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Thursday, December 31, 2009

From the Archives: How to Be a Good Neighbor

We're digging through the archives this week to find some of the best tidbits of advice for business owners.  This was originally posted June 16, 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From the Archives: Free Software

We're digging through the archives this week to find some of the best tidbits of advice for business owners.  This was originally posted April 20, 2009.

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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 aboutTwitter ad nauseum, but remember Twitter's older cousin, Facebook? Or, if those two sites seem a little unprofessional, how about the more seriousLinkedIn? 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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From the Archives: DIY Business Cards

We're digging through the archives this week to find some of the best tidbits of advice for business owners.  This was originally posted April 16, 2009.

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As a graphic designer, one of my biggest pet peeves is receiving generic business cards from start-up entrepreneurs. Sure, business owners need cards to give away their contact information as they network, but their look and feel can both help and hurt business prospects. In the same way that handing off a creative, thoughtful card will make you more memorable to potential clients, handing off a sloppy and ill-thought card will make you, well, easy to forget.

When you’re employed by a big company, your business card is a reflection of their corporate philosophy. But as an entrepreneur, your business card should reflect your brand, your value proposition and most importantly – your personality!

I don't want to tell you your business card has to look like one of these, because even though they're great for inspiration their cost breaks most start-up entrepreneurs’ piggy banks. So what can you do to leave an impression without breaking the bank? 

First, avoid these common mistakes:

1. Don't use clip art in place of a logo. If your business isn't at the point where you're ready to hire a design professional to develop a logo, keep your cards plain & simple. Rather than using clip art, add a visual element with lines, shapes and/or fonts.

2. Don't "do it yourself." I don't mean you shouldn't use a program like Microsoft Publisher or Adobe Illustrator (because you should, if you follow these rules) to design your cards, but never print and cut your own cards at home. Save it for the professionals through affordable websites likeUPrintingColorPrintDirect or VistaPrint

3. Don't ignore the back. For the extra couple bucks you'll spend printing double-sided cards, the impact is worth it. Use the back to explain your product or service in a few words or sentences (less than 2 sentences), or consider using it to place your tagline.

Next, try these simple solutions to make yourself stand out from the crowd:

1. Learn to make your own. If your computer has Microsoft Publisher, take an online tutorial like this one to learn step-by-step how to create your own business card. Experiment often and try different things before you settle on a design. Ask for feedback from friends, family or even me

2. Find a font that speaks to you. There are thousands of free fonts on the Internet. Visit dafont.com and browse through their selection, but be sure to choose one that is free (not "free for personal use"). When working with fonts, you'll want to keep it simple: choose one decorative font and one plain font. After you decide, stick to your choices!

3. Explore the meanings of color. Experiment with colors to bring excitement to your card. If your business brings to mind a certain color (like a landscaping company makes you think green), use it. If not, look into what different colors make people feel and choose a hue that matches your brand promise.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to create an elegant, thoughtful way to present your contact information to prospective clients without compromising your brand. Here are some examples of what you can create on your own:

Happy designing!

Monday, December 28, 2009

From the Archives: Choosing a Great Business Name

We're digging through the archives this week to find some of the best tidbits of advice for business owners.  This was originally posted October 1, 2009.

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As a kid, you can't choose the name you're given (though some of us get around this as an adult - I'm looking at you, Julius Andreas Gimli Macgyver). Some psychologists say your name shapes your future personality. I don't know about that, but names certainly influence others' perceptions of you. For my part, I'd much rather buy insurance from a staid William than a wildcard Ripshot (I am not making these names up, I swear!).

The same is true, if not more so, of your business name. Emblazoned across your business cards, website and letterhead, your business name is your handshake, your first impression. Ideally, the handle you choose will be so persuasive, so perfectly matched to what you do, that it generates business all by itself. Conversely, a poor name drives customers away.There are a ton of pitfalls you can stumble into when naming your company. In fact, everyone seems to have an opinion on what makes a dynamic name, or what makes a dud. Acronyms are apparently a no-go, especially when they create unintentionally inappropriate situations. Don't make that mistake. With a little forethought and planning, an evocative, descriptive monikor is just moments away.

Business owner Susan Ward made a list of all the considerations you should take into account when creating a name. Among other things, it should be memorable, easy to spell, provocative of a strong visual image, and short. With so many factors to consider, where's a potential business owner to start?

If you're stumped, your first step should be some serious brainstorming. Make a list of all the thoughts and feelings you want people to associate with your name. Then get creative. Break out the thesaurus and come up with related words. Do some free association. Don't censor yourself, and don't be afraid to follow random thoughts to their most extreme incarnations. You might find the perfect name in the place you least expect it.

A few years ago I spoke to a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property. Her philosophy was to avoid real words. "Think about it," she told me. "None of the most famous companies have names that meant anything before they came around. Reebok, Pepsi, Comcast, Aramark. They made these names out of fragments and syllables to create something new." From a trademarking perspective, invented names are much easier to protect, since you probably won't run into any competition for that label. These names also have the advantage of being unique, impressing your customers with their one-of-a-kind flavor.

Once you come up with a few options, start shopping them around. Set up a focus group of trusted friends and family or, better yet, potential customers. Lay 5 - 10 options in front of them, then shut up and let them talk. And don't be satisfied with simple responses such as 'I like it,' or, 'I don't get it.' Ask them why they're drawn to or repelled by certain names. Find out the kinds of feelings and thoughts these names evoke.

I don't recommend outsourcing your company name, since only you know the values you want this name it confer. However, if you're absolutely bewildered and can't come up with anything that satisfies, there are several companies that will invent a name for you. My favorite? PickyDomains.com, a website that crowdsources the entire process. Submit your naming requirments here and you'll have a fleet of creative minds working for you.

Think you've got this naming thing down pat? Is your business name the bomb? Let me know. Likewise, I'm a huge fan of trainwreck names. Give me what you've got in the comments below.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Procrastinator's Shopping Strategy

It's getting down to the wire, and I still have a few boxes left unchecked on my holiday shopping list. To battle back the building shame, I like to believe I'm not alone. So, how do the present procrastinators among us emerge from this sticky situation with tastefully-wrapped gifts and the cool confidence of someone who completed their shopping weeks ago?

Well, it's too late to make something, unless you want its sloppy assembly to blow your cover. It's pretty much too late to order something thoughtful and one-of-a-kind off Etsy or personalized and thrifty off Half-Off Depot. There's only one option left: start hitting the snow-streaked, slush-stained sidewalks of Philadelphia's shopping corridors.

But given the time constraints, we shouldn't go out there without a plan. In moments like these, it's best to hit up those all-purpose stores--the retail spaces filled with goodies for anyone on your list, from your mom's best friend to your boyfriend's sister's fiance. Here's my shopping itinerary for tonight...
  1. Take the El from our office at Berks Station to 15th St. Take a lap around the Christmas Village stationed on the west side of City Hall.
  2. Walk down to Omoi on 1608 Pine St. The place is jam-packed with all sorts of artful and novelty items sure to bring a smile to even the buggiest bah-hum-bugs on your list.
  3. Cut over to Giovanni's Room on 12th and Pine. This Gayborhood institution is one of the few independent bookstores in Center City and has been around for decades. Plus, their staff recommendation shelves offer a nice shortcut for the time-crunched.
  4. Hustle down to Philly Aids Thrift on 514 Bainbridge to hunt for tchotchkes--musical theater on vinyl, a set of quirky coasters, those porcelain creamers shaped like cows, all for one $5 bill.
  5. Take advantage of the expanded hours at the DiBrunos Bros. Italian Market location (open till midnight Tuesday and Wednesday!) to pick up some unique foodstuffs. Cured meats, savory spreads, fizzy little glass bottles of Aranciata. It's all there. Bonus: when you give food as a gift, you usually get to share in the consumption.
  6. Head home on the 47 (assuming it's actually running down 8th St.) with bags full of goodies and boxes full of check marks.
Feel free to borrow my route or custom-fit one to your commute. However you do it though, do it fast. Best of luck, fellow holiday procrastinators!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful: Small Business and Snow Removal

Today's posting is late because Empowerment Group came in late. Up here, Front Street is packed with ice, and we're guessing that the rest of the city's commercial corridors are dangerously slippery as well.

This summer Lindsey wrote about How to Be a Good Neighbor, back when snow was far from our minds. A lot of the old ideas still apply, even when you're two feet underneath muddy urban slush.

So, small business owners, it's your duty to clean a path in front of your shop. Not only is it the neighborly thing to do, but you could get fined if you don't clear a 30-inch path.

Other ways to support your neighborhood while clearing away whatever "wintry mix" is on your doorstep?

  1. Are you next to residential plots? Do small business owners near you have a hard time getting around? Nothing is more neighborly than "going the extra block" and shoveling the space in front of nearby homes and other businesses.

  2. Can't do it yourself? Hire someone from the neighborhood. Plenty of successful entrepreneurs got their starts by landscaping and shoveling snow. Give a local youth a shot at making a few extra bucks with his or her hard work.

  3. Have some heavy duty drifts and need to hire a pro? Hire locally. This map can help!

  4. Or maybe you don't own a business, but are looking to get started. Snow removal can be a great seasonal way to get some extra money. Here's a great E-how article on making shoveling lucrative.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Philly Fridays: Small Business Link Roundup

This week, a lot of Empowerment Group staff is gearing up for trips. Between road trips, heading home for the holidays, or entertaining out-of-town guests, we're all getting ready for a vacation of sorts. And you should too. Even the busiest of entrepreneurs deserves a good break. This summer we wrote about how small business owners should take a vacation. Now, we even wrote a holiday specific guide to taking a break. Hear us? Relax. Here are some helpful links and things about town that can help.

Not sure where you want to go? Visit any of Philly's travel agents. These are fun, and often overlooked local businesses that can help you connect globally. Don't have bags to pack? Visit Robinson Luggage, a small family business that's been in Center City since 1927. Packing light? Check out Philly's own ReLoad Bags for trendy, custom packs. You can even build your own.

Maybe you're not going anywhere. If you're playing host to your country cousins, or attempting a stay-cation, tis' the season to be a tourist in your own city. Phillyist recently listed their Top 10 places to sit and relax in Philly. Yes, LOVE Park is #8, so you can get an obligatory family picture under the statue. If the weather's not too friendly, swing by Giovanni's Room for their readings/fundraisers this week. Nothing's cozier than the smell of old books and the sound of someone reading softly.

If you're too relaxed to even head outside the house, here's your chance to weigh in on the Tiffin vs. Ekta debate. Both of these Girard Avenue Indian restaurants deliver around the city. Everyone has a strong opinion on which is better. There's no time like now to find your preference: it's too cold to go anywhere, you're tired of Christmas cookies, so you may as well surround yourself with bins of takeout curry.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009: A Year of Creativity and Innovation

Innovation Philadelphia just released the Creative Year in Review on Wednesday. Much has happened in creativity and innovation in the past year. Read an excerpt below. The full version is on their site.

2009: A Year of Creativity and Innovation

The creative economy has weathered the storm of the many challenges of 2009 with our chin up and with optimistic cheers. As local, national and international economies continue to shift, Innovation Philadelphia isn’t the first to enthusiastically welcome 2010. The local creative economy has been hit hard with layoffs, stagnate business, and halted innovation, leaving the question “Did anything good come out of this year?” Yes!

Although many Creatives found themselves filing for unemployment, many also left constricting jobs behind to start their own business, birthing a new general of entrepreneurs. Companies in all industries were challenged to “do what they do” better, as well as be innovative with internal business processes. These companies looked to Creatives to be idea makers and thought leaders. In many ways, the creative economy gained new respect.

The Philadelphia creative economy found unity within its community through multiple programs and events connecting previously disparate groups. Numerous major reports ranked Philadelphia top of their list for innovation and entrepreneurism (check out the reports section below for details). Hopefully, we enter 2010 as a community with strong ties, blossoming talent and ambitious goals to showcase Philadelphia as a center of cutting edge, quality creative professionals.

So…Welcome 2010! Philadelphia Creatives are ready for you – stronger and smarter than ever.

To look back at 2009’s creative workforce, creative entrepreneurship, creative technologies, and creative convergences, click here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How-To Relax for the Holidays

Tis the season for many people to take that long awaited vacation they've been dreaming of all year, unless you're a small business owner. While the holidays are a time when offices may be closed and people will forget all about work that may be easier said then done for an entrepreneur. How do you take time to relax when you own your own small business? If you do get to take a break, how do you make sure you're really taking a break and not just thinking about work the whole time? Here are some ways to really make the most of this time of year and why taking time for relaxation can be a great way to make your business even better in the New Year.

Accept that Vacations are Normal. While you may feel like as an entrepreneur it's normal NOT to take vacations, that is not true. People all over the world make a habit of taking a break and there's no reason you shouldn't either. Even if it's just a long weekend, people always need some time away from work.

A Source of Inspiration. Instead of worrying the whole time about your business while you're away, use this free time to get a new perspective and renew your entrepreneurial spirit. Working 24/7 on a new start-up can really burn you out, but using this time to step away and refocus can make you a better business owner.

Let Go of Control. When you start a business all on your own it's difficult to not micro-manage and want to do everything yourself. If you have a partner or staff members, delegate tasks to them and be sure you trust them with your business. If you're a sole proprietor, depending on what type of business you own, be sure to notify all your clients that you will be out of town or if possible, budget so that you can close your business for at least a couple of days. These measures will ensure that you're comfortable while taking time to relax.

Keeping in Touch. It's always a struggle to know how much to check-in with your business while you're away. In keeping with letting go of control, it's probably best to keep it to a minimum. Depending on how long you'll be away, making phone calls or checking emails to once a day will keep you sane and keep you updated on how things are going.

Have a Plan. Before going away have a plan of action. Decide how much you're going to keep in touch and what to do in the case of an emergency. Tell staff what exactly constitutes an emergency and in what situations they should contact you. If you're in the service industry be sure to know your peers who are in the same line as business as you, you can at least refer a client in need to someone who can help immediately. Try not to expect the worst though; having a negative outlook the whole time you're on vacation will only ruin it.

Taking a vacation can be good for you business, your employees, and you. Happy holidays and happy vacationing!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Guide to Holiday Gift Guides

I like to consider myself a capable gift-giver. I mull over people's interets and dabble in the handmade. Even the ugly things are thoughtful, if a little misguided.

But as things get hectic this holiday season, all I want to do is order a bunch of things off Amazon and receive a stack of cardboard boxes with identically shrink-wrapped innards. "Convenient" sidelines "Thoughtful" with one swift sucker punch.

Wait though! Remember when Convenient and Thoughtful use to walk home from school together sharing the same piece of gum? With the help of holiday gift guides, convenient and thoughtful can be best friends again. These lists take the stress out of braving the stores with their "nail on the head" recommendations. You can save time without sacrificing that "wow" factor.

And best of all, the gift guides listed below highlight Philly's small business retailers. These are the folks who know their products well enough to give you some real insights. They can custom order or will go out of their way to help you find a replacement. For me, it's the personal touches and interactions that make the holiday shopping season bearable. If you're like me, read on to find where you can get them.
  1. GRID Magazine: GRID's holiday gift guide emphasizes the sustainable and the locally-produced. Best of all, the online vision includes links to the appropriate websites.
  2. Yelp: If you like your gift recommendations to come with witty quips from strangers, the Yelp guide is for you.
  3. Uwishunu: Find all the posts tagged as "Gift of the Day" to get the gift scoop from our city's most enthusiastic insiders.
  4. Alt.Weeklies: Both Philadelphia Weekly and City Paper offer their take on hip-holiday giving. Best-suited to the younger folks on your list, these guides emphasize the talents of Philly-bred artisans.
Do you have some fantastic local gift ideas? Or do you know of a particularly insightful local gift guide? Please give me a heads-up in the comments below--my time is running out!

Monday, December 14, 2009

For Every Yay, There's a Nay

One of my favorite blogs, Indexed, posted this gem this morning. It's helping me keep my emotions and priorities in check this busy Monday morning; maybe it'll do the same for you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Philly Fridays: Small Business Link Roundup

This week we learned a good deal about our city. From our size, to our history, to our value, and more, there were new tidbits popping up everywhere!

Philly is growing! Take that census projections! We have over 1.5 million residents. What are these residents up to? Here’s some other good news. Fewer are homeless than in years past. We’re finishing physical projects and flocking to public spaces. Three Philadelphians have books coming out. If the good things keep happening, we’ll blow the projections out of the water by the 2020 census.

We put the story in history. Yes, everyone knows about Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, but it seems that
every block has its own story. Philaplace.org has an interactive map that collects historical images, documents, and yes, stories, from all over the city.

It’s a great place to get the most bang for your buck! We made Forbes’ list of cities where the money goes far. How should we spend this extra money? Buy some local art at the Space 1026 Art Auction. Or visit the Mugshots Coffeehouse in Manayunk for their sixth annual Winterfest. At Winterfest, you can buy wares from local artists, craftspeople, and small business owners. A small business hosting a small business shopping extravaganza? We recommend going there to purchase a holiday present for your favorite small business owner for the perfect trifecta of buying local.

This week’s most important link:
Empowerment Group’s Events Page. Don’t get lost among the other 1.5 million Philadelphians and learn how to help other locals get the most bang for their bucks. Come to our upcoming entrepreneurship events. We have three coming up in the New Year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bonuses That Are Better Than Money: Alternative Ways to Thank Your Employees

‘Tis the season! Right? Well…

December is awfully hard on my personal bank and credit accounts, and even harder on the small business accounts entrepreneurs rely on to stay in business. But both business owners and myself still want and need to give gifts (and warm, fuzzy feelings of appreciation!) to our family and friends. DIY gifts are one option that I love and fall back on often, but they aren’t so practical for time-strapped small business owners looking to thank their employees.

I know that recognition is key to how appreciated employees (friends, or family) feel and how hard they’ll work for you, especially when the holidays are fast approaching and it’s more pleasant to daydream about gifts and mistletoe than projects at work.

But what if you simply can’t afford a bonus or gift? Here are some free and/or inexpensive ways to thank your most important asset: your employees.

Give Extra Time Off: If you aren’t in retail, why not give you employees an extra day off around the holidays? Better yet, give them each a certificate good for one freebie day off in the next 6 months.

Extend Casual Days: EG used to have casual Fridays, but when we switched to a 4-day workweek, we lost that privilege to gain another. If you’re employees already get casual Fridays, add casual Monday for the month of December (with the stipulation, of course, that business meetings and events are exempt). If they don’t get any casual days, add one a week. They’ll thank you for it!

Publicize Their Successes: When your employees do well, spread the word! It’s as simple as that.

Allow Working at Home: Working remotely has its benefits: it reduces stress, increases productivity and saves money. Start small, and give your employees one work-at-home day a week. If you see positive changes in their performance and attitude, increase the number of hours they can work in the comfort and privacy of their own home.

Buy Them Coffee: Or tea, or hot chocolate… you get the point. Satiate their thirst with their favorite hot drink.

Make the Office Cozy: EG’s offices are in an old rowhome, so cozy is the name of the game here all year round. Around the holidays, though, we string lights, lose the headphones and listen to Christmas music together. Sometimes we cut paper snowflakes and hang them on the walls and windows, and we always have a cookie and Yankee swap. It may not be home, but it feels more relaxing usual.

Don’t Forget the Significant Others: I can’t take credit for coming up with this gem. Here’s the story: “Independent management consultant Nan Amish recalled one time when she had 16 employees trapped in a hotel lobby on a Sunday night, waiting for the ballroom to open so they could set up a trade-show booth. “I bought flowers at a farmers market, a nice $6 bouquet of roses for each person,” she said. “I told them to take them home to their significant others, apologizing for me taking them away from their families on a Sunday. The next day I got thank-yous from most of them. One wife sent a letter saying I could keep her husband until Friday.”

Need more ideas? I love this list of 25 ways to reward employees on a budget.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How-To Get Insurance for Your Small Business

Here at the Empowerment Group we’re working on providing resources for all small business owners. I have been writing a series of how-to guides on a variety of subjects for entrepreneurs. The first one is how to go about insuring your business and it covers topics from what types of business insurance are out there, how to talk to an agent, and how to file a claim if something does happen.

For start-up business owners, getting insurance may seem too costly at the moment, but it is a necessary expense to budget for. Business insurance can cover all types of different problems that you wouldn’t expect to happen, but if they did could really affect your business negatively. For instance, what if your store is broken into and money or merchandise is taken? Insurance can cover these losses. What if you get injured and can’t run your business for months? Insurance can cover your overhead costs. What if your online business is sued for copyright infringement? Insurance can pay for your legal fees.

Here’s a preview of one of the sections that will be included on this how-to guide. Keep checking the Empowerment Group website to see the full guide and for the rest of this upcoming series.

Do’s and Don’ts of Talking with Insurance Agents

Do some research on what you may need for you business before talking with an agent.

Don’t contact an insurance agent online. Many times people will fill out forms with their personal information in hopes to get free insurance quotes. Instead their information is sold to insurance agents around the country who are just out for a sale.

Do make sure you meet with prospective agents in person. Make sure you feel comfortable with who you hire.

Do work with someone who lives in your area or knows about your state’s laws and regulations.

Don’t let an insurance agent take charge. Let them hear about your needs first before trying to sell you anything. Remember, they’re working for you, not the other way around.

Don’t ever write a check directly to an agent. This is illegal; payment is always supposed to be given to the insurance company directly.

Do find an agent that works with multiple insurance companies, not just one. This way you’ll be hearing about all the options out there for you.

Do expect to hear from your agent annually to reassess your insurance needs and renew your policies.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Publicity for Micro-Micro Entrepreneurs: Advice from the Craft Fair

A lot of the best small businesses stem from hobbies. If you love doing something already, why not try to make some money from it? This past weekend, a large number of Philadelphians who have made that leap gathered at the Philadelphia Independent Craft Fair to sell their wares just in time for the holidays.

Many artisans and people who show at craft fairs are micro-entrepreneurs who work alone. And with small, small businesses come small, small marketing budgets. I spoke with a number of the vendors at the fair to see various approaches to bringing in sales with limited resources.

In a room of several dozen vendors, talk about what makes your product special. While it can be tempting for introverts, to sit, knitting in the corner, fairs and bazaars aren’t for the faint of heart. Small wares can be easily overlooked in crowds, other people could be peddling the same product as you, and the customers are often distracted and visually over-stimulated.

The best thing to do is to talk about what makes your product special when people are right in front of your table. Maryam Moma of Yamerra, a natural cosmetics line, explained the benefits of her soaps and lotions and offered samples to those interested. Amber Zaraza of Phea Jean, was hidden behind large racks of her handmade bags and hats, but made a point to step around the table to tell customers that each bag and hat was one-of-a-kind. Kate Vanvliet was quick to explain that her eye-catching new earrings contained actual birth-control pills. Beth Richey, who specializes in magnets and jewelry, had a contagious enthusiasm about her new terrarium creations, and the process behind growing plants inside old light bulbs.

Let everyone know what you’re doing. Samantha Ernst, a mixed media artist who has created some beautiful button necklaces, has benefited from some help from her friends. She hasn’t bothered to create an on-line store or Etsy account yet. She said that word-of-mouth publicity has been keeping her busy enough. Justin Arawjo of Communitea Graphics had similar luck. When he let a nearby college know about his business, they gave him a screen printing order big enough to keep him busy for the summer.

Not only what you’re doing, but where to find you. The majority of the vendors have personal websites or sell their products on free Etsy-hosted sites. At the least, vendors handed out business cards with purchases. Most of the vendors had posters or table designs marked with their Etsy addresses and websites. Others had branded bags or magnets that they handed out with purchases, detailing their social networking outlets and boutiques in the city that carried their wares. For the entrepreneur without a storefront, letting fans and customers know where to find your stuff is key.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Philly Fridays: Small Business Link Round-up

Hey Readers,
Here at Empowerment Group, we come across a lot of news: articles about local entrepreneurs, postings for events throughout the city, and helpful tips for small business owners. On Fridays, we’re going to start sharing with you the best and brightest tips we find from the far corners of the web.

This week it seems like everyone’s geared up for the holiday season. We wrote about decorating and shaping your promotions for the holidays. For the truly aesthetically challenged, About.com gives very specific decoration instructions: from keeping it tasteful to when to take decorations down.   

If you have strictly enterprise on the mind, you can focus on using the holiday business surge to keep customers coming after the holidays, or even turning seasonal decorating into a small business venture.   

Here in Philly, lots of local businesses are jumping on the holiday special bandwagon, from our September WEC host, Society Hill Dance Academy to Philly’s countless pop-up shops.

Seasonal craft fairs are everywhere too, and provide a great chance to support micro-entrepreneurs who may not have storefronts. This Saturday, 2424 Studios is hosting The Philadelphia Independent Craft Market to benefit the 941 Theater. There’s also the Crafty Balboa Fair at the Broad Street Ministry (free tote bags and coupons for the first 50 shoppers!) December 19-20, R5 Productions is hosting their bi-annual Punk Rock Flea Market at Starlight Ballroom.  

First Friday is in full effect tonight as well, which is a great opportunity for art galleries and other small businesses to benefit from the added foot traffic. Check out Citypaper’s guide to the Old City and Center City galleries and shops. Or hang out in Fishtown and Kensington for the Frankford Avenue Arts Walk.

And the most important link of the week: EG is now on Flickr. Check out our site!

Know of any good small business happenings about town? Hear any good tips that you’d like to share with entrepreneurs? Let us know!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

EG Entrepreneur Spotlight: Jenna Stamm

Jenna turned her part-time job into a full-fledged business in summer 2007. A large agricultural manufacturing firm from her hometown needed a photographer for their publicity material. Jenna signed up for the job. The projects kept coming and before she knew it, Jenna was working full-time to keep up with the demand.

In November of 2008, however, Jenna realized she needed help. The firm she worked for was undergoing restructuring and closing one of their plants. Her contracts dwindled.  “It was a major loss for me, but it kicked me in the butt a little bit,” Jenna says. She knew she had to diversify her clientele in order to survive, but she didn’t have the business background to figure it out alone.

That’s when Jenna came to Empowerment Group. She signed on for one-on-one business consulting with a goal of developing a marketing plan to guide her efforts. Together with her consultant, Jenna investigated several new market segments, including wedding projects, local magazines, ad agencies, and corporate portraits and headshots. “The corporate work I’ve had this year has been a bit of a surprise for me. It may not be the most creative, but it provides good bread and butter income and helps me establish myself as a professional with good, professional practices.” Working with her consultant helps Jenna filter through all the information out there and make those decisions. She puts her energy where the money is and has developed consistent schedules and marketing habits.

Now, more than 1 year later, Jenna’s seen a big change in her clientele, the way she does business, and the way she views herself. Whereas before Jenna would vary her price based on what she thought her clients would pay, often underselling in an attempt to keep customers, she now has a sense of the industry standards and how much her time is worth. “When I come up with a quote, I realize I need to find a price and stick with it.” Her efforts have paid off. Since the beginning of 2009, she’s signed on more than 18 new clients.“When I look at what I’ve done this year, especially given the current economic climate, I’m doing fine. It’s only June and I’ve pulled in several large jobs to keep me busy.”

About the consulting experience, Jenna says, “Simple conversations have illuminated key changes I can make and have created more consistency for me in my work.”

Note: Jenna Stamm Photographer will be photographing the winners of our My Block, My Business Competition! Browse her websites, weddings and commercial, for samples of her work. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Trolley Car Diner & Deli Named Winner of Empowerment Group’s “My Block, My Business” SEPTA Ad Competition

Contact information:
Emily Yoder
Digital Outreach Coordinator, AmeriCorps VISTA
Empowerment Group
(215) 427-9245

for immediate release 

PHILADELPHIA (December 2, 2009) –Trolley Car Diner & Deli won $2,600 of advertising last night. Empowerment Group awarded their “My Block, My Business” Advertising Competition’s grand prize to this ten-year-old Mt. Airy restaurant. Owner Ken Weinstein will be featured on marketing materials for Entrepreneurship Week 2010, including 20 posters on SEPTA’s Broad Street and Market-Frankford Trains, placement on 2,500 postcards, and web advertising.  

Empowerment Group’s Executive Director, Angel Rodriguez, announced the grand prize winner at the “My Block, My Business” Competition Celebration/Announcement Event at World Café Live.  

The competition’s four finalists shared why they chose to operate a business in Philadelphia, and details about their contributions to their neighborhoods.   

Ken Weinstein, the owner of Trolley Car Diner & Deli, spoke about falling in love with Philadelphia later in life, the process of turning blighted properties into successful restaurants, and his passion for economic development. “My hope for Germantown Avenue and Mt. Airy was that by renovating and occupying vacant properties, we could leverage additional investment and bring creative entrepreneurs into Mt. Airy,” said Weinstein. 

The competition’s other three finalists, The Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, Philly Electric Wheels, and Volpe Cycles also won advertising on SEPTA and Empowerment Group’s website. The winner was chosen by a panel of judges that included Hal Real, the owner of World Café Live, and a “My Block, My Business” featured entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship Week sponsor, and small business leader. 


About Empowerment Group:
Empowerment Group is a non-profit organization that accelerates economic growth in distressed urban communities by cultivating local entrepreneurship.  Our bottom line is to create positive, lasting change for our clients, their families, and their communities.  Empowerment Group envisions successful businesses and empowered individuals sustaining and enriching their communities, thus building a stronger Philadelphia. To learn more about Empowerment Group, visit www.empowerment-group.org.  

About Entrepreneurship Week:
Entrepreneurship Week is a week-long, city-wide campaign designed to celebrate Philadelphia’s small businesses, connect existing and aspiring entrepreneurs, and provide access to key business resources.  Entrepreneurship Week will be held April 19-22, 2010. To learn more about Entrepreneurship Week, visit www.entrepreneurshipweek.com.

How-To Prepare Your Store for the Holidays

It’s that time of year again. Shopping for the perfect gift is on everyone’s mind and if you’re a store owner it’s a busy time of year for your small business. The next 23 days will be filled with hurried customers shopping in a frenzy and also looking for the best deals and places that will get them in the holiday spirit. While this season is definitely one where profits will be up for anyone in the retail business, here are some ways that small business owners can get even more out of this time of year.

Prepare for the Rush. Do anything you can to prepare your store and your staff for the extra customers that will be walking through your doors in the next month. If you don’t think your staff will be adequate you can hire temporary employees for the season. Organize the layout of your store so it’s easy to navigate and for customers to find what they’re looking for quickly. If you own an online business, make sure the site is user-friendly with no technical issues and that any promotions or sales are clearly visible. Keep merchandise stocked on the shelves, not in the back. If the displays are looking picked over customers won’t waste their time waiting for you to restock.

Get in the Holiday Spirit. While not everyone celebrates Christmas, at this time of year it’s important to deck your store out with seasonal decorations. This décor doesn’t have to be Christmas-specific, but there should be some sense that your business is promoting the holiday cheer. Also gear some marketing towards the holidays by making your advertising holiday-influenced as well and promote products as “great gift ideas,” or create gift guides.

Special Products and Discounts. Introduce products that you will only have available for as a “limited time offer” so that customers will jump at the chance to buy something that won’t be around forever. Try making attractively packaged baskets of already existing items to encourage customers to purchase these as gifts. You could probably sell these items together for more than you would get if they were sold individually. Also, this is a great time to offer customers incentives. Think about which would suit your clients the best depending on what type of business you own. Free shipping, buy one get one free, or percentage discounts are all popular strategies.

Promote your Business
. Through all of the holiday excitement you should also be looking towards the future and see this as an opportunity to broaden your customer base. While customers may be coming to your store to find a unique gift at the present time, find ways to let them know that you’re around all year. Have customers sign up for a mailing list so you can stay in touch with them after the holidays are over. If you are providing great customer service and products that might not be sold everywhere else consumers will remember you for future shopping.

Hopefully these tips will help you and your business have a successful and happy holiday!

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