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Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

I have an embarrassing admission: I haven't actually written a blog post since the beginning of December. DECEMBER! Aside from this blog being my baby, blogging being an integral part of my job, and the fact that my fellow bloggers must be really weighed down by my slack, the real reason I'm so embarrassed is that I have no excuse.

I'd been weighed down by the minutiae: What should I write about? I felt like my well ran dry; that I couldn't possibly review one more ad, that I'd already spilled all my DIY secrets, that if I wrote one more article about Twitter, the interwebs would revolt because of pure inundation. The truth is that none of those things are actually true, but I'd pinned myself in such a corner that the things I thought I'd like to write about didn't seem relevant.

That's when I realized: non-sense! I surf the web with the best of them, and every week I come across little bits of awesome I can't help but share. Since December I've stumbled on countless sites that I've quickly fallen in love with, and now I'm here to share them with you.

Flavors.me: For a designer, I have little to no experience in building those little things we call websites. I can conceptualize them, I can design them, I can update them, but coding them: no thank you. So when I discovered flavors.me it felt like a little piece of heaven. This is a site that makes it difficult to go wrong with a personal website. It aggregates your feeds and information from other sources, like Flickr, Wordpress or Facebook and puts it in a nice, neat little package. You customize the look, feel and content and can even redirect to your own URL (for $20 a year).

IOGraph: Formerly known as MouthPath, IOGraph is a fun little tool that tracks your mouse as you traverse your screen. Each time you rest, it marks the spot with a small dot; the longer you rest, the bigger the dot gets. I've started tracking my mouse when I do different tasks: spend an hour browsing the web, 2 hours designing a flyer, a whole day of website updates. Not only are the end results pretty to look at, but also make you feel accomplished!

Moocards: I love a good, versatile business card. So much that I've delayed buying personal cards because I couldn't settle on a design I liked enough. Then I found Moocards! You can use their designs or upload your own, and for Moocard variety is key: choose up to 100 different backs, and pair it with one front.

Habit Forge: We've all heard it: it takes 3 weeks to make or break a habit, and now Habit Forge is here to help! Sign up, make a goal, and check a daily email where you answer whether or not you reached that goal. Once you answer, you get your success rate to date. There's some virtual encouragement!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Business Travel 101

I was recently the victim of an extremely inconvenient flight cancellation. After arguments with airline employees, being stuck in an airport hotel, and a 4:30 AM wake up call I realized that traveling can really be a pain. When I finally was on a flight home I noticed that most of my fellow passengers were decked out in business suits and working away on their laptops. Clearly, business travel can be a required part of getting a job done and learning how to handle the complications that can come along with it can be a hassle. Here are some tips to navigating the sometimes un-friendly skies:

  • Be Loyal. Sticking with one airline if you can will really benefit you in the long-run. You can rack up miles or become an elite member and get priority boarding and other privileges that can make a big difference. If you can, join the airline's club so if you have a long delay or layover you can get work done and grab something to eat in a comfortable space. Futhermore, if you're a valued customer an airline will work harder for you. Your flight is canceled? You're the first one to be rebooked. The more loyal you are to an airline, the better they'll treat you.
  • Always Carry-On. This bit of advice may sound insignificant, but checking baggage could cause a lot of stress for you. The airline could lose your bag and waiting for it after getting off your flight is just a waste of time when you're in town on business. It's best to have all your important belongings on hand at all times. Having priority boarding will also help with this point because getting on the plane first will ensure enough overhead bin space. I've also been a victim of the forced checked bag, don't let this happen to you.
  • Look at Other Options. Flying may be the quickest way to get somewhere, especially if you're traveling a long distance, but there are other ways to travel as well. Add up the costs and travel time for flying, driving, and going by train before making a final decision. You may find that another option is more efficient and cost-effective.
  • Get Accustomed with Security. You'll notice at the airport security checkpoint nowadays there are multiple lines for different types of travelers. There's one for the person who barely travels, one for those who sometimes do, and one for the expert. You want to be in the expert line. This will get you through the line the fastest because in the other lines people don't know to take their shoes off or that you can't pack a razor in your carry on. All of this will hold you up. Familiarize yourself with what exactly is prohibited and be prepared.
Travel may not be necessary for all business owners, but for some it can be. Making the effort to meet with a potential client or do research for a new product can make a huge difference for sales. Travel may seem like a burden, but when your dedication nails you a huge sale you might start thinking differently.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Neighborhood Business Corridors Show Off Their Stuff

Flying in the face of all common sense, my boyfriend and I took last week's snowfall as an opportunity to hit the road. We spent the weekend next to a fire, soaking up the quiet life in northern Vermont and playing RummiKub with my boyfriend's aunt. While the country was perfectly relaxing, the city mouse in me longed for the things I was missing back home. And alas, there was a lot to miss.

Restaurants were a flurry with Valentine's Day specials, stores boasted sales, and community happenings were robust. Two Philadelphia neighborhoods, however, stole the show by hosting multi-day collaborative happenings. Committed to showcasing their boast-worthy blocks, small businesses on E. Passyunk Ave. and Girard Ave. organized a "pop-up 'hood" in the Rittenhouse area and a neighborhood Love-fest, respectively. Discounts and ingenuity induced outside residents to get familiar with two of Philadelphia's finest neighborhood business corridors.

Passyunk's "Pop-Up 'Hood" featured over a dozen vendors in a vacant Rittenhouse Sqaure property. For three straight days, visitors got a little taste of South Philly's gems without waiting in the cold for the 23. Shoppers on Girard Ave. were treated to eight blocks (Front to Franklin) worth of deals during their "Love on Girard" celebration, from artisan chocolates to romantic tattoos.

But you, like me, may have missed out on the fun. Well, don't let that stop you. Just because there's no special event, it doesn't mean you can't partake in the everyday greatness of these fabulous business corridors. Packed with everything from daily needs to specialty items, Passyunk and Girard serve double duty as both neighborhood resources and visitor destinations. Show your appreciation by stopping by on any old day of the week.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Philly Fridays: Valentine Edition

Love and snow are both in the air in Philly this week! Here at EG, we've been snowed in and working from our respective home offices (and beds!). Katie wrote a great guide to being productive in these trying conditions.

While getting snowed in can be quite romantic, you may have cabin fever already. What's a local-minded, Philly couple to do in the blizzard?

Suggestion #1: Check out some local chocolate shops. We have some great ones! Historic Lore's on 7th Street is an adorable family-run shop that's been in business for 50 years. Anthony's is a cozy South Philly gem in the heart of the Italian Market, if you want to follow the sweets with a sweet stroll through one of Philly's landmarks. Newer Naked Chocolate Cafe has three locations in the city, and is a great spot to duck in for some hot chocolate.

Suggestion #2: Jeweler's Row. While there might not be any large jewelry purchases in your future, this historic diamond district on Sansom Street is full of sweet, family-owned businesses. Even if there's not a symbolic purchase in your sights yet, you could always pick up a little gem (pun intended).

Suggestion #3: Support local art. All of those romance columnists encourage couples to "Do something new! Break out of your habits!" This advice is pretty generic, and I think there's always room for some art in our lives, whether we're snobby connoisseurs, or if we've never stepped into a gallery before. There's a great Philagrafika event about Puerto Rican graphic artists this weekend. There's also a new store opening up in South Philly that features handmade art and clothing from near and far: Nice Things Handmade.

Spend a loving weekend supporting the City of Brotherly Love. Have fun!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Seth Godin: Quieting the Lizard Brain

This video is too good not to repost. For anyone who's ever wondered why that nagging voice in the back of their head just won't go away: listen. Godin talks about quieting our fear to avoid self-sabotaging projects just before they're finished.

Seth Godin: Quieting the Lizard Brain from 99% on Vimeo.

If you prefer to listen, you can head the audio of another interview on quieting the lizard brain over at  43 Folders.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowed In: A Guide to Working from Home

Anyone who is located anywhere in the Northeast section of the United States and has diligently been reading weather reports or looking outside a window knows that we are in the midst of dealing with a massive attack of winter weather. Offices may have closed, but there's still work to be done. The solution? Work from home! Some of you business owners may be used to this, but for other people it's something a little different. Here are some ways to make the most out of your day when something like a blizzard keeps you from doing business as usual:

Make a To-Do List. When you're confined to your house and are diverting from your average daily routine you may need to structure your tasks a little bit more. Start out by making a checklist of all the things you want to (and would be able to) accomplish that day. This is also a great opportunity to get some projects done you've been overlooking with the stress of everyday operating issues. It may be useful to take this time at home to brainstorm some new ideas for how to make your business better.

Use Flexibility to Your Advantage
. Working from home can be a lot less stressful than going to the office so take advantage of it. You won't be forced to stare at your computer for 8 hours straight and can have a more leisurely schedule broken up with household chores you may need to do, cooking, or even watching some television. This can definitely be a nice change from being an office.

Keeping the Focus. With all the added distractions that come with being at home you may find it hard to concentrate on work. In order to really get things accomplished seclude yourself to a comfortable working space in your house whether it be a desk, your couch, or your bed, shut the door and stick to that checklist. If there are people in your house while you're working make sure they know you're working from home and not to interrupt. And if you hear someone begin a sentence with, "Well since you're home can you..." just say no. You may be able to break up your day with some chores, but keep the concentration on your job, not on your home.

Hopefully these tips will help you have a fun, productive work day even when unexpected things affect how you do business.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

3 Misconceptions About Starting a Business

Owning your business has probably been your dream for a while now. Let's face it, there's a lot of things that are appealing about it: being your own boss, making your own schedule, personal satisfaction, not having to deal with corporate bureaucracy, contributing to your community, being in control of your work, etc. Before your start basking in the entrepreneurship though you should consider some obstacles that every start-up business owner will face. These are some misconceptions that they may have overlooked, but are important to keep in mind when thinking about how a business will work in your life. Use this list to help you determine the personal feasibility of starting your own business.

1. Your Flexible Schedule is Not So Flexible.
Yes, when you own your business your freedom to come and go as you please increases. You won't be punching a clock or fulfilling a 40-hour commitment. However, you will be the one accountable for your business bringing in money, especially in the beginning stages, therefore working 24/7 will be your new way of life. You may have had dreams of sleeping in until 10 every morning and taking days off on a whim. This may not be in the cards until a much later stage. According to most entrepreneurs the time commitment they have to put in at the beginning is one of their biggest adjustments. Don't be surprised if you end up fondly remembering a time when you used to work the 9-to-5 grind everyday.

2. You're Going to Make Money Right Away.
While your big dreams and unique business idea may point to a different outcome, turning a profit immediately is not going to happen. Overnight success is a myth and investors are not going to just be waiting to give you cash. Financially, you're probably going to be struggling to reach that break-even point. Your small business can turn out to be very profitable, but it's definitely going to take some time.

3. If You Build It, They Will Come
Even if you have a new and great idea for a business people won't always flock towards it or be open to something new. Take it from the owners of Sweetie's Pie diner. They started their restaurant with the intention of serving both dessert pies and savory pies that people could eat as meals. Customers loved the traditional pies, but couldn't really grasp the concept of eating a piece of pie for dinner. To make their business more successful they had to alter their original concept slightly and began offering a wider variety of food such as sandwiches and soup to cater to their customers. The lesson here is to be flexible with your vision and listen to what the public is telling you.

While these roadblocks might seem daunting, they aren't meant to discourage you from starting your business. Every start-up entrepreneur should be realistic about the outcomes of their business and what they need to do in order to make it successful. In the end, business owners say the hard work is all worth it because their business is something accomplished on their own and that they love to do.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"One Book, One Philadelphia" Gets Loads of Small Business Support

Books, like two cents, are easy to share. They're durable and portable, making them great catalysts for events, gatherings, and general togetherness. Plus, there's all that meaningful content to keep people engaged.

The Free Library of Philadelphia encourages you to acknowledge the unifying power of books (the bindings that tie) through their annual "One Book, One Philadelphia" celebration. A joint project of the Mayor's Office and the Free Library, the campaign, "promotes reading, literacy, library use, and community building by motivating tens of thousands of people to read an annual featured selection." Pretty sweet. To top it off, this year's book is a personal favorite of mine: the beautiful and poignant The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Whenever you have people in this city bringing people together, you're sure to find small businesses joining the fray. The festivities surrounding "One Book, One Philadelphia" are no exception. Here's a list of local businesses with goings-on inspired by the spirit of "One Book, One Philadelphia":

  1. The Fairmount location of Mugshots Coffeehouse and Cafe is hosting a graphic novel-themed film series complete with family-friendly options. Check out the calendar section of their website for a full list of screening dates and times.
  2. For the next four Wednesday nights, the Green Line Cafe at 45th and Locust is inviting all ages of readers for a Persepolis chat. While you're on the website, scope out their "About" page to see how "One Book, One Philadelphia" events fit into their broader business objectives.
  3. P'unk Ave., a collaborative web design business et al., is devoting this month's semi-regular Junto get-together to the discussion of Persepolis. Bonus guest: Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Directory of the Free Library. Unlike the aforementioned happenings, this is a one time thing. Don't miss your chance to partake in a "friendly discussion" this Thursday at 6.
  4. All settled into their new location at 33 N. 3rd St., Foster's Homeware is tantalizing us yet again with their cooking classes and demos. Bimal Moktan of the Persian Grill will showcase the art of Persian cooking, delving into the flavors, ingredients, and preparations associated with traditional Persian cuisine. Can't wait until February 20th to taste his creations? Make your way out to Lafayette Hill, PA for an advanced screening.
So, we have one book, one city, tons of options. Hang out at small businesses to explore the depths of the story. Hit up the events at your local library to mingle with the neighbors. Frequent the city-wide celebrations to hobnob with folks from other parts of town. And, of course, read Persepolis to remind yourself of the global in your local.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tips on Turning Twitter Followers into Real Life Fans

Ever feel like you're a tree falling in the forest where nobody hears it? Twitter can make you feel like you're a tree falling in the middle of a forest where all the trees are falling at once. Who is going to pay attention to the noise you independently make?

It's still a new medium, and we're all still figuring it out. While some people still see the website as a noisy place where there's little real world application, some people have had success turning Twitter followers into physical paying customers and filled seats:

1) Offer some sort of good or service for Re-tweets. This can be free tickets for an upcoming event, a free session of one of your company's services. Twitter users are vocal about companies that they like. Once you turn one user into a physical, in-person client, their followers just might follow.

2) Offer exclusive deals on Twitter and publicize them elsewhere. Have a secret back stash of tickets to a sold-out event? Let your customers base know that there are tickets available on Twitter. Only link to the sale page from the account. You'll not only drive existing clients to your Twitter page, but you'll make your existing Twitter followers pay more attention to the deals you offer.

3) Organize a Tweet-up. Chances are that people who are very active in social media just might be, well, social. Here are some tips on running a successful Tweet-up.

4) High-touch Tweeting. Apply basic marketing principles to Twitter. Don't just tweet about your events for anyone who wants to hear it. Invite specific followers who you think may be interested. Look at their bios, and find a specific angle that might interest them. Everyone pays more attention to tweets that mention them than to their general feed.

Are these helpful? You might also want to check out our guide to Philly businesses using Twitter well.

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