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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How-To Conduct Successful Business Meetings

For many entrepreneurs, meetings are a constant part of the job. The list of people a business owner may have to consult with on a given day can be long: clients, vendors, employees, etc. Knowing the right politics of navigating these interactions can be helpful in building a good reputation for yourself as a business owner. Many people view meetings as a necessary evil in the business world, but it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some tips on how to structure your meetings and make sure every meeting is productive with no one's time being wasted.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

9 Questions to Ask your Customers

Running a successful business requires constant interaction with your customers. How do you know what you're doing wrong if you don't take the time to ask? How do you know what you can do better?

Fortunately, customer face-time is one of the many boons of small business. Your size makes you approachable to your customers and nimble enough to respond to their demands.

Before you can better your business, however, you need to ask the right questions--questions that get at your customers' buying habits, preferences, and values. The following list of 10 questions provides a jumping off point, but the sky's the limit. Whether it be a formal survey or casual conversation, you must evaluate the relationship between your business and the people who keep it afloat.

  1. How did you hear about us?
  2. When you were shopping for this product/service, what did you look for in a vendor?
  3. Did you consider other vendors/businesses? If so, who?
  4. What ultimately swayed you to patronize us? (A brochure? News article? Friend or colleague? Our website? Another online source? Something else?)
  5. Would you recommend our product/service to a friend or colleague?
  6. If our product/service didn't live up to your expectations, how can we improve?
  7. What other products or services do you wish my business offered?
  8. Do you shop online for similar products/services?
  9. What publications/blogs/websites do you most frequently read?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Philly Fridays

Before you even think about going out anywhere this weekend, think about how long it took this page to load in your internet browser. (Did you think about it?) How would you like it if the internet loaded a lot faster and was more accessible? (You'd like it, right?) Google is installing a Gigabit network in different cities around the U.S., that would accomplish just these things. How do they pick which cities? We have to beg for it. Before you go anywhere this weekend, submit your ideas about how and why Philadelphia needs this technology to Gigabit Philly

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This Week on the Web

This week on the web I've found a site that creates and overlays timelines and charts, an iPhone app to help you find free wifi nearby, and a Firefox extension that monitors your web browsing habits.

Preceden: I love making and looking at charts and graphs because they are so clearly communicative, but I've yet to find a service I really like. Excel has nothing on Preceden! Not only can you make timelines, charts, and graphs, but you can create them all in the same file for a quick and easy overlay. Next time you need to visualize how a lot of projects play out over time, try this site. What you create can be marked private or shared with team members.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

8 Do's and Don'ts When Talking to Insurance Agents

Insurance is probably one of the most important purchases you're going to make for your small business. So, finding a top notch agent should also be one of your priorities. But how will you know you can trust this person? Are you asking the right questions? What should your expectations be? Here are some simple do's and don'ts when interacting with insurance agents that should help you find the right one. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

4 Ways to Get Certified as a Minority or Woman-Owned Business

As of March 2010, the City of Philadelphia no longer certifies minority or woman-owned enterprises. Now, before you get all riled up, give Philly the benefit of the doubt--they're actually trying to make your life easier.

The City will now recognize certifications bestowed by other authorized agencies, thus saving you the hassle of multiple application processes (learn the rationale behind this move here).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Video Tour: Trick Zone

There's no proverbial Magic 8 Ball to tell you when and where to start a business. When traveling magician Seth Rovner started considering entrepreneurship, he stuck with basic ideas of supply and demand. "I saw a need. All the magic shops in Philly were closed," he recounted.

Seth saw an opening in the Piazza, the large outdoor development in Northern Liberties, and decided to open up shop in this up-and-coming neighborhood. Trick Zone opened on May 15 last year.

While his process followed basic business logic, Seth still had a few tricks up his sleeve. It took the budding entrepreneur a little while to figure out which products were popular and which marketing methods worked in his new location. He found success when he began cultivating local magic talent, and positioning his shop as a clubhouse for Philadelphia's magic community. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

Philly Fridays

It was Philadelphia's greatest entrepreneur, Benjamin Franklin, who wrote, "nothing is certain but death and taxes." This week we offered Philadelphians tips on preventing the former and simplifying the latter. It wasn't all heavy topics though, we also shows locals where to find both funding and great mosaic art here in Philly.

Sometimes finding great things (and postponing that inevitable death Ben Franklin warned about), requires early thinking. While we had our first extra warm days today, it's already time to start thinking about where you food comes from this produce season. Getting a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share is a great way to support local business and stay healthy all summer long. Check out these options in Philly: Lancaster Farm Fresh, Red Earth Farm, Wilmer's Organics, Greensgrow Farms, and Weavers Way Co-op

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This Week on the Web

This week on the web I've found an electronic way to stay motivated at work, 2 easy-to-use tax calculators, and an interesting experiment in linguistics and the way we search the internet.

Panic Board: Panic is a company that makes software solutions for Macs, like Transmit, Coda and Unison. Now, they've made something for their employees I envy: the Panic Board. An internal webpage, it displays what each team member is working on and how far along projects have come. Specifically, it "auto-updates support email queue numbers, how far along each company project is, day over day revenue comparisons, the company calendar, and Twitter messages." Wow! According to employees, productivity is way up. I would buy this software to keep me up to speed. Would you?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

8 Questions Entrepreneurs Should Answer Before Buying Health Insurance

Navigating the world of insurance can be complicated. There's a lot of new information to process and when it comes to health insurance making the wrong decisions could really affect you, your family, and your business. Owning your own business means you now have the entire responsibility of choosing and paying for your insurance plan. How will you know you're getting everything you need to know? Or if you're getting the best deal? Here are some guiding questions to ask yourself and an insurance agent when it comes to health insurance.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

10 Places to Seek Funding in Philadelphia

Finding financing in this economy is no easy task, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't consider what's out there. Your funding options as a Philadelphia entrepreneur are dictated by a number of different factors: your credit history, the age and status of our business, your industry, your personal background and your financial needs.

Do you need $500 for a new massage table or $25,000 for a new, dynamic website? Are you looking to start a new business or expand an existing one? Do you have any equipment to use as collateral? How's your credit history?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Entrepreneur Profile: Caresh Walker of Soul Purl 77

South Philly native Caresh Walker runs Soul Purl 77, a unique art store near the Italian Market. Two years ago, he took the steps to turn his passion into his career, and to revitalize the neighborhood where he grew up by opening a storefront. He has some great insights on making art profitable, developing healthy partnerships, and using professional networking for good in a creative field.

Caresh had been making stained glass art for years. As he grew more prolific, creating the stained glass windows and decorations from his kitchen table grew more and more challenging.

Caresh had teamed up with his friend Peter Javian before, but solely to make art. The pair worked together to create pieces they called "artificial artifacts," dealing with ephemera and found objects like old records, old newspaper clippings, and other antiques. The coupled their old time-y aesthetic with good modern business sensibility and worked together to open up a shop together.

The process took two long years of saving by selling their art and commissioning pieces. "It was the hardest part," explained Caresh, "we didn't want to borrow money from anyone." After much hard work, they finally opened the doors of Soul Purl 77 in August 2007.

Caresh and Peter have worked to keep costs down by using their network of friends and artists. They've divided up the shop's space, and let four other artists work out of the building as well. "There are five companies in that small space," he laughed.

Maintaining healthy business relationships and cross-promoting is important at the Purl. Caresh follows some practical strategies to help the artists benefit from each other. "We have monthly meetings to look at future goals, see where we are and make sure everyone is meeting expectations," he said. Another strategy the artists have adopted is meeting twice a month to see how they can work together and cross-promote each other's work.

Caresh has high hopes for the space and his neighborhood, "This part of the Italian Market was kind of barren, so we're glad to see it develop into a commercial venue. There aren't a lot of galleries around here. We figured we could be at the forefront of it, to bring other galleries in, or bring other arts in ourselves." With the Purl's collaborative model and commitment to its community, these goals are looking likely.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Philly Fridays

It's been a week of changes. Our website has been updated, complete with new resources for small business owners in Philly! The snow has been melting and it's been nice outside for once. Unfortunately, the weather's changing, switching to its rainy tendencies this weekend. While you could spend all weekend inside browing out new website features (it is pretty great!), you might just want to get off the couch a bit. Here are some ways to support local businesses (and avoid the rain by sticking indoors) this weekend:

You've been wanting to see Helena Bonham Carter's giant forehead star in Alice in Wonderland. Don't head off to the theater without having a tea party with friends first. Try out a shop in your neighborhood. Ones we love: The Random Tea Room, Tbar, The House of Tea, The Hill Tea Bar, and InFusion. Know of another place to grab tea in the city? Let us know in the comments.

Yes, we know that Saturday is calling for rain. We also know that it's time to start thinking about the outdoors. The cabin fever will just get worse if we don't start now. Here's the best bet: plan for the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby at Philadelphia Brewing Company. This meet & greet/raffle is a great opportunity to meet people in your neighborhood, get involved in this fun event, and have some delicious local beer.

We're ending with some sad news about Sunday. The date is 3-14, hence Pi Day, and the only appropriate way to celebrate is to eat pie. Sadly, our January Women Entrepreneurs' CircleSweetie's Pie Diner, is closing its doors. This is the last chance to get delicious pies in their Spring Garden location, although they'll still be taking special orders. Proceeds from the day are going to charity. host,

Thursday, March 11, 2010

This Week on the Web

This week on the web I've found a free proofreading service, a community news aggregator, tons of things people will do for $5, and an interesting visualization of the spread of the internet.

Paper Rater: Writing doesn't come naturally to everyone, but its imperative for your success that the writing you produce for your business is clear, concise and coherent. That goes for your business plan, not to mention every letter you send and every piece of marketing collateral you design. Not only does Paper Rater check your pieces for grammatical and spelling errors, but this free site also detects plagiarism and offers suggestions to improve your word choices, style and vocabulary.  As if that isn't enough, visit their Vocabulary Builder to learn new words.

Every Block: Every Block exists to answer one question: "What's happening in my neighborhood?" And they do it so well! I've been addicted to Every Block for a little more than a year, and I have feeds set up so that I can "watch" the areas I spend a lot of time: near my apartment and near my office. Nearly every time I log in to my GoogleReader, I'm greeted with civic information, articles & blog posts, announcements, Yelp reviews and photos that are specific to the addresses I watch. Lately I've seen a lot of Flower Show photos (my apartment is very close to the Convention Center) and discovered that one of my favorite watering holes was damaged by a fire. Set up alerts for your neighborhood to stay in the know!

Fiverr: By far, Fiverr is my favorite web discovery this week. The concept is simple: things people will do for $5. Anyone can create a free account, post services they'll offer for $5 and hope for a client. You can also browse what others are offering for $5, and Fiverr has it broken down into different categories, like business or technology. Some of the services offered are a little silly (I'll call your boss in the middle of the night), but many are legitimate (I'll proofread and copy-edit your resume). What would you do for $5?

Visualizing Internet Usage: Every wonder how internet usage spread across the globe? Wonder no more.

The pure quantity of fabulous tools floating around on the web never ceases to amaze. So many of them can be manipulated to build up your business brainstorms, grow your sales and get a handle on your day-to-day operations. For more web-based tools, check out past "This Week on the Web" posts.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

13 Types of Insurance for Small Business

1. General Liability (required): This type of insurance covers any legal problems that arise from injury, accidents, and claims of negligence. These policies will protect against any fees that accrue from bodily injury, property damage, medical expenses, libel, slander the cost of defending lawsuits, and settlement bonds or judgments required during an appeal procedure.

2. Worker’s Compensation (required): If you have at least one part-time or full-time employee, this insurance will cover medical and rehabilitation costs if they are injured while working. There are three components that can be included in a worker’s compensation policy. One covers any medical bills and lost wages by the employee. The second covers the business owner’s liability in case of a lawsuit against them is filed. The last component, which is optional, is called practices liability which protects against lawsuits pertaining to sexual harassment, discrimination, etc.

3. Commercial Property Insurance (required):
This insurance is needed if you own any type of property for your business such as a storefront, warehouse, or office. This will cover a wide variety of property damage due to fire, smoke, storms, civil disobedience, and vandalism. These policies come in two forms: 1) all-risk policies that cover a wide range of damages barring any specific ones noted in the policy and 2) peril-specific policies that cover damages only listed directly in the policy. All-risk policies would cover any general problems an average small business might face, will peril-specific policies may be more appropriate in certain locations. Consult with an insurance agent to figure out which works best for you business.

4. Auto Insurance (required): If your business uses any type of vehicle for deliveries or provides cars for employees you’ll have to get auto insurance. This is basically the same as it would be for your own personal vehicle. Make sure you pay attention to the state minimum you’ll need to get because it may be much less than you actually need

5. Product Liability (optional): Any business that manufactures, distributes, designs, and retails a product is liable for its safety. The amount of insurance purchased depends on how dangerous a product could potentially be. Purchasing this insurance will cover any financial loss from your product being defective or causing bodily harm.

6. Professional Liability (optional):
If your business is offering service of any kind, you should consider purchasing professional liability insurance. This insurance will be helpful if a client alleges they have suffered a financial loss as a result of an error or an omission committed by you in the delivery of your professional services. This type of insurance covers malpractice, errors, and negligence.

7. Home-Based Business Insurance (optional): Even businesses run out of your own personal home need insurance. Homeowner’s insurance does not cover any losses due to a home-based business.

8. Internet Business Insurance (optional): While doing business online seems safe, you’re still exposed to damages from hackers and viruses. This type of e-insurance also protects you from internet-specific lawsuits such as electronic copyright infringement and advertising problems.

9. Umbrella Coverage (optional):
This is an extra layer of protection that covers you if something happens that exceeds the amount of your existing coverage.

10. Business Interruption (optional): This insurance is used if your business is unable to work due to a natural disaster, construction, or any other event that may put your business out of commission for days or months. This will protect you against loss of profits during these times.

11. Criminal Insurance (optional): No matter what type of security measures you take for your place of business, theft and crime are always a concern. This type of insurance will cover any outside theft, but also internal theft by employees. Losses in this area are much more common than most business owners think.

12. Event Insurance (optional):
If you own a catering business or have a business where you work off-site often it is a great idea to purchase event insurance. This type of insurance can be added on to your liability policy and covers any accidents that occur on the site.

13. Life Insurance (optional): Life insurance can be a great asset to you as a business owner. It may help with getting loans from a bank since a life insurance policy can be used as collateral. It will also ensure that your family or business partner will be able to handle your business if something happens to you.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Philly Itinerary Challenge: Planning a Weekend Visit for my Baby Boomer Suburban Parents

Next weekend, my parents are coming down from Massachusetts (my birthplace) to visit my adopted home of Philadelphia, PA. Hooray! But what's the sub-text? I need to craft a weekend-long "Best of Philly" experience to remind my parents why it's OK that I'm not moving back to some second-rate New England city.

Plans for out-of-town guests always require a little brainstorming, as I can't very well expect them to accompany me in my normal life (bars, sandwich shops, and X-Files). And then there's the whole parents piece--parents generally don't want to get pretzels at 1 in the morning. Then, there's the unique challenge of pleasing MY parents--two people who belong in an SAT-style analogy (Robin:Ray::Shopping for boots:Playing Settlers of Catan). That is to say, they don't have much in common.

So, here's the challenge: find things to do in Philly that showcase its greatness and appeal to two people in their mid-fifties with incredibly disparate interests. And go.

The Itinerary

Reading Terminal Market. Of course. It's a wonderland of food, local history, and hustle/bustle. As Phoodie recently noted, last year--the year of business armageddon--was the biggest year in the Market's 118-year history. Both the volume of visitors and the vendor sales witnessed a statistically significant boost.

Why? Because RTM does a fantastic job of making people, tourists and natives alike, want to visit. Through its classes, tours, group specials, and diversity of resources, the Market has created a resilient community around its small businesses. Which is why we asked Reading Terminal to host the closing event of Entrepreneurship Week--"Corner Stores as Cornerstones". They graciously accepted.

Next up: Home Sweet Homebrew. Okay, so maybe my mom's not crazy about this hoppin' beer haven, but my dad thinks it's legit. Plus, any store with over-sized, over-loved resident cats deserves a spot on the Philly A-List. Here's looking at you, Foodery (10th and Pine location). Plus, the Mrs. can spend the time perusing the racks at nearby Philadelphia Vintage. There's nothing like a fashionable ensemble to convince my mom that I can make it in this city.

And what did I say about boot shopping and Settlers of Catan? Yup, we can swing that. My mom can explore the vintage footwear at the Puss in Boots Boutique, while the rest of us enjoy some nerdy gaming in the ever-welcoming Mazag Cafe. Potent coffee and a delightful mother/daughter duo serve as a perfect complement to boardgame-inspired temper tantrums.

Chances are though, I won't make an itinerary, mostly because I don't need one. We could walk 5-block concentric circles around my apartment (10th and Snyder vicinity) and still wow the folks. Plus, I think it makes my parents a little nervous when I get too involved in the lists and the maps.

But just in case: what small businesses do you choose when you want to show off Philly?

Monday, March 8, 2010

19 Books All Entrepreneurs Should Read

Entrepreneurship & Stories About Entrepreneurs  
1. The Secret of Success Is Not a Secret: Stories of Famous People Who Persevered by Darcy Andries.
2. The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber.
3. Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives by Christopher Gergen and Gregg Venourek
4. Starting From Scratch: Secrets from 21 Ordinary People Who Made the Entrepreneurial Leap by Wes Moss
5. The Entrepreneur Next Door by Bill Wagner 

Inspiration for Starting & Growing
6. Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden
7. 8 Patterns of Highly Effective Entrepreneurs by Brent Bowers
8. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
9. The Top 10 Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Class by Keith Cameron Smith 
15. 10 + 1: The Creative Economy Marketing Equation by Peter Abramo, Ph. D. and Michael Edmondson

16. Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance for Entrepreneurs by Peter Sander and J. Jeffrey Lambert


Friday, March 5, 2010

Philly Fridays

Spring is in the air! It's time to step outside. Leave your house and head straight for a small business. I highly recommend that you hop on SEPTA this weekend too! Our Entrepreneurship Week advertisements are going up.

Look for the quality photos of Hal Real (World Cafe Live), Ken Weinstein (Trolley Car Diner), Shana Kennedy (Philadelphia School of Circus Arts), Afshin Kaighobady (PHEW! Philly Electric Wheels), and Todd Decato (Volpe Cycles) all taken by talented photographer and former Empowerment Group client Jenna Stamm.

How should you support small business this week? To start, First Friday is this weekend and there are a bunch of different galleries to choose from:

There's no reason to stop with the local support on Saturday.

If you didn't get enough art on Friday, head down to South Philly Three local ladies are opening up The Purl (a Daily Candy pick this week!). This quirky shop offers handmade paintings, jewelry, and other art.

Also check out new, affordable dining. Two of Philly's fine restaurants are offering more recession-friendly alternatives. Sonata in Northern Liberties added a brunch menu. Xochitl in Society Hill reopened their restaurant with a cheaper, still tasty and intriguing menu. Or keep it even cheaper and meet some new people; Bella Sera (a new vegan cafe in Fishtown who we wrote about), is hosting a vegan potluck.

On Sunday you can show South Philly some love with beer, barbecue, and bowling.

Yes, it's an exhausting weekend ahead for local business enthusiasts. Keep one more deadline in mind: March 15. It's the last day to apply for the Greensgrow Farms CSA. Sign up quickly. The spots fill fast, and remember, you might be saving the world.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

This Week on the Web

I never cease to be amazed by the pure quantity of fabulous tools floating around on the web. So many of them can be manipulated to build up your business brainstorms, grow your sales and get a handle on your day-to-day operations. So, from here on out I'm going to try something new: a once a week post with 3 of my favorite finds on the web. Without further adieu...

1. 750 Words:The potential of this web app is semi-unparalleled in my mind. Every day (or as often as you can... maybe try Habit Forge if you can't remember to do it), you write 750 words. They recommend stream of consciousness, writing what's on your mind, as it comes, edit free. I also recommend stream of consciousness for this experiment. Personally, I'm going to start using it and write each day about three things: My City, My Life, My Work. After I write my 750 words in the web app, it'll analyze how long it took me to write, what words I used a lot, and what I wrote about. I'm considering it a personal experiment to gauge my feelings on the day-to-day, but entrepreneurs could use it to hone in on their favorite business idea or discover their attitudes about certain products, services, and even other businesses. And don't worry: it's all private.

2. Deep House Cat Show Logo Design: I've been doing a lot of graphic design work lately, both for EG and my freelance clients, and I find myself often thinking, "They just don't understand how long it takes!" Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm wrong, but this is one example of the iterations a logo design can go through before coming up with a final cut.

3. Shopping Online v. Shopping In-store:
Still trying to decide if your business should be based online or in-store? This infographic breaks online sales vs. brick and mortar sales in a delightfully visual way, and can help guide you to the right type of business structure. Some of the categories aren't such a shock (say, music, for example), but some did surprise: more food, beer and wine is purchase online than in-store. I leave you all with this question: is the gap sales online v. in-store for drugs and health aids an entrepreneurial opportunity or a clear sign that the web and medicine don't mix?

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