Free Online Software for Business Owners

Small business owners don't have money to waste. Neither have they time to lose. Without further ado, here are some online software programs you can download for free. Use them to organize your finances, host meetings, and market your services.


Everybody's favorite accounting software, QuickBooks, is available for free online. The version they offer is available in limited form only, but for most businesses Simple Start works just fine. For personal budgeting, my freelance friends swear by Mint, which tracks activity from your various credit cards and bank accounts and aggregates that information into a comprehensive budget. That way, you can see where all the money's going (hint: it's going to rent!).

Phone Services

Business requires a lot of communication. Skype is a fast and convenient way to make phone calls over the Internet. If you're looking to host a conference call, FreeConferenceCall.com has your back. Type in your name and email address and they'll send you a dial-in number and access code right away. No reservations, no fees.

For Google nerds, the new application Google Voice is something to get excited about. It's still in beta (what about Google isn't?), but you can sign up for an invitation to try this online phone consolidation service for free. Pick a single number for your account and all your phone lines - office phone, cell phone, landline - get rerouted to that phone. Google Voice also manages your voicemail and text messages, and you lets you access these records on your computer. Use GV with your iPhone and it'll track your phone down if it gets lost!

Presentations & Webinars

I just learned about the company DimDim, but they're so friendly I feel like I've known them for years. DimDim provides free, open-source online conferencing. You can hold voice and video conferences with up to 20 people around the world without spending any money on travel. To quote the DimDim website: 'Take that, economy!'

Marketing & Networking

There are TONS of free marketing programs out there. We've talked about Twitter ad nauseum, but remember Twitter's older cousin, Facebook? Or, if those two sites seem a little unprofessional, how about the more serious LinkedIn? Okay, okay, you've already heard of all these sites, and you've got profiles on each. Well, what about Entrepreneur Connect, a networking site for small business owners, run by the reputable Entrepreneur Magazine itself? You already knew about that one too? Oh. Okay.

Document Creation & Sharing

Just a little more Google-geekery and then I'm done. For my money, Google Docs remains the best way to create and share files online. The range of file types available to you looks a lot like the Microsoft Office Suite - you can word process, create spreadsheets and even make slideshows. The settings and toolbars look like Office as well, so those familiar with the Suite shouldn't have a hard time adjusting. If you're looking to get from under the thumb of this media giant, however, Zoho provides a veritable smorgasbord of free online services. Through this site you can create files, host meetings, invoice your clients, and build wikis. Not too shabby.


Zoho's also got your back when it comes to storing large quantities of data. Their Creator program allows you to build simple forms online. You can fully customize your database so it tracks sales, HR, and marketing material with ease and effectiveness. Lazybase is another online database solution, but reviewers warn that this site won't support advanced queries or reporting. Check out all its functions before signing on to be sure it has what you need.

Didn't find what you're looking for? Check out this comprehensive listing of software programs, then get cracking! The web's waiting for you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cruisin' in the City

As I was trolling around the blog scene this week, I saw an interesting article highlighted by Philebrity calling for a Car-Free Sunday initiative from local bike activist, and Philadelphia Bicycle Transportation Examiner, Carol Raskind. This plan would block major streets during pre-selected Sundays, closing major thoroughfares, and opening the streets to pedestrians and bikers.

Successful programs have already been tested in cities like Portland and Seattle (no shock there) but to my surprise New York City and Paris as well. Heck, if they can do it, can’t we? This initiative hopes to bring communities together by returning to a pedestrian model. Ideally this would drive more dollars towards local businesses, highlighting the benefits available within walking distance for residents. To boot, it would cut down on auto emissions.

With city budget cuts looming, the muggy city air oppressing, maybe this is just what the doctor ordered. Some fun, clean, free bike riding. If you’re finding yourself ill prepared for the potential Car-Free Sundays, here are a few local businesses that will get you in the seat without breaking the bank.

Jay’s Pedal Power Bikes (512 East Girard Avenue, 1-888-777-JAYS)
This bike shop is a favorite for my BMX friends Offering all the gear you need to get started, this shop also boasts an online store with sweet deals for anyone looking to quickly cruise about town. Bikes are available for every shape and style, including the new Electra for your little one.

Bicycle Stable (1420 Frankford Avenue, 215-634-0633)
This laid back stable of a bike shop is inviting and approachable. Their selection, which manages to fit into their close quarters, is thorough and priced to move. They also have occasional part swaps in the lot next to the building, good for anyone looking to upgrade or remodel their current digs.

Frankinstien Bike Worx (1529 Spruce Street, 215-893-0415)
Offering their very own brand “Street Cred” this shop is the fixed-gear lovers dream shop. Tucked in the lower level on Spruce Street, you’d be surprise the variety you’ll find at this shop. Stop through anytime to find bikes marked down and parked outside, or stick your head in to chat with the helpful staff about finding the perfect bike for you.

Via Bicycle (606 South 9th Street,
(215) 627-3370)
I’ve always had an affection for Via, purchasing my first Schwinn from the sidewalk back from my Girls High days. I can still remember it. Bright blue with blue handle bars. Via continues to offer a variety of vintage and used bikes for any budget. Need a cruiser? Need a racer? Want to look trendy? Want to look comfortable? These are your guys.

Bicycle Therapy (2211 South Street,
(215) 735-7849)
Like a bike spa but better, this shop specializes in Biancchi bikes. Our fellow blogger Lindsey swears by them. Great for quick repairs, tune-ups and gear. This is a sure bet for anyone looking to spruce up their old wheels or upgrade to a better helmet. Because yes, you should be wearing one! Plus they feature a shop dog. Who doesn't love dogs? (well...I don't think I need to mention his name here)

I hope this blog brings you one step closer to getting back on the bike and supporting small businesses near you. Have someone that you'd like to mention? Did I miss a shop near you? Post in the comment section and let us know!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to Make the Most Out of Cold Calling

I don’t think anyone really likes cold calling. And without a doubt, no one's sales efforts should hinge on such a painful and often inefficient tactic. Yet, when it comes down to it, many business owners and many employees find themselves dialing a number of someone they don’t really know with the intent to sell.

I cold call now, and I imagine I will have to cold call in my future farm business. Ideally, the connections my partner and I have been building will take us far, but realistically, untapped markets may require an unexpected phone call. I want that phone call to be good. For this week’s “How-to Tuesday”, we’re going to discuss the strategies behind pain-free cold calls and maximizing cold calls to get results.

Do your research beforehand. Utilize company websites and Google searches to better understand the needs of the call recipient. When someone answers your call, you’ll have a better chance at holding their attention, sounding less formulaic, and transitioning from pitch to conversation. Canned pitches, especially over voicemail, dissuade people from the get-go.

Don’t be afraid to write a script. Reading a script word-for-word isn’t advisable, but typing up your salutation and a few key points can help you stay on track. Joanna L. Krotz at the Microsoft’s Small Business Center recommends: “Despite the fact that you're passionate about your baby business, communicating the benefits of your product takes distinct skills. With limited time on the phone, a written script lets you focus on points you want to make. In a few short sentences, you must provide both a description of your services and compelling reasons why the prospect should buy your product…Be ready to counter possible objections with specific explanations, statistics or case studies. If an objection arises that you hadn't anticipated, react as best you can. Then write it down and prepare a detailed response before the next call.”

Know your goal. For the most part, a successful cold call should give you the opportunity to speak with someone a second time. You shouldn’t be pushing the sale or asking people to spend their money first time around. A simple, “Would you mind if I send you more information,” should suffice. For more info on calling etiquette, check out this dissection of the cold call at The New York Enterprise Report.

Focus on the “Yes”. Most of the time, cold calling isn’t going to work. You’ll make 5 well-researched cold calls, and 4 people are going to give you a flat out “no”. Recognizing the value in that “yes”, however, will boost your cold calling stamina and make the whole process more sustainable. When paired with realistic goals, a positive outlook can enhance even the most mundane tasks.

But don’t take my word for it. The comments section of this BNET article is chock full of opinions, both good and bad, on the value of cold calling. And if you have any questions, just pick up the phone and give me a ring--I'll be expecting you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

From Lemonade to Lemons: Making Your Business Legal

With Michael Vick’s arrival in Philadelphia, the local media are abuzz about his illicit, inhumane, under-the-table business. Although two years have passed since his dogfighting ring was shut down, people are still talking about how he kept it going for five years, how profitable it was, and its eventual demise.

Vick’s business trouble was the most obvious kind. Nobody is under the pretense that dogfighting is a legitimate entrepreneurial outlet. But apparently you don’t need to be harming animals to get into business trouble these days. Take Clementine Lee for example.

Ten-year-old Lee is a budding entrepreneur who lives in New York City’s Upper West Side. Her business venture: selling lemonade and chocolate chip cookies.

After a few hours of pleasing thirsty customers, Lee’s venture was shut down by the Parks Department. Agents from the department made her leave because she lacked the proper permits to sell food on park property.

The pre-teen businesswoman was given a $50 fine.

Although the fine was later revoked, Lee says she’s hesitant to make more lemonade and return to her post, although she’d like to take it up again. This week’s news proves that business trouble comes in all shapes and sizes.

Sure, being nice to dogs is an easy first step to running a legal business, but, there are plenty of less obvious steps to getting your micro-enterprise documented and legal. For instance, what licenses and permits do you need? How do you get them? How do you report any profits on our taxes?

For the entrepreneur juggling various responsibilities, paperwork is often pushed by the wayside. A good start is looking at our past blog entries on choosing an initial business structure and keeping good, thorough records.

In order to get answers fully relevant and useful for your small business, your best bet is attending our Entrepreneur Training Course or doing one-on-one business counseling. The experts at EG can help you navigate through the sea of paperwork to make sure that your business is running legitimately.

We’re hosting information sessions on August 31, September 1, and September 2. Any of these free sessions will help determine which of our services will best benefit your business. We’re here to help you through those tough patches, because sometimes, even when you make lemonade, life can give you lemons.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Marketing with New Media

Last week, I had the privilege of attending Comcast’s New Media Exchange for Nonprofit Executives. I love attending these types of seminars and workshops because I find the content ever-changing, the people consistently engaging and the idea-exchange priceless. So, I go and spend a day, maybe 2, at a seminar, and I learn a lot about how X, Y or Z can help me increase Empowerment Group’s bottom line in marketing and advertising.

When I get back to the office and begin to put my new knowledge into action I find myself thinking this kind of information needs to be shared. The pages of notes I took inevitably help me become better at my job and they can probably help you be a better employee, boss, or even consumer.

These are my top 5 takeaways from the Exchange:

Consumer Profile Tool: Josh Bernoff, author of the social media book Groundswell, led the opening keynote at the Exchange. His insight into social media trending eclipsed any other speaker I’ve ever heard on the subject. A few of my most valuable takeaways come from his talk, but the Consumer Profile Tool is my favorite. This tool allows you to put in basic demographic information for your clients and see how involved in social media they are. On average, only 14% of social media users are considered creators; by contrast, 49% are inactive users. This tool should be an essential part of planning any social media campaign.

Clear Objectives: All successful campaigns have clear objectives and, no, starting a Facebook group isn’t an objective. According to Bernoff, successful social applications start with goal-based objectives before examining people, strategy and technology. Technology coming in last surprised me even though it shouldn’t have: you have to know your audience before you can reach them.

Engagement and Recognition: This isn’t the first time I’ve heard it, but the first time I believed it – all connections made via social networking should eventually lead to a face-to-face meeting. If it sounds counter-intuitive, it’s not. Your customers, clients, supporters – whomever! – want to be recognized for their commitment to your company. They want to know that the person tweeting for your business actually exists, and they want to know their loyalty is really appreciated. Establishing a personal connection makes your customers more apt to become your advocates.

Urgency: Though this point was pushed more in relation to fundraising strategies online, it got my wheels spinning about how urgency is truly one of the biggest challenges to successful marketing. Making it urgent gives your customers a reason to buy right now, as opposed to thinking that the purchase or donation can wait until later. By keeping it urgent and reflecting what’s relevant in the world (read: your world) you also prove your authority on your subject matter.

Frequency: Andrew Bleeker, the New Media Director for President Obama’s Inaugural Committee said it best when he said, “There’s no such thing as too much, but there is too boring.”

It was a little difficult for me to boil my notes down to 5 takeaways because there was so much great information. And now you can watch it all online! Here’s a list of each session: Making Social Media Work for You, Creative Fundraising Online, Reputation Management, The Power of Blogging, Tweeting with a Purpose and Transforming Your Cause through Social Media. That’s 7 sessions led by some of the biggest innovators in new media (you can see the list of speakers and watch sessions online here).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Day Without Commerce

Here in Philadelphia there's a lot of talk about Mayor Nutter's dreaded 'Plan C' budget. I can only assume 'C' stands for 'Chernobyl', since the cuts proposed in this plan extend well past worst-case scenario into total meltdown territory. He recommends closing all of Philly's recreational facilities and libraries, firing 1,000 police officers, 200 firefighters, and reducing trash pick-up from weekly to twice a month. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Check out this Inquirer article for a full run-down of everything included in Nutter's proposal.

Following his announcement two weeks ago, Philly natives freaked out. I understand where they're coming from. Personally, I don't relish the thought of a city without libraries. Many others were terrified at the idea of police cuts, and no one wants neighborhoods overflowing with trash.

Luckily, Plan C now seems unlikely. A week ago, just as my last blog post went up, Harrisburg announced the passage of a crucial House Bill that precludes the need for Nutter's cuts. Once this Bill moves through the Senate (no later than August 15), Plan C will be better known as Plan C-Ya-Later. You can find commentary on this process here. The long and the short? We're not out of the water yet, but it's starting to look a lot better.

Newspapers, online forums and blogs are still talking about about Mayor Nutter's budget proposal. But there's one proposed cut that's gone relatively unremarked: the total elimination of the city's Commerce Department. This change would eliminate 59 jobs, not to mention an entire branch of our municipal government. As someone who works closely with Commerce to provide Philly's business owners the support they need, this proposal scared me the most. So why isn't anyone talking about it?

Part of it is that most people never deal with the Commerce Department directly. Unlike firefighters or libraries, they have no idea what Commerce does, and it's hard to get worked up about saving something you never knew you had. The thing is, most Philadelphians probably know someone who's used Commerce Department resources to open or grow a small business.

Let's talk about what Commerce is all about. Click on over to their website and you'll notice they cover a fair amount. First and foremost, Commerce provides a wide range of business-related links and resources. They serve as a hub, connecting various city agencies to each other and connecting residents and businesses to these agencies. They help people find property, negotiate their taxes and acquire much-needed funding for their business ventures.

More than that, the Commerce Department (through the subdivision of the Mayor's Business Action Team) serves as advisers to Philadelphia's business owners. They shepherd entrepreneurs through Licenses & Inspections, explain the often-archaic zoning process and support them in their appeals to the zoning board. If you've never sat through one of those hearings, trust me: all you've missed is a lot of confusion and headaches.

Beyond all this direct service, Commerce and MBAT work with the city's non-profit organizations (such as our own) to keep them abreast of the latest changes in various licensing and permitting systems. As a city agency, the employees of the Commerce Department know before anyone the changes coming down the pipe that will affect small business owners. While they act as advocates for individual business owners, Commerce understands that it can't reach everyone alone. So they spread the love, and the knowledge.

What would a day without Commerce look like? Hopefully we won't have to find out any time soon. If you'd like to get involved in preventing Mayor Nutter's Plan C budget from coming to pass, there are a few things you can do. Check out this website for a full run-down, then get active. All it takes is a little noise on our part.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Video: Entrepreneurs Can Change the World

Okay, so maybe I'm a little late on the uptake with this one, but things at EG headquarters have been busy. I originally saw this video months ago when it came out and not only loved the way it was put together, but also the warm-fuzzy feeling it gave me when I watched it (which, by the way, is exactly what they hoped for).

Created by Grasshopper, a virtual phone system designed for entrepreneurs, the video was a bit of a publicity ploy. Grasshopper was rebranding and looking for ways to engage their customer base. The video was only part of Grasshopper's PR strategy; they also Fed-Exed 25,000 chocolate covered grasshoppers to their list of the 5,000 most influential people in America.

This makes my list of best viral marketing campaigns. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How to Run a Business with Your Significant Other (and Not Ruin Everything)

Come 2011, my boyfriend and I will be running a small vegetable farm together an hour outside of Philly. When we started discussing this plan in earnest about a year ago, I'm not sure either of us actually thought it would happen. But many conversations, a few site visits, and one Entrepreneurship Training Course later, and last year's daydreams are this year's realities. We couldn't be more pleased.

As with any couple-run business though, we have a lot more riding on this venture than our pride and our pocketbooks. How can we simultaneously run a business partnership and a romantic partnership without watching everything implode? That's the subject of this week's "How-To Tuesday," and it's a discussion very near and dear to my heart.

Run things ind
ependently. As with any partnership, clearly-defined roles reduce confusion and improve communication. My partner plans to grow the vegetables, and I plan to files the taxes. Sure, I hope to have input in what we grow and work in the fields, but I'm not going to harp on the farmer if the tomatoes are looking rough. The lines are blurry enough in a couples partnership--no need to further muddy the waters with overlapping responsibilities.

Expect more arguments.
With so much time spent together, more arguments are almost a matter of probability. The more you ride your bike, the more you get flat tires. But arguments aren't the worst thing. Discussions, even angry ones, mean your lines of communication are open and you're still invested in the partnerships at stake. Referring to a business plan can help diffuse business-related arguments by reminding everyone involved of your outlined expectations. Business Week maintains: "Putting your plans in writing forces both of you to think through issues that might arise later. 'Some of these things may seem intuitive,' says McGrann. 'But you need to be very intentional about how you plan to manage the business.' When the inevitable disagreements do crop up, you can diffuse arguments by going back to your plan." Unfortunately, personal tiffs aren't so easy.

Set aside "business-free" time. Brackets of time that strictly forbid business talk prevent those extra arguments from seeping into your personal life. It's not hard to imagine a disagreement about distribution channels morphing into a squabble about birthday presents or dishes. Conversely, allocate hours for "talking shop" and let the rest of your home time be about all the other things in your lives. I don't spend all my free time talking to my boyfriend about work now--why should I start?

Eat lunch with others.
You got the "together time" covered, but what about the alone time? Make sure you pencil in time for those aspects of your life that have nothing to do with your business or your significant other. Don't let that drawing class fall to the wayside--it's just as essential to the life of your business as that insurance seminar.

Try a trial run. If possible, test out the business on a trial basis. Start from home and keep your day jobs. Granted, this won't reveal everything about running a business together, but it's a good glimpse into the more interpersonal dynamics. It also gives you a chance to consider what's at stake. Jay McDonald at bankrate.com put together this list of potential risks:
  • How will your personal relationship fare in the workplace?
  • How will you react to suddenly being together day and night?
  • How will your roles change?
  • Who will be "in charge?"
  • How will you resolve conflict?
  • Will you be able to separate your personal and business relationships
I would probably add, "How will you react to debt, financial uncertainties, and the strain of forgoing two regular paychecks?"

And, of course, it's always important to be honest. If something isn't working out, say so. Otherwise, it's going to come out in some less desirable way, and you're liable to lose a whole lot more than your business.

Monday, August 10, 2009

In The News: Small Business and Health Care

With health care reform bills currently circulating in Congress, there’s plenty of buzz about what changes can mean for all Americans. The buzz is particularly loud among small business owners, often with quite divergent viewpoints.

But, with all of the partisanship, punditry, and political maneuvering surrounding the reform, it’s hard to sort out the fact from fiction. While the House and Senate bills are different, both bills establish that most employers would have to provide or contribute to insurance for employees, with exceptions for some small businesses.

So, what is all of this going to mean for your small business? And what should you do?

  1. If your payroll is under $250,000 you’re exempt.

Very small businesses won’t have to provide health care, under the proposed law. The changes will primarily affect businesses with 10-199 employees. Karen G. Mills, chief of the new Small Business Administration explained that “pay of play” mandate will have little impact on small ventures: “It's about making sure that large businesses continue to provide coverage.”

  1. Don’t panic. If you need to make changes, you’ll have time to do so. Also, you may be able to cut costs elsewhere.

The legislation serves to define standards for the benefits employers are required to provide. With the new bill, you won’t be required to continue the health care you now provide, and you’ll have five years to make your benefit plans comply with the new standards.

The bill also includes an option for a “small business tax credit” for certain firms. There are various options that could help curb the cost of employee health benefits by helping small businesses in other areas.

  1. Research.

The Council of Economic Advisers, from the Executive Office of the President released a report on the economic effects of health care reform on small businesses and their employees. It may seem long, but it’s important to know how the legislation will specifically affect your business. Visit the White House Health Care site for timely updates.

  1. Weigh in with your opinion.

Let the politicians know your opinion on the matter. Contact your local senators and members of Congress. If you’re here in Philly, contact Pennsylvania senators Bob Casey or Arlen Specter and click here to find the right member of the House of Representatives to contact (it varies by zip code). Join the discussion on Linked In. Talk to friends, family, and colleagues about your opinion on the matter.

  1. Be creative.

Regardless of how you provide health care for your employees, or what your provision looks like, there are other creative health-related ways to save money. The Wall Street Journal has two great tip sheets: one on creative ways to save on health insurance, the other on how to set up a company wellness plan. Yes, pedometers may seem like a hopelessly small solution to a large, complex problem. The important thing to remember is that the key solution we’re all looking for is healthier employees and employers. Even small gestures can add up.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Online Business Ideas

If you've researched online business ideas before, you've probably been overwhelmed at the sheer volume of them. Google it and tons of sites pop up, each suggesting you try something different.

A lot of them will be scams, as we mentioned last week. Others are confusing, time-intensive, or just plain ineffective. But for each dud, there's a genuinely exciting, novel idea that can help you generate extra income and support yourself in new ways. Let's explore a few.

1. Earn money by blogging

There are a few ways to do this. First, you can write for giant content mills like Examiner and AssociatedContent. These sites search constantly for new articles and pay for every piece you submit.

The other way to make big blogging bucks is by creating your own blog, then adding advertising programs like Google's AdSense to generate revenue every time someone looks at your site. Individual page views won't make much money, but if you update regularly and generate a following, those pennies add up.

2. Become an affiliate marketer

Affiliate marketers work for large companies trying to generate traffic to their website. For every customer an affiliate marketer directs to the parent company's site, they get a commission. If this sounds interesting to you, there are tons of companies online that link you affiliate programs, including AffiliateTips and MoreNiche.

3. Create domain names

Get this: there are people willing to pay you to come up with their website name. PickyDomains has a list of clients who want memorable domain names. They also have a stable of creative people developing these names. If your suggestion is chosen, you get half of their commission, about $25 a pop. PickyDomains is expected to hit six figures this year, and their creative base is growing, so get in while the getting's good.

4. eBay consultant

For many, eBay is a vast and confusing place. These newbie vendors would rather shell out a few bucks to make sure their items go at a good price than try to do it alone. That's where you come in. As an eBay consultant, your job is to teach novice sellers how to list their items, price them correctly, promote their auctions and ship their goods on time to keep their reputation strong.

5. Web Design

Over half the small businesses out there still don't have websites! In an age of increasing online connectedness and digital competition, this means that over half of all small businesses are being left behind. Most of them want a modest online presence to connect them to the millions of potential customers on the Internet. If you have skill at web design and programming, you can tap into this market by helping people make simple sites to promote themselves and their businesses. Get started by designing a few sample sites as your portfolio and you're ready to go.

6. Become an SEO expert

Search engine optimization is becoming a huge concern for website owners. The right content drives traffic to a site better than anything else. But most business owners don't have time to learn what these terms are, or how to employ them. With a little Internet savvy, you can become their go-to guy. The best way to get started is to create a website demonstrating your own abilities. There are tons of people looking for SEO expertise. Get them to your site using the right keywords and they'll be yours.

The beauty of online businesses is their personalization. You can mix and match to create a unique employment situation that works for you and your schedule. Try some of these ideas, maybe in combination, and see how you like them. And don't forget, these are just the tip of the iceberg. The Internet is a dynamic, ever-changing marketplace. The opportunities for finding new niches and money-making strategies are endless. Just look at websites like the Million Dollar Homepage or Redneck and Single. Who'd have thought ideas like this would ever make any money, let alone millions? So get creative! And share some of your schemes and plots in the comments below.

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