empowerment group blog
Your resource for business in Philadelphia

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How-To Operate Multiple Businesses

Going off of my post from last week on opening a storefront, what do you do when you’ve done that and want to expand your business further? In finding the actual location, follow the same steps laid out in securing your first location. Opening more than one location can be tricky and continuing to operate smoothly can prove difficult with multiple businesses. The rewards can also be fantastic though, with an opportunity for much more profit. Outlining some tips, tricks, and strategies for opening another location of your business will help you see if it could be the next step for you.


First of all, there is definitely a personality type that would not do well with the added stress of more than one business location. For instance, if you take on most of the tasks at your current business on your own you may have trouble resigning important jobs to employees. If you are juggling multiple businesses you’ll need to put trust and a significant amount of responsibility into others to help you make it happen. If you are a bit of a control freak, multiple businesses might just cause more stress than necessary since one person can’t do it all when there’s more than one storefront. Hiring employees and a strong management team is a must if you want everything to get done. Being laid-back with this business venture can actually be beneficial.



Think you have what it takes? Here are some tips to growing your business in the best way possible.



Use Technology.
We all know that using E-mail and the Internet to do business is necessary in today’s day and age. If you’re maintaining more than one business you should utilize other tools that have recently come out in order to stay in touch. For example, it’s worth investing in a Smartphone or iPhone so that you can check your email anytime. There are also applications on these phones that can perform business transactions such as keeping track of expenses, viewing business documents from anywhere, and even attending a meeting virtually. Using technology in this way will help you run your businesses since you can’t be in two places at once.



Keep it Simple.
Many entrepreneurs may try to start a completely different business from the one they’ve already been successful with. For instance, a bakery owner may then try to start a dry cleaner, followed by a string of other unrelated business ventures. This can get messy and one way to get the most of multiple locations is to be consistent. Open another storefront in a different location of the same business you already had success with or a similar one. Keep certain staff members for both businesses who can double up on tasks.



Business Plans.
Create business plans for each individual location to make sure your progress is on track for each one. While it may be easy to lump all storefronts together into one business, they are each separate identities. Different factors will affect different locations so keep this in mind when you’re planning for the future. Also, having a detailed plan will ensure that the people you hire will have a clear idea of what needs to happen for your business.



If you can follow these hints you could be on the way to earning a lot more than you could have with just one location. A 2007 report from the Small Business Administration shows that multiple-business owners are the most prosperous of entrepreneurs, with nearly three-fourths classified as high income and one-half as high wealth. If you’ve already been prosperous with one business, starting another one may just be the thing to keep your entrepreneurial career exciting and profitable.

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Open Letter to Philadelphia Small Business Owners

I wanted to take a break from my regular marketing-for-small-businesses-themed posts to tell you about some free marketing we're doing for Philadelphia small businesses.

During the past 4 weeks, EG has been running a competition to give away free SEPTA ads to local business owners. Last year, we featured 5 past clients in our campaign for Entrepreneurship Week, and we exposed the city to their business while encouraging others that they also had what it takes to be their own boss and improve their local economy.

The results were terrific. Business owners that couldn't afford to market for themselves were on SEPTA, and people from all parts of Philadelphia came out to events to learn about the ups and downs of starting a business in Philadelphia because they were inspired by the stories of others.

As I've been talking to business owners lately and telling them about this competition, a lot of them initially wonder what I'm trying to sell. Nothing! Really. This is free now, and free always. EG is a not-for-profit organization, and we're charged with helping small businesses succeed. This is just one way we're here to help. Consider it our salute to your perseverance.

I sent out this email to our list this morning, but I want to share it with the community at large:

"It’s no secret that times are tough for small businesses, and we know that the first budget cut is usually advertising. That’s why we’re giving away free SEPTA advertisements (and more!) to 4 Philadelphia business owners that love their business, their neighborhood and their customers enough to keep going even when its tough.  


To enter, tell us why you chose to open your business in Philadelphia and how it contributes to the vibrancy your block.

For some, Philadelphia is their home, plain and simple. Others tell us they think “Philly could use some polish,” and that “New York is too full of itself, Chicago's too cold, and L.A. is... well... L.A. is just too darned creepy.”


What’s your reason?

All types of businesses are welcome to apply, from home-based to brick and mortar – if you sell a product or a service, send your application today!"

The competition ends Monday at 5pm. All of us at EG are looking forward to finding out why Philadelphia is your city for business. Thanks for all you do!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Avoid 'Green Fatigue' in your Marketing

A few weeks ago I sat on a panel with some of Philly's top artistic professionals to talk about promoting yourself in a hyper-saturated market. We hit all the high points: crafting a compelling sales pitch. Standing out at trade shows. Approaching retailers confidently.

I learned a lot from my fellow panelists, but the most enlightening takeaway came during the question-and-answer period. A designer in the audience stood up and started boasting about his new project. After calling his product 'green' for the third time in thirty seconds, one of the panelists stopped him and politely started explaining the dangers of 'green fatigue'. As a retailer who gets approached by dozens of new designers each week, he's grown weary and distrustful of business owners who blithely trumpet their product as green without being able to back it up.

Green fatigue is a problem for consumers across the board. These days, companies latch on to the word and don't let go, slapping it on whatever they make in hopes that it'll bring more business. The problem isn't that these companies aspire to be more eco-friendly. It's that they're not telling us about it in a way that stands out. Everybody's putting leaf-shaped stickers on their goods. If you believe your product is truly sustainable, don't use tired tactics to say it. Help your customers avoid green fatigue and set yourself apart from the masses with these tips.

Educate Yourself
If sustainability isn't something you're already into, take time to learn what people mean when they use the word. Even if you're already an eco-freak (and I use this word lovingly), there's always farther you can go. Planet Green has a list of questions consumers should ask themselves before buying a new product. Bone up on these questions and answer them for yourself. This will give you an idea of where you stand in terms of sustainability and the kinds of things you can boast about.

Think Holistically
A major tenet of sustainability is considering the entire life-cycle of a product, from inception to disposal. Consider your process. What packaging do you use? How do you distribute your goods? How will customers throw it away? This will give you ideas as to what to champion about your business, as well as changes you can make to your process to become more earth-friendly.

Get Specific
Once you've learned what sustainability truly means and identified ways your company fits the description, spread the word! Changes to your website, product labels and even business cards should reflect your company's green ethos. But be careful about using bland, meaningless words like 'earth smart' or 'environmentally friendly'. Green fatigue means your customers have become inured to such terms, and may write you off as just another greenwasher. Instead, get specific about the ways your product is good for the globe. Your client base is a savvy bunch. Give them the information they want to make the most informed decision. For examples of particularly good labels, check out these posts over at the A Bunch of Greens blog.

Get Certified
Becoming a certified as a sustainably-minded company is a great, fast way to let consumers know where your heart is. But take care which certification program you use. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are over 300 eco-labels out there. Some are legit, some...not so much. Look into which certifications are the most highly regarded in your industry, then target those. This website, designed for consumers to use, is a good starting point for your research.

Learn From Others' Mistakes
Treehugger identifies the Six Sins of Greenwashing and calls out some of the business world's worst offenders. Among the sins listed are sins of no-proof (calling yourself green without backing it up), sins of irrelevance (boasting about doing something that actually became an industry standard years ago), and sins of being the lesser of two evils (is there any such thing as an eco-friendly plastic bag?). Review what your competitors are doing wrong, then run in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Location, Location, Location...How To Open a Storefront

So you have a great business idea and now you just need to know where to run it. Opening a storefront can be an arduous process with lots of things to take into consideration. Whether to buy or rent, what kind of legal practices you’ll need to deal with, and how your competition factors in should all be considered. Here are some tips on how to make these choices and how to find the perfect location for your small business.


Before setting out on finding a location and setting up a storefront you need to have a clear picture of what you need and want. What do you absolutely need from a location? What could you not tolerate? How big do you need the location to be? How much money can you spend? Questions like these need to be answered before you set out on your search so you know exactly what you’re looking for.


The Location It’s no secret that location in key in where you open your business. If you’re running a boutique or a café areas with lots of pedestrian traffic, but someone working in manufacturing needs to be close to major highways and suppliers. Many businesses fail because they didn’t open in the right place for their market. If you open a business in a less populated area, you’re going to have to work much harder to get customers in the door. Something more to consider is if you even need to open a storefront. For some businesses it’s necessary, but working from your home may be the easier and cheaper option.


Making it Legal Opening a storefront can be great for your business, but there is a lot of red tape you’ll have to go through to get there. When negotiating a lease or a mortgage it’s important to have a reliable attorney and realtor. This is going to be one of your biggest start-up costs so you should take every precaution that it’s done correctly. There’s also a lot of other paperwork that needs to be taken care of and you should factor this into your start-up business plan. Making sure you have all the correct licensing and are meeting all the zoning requirements and health code standards is a must. To find out what to do to make sure your location is legal check with your local Chamber of Commerce fore information.


Your Competition. In order to make an educated decision about where to locate your business you’ll have to see what other businesses are in the same area. According to many market research experts, being close to your competitors is a good thing. Established businesses have done much of the work in terms of advertising already. They’ve also already taken into consideration the demographics of the area and what customers want. These already established entrepreneurs have spent time and money on gaining publicity and foot traffic and taking advantage of this is a smart business decision. There are definitely situations where being close to a competitor may not be the best idea. For instance, if you’re opening a small bookstore and there’s a Barnes & Noble and a Borders close by. Competing with giants like these when first starting out is a difficult feat.


After You’ve Opened Your Doors. One thing to keep in mind after your storefront is up and running is that the value of your location can change. Neighborhoods can go from good to bad and so can your customer base. It’s important to keep doing market research in the years to come and look for on coming trends. You may notice that a change in location would be better for your business in the long run.


Figuring out a location for your business, whether it’s in a shopping mall, a warehouse, or simply in your own home is one of the most important decisions an entrepreneur can make. It seems like it takes a lot of extra work, time, and money to find that perfect place, but it can have a huge payoff in the end for your business.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How to Get a Little Help

With Empowerment Group's "My Block, My Business" Competition in full swing, I have rules, challenges, and prizes on the brain. Our contest got me thinking about other contests that may be out there, which led me to this:
Ventureneer, a non-profit and small business education company, is offering a $100 American Express credit card to the person who submits the best name to the above video. Doesn't everyone like a little dose of inspiration with their prize money?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Entrepreneur Profile: Mona Wilson of It's a Cupcake!

Like rising cake in little tins, cupcake companies are popping up everywhere. The national media have noticed the trend. Entire blogs devote daily posts to these iced treats.


Philadelphia is certainly not exempt from the trend; new stores are popping up everywhere, Brown Betty opened a second location, and we even have a cupcake truck.


Amidst the fun, sprinkled bandwagon, Mona Wilson’s store, “It’s a Cupcake!” has a unique claim to fame. Wilson operates Philadelphia’s only auto tag and cupcake store. She laughed about the strange juxtaposition. “It seems to lighten the mood. You can have a cupcake and get your paperwork done!”


Some customers seemed initially confused, but excited at the idea of a treat to accompany the mundane.


-"Wait," said a woman, precariously balancing a thick stack of paperwork, "Is it tags, or is it cupcakes?"

-"Both!" Wilson replied enthusiastically.

-"Well, I came in here to fax something, but I need to check this out!"


The Metro Tags & Registration storefront itself is sunny and celebratory. Trees are stenciled into the bright green walls, featuring pink and blue cupcakes as fruit. The miniature confections are displayed prominently in an old wooden hutch. The auto paperwork is located strategically behind the cupcakes.


Wilson joked about her entry into baking. She had operated Metro Tags & Registration for years, but only recently began dabbling in cupcakes. “I always liked to cook, but I never imagined I’d be cooking like this. It grew into a cupcake adventure!”


She acknowledges the recent cupcake trend. She thinks it’s catching on because “it’s more personal, since it’s an individual thing.” Because of the personalization, people are more open-minded to being adventurous and trying new flavors.


This is where “It’s a Cupcake!” specializes. In addition to the traditional, sweet cupcake flavors it offers a unique line of savory cupcakes. “It can be anything,” Wilson explained, “Hummus to caviar!”


Wilson said that people are initially skeptical and ask, “What’s a savory cupcake?” but that they quickly get over the surprise because, “people are tired of normal appetizers.” Some of her favorite combinations are buffalo chicken on a spicy cornbread base and filet mignon with horseradish icing on a scallion biscuit base.


Enthusiastic about her new venture, Wilson is always looking into tasty new flavor combinations. This side venture is taking up much of her spare time; she borrows a commercial kitchen space early in the morning and late at night to do her baking. “You have to be passionate about it! It’s 7 days a week, 24 hours a day! Things will come up that you’d never imagine coming up!”


Despite her newfound challenges and time constraints, Wilson is having fun with her new creative outlet, She adds unexpected, personalized twists to the formula of a traditional bakery.


Her favorite cupcake flavor is sweet potato pie. “It’s near to my heart because it was my mother’s recipe. I tweaked it a bit.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Building Your Brand

I’ve been thinking a lot about branding this week, since I’ve been pushing my way through finally creating Brand Identity Guidelines for Empowerment Group. Don’t get me wrong: its not that we haven’t had a brand until now, it’s just that no one has taken the time to articulate it.

2 years ago I set out to update our brand, and have slowly but surely transformed a formerly flat logo and mismatched marketing materials into a strong, recognizable identity for Empowerment Group. As you can guess, we’ve gotten through the past 2 years without articulating our brand just fine. But now that I’m ready to outsource some of the work on my plate, I’ve found that I can’t actually do that until I can confidently and concisely show someone how to use the guidelines I’ve set.

So, how did we get here? Why did we choose to use orange and blue? What was Empowerment Group’s brand originally built on? To get what I already knew down on paper, I reverted to some basic concept development exercises.

Concept development, in a nutshell, is just that: taking an idea from its baby stages to its adulthood by digging deep into the core of the concept. When you’re developing your brand, it means thoroughly examining your audience, your product and your competitors.

Before you start talking with any graphic or web designers about developing a logo and brand identity for your business, take some time to answer the questions listed below. You’ll find that the answers will help you create a look and feel for your company that will resonate with your audience, outshine your competitors and make you better prepared for your first branding meeting than most!

Questions:

  1. Who is/are your target audience?
  2. Does your target audience have any subgroups? If yes, whom?
  3. What can be said about the demographic characteristics (age, income, education, other?) of your audience(s)?
  4. What emotion do you want customers/potential customers to feel when they look at the logo and/or think about your product or service?
  5. How do you plan on reaching your audience (advertising, speaking, mailers, search engine placement, other ways)?
  6. What colors and/or color combinations resonate with you, and do you have any that you'd like to avoid?
  7. Do you envision your logo having an icon or symbol with the type (think AT&T with the ball and the name), or simply type (think Coca-Cola)? 
  8. Who are your competitors? What do you like/dislike about their logos?




Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rory Sutherland on Creating Value Through Advertising

How slippery - yet how essential - is the concept of 'value'? The word alone is almost too big to contemplate. A individual's values are constantly in flux, and everyone has their own priorities that drive and shape who they are. In order to be successful in business, your most important job is to delve into the subconscious of your consumers, to get at the deep-seated desires that compel them to buy.

Last night during our Entrepreneurship Training Course, we started talking about this large, nebulous concept. A story that exemplifies the power of a consumer's values in business is that of the Red Paperclip. Kyle MacDonald started with nothing more than a single red paperclip. He wanted a house. Through a series of trades (trading the paperclip for a pen, the pen for a doorknob, the knob for a toolbox), Kyle traded his way upwards until he eventually became the owner of a house.

Some people in class couldn't fathom this series of trades. To them, nothing short of the best paperclip in the world would warrant trading for a house. This paperclip would have to make their bed in the morning, cook them dinner and do their taxes. Why, they wondered, would anyone trade anything with this guy, let alone a house?

Personally, I have no idea. It could've been the novelty of the project that captured their interest. It could have been the thrill of seeing their name online (since Kyle started a wildly popular blog to catalog this project). Maybe it's the lure of celebrity - 'You know that red paperclip guy? Yeah, I'm the one he traded his paperclip to.' Or maybe they really needed something. The guy who traded the doorknob for a toolbox might have really needed that knob.

My point is that value is all about individual perception. Nothing more, nothing less. Satisfy a consumer's needs, and do it consistently, and they're yours for life.

This guy gets it. In his talk at the TED conference in July, he explains how advertising can get at the concept of value and add worth to your product by getting at people's perceptions - of themselves, of you, and of your product. Beyond his humor and British accent (always fun to listen to and tends to make people sound smarter), Rory Sutherland's presentation provides a number of important lessons for anyone trying to sell their product, do less work and satisfy their customers at the same time.



Mmmm. Now I'm hungry for some Diamond Shreddies.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Making the Most Out of Interns

I was once a lowly intern at the bottom rung of the employment ladder with an extensive, and sometimes overwhelming, range of tasks. While the experience was valuable in many ways, it also could have worked out a lot better for both me and my employer had I been utilized more efficiently. Interns are a great and inexpensive way to supplement your workforce and to scope out some prospective future employees. Here are some ways you can make the internship experience work for both your small business and the interns themselves.


Knowing Where to Find Them
. If your business is positioned in close proximity to any colleges and universities you will definitely not have a difficult time finding any interns. Motivated students who want to get themselves out into the workforce will search for summer internships at the beginning of their spring semester (around January or February). Don’t rule out hiring students while school is still in session though. Many can gain credit towards graduation while having an internship and may be able to work 2 or 3 full days a week depending on their class schedule. Prospective interns generally will look online for any openings though so be sure to post on your company’s website and other job placement sites like monster.com.



The Hiring Process
. It probably seems like hiring an intern would be a lot different than hiring a regular employee. All they’re going to be doing is be getting coffee and making copies right? It should be quite the opposite actually. Interns can be a valuable part of your workforce and you should treat them as such. While their resumes may look a little different, the same characteristics that make a strong employee also make a strong intern. Ability to meet deadlines, time management, and an eagerness to learn are all qualities to look for. Clues to their skills will be seen in their course choices, extracurricular activities, and GPA. Also be sure to lay out specific projects and tasks you want only the intern to work on during their stay. This way you’ll know if you need someone who has experience with specific things like Photoshop or web design and you won’t have to spend time training them on that.



Managing Interns
. You find a great intern now what do you do? Like I said before, getting coffee and becoming acquainted with the copy machine aren’t going to be their major concerns. Use them for tasks you know your other employees might be bored with, but someone new to the professional world would be interested in learning. Have a few clear goals in mind that your interns should complete during their stay. Obviously there might be some things your new intern will need to be taught so factor in this time to help them. Don’t just assume they’ll figure it out. There are things we do everyday at our jobs that now come naturally to us, but to someone fresh on the scene it’s completely foreign. Handling interns doesn’t have to be time consuming though. Just by letting them sit in on meetings and shadowing you and other employees they will be gaining a lot of experience.



Payment
. While you may think that by hiring an intern you’ve found the loophole to free labor, you might want to reconsider that. While bigger companies sometimes pay their interns an hourly wage, a small business owner doesn’t necessarily have to do that, but some sort of compensation should be given. Maybe you can provide a lunch or travel stipend. College credit is also a common form of reimbursement.



In the end, hiring interns is a two-way street. It’s beneficial for a small business owner because interns are low-cost employees that are willing to learn and work on projects your more seasoned employees might be less interested in doing. You’re also able to scope out long-term employees for the future that will already know how your business operates. It also has to be a positive experience for the intern though, and when taking on interns you also take on the responsibility to teach them and not expect them to perform exactly like more experienced staff members would. By keeping these tips in mind you’re well on the way to starting a successful internship program at your small business.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Fire Problem Clients

Last week, I attended an installment of “Entrepreneurs Unplugged” featuring Wil Reynolds, founder of SEER Interactive. Reynolds, a passionate practitioner of search engine optimization, covered a broad swath of topics during his hour-long presentation. Search, however, was not high on the list. True to the mission of “Entrepreneurs Unplugged”, Wil spent most of his time discussing his personal approach to starting and maintaining a successful enterprise.

I’ve listened to a number of entrepreneurial schpiels at this point, but a few things about this one managed to surprise me: (1.) Wil’s refreshing candor, (2.) his aversion to taking on oversized projects (defined as more than 15% of his total revenue) and (3.) his willingness to fire clients who disrespected his staff and his business. It’s this last point that we’ll explore in more detail in this “How-To Tuesday”. Here’s a rundown on shedding those problem clients.

  1. Set guidelines for unacceptable behavior. In basic terms, clients are classified as “fire-worthy” when they take up more time than they’re worth financially. But hiw does this actually manifest itself? According to Patricia Schaefer at Business Know-How, a client may be too much trouble it they: miss payments, complain or overdemand, feel entitled to all of your time, ignores deadlines, lie/ask you to lie or abuse you and your staff.
  2. Establish systems to recognize the problem early on. Whether they’re financially undependable or just really discourteous, bad clients will be easier to dismiss if you keep a record of their ongoing offenses. Jeffrey Pawlow, an established marketing officer, recommends grading all clients periodically to root out unacceptable behavior. I know of one Philly animal hospital that updates clients’ files every time they lash out or disobey the hospital protocol. However you decide to do it, itemizing offenses will make your decision easier to justify to both the client and your own conscience.
  3. Meet all contractual obligations. You don’t want to compound a messy situation by exposing yourself to legal action. Make sure you have a leg to stand on before going forward with client termination.
  4. Send a nicely-worded letter, immediately followed by a final invoice. Just because you don’t like working with them, it doesn’t mean they don’t like working with you. Keep their feelings (and potential referrals) in mind when you explain the circumstances of the termination. Ashleigh Miller at eHow.com offers this example: "If the client is needy and annoying, calling you every five minutes, or showing up at your home, unannounced, say 'It's important to me that you receive the attention you deserve. Because of my other obligations, I just don't think I can devote enough time to your project.'"

Turning away income is never an easy task. When confronted with this uncomfortable reality, remind yourself of the damage you’d be doing to your business by keeping bad clients around. A happy staff, time for other projects, and personal sanity are worth more than any paycheck.

For more info, check out...

"Exorcising the Client from Hell"

"Top 10 Ways to Fire the Client from Hell"

Friday, October 9, 2009

When Ads are Alike: How to Learn from the Coincidence


A coworker of mine recently sent me an email with this as the subject: “Starbucks Ad Campaign = Our Ad Campaign.” She had noticed that Starbucks launched a campaign that, like our latest My Block, My Business campaign, used colored silhouettes of people to push their point and was worried that the similarities would damage our impact.

I admit: I had a little pang of anxiety as I clicked the link she sent to
their site. Having a similar campaign is always a blow to the creative ego of a marketer, and the most worrisome thing is thinking that other people will think you copied, or borrowed, an idea.

I’m here to tell you, though, that that isn’t always the case. There are millions of people in the world, with millions of ideas, (think: Sprint’s latest commercials) and to think that some wouldn’t overlap is naïve. So when the coincidence inevitably happens, it’s important to look at why another business thought that the same idea would work for their very different demographics.

Let’s look at the Starbucks campaign, first. The mega-coffee company just released a new line of instant coffee called
VIA. But this isn’t just any ready made coffee, apparently: “This is not instant coffee as you know it. This is rich, flavorful Starbucks coffee in an instant.”


Starbucks sees this coffee as truly revolutionary, a way to enjoy great coffee anywhere. But they need you to think it’s revolutionary, too, and instant coffee has had a bad rep among coffee-lovers everywhere for decades. The VIA site offers suggestions on how to make the coffee at home, at work, on the go, and more. But it also has a call to action: enter this contest to win!

Now, let’s spend a minute with our latest campaign, My Block, My Business. Seems like the opposite end of the spectrum, right? Well, maybe not… We’re giving out up to $2,600 in free SEPTA advertising for small business owners through the My Block, My Business competition. But this isn’t your usual business contest: it isn’t based revenues or business plans. It’s about you, the entrepreneur, and your tie to your neighborhood. This contest relies on people and their core emotional reactions to a place.

In both cases, with Starbucks VIA and
My Block, My Business, the ad campaigns revolves around people and the actions they make. On one hand, Starbucks was tapping into their already existing demographic by focusing one on thing: they’re busy. And coffee takes time. Because they’re able to prove to their audience that VIA is of the same caliber as their hot coffee, they’ll gain sales and potentially new customers.


On the other hand, EG is using its campaign to tap the large number of small businesses in Philadelphia by asking a question we know elicits a great reaction: Why Philadelphia? As a self-proclaimed city of neighborhoods, many Philadelphia business owners live where they work, and they have good reason to. By asking our demographic to tell us why, we’re hoping to expose the best (but oft overlooked) small businesses in the city and run home the point that shopping in your neighborhood means more than just buying local: it means building up a broken down local economy.
In the end, I’m not too upset about Starbucks using colored silhouettes of people to advertise at the same time as us. Rather than dwelling on it anymore, I’m going to chalk it up to a good concept that helps pull real people in because they see themselves in the ads.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Software Round-Up: Be More Productive

I don't care who you are or how old your business is: everyone can learn to use their time better. It's a lesson I'm constantly relearning as I realize that, hey, I just spent an hour writing one email! Or, hey, I've got three meetings before noon, but haven't started my blog post that's due at 10!

I've written before about general time management tips - setting goals, batching your tasks, finding ways to stay focused. But what if you know all these things and still find yourself overloaded, juggling more commitments than even President Obama could handle? That, my friends, is when you know you've got to take it to the next level. That's when you need professional help in the form of innovative time-management software.

Lifehacker recently polled its readers to find out which time-tracking applications work best for them. I found a few favorites in the bunch. Klok, a free platform built with Adobe AIR, allows you to manage your commitments via a simple drag-and-drop function. Great for freelancers. ManicTime takes the hassle out of recording your tasks by running passively in the background as you work. At the end of the day, ManicTime can tell you the amount of time your computer was actively being used, which applications you opened and for how long, and lets you make personalized comments about your overall work flow.

For me, the most useful (and potentially scariest of the bunch, if only for what it would reveal about my true time use at work) would have to be RescueTime. It works much like ManicTime, but adds a function that shows you which websites you visit and how long you spend browsing each. It also allows you to set goals for active computer use, an interesting way of organizing your work day I'd never considered before.

Besides these programs, what else exists to help the busy computer-head? Mashable recently posted about a widget that business owners can put on their websites. Setster allows clients to schedule appointments with you on their own, eliminating the time you spend playing phone tag, checking your availability, and calling the day before to confirm. Setster's code embeds easily into your site and can be customized to integrate with iCal, Google Calendar or Outlook.

Apple users who want to stick with programs designed specifically with their computers in mind should check out LiveTimer, an online app that manages both time and money in the same go. LiveTimer integrates fully with both Apple computers and iPhones. Likewise, iTimeSheet is an iPhone app that helps you track your time even as you're on the go, meeting with clients off-site. The data it collects gets exported directly to Excel, making billing clients a breeze.

Of course, for the luddites and traditionalists among us, there's always the old-fashioned stand-by: paper planners. These have the benefits of being extremely portable, easy to use, don't need to be recharged, never crash, and have a pleasant heft to them that I'm told many people enjoy. Looking for a small, portable planner but don't want to spend a lot of money on it? A Hipster PDA can be crafted out of ordinary office materials you already have lying around!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to Become a Freelancer

Tired of punching a clock? Want to have the freedom to work when you want? Already have expertise in your field? Freelancing might just be the perfect fit for you. With the economic downturn and unemployment at a high, freelancing can be a great alternative to trying to get another job or if you’re just looking to change up your career path.


There are many perks that come with the territory of being a freelancer. Freedom is definitely one of them. This type of self-employment means you’re not making a long-term commitment to anyone else. You also don’t need to worry about things like financing a store front or office. You’ll be able to work when you want, take vacations when you want, and your weekends won’t be confined to just Saturday and Sunday. For the most part, working in your pajamas won’t be as much of a problem, especially if a good part of your business is done at home. You’ll also be able to more easily fix your work life around your personal life, not the other way around. What this all amounts to is freelancing means being your own boss.


This sounds great right? Not too fast, there are actually a couple things to consider before you jump into freelancing. By not working for that already established company with the well-known name, you have to start from scratch. Networking and selling yourself are going to be constant tasks. Also, you may not always have a steady paycheck, especially when first starting out. While one of the reasons employers are laying off people is to cut costs of benefit packages, you’ll have to take care of things like health insurance all on your own. Freelancing does take a lot of motivation and self-discipline, much like any type of start-up business. Taking all these pros and cons into consideration, here are some dos and don’ts of the freelancing biz:


Be sure there’s a market out there already. Don’t quit your day job only to find out that the service you’re offering isn’t really needed. Or, that the market is already saturated by those freelancing. Do some research, see if there are a lot of other freelancers in your market, and how much they charge.


Hold onto your job while building your business. The beauty of starting up a freelancing business is that it’s relatively easy to do it as a side business while you keep your full-time job. This will give you an opportunity to feel out the market and maybe save up some money to eventually go full-time with your freelancing. For instance, if you’re a writer, budget a couple hours on nights and weekends that you can completely devote to this. If you’re working in the same field as your current job, just be sure to notify your employer. You may need to sign an agreement saying you won’t “steal” any of their clients.


Build your reputation. Attracting clients in any new business is probably the hardest part for an entrepreneur. Letting clients know you are dependable and will always provide great work is one of the best things you can do for your freelance business. You need to build a client base wherein you will be the go-to choice for them and these customers will recommend you to others as well. Referrals and word-of-mouth will be your biggest tools. If you’re working in the same field as a previous job, try to get endorsements from a former boss or co-workers.


Take control. When you do find yourself getting work, don’t always let the clients take charge of setting the terms. Write up contracts yourself for protection. Keep track of accounting aspects of your business, even if you hire someone to help you with that. If this is going to be your sole source of income, you need to be aware of all aspects concerning your business.


Sell yourself. Marketing is going to be a never-ending task for freelancers. Do everything you can think of to get your name out there. As mentioned, referrals are going to be a big source of business. Tell everyone you know about what you do and your past work, hand out business cards, and create a website with examples of your work. Try joining any networking or professional groups in your area along with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Blogging about your new business is also a great way to attract attention.


With all that said, freelancing can be a very rewarding career option. No boss, no co-workers, just you doing what you enjoy doing. When Kelly James-Enger, author of Six Figure Freelancing, was asked by Entrepreneur.com if she would ever go back to the daily grind she responded with, “Would I ever go back to working for the ‘man’? No way. For all the struggles and unknowns, I wouldn’t give up freelancing and be somebody’s employee for anything.” There are ton of options for freelancing including everything from graphic design to journalism. Taking these dos and don’ts into consideration, freelancing might just be your next great career move.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How to Fake Confidence (Responsibly)

You see them from across the room. Smiling, gregarious, surrounded by people. You envy their confidence and the superpower skills that must accompany it. But don’t mistake their outer demeanor for inner steadfastness. Chances are, the butterflies in their stomachs are just as alive and well as yours. They just know how to battle them back.

With a little bit of confidence-building and a little bit of acting, you too can project an image of self-worth and know-how. (Please excuse the corniness of that sentence.) Your positive vibe will garner interest from possible partners and customers—people who are inclined to overlook the wallflowers. There’s no guarantee that your new contacts will like what they hear (that’s a different how-to), but at least you got them listening. Here are some tips to help you bury your butterflies.

  1. Understand your confidence killers and learn to overcome them. Upon entering a room or starting a conversation, my mind floods with reasons of why people shouldn’t care. I’m kind of young. My enthusiasm outpaces my skills. Sometimes, my pants have wrinkles. Turn your “flaws” into assets—youth and vigor—and fix the fix-able (e.g.—I do own an iron.) Weeding out those mental blocks will help you to focus on the conversation at hand.
  2. Know your stuff. Understanding the purpose of your business and what it is that you’re selling allows you to explain things clearly and coherently. Confidence 101: It’s easier to feel confident when you know what you’re talking about. Do your nerves prevent you from articulating your vision? Feel free to develop a few talking points ahead of time and rehearse them in the mirror. Or fall back on something you like to talk about when you feel your confidence waning. For me, that thing is Empowerment Group's Women Entrepreneurs' Circle. I know I can explain it to strangers, so it's a good go-to in times of uncertainty.
  3. Recognize your accomplishments. You’ve done things. Good things, things to be proud of. Don’t minimize your successes or chalk them up to good fortune, and don’t be afraid to talk about them. People like to hear the good stuff, as long as they have the opportunity to chime in, too. To keep your successes fresh in your mind, keep a list of accomplishments and refer to it in bouts of doubt.
For some more concrete tricks (like using duct tape to improve posture), check out this list from The Simple Dollar. And take in some expert nuggets of wisdom at the Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. Just find out whatever it is that keeps your head held high and make people believe in you. Eventually, you’ll fall in line.

One final caveat: there’s a difference between having faith in your abilities and just making stuff up. A little hyperbole is good for the ego, but outright lies are bound to get you in the end.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shifting Business

Creativity thrives in hard times, and the news is full of businesses and entrepreneurs that diversify, branch out, and try something new.


After losing music sales, and seeing rivals like Circuit City go out of business, electronics retailer Best Buy decided to focus on establishing itself as the go-to source for tech support, launching real-time advice via Twitter on Twelpforce.


Two local restaurants have launched lower-end, comfort food-themed alternatives to their pricier fare. Tiffin, an Indian takeout place in Northern Liberties opened Tiffin Etc. in the space next door, where customers can get Indian street food like pizza, flatbreads, and savory drinks. Distrito, Jose Garces’ upscale Mexican restaurant in University City, recently opened up The Cantina in its basement, which has still delicious lower-cost, a la carte options.


In our October newsletter, we’ll be talking to local entrepreneur and coffee roaster, Joe Cesa. His independent, local coffee shop, Joe Coffee, closed this summer, and he’s been looking for new opportunities to find a business niche while fulfilling his commitment to fairly traded, organically grown, locally roasted coffee.


The newsletter will feature other articles on Empowerment Group events, local commercial corridors, and inspiring Philadelphia entrepreneurs. If you don’t currently receive it, you can sign up here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Q&A with Web Developers, Brio Solutions

In one of my Google searches this week for «philadelphia small business», a blog post from my favorite web development guys, Brio Solutions, popped up. They're offering a great new package for small and medium businesses where you lease your website instead of buy it. Different, right?

Completely innovative, cost effective and easy to manage is what it really is. I asked David Rose, President of Brio, a few questions about their new offering, dubbed ONE Site, and ways their company can help your small business get on the web.

First, why are websites for small businesses so important? How does Brio help small businesses increase traffic and sales?
Websites have become the de-facto business card in the modern business world. The first thing any potential client does, especially when your company lacks brand recognition, is look your business website up online. If your prospect can find you easily and views your website, then they make an immediate judgement about your small business. They make a similar judgment if they can't find your website at all.

In many cases, your small business website is the first or second impression a prospect will get regarding your company. You want that impression to accurately tell your prospect what your business is all about. If your business is fun and exciting, then your website should reflect that; if your business is very professional and serious, then your website should reflect THAT.


Brio has a few ways to help increase traffic to your website and ultimately increase sales. There are really four items that should be considered.


First...Is your website built the right way? If a search engine can't understand your website, then people will never find you through search. At the core of ONE Site is properly structured and well written code so that search engines, and ultimately your customers, can find you among the millions of other websites on the internet.


Second... Does your website content focus on the correct keywords? The best way to get people to your website is to have content that they are looking for. If you want your site to rank in a Google search for "Philadelphia Dentist" and you don't mention those words in the content of your site, then you are fighting a losing battle. You need to give users what they are looking for. That principal is at the core of most major search engine rankings.


Third...Is your website pushing the user to do what you want them to do? For example, if your goal is to get phone calls and your phone number is buried somewhere in your site, then you won't get the results you are looking for. You should have a large "Call To Action" on every page with your phone number displayed prominently.


Finally...Do you have the right tools available to engage your customers and measure success? It’s important for website administrators to look at detailed analytics and site statistics to better understand what’s working and what’s not working. Brio ONE Site makes available a number of SEO and analytics tools to measure success and complete the feedback loop from your business, to your customer and back to your business.


What is ONE Site? How is it different from a traditional website? Why is it a viable solution for small business owners?

ONE Site is, essentially, a very powerful and advanced website for a small monthly fee. This type of solution is primarily marketed towards large companies and organizations with large budgets. Brio packaged this solution and has made it available to small businesses and medium sized business at a reasonable price.


ONE Site uses something called a "Content Management System," or CMS, to allow business owners and employees to easily change their own content in real time. ONE Site has many more features that help businesses keep their site current and more importantly, drive traffic to their site.


We are able to offer this service at a low price because we are not actually selling the web site to our clients, we are leasing the site to them. If you are wondering if leasing is a good idea, I suggest you read my blog, Why you may want to lease your web site.


The main reason this appeals to small business owners is because of the low price and tons of features. Instead of laying out a few thousand dollars for a basic web site, you can get a dynamic, cutting edge, advanced web site for a few hundred dollars and 50 bucks a month. And as any small business owner will tell you...Cash (Or Cash Flow) is King.


How did you dream up ONE Site? What need were you trying to fill?

Honestly, I noticed that large businesses and organizations are effectively marketing their companies online and are taking advantage of a number of internet based web and marketing tools that previously were too expensive for small businesses to implement. Since our inception, Brio always made it our mission to make technology available to small and medium sized businesses at a reasonable cost. So, we packaged these tools into the ONE Site solution and made it available to small and medium sized businesses at a manageable monthly fee. Now small businesses have the technology available to compete with the big guys.


What types of ONE Site plans do you offer? What’s included in each package? What do you estimate cost savings to be vs. a traditional site?
The best way to see what we are offering is by looking at our website. It has a full feature list and a comparison of all of the packages. You can check out our feature comparison at here. To summarize though, we offer three packages. All of the packages include the Brio Content Management System(CMS) which allows the site owner to update the content on the site. If you can use Microsoft Word, then you can update the content on your site.


The Basic package includes a professional site design, business email, basic SEO tools to drive traffic to your site, and site analytics to understand who’s coming to your site, where they are coming from and what they are doing once on your site.


The next package, the Plus package, includes everything in the basic package, plus; email marketing to actively engage customers, provide updates and specials, and build brand loyalty; and Twitter integration and RSS feeds to keep content fresh.


The Premium package includes everything in the Plus package and also a fully customized site design, and blog integration that further engages your customers with your business and keeps them coming back to your site.


The cost savings for ONE Site are pretty substantial. Let’s take a basic content managed site for example, which does not included many of the advanced features offered in ONE Site. If someone wanted to buy a site like that from Brio, we may charge $6,000, $10,000 or $15,000+. In contrast, ONE site costs start at $500 up front and $50 per month. Therefore, it could take 10 years for your ONE Site costs to reach the $6000 up front, and your ONE Site will evolve as technology advances!


Will all the ONE Sites have the same look & feel? Does Brio offer design solutions for companies without a brand image?
All ONE Site packages come with a professional site design. For the basic package and the plus package, you can pick from 100's of templates that are customized to match your color scheme and incorporate your logo. If you don't have branding, Brio can help define your business, create a professional look, then build a web site consistent with those elements.


Can business owners update their own ONE Site? If so, is extensive training required? Do they need pre-existing knowledge of websites?
Business owners can update their own ONE Site and that is what makes ONE Site so powerful. Businesses can react to what is happening in real time, they don't have to wait for a web company to make the change, and they don't have to PAY a web company to make a change. A very short training will be necessary for many users. Because of that, 1 hour of training is included in each package. Also, Brio provides detailed manuals providing step-by-step instructions with screen shots.

Visit Brio's website at:
www.briosolutions.net

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