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Here's how to transform an endless complaint into a workable plan of action.
About a year ago, I pointed out that the words "I will try..." mean that person using those words is secretly planning to fail. (And, yes, I did quote Yoda in the post.)
Earlier today, a colleague of mine (the management consultant Sylvia LaFair) pointed out two additional words that also guarantee failure:
Bosses hate hearing those two words because employees use them to reject good advice that they don't want to hear. It works like this:
The back-and-forth continues until one of two things happens:
Neither of those outcomes is ideal. Fortunately, there's an easy way for bosses to avoid the "Yeah, but..." syndrome:1. Get the entire complaint on the table.
When an employee comes in with a complaint, don't leap immediately to providing your advice, even if the solution seems obvious to you. Instead, ask a few questions that flesh out the complaint, especially questions that surface how the employee feels about the situation. Examples:
- When you think about this what else comes in your mind?
- What drove you to bring this to my attention right now?
- How would you feel if we could come up with a workable solution?
Getting everything on the table makes it more difficult for the complaint to dribble out in a series of "Yeah, but..." responses.2. Ask the employee how he or she would solve the problem.
Note that the complaint is now a problem, which implies that there is a solution.
In most cases, simply getting the entire problem onto the table will help the employee to see what he or she needs to do to address the problem, even if it's just something like "suck it up and move on."
In some cases, the employee will say: "I don't know what to do." If this happens, respond with, "Well, if you did know what to do, what would that be?" This restatement of the question can often "short-circuit" self-defeating mental helplessness.
In either case, listen quietly to whatever the employee has to say, then move to Step 3.
If the employee remains stuck on "I don't know," say something like, "I can tell you're really frustrated." Then move to Step 3.3. Provide your best advice.
Start by saying something like this: "I am now going to give you my opinion of how we should address this problem. After I give you my opinion, I'm willing to answer questions about how we might implement it, but that's all."
Provide your best advice, incorporating (when practical) whatever suggestions the employee surfaced in Step 2. Then ask: "Any questions?"
If the employee responds with implementation questions, answer them to the best of your ability.
However, if the employee starts explaining why your advice won't work (aka "Yeah, but..."), hold up your hands, palm outwards, and say: "That's my best advice. I'd like you to try it for [period of time] and if, after you've made that effort, we can revisit the issue then."
End the meeting or move onto another topic.Why This Works
The process above allows you and the employee to turn complaints into problems and find possible solutions to those problems. It draws upon the creativity of the employee both to understand the entire problem and to devise a workable solution.
Worst case, the process ends with "that's my best advice." While that's functionally similar to "Just do what I say, dammit," it's less likely to create resentment, especially when the employee feels that he or she has been "heard out."
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Is the Twitter reaction to earth shattering TV moments more than just noise? Networks and advertisers should probably pay attention.
When a momentous television event takes place like, say, (spoiler alert) Cousin Matthew’s tragic end on Downton Abbey or Seth MacFarlane’s boob song at the Oscars, you can be sure the Twittersphere lights up with reaction.
And apparently, now there is evidence of a direct correlation between Twitter chatter and TV ratings, according to a recent study by Nielsen and SocialGuide.
The study found that premiere TV episodes which saw an 8.5 percent increase in related Twitter activity also saw a 1 percent increase in TV program ratings among 18 to 34 year olds.
Among 35 to 49 year olds, a 14 percent increase in Twitter volume was needed to boost ratings 1 percent--an indication that there's a stronger relationship between Twitter and television ratings for younger audiences.
The study also found that later in a TV program's season, the relationship between Twitter and its ratings strengthened for both groups. In the middle of the season, a Twitter volume increase of 4.2 percent among 18 to 34 year olds and 8.4 percent among 35 to 49 year olds corresponded with a 1 percent increase in ratings for both groups.
Twitter also drove more of the variance in ratings than did advertising spending, according to the study.
A previous internal Nielsen study on the 2011 TV season suggested that the relationship between Twitter and television ratings reached its peak during a show’s finale.
Kickstarter and Indiegogo have helped spawn a new generation of niche crowdfunding sites for everything from scientists to community organizers.
Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo win hands down as the crowdfunding platforms that get the most attention and mind share of entrepreneurs and creative types. But they're not the only options out there--a slew of new, niche crowdfunding sites let the masses invest in everything from high-level academic research to neighborhood garden projects.
Sites like Microryza, Petridish, and Iamscientist now offer crowdfunding platforms exclusively for scientific research. Academics post their proposed research with a budget goal, and ask the public to fund projects that most appeal to them, side stepping the often lengthy process of applying for grant money through academic channels.
Critics of the scientific research crowdfunding model argue that the denominations earned from crowdfunding on sites like Microryza and Petridish add up to only small change--and they might be right. Government research grants range anywhere from $25,000 to $500,000; crowdfunded projects range from closer to $500 to $5,000.
But the sheer number of projects hosted by the new research sites hint that perhaps a little seed money is all some scientists need. Projects like paleontologist David Hone's research exploring whether giant Tyrannosauruses were cannibalistic, and archeologist Adrianne Daggett's investigation of pre-historic Kalahari desert settlements have already recieved funding through the sites--each for less than $4,000. In return for donating, these sites offer perks like early access to findings and souvenirs from the field, among other things.
Want to raise money for a cause, not a company? Sites like GoFundMe, Razoo, and Crowdrise are making that possible. On Razoo, individuals can raise money for the organization of their choice, while sites like GoFundMe and Crowdrise allow people to set up fundraising accounts for any number of projects.
Popular choices appear to be wedding gift registries for charity, memorial funds, birthday gifts for charity, and creative fundraisers put on by individuals for the organization of their choice.
For example, David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Obama, recently raised over $1 million--and shaved off his mustache--for a Crowdrise fundraiser benefiting Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy.
Ioby provides a venue for environmentally focused local projects, like community gardens or neighborhood clean-ups, and has helped to fund 178 projects to date. It also allows project organizers to crowdsource another valuable resource: volunteers.
Cause to Fund, on the other hand, offers a wider range of location-specific endeavors--like the Tampa, Florida-based nonprofit Hannah's Homeless, which raised over $2,000 in November.
The younger generation is taking over, but the founding father is averse to their growth strategy. Is an outside investor the answer?
Four years ago, I took over operations of my father's company. I changed the business model and doubled our sales. Two years ago, my father agreed to sell 60 percent of the business to me and my brother-in-law, our head of IT. My father, who no longer works here, will retain 40 percent of the stock. The problem: We have different visions for the company. My brother-in-law and I are eager to grow the business to its full potential. My father doesn't want to spend his retirement fund on that or let us fund it with bank debt. Our daily battles over this are hard to bear. How can I find an investor to buy my father out and supply the needed cash without jeopardizing the family relationship?
--Peter Sauer, Vice President of Operations, Educational Sales, Tempe, Arizona
Entrepreneurs often fantasize about a white-knight investor coming in to rescue them from a difficult situation. Unfortunately, such fantasies often omit the fact that investors tend to have their own needs and priorities, which may or may not coincide with yours a year or two from now, even if they seem to align perfectly today.
Granted, you sometimes have no alternative but to seek outside equity, but Peter Sauer is not in that position. His company is in great shape, with strong earnings, no debt, access to bank credit, and good growth opportunities. All that's stopping him is his father's aversion to debt. That problem could be solved if his father would agree to sell Peter and his brother-in-law the remaining 40 percent of company stock, to be paid for over time out of profits. They could minimize his risk by agreeing that he could take the company back if they failed to make their payments.
I suspect that's what Peter's father wants, in any case. Why else would he be letting them buy 60 percent of the stock? Peter and his brother-in-law should at least offer him a choice--agree to such a plan or give them permission to seek an investor to buy him out. My guess is that he would greatly prefer the former. Selling to people you know is always better than selling to a stranger, whom you won't really know until you've worked together for a year or two. Peter agreed it was worth a shot and promised to let us know what happens.
Dale Carlsen, founder of the Sleep Train, says his company's profits have grown 600 percent since he gave 25 percent of it to his employees.
A recent study outlines online channel and social media activity for 33 different industries.
It's every digital marketer's dream to be present at the exact moment when people begin to discuss your brand's products and services online. It provides a chance to educate, entertain, or solve problems for people within your target persona groups. This is a difficult proposition, however, if you don't know where your prospects hang out on a regular basis.
Understanding where your target personas hang out typically takes a lot of research and exploration. But a recent e-book by Hubspot, the Online Marketing Opportunity Report, can help marketers answer this question by compiling data from conversations in social media, the blogosphere and search engines for 33 different industries.Overall Online Activity by Industry
Where is the most online activity taking place in your industry between search, social media, and the blogosphere? Using a proprietary algorithm, HubSpot analyzed data for 33 keywords that describe some common industries. These data points were compiled into online activity graphs that illustrate where the conversations are taking place.
Overall Online Activity by Channel
Social Media Activity by Industry
The Online Marketing Opportunity Report breaks up the social media segment into the top four social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. The data is also segmented across the same 33 industries.How to Interpret the Online Activity Charts
This is very powerful information--but it's only a relative measurement of online activity for any of the 33 industries from the report. These graphs display trends, not exact numbers. HubSpot is also quick to remind the reader that the most active areas for each industry may not always be the most lucrative, as a "road less traveled" strategy may prove more successful in some cases.Formulate a Strategy for Each Channel
This is an intense--and probably the most important--chapter of the e-book. The social media section gives strategic advice for each of the big four social media platforms listed in the Social Media Activity graph. The blog section outlines how to target users through search engine results and RSS feeds. The search section is brief and suggests reading the 2011 Online Marketing Blueprint for full details on targeting users in the search segment.Industry Opportunity Analysis
The absolute activity figures for each marketing segment (search, social media, and blogs) are provided for each industry in the appendix of the e-book. These data include monthly search traffic, blog posts per month, tweets per month, Facebook fan bases, LinkedIn groups, and YouTube video statistics for each of the 33 industries. Relative competitive measurements (on a scale of 0-100) are also provided for each marketing segment. Combining these data can help marketers find the online marketing channel with optimal mix of activity and competition that works for their specific organization.
I found the Online Marketing Opportunity Report to be very informative. It can be the best fit for digital marketers who have had difficulty locating industry conversations and activity online. Use the findings in the e-book to get the jumpstart you need to find online conversations happening in your industry.
Do you think of manufacturing as dirty, noisy assembly lines? You have a lot of catching up to do. I recently visited two bright, innovative, efficient shops.
When people talk about manufacturing these days--assuming they're not talking about 3D printing--they mostly imagine old-fashioned assembly lines, noise and monotonous, repetitive work. Of course there are still some sites like that, but two manufacturing plants I visited recently were anything but. These were quiet, attentive, clean places, full of thoughtful, creative people.
The first factory, in Sheffield, England, was part of a growing multinational engineering firm called Gripple. The company makes suspension devices and cable for anything you might choose to hang from a ceiling or a roof: lights, heating ducts, signs. The company is endlessly inventive--in any one year, 25 percent of its products are brand new. And much of that innovation derives from people in the factory who think of new designs or uses for the products they make.
Far from the dehumanizing shed of automatons, the Gripple factory floor is bright, open, and beautiful. It sits inside a 19th century gun factory and is all red brick and brightly-painted ironwork. Upstairs I saw break-out rooms where product teams regularly brainstorm new ideas or applications for the gripples they make. Staff here choose their hours and their vacation times; there is no HR department, and there aren't any forms. Colleagues trust each other to deliver and those who don't rarely have to be fired; surrounded by highly-motivated, creative people, shirkers choose to leave.
A few months later, I visited one of the Scotland offices of W.L. Gore. Many of the same features struck me: the quiet intent and concentration, the steady heartbeat of work. At Gore, people choose what to work on and when. Delicate instruments for heart surgery are meticulously assembled in an atmosphere of calm productivity. Self-managed teams, with discretionary time for their own projects, are at the heart of Gore's famed creativity.
I reflect on these two visits now because, in the clamor to return manufacturing jobs to the United States, an image has grown up which implies that this is necessarily low-level, low-skilled work which receives only low pay. Nothing could be further from the truth. Gripple and W.l. Gore are renowned for their creativity and innovation--much of which comes from their teams' detailed understanding of every aspect of their highly complex products. When you outsource manufacturing, you lose that precious feedback loop. What you (might) gain in profit you lose in collective intelligence.
Let's be careful not to sentimentalize manufacturing. Much of it is dull and boring and some of it is dirty. But if making things is your business, there is only way to improve: be there.
If you've registered lately to do work for the federal government, check your bank accounts: A software bug may have put you at risk.
As any entrepreneur who's done it knows, there's a lot of work to be had via federal contracts. If you get a foot in the door, it can turn into a great base of business. But if you have signed up as a potential contractor recently, take note: A glitch in the General Services Administration's main software application may have exposed your sensitive financial information earlier this month.
The GSA reported that a software problem found in early March allowed some users of the System for Award Management (SAM), a main software application for contractors, to see others' public or private data. The exposed information included tax payer IDs as well as bank account numbers for direct deposit of payments when they came due.
About 183,000 individuals who were listed on the SAM system used their Social Security numbers as a tax ID. Companies would have listed an Employer Identification Number. The GSA has yet to release details of how many individuals might have used an EIN, but still provided bank details, nor how many companies were registered.
The danger for a sole practitioner is easy to see, A person who has your SSN, name, address, and other such information can impersonate you and then get credit and incur debt in your name. Bank information makes it relatively easy for someone to drain your account of money.
But even if you've registered with company information rather than personal, you can't breathe easily. Few people realize that identity thieves can use similar techniques to pretend they represent companies and then cause similar types of financial damage.
Individuals who registered as contractors and used their Social Security numbers as tax IDs are supposed to have received an email explaining the availability of credit monitoring services. Unfortunately, that alone is inadequate to avoid problems. Not all credit transactions are reported to the three major credit agencies and, by the time they are, damage may already be done. Those who are at risk should strongly consider filing a formal credit freeze, which can stop a criminal from completing a credit application in your name.
Unfortunately, the options that the GSA has offered companies come down to recommending "that you monitor your bank accounts and notify your financial institution immediately if you find any discrepancies."
As most banks have anti-fraud groups, it would be prudent to contact the appropriate one, explain the problem, and ask for their suggestions on how to effectively manage the issue.
You might also consider doing some research into identity theft and the steps you can take. Although I have no financial interest in this book, I was the editor for the Complete Idiot's Guide to Recovering from Identity Theft and would suggest that as a starting point. Identity theft, whether the victim is an individual or a company, can become a massive problem and take a long time to unravel.
For backers of crowd-funded physical products, the mantra has always been 'buyer-beware.' Here's how a new crowdfunding site, Crowd Supply, seeks to fix that problem.
About two months ago, I wrote about about Seth Quest, an ordinary guy--a designer--who came up with an idea for a funky iPad stand called the Hanfree. Without the funding to make his product a reality, he posted his idea on Kickstarter. There, with just a few mock-up pictures of what the product would theoretically look like, Quest raised $35,000 to manufacture the Hanfree. After that, things pretty much went downhill.
Quest told me that negotiations with his overseas manufacturers soured. Then, his co-founders held the design files hostage. Finally, when months passed without being able to ship a product, his backers sued him, forcing Quest into bankrupcy.
"Your backers can give you massive support, but they can also tear you down if you fail," Quest told me.
The story was meant as allegory for Kickstarter's growing pains as a crowdfunding platform for physical goods, which can be incredibly complex to manufacture with any sort of scale--especially for a first-time entrepreneur. Kickstarter knows this is a problem. Shortly after the lawsuit, the Kickstarter's founders issued a blog post titled "Kickstarter is Not a Store," and added a cautionary tagline, "Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator's ability to complete their project," that now appears on-screen before any pledge is made.
Now one entrepreneur is launching a crowdfunding site that could become the de facto platform for product development, and a marked improvement over Kickstarter's laissez-faire attitude toward its creators.
Crowd Supply, launched Wednesday morning by Lou Doctor, an engineer-turned-serial-entrepreneur, makes a significant departure from the Kickstarter crowdfunding model. Unlike Kickstarter, Crowd Supply partners with its project creators from Day One to bring products into production. For example, Crowd Supply's staff--a team of six engineers based in Portland, Oregon--actually work with project creators, offering assistance on everything from engineering advice to crafting a production plan. For its work, Crowd Supply takes a 5 percent fee.
"We're looking for innoavtive and transformative products for the markets they serve," Doctor says. He understands the challenges of product development and e-commerce, too. Before launching Crowd Supply, Doctor held a variety of roles in the start-up world, including president of both GolfClubs.com and Billiards.com. He's also a managing partner at Horizon Partners, a boutique investment banking firm.
But ultimately it comes down to proper dilligence, Doctor says.
"What we're trying to avoid is someone who comes to us with a $100,000 funding goal, but who actually needs $500,000 needed to make it happen," he says. "We won't launch a project where, even if it met its funding goal, it still couldn't be delivered."
The site launched with 12 projects--including a dog collar, a bike frame, and a padded shirt-jacket. A year from now, Doctor believes Crowd Supply, which has raised $500,000 from several angel investors in Portland, will have carved a niche for itself as the go-to crowdfunding site for tangible goods.
Another distuingishing feature of Crowd Supply is its attitude towards e-commerce. Unlike Kickstarter, Crowd Supply has built a powerful sales component integrated directly into the site. So, in theory, once a project gets funded, its project page could transition into a traditional e-commerce page, and Crowd Supply would become the vendor for that product.
"Included in the back-end system is essentially a warehouse system," Doctor says. "The front-end is just the tip of the iceberg. The back-end is really an enterprise platform."
Ultimately, Doctor recognizes the crowdfunding market is, well, crowded--with literally thousands of sites offering entrepreneurs with an idea the chance to raise money. But, he also thinks it is still a growing marketplace.
"Some people look at [crowd funding] as a bubble," Doctor says. "I see it as a larger trend in product development."
Sooner or later, prospective buyers will need to verify your company's financials--and that's when the time and effort you invest in good bookkeeping starts to really pay off.
Tax season. It's the time of year business owner's dread. Writing a check to the IRS is never fun, but the process of sorting through receipts and compiling coherent financial reports can be excruciating--unless you have done a decent job maintaining your financial records throughout the year. With good bookkeeping, tax preparation can be a relatively painless process.
From a bookkeeping perspective, selling a business is similar to tax season. The more time and energy you invest in maintaining good financial records before the sale, the easier it will be to prepare required financial documents and accurately present your business to buyers.
Solid financial records are a critical part of the sale process because your company's financials will either validate or disprove the claims you present to sellers. For example, if you tell buyers that the business has a five-year track record of year-over-year growth, you better be able to provide earnings statements and balance sheets that support the company's growth trend.
Understandably, shoddy or incomplete financial records raise red flags for potential buyers. Typically, sellers who lack proper financial records experience longer selling cycles and receive lower prices for their companies than those who are meticulous about bookkeeping and financial reporting.
Even if you don't plan to sell your business for several years, you have a lot riding on the quality of your bookkeeping and financial reporting routines. Here are a few tips to help you prepare your books for a sale--whenever the sale occurs.
1. Prioritize investments in bookkeeping and financial recordkeeping.
Small business owners wear many hats in their organizations and it's easy to push bookkeeping responsibilities to the backburner. But what many business owners don't realize is that poor financial records have a bottom line cost, both at tax time and when the business is sold. If you don't have the time or skills to maintain your company's financial records yourself, invest in a part-time bookkeeper and/or accounting solution to ensure the integrity of your financial records.
2. Organize financial documents early in the sale process.
Perception is everything in a business sale. If your financials aren't prepared and formatted for the marketplace, buyers may begin to question whether the business is a good candidate for acquisition. For sellers, it's essential to begin the organization of financial documents early in the process and to avoid taking the business to market until all relevant financial records are in place.
3. Create a high-quality financial records package for buyers.
Present buyers with a well-organized package of high-quality financial documents that contains key information about the business (e.g. inventory and staff lists, a current client list, tax returns, etc.). To determine and assemble the right financial documents package for your company in your situation, speak with your business broker or accountant. However, here are some of the documentation records that are universal to nearly every business sale:
- Current and past financial statements
- Records of business purchases and bills of sale
- Statement of seller's discretionary earnings or cash flow
- Financial ratios and trends
- Accounts payable/accounts receivable reports
- Non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements
- Marketing plans and samples of marketing material
Good books are the sign of a well-managed business. By maintaining financial records on a consistent basis and preparing a first-rate financial package for buyers, you can project confidence in your business skills and assure buyers that your business is worth every penny.
Do you have a great idea but intimidated by the difficulties of getting started? Here are three ways crowdfunding can help you.
If you have ever birthed a new idea, you undoubtedly are familiar with the immense headache involved with getting it to market. The patent process can cost tens of thousands of dollars, take years to finish, and more than likely will result in something altogether different than when you started (if it results in anything at all). Prototypes, packaging, and samples must be developed and often at the expense of a second mortgage. If you make it that far, you then need to negotiate valuable real estate (shelf space) with retailers, and with a new and unproven product, you start with zero leverage.
Yes, getting a product to market is not easy.
Our company, Wild Creations, is a product development company in the toy, game, and gift industry. In very few other industries is getting a new product to market more difficult. It is painstakingly time consuming and costly, and negotiating with large retailers like Walmart, Target, and Toys-R-Us that control the overwhelming majority of available consumer shelf space is no easy task. For these reasons, I have seen a great number of wonderful inventions in our industry never make it to market, depriving consumers of hours of immense fun and joy.
As a dad (and a kid at heart), I include myself in this group of deprived consumers.
So, what options do developers have? Until recently, there hasn't been one. One increasingly popular strategy, however, is starting to offer aspiring entrepreneurs an alternative to the start-up status quo--crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding is the practice of tapping a huge community of individuals, typically online, to fund financially new products or services. It is actually quite simple. An idea for a product or service is submitted on a crowdfunding site as a "campaign" with a detailed description and fundraising goal. Campaigns often include a video demonstrating the project and the market need and a clearly defined call to action, or "ask." The "ask" is typically financial, has several levels of contribution, and is "reward based," meaning that when someone contributes to the project, he or she receives something in return. For example, if a campaign is trying to raise money for a new product, a typical reward is one of the first products to be produced. The more money an individual contributes, the more valuable the reward.
Crowdfunding is not without its detractors, who often express the fear of a product or service being knocked off or hijacked by competition. These fears are warranted to some extent, and no campaign should be engaged without proper due diligence. With that said, however, entrepreneurs need to understand that crowdfunding is revolutionizing how start-ups and entrepreneurs get started because of three, simple benefits:1. Build Awareness
Building a community of supporters is one of the most difficult things to do for a new brand or company. Social media has made this easier, but having a crowdfunding campaign taps an entirely unique community of individuals who are specifically looking for new ideas. Additionally, most crowdfunding sites are tightly integrated with social media sites with easy share links, allowing for rapid dissemination. A well planned, designed, and executed campaign can build a massive following in a matter of days.2. Develop Proof of Concept
If a product meets its fundraising goal successfully, it receives the money that has been pledged. More importantly, the concept gains instant credibility and leverage. It is much easier to negotiate with manufacturers, licensees, and retailers when a product has established demand and a following. An unsuccessful campaign is also useful. Although no money is exchanged, the experience can be used to either improve the concept or scrap it altogether, potentially saving a great deal of money.
The primary reason for crowdfunding is to raise all-important capital needed to get started. If a campaign is managed properly and can meet its goals, it greatly alleviates the financial burden typically associated with a brand new product concept. This is not to be taken lightly, as there are ramifications for not meeting your obligations once funded, but a start-up that proves it can manage the process will find it easier in the future to fund new ideas.
In light of the fact that crowdfunding is still relatively new and not widely recognized, Crowdsourcing.org reports that over 450 crowdfunding sites successfully funded over $1.5 billion in campaigns in 2011. The leading crowdfunding sights are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and RocketHub, though a great many other sites focus on specific locations (regional or community based) or types of projects (for-profit or charitable). Some sites are dedicated to specific industries, such as Jumpoff.co, which focuses on kid-related products and projects by young entrepreneurs.
Sorry, shameless plug. I wouldn't be an entrepreneur if I didn't.
I am a big fan of crowdfunding as the future of new product introductions. I believe it will lower many of the prohibitive barriers to entry that often shut out great ideas. It is not all cheesecake and strawberries (easy), and a significant amount of work and due diligence is required to make a campaign successful. With that said, I am hopeful that crowdfunding will continue to inspire start-ups and entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and bring fantastic, new products to market.
As a dad (and a kid at heart), I am very hopeful!
Do you have a crowdfunding story that other aspiring entrepreneurs could benefit from? Please share below.
The amount spent on local advertising will increase 12.3 percent and the amount spent on digital advertising will double by 2017, according to a study by BIA/Kelsey.
It’s no secret that advertising is going digital thanks to effectiveness of online and mobile ads, but it might come as a surprise that it’s also going local.
The amount of money spent on local advertising—advertising in mediums like local newspapers, magazines, and on local public radio—is poised to increase from $132.5 billion in 2012 to $148.8 billion in 2017, according to a study released yesterday by BIA/Kelsey, an advertisement consultation firm.
According to Mark Fratrik, the chief economist at BIA/Kelsey, this 12.3 percent increase in spending will mostly come not from local advertisers, like small businesses, but instead from national brands and franchises. Local advertisers will increase their spending on local advertising by just under 9 percent by 2015, whereas national advertisers will increase the same type of spending by 20 percent.
“Large advertisers are realizing that sometimes a nationwide message won’t work; sometimes you need to tailor an ad to a particular type of person in a particular area,” Fratrik told Inc.
Most of the increases in advertisement spending will occur on the digital side of things, Fratrik said. The amount spent on online and digital media is expected to almost double by 2017, accounting for $41.1 billion in advertising and almost a third of all money spent in the space. Spending on advertising in traditional mediums, such as newspapers, magazines, and yellow pages, is expected to flat-line or even decrease by just over 1 percent to $107.6 billion in 2017.
According to the study, the increase in dollars spent on digital advertising will be fueled in a large part by an increase on spending on mobile ads, which is expected to increase six-fold to $6.4 billion by 2017. Online ads will also increase 46.5 percent, but will actually account for less spending than mobile ads by 2017 at $6.3 billion.
“Mobile’s the explosion—just in the way it affords advertisers the ability to target people in specific locations at specific times,” Fatrik said. “If you want to advertise something like a lunch special, most working people can’t be reached by local TV or radio, and they’re not necessarily reading the newspaper. But they have a mobile device that can display an ad at 11:15 for french fries at the McDonalds that’s three blocks away. And boy, that’s the great aspect of it.”
The Small Business Administration needs a leader who can run a large organization that provides the highest level of customer service.
Back in February, Karen Mills, the chief of the Small Business Administration, announced that she would resign the post and step down when the President found her successor. This hasn't happened yet but it's inevitable. Which means he still has time to find that next great person.
Mills did a very good job. According to one account, "Over the last four years the SBA supported more than $106 billion in lending to more than 193,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs, including two record years of delivering more than $30 billion in loan guarantees. When she inherited it, the agency had languished under the George W. Bush administration, which cut its funding by about 26 percent since 2001 and sliced staff by 18 percent since 2003."
Mills, a tireless advocate for small business, travelled frequently around the country to talk about issues affecting small business and appeared to be genuinely well liked. During her tenure, she was the first chief of the Small Business Administration to be elevated to a presidential cabinet position. Plus, her father is the CEO of Tootsie Roll Industries and I love tootsie rolls. But I've got enough cavities as it is. And Mills is still leaving the SBA. A successor must be appointed. I'm not sure who the president is considering but I'd like to throw someone's name in the hat. And that person is Teresa Laraba. Yes, that's right: Teresa Laraba. Wait...who?
Why I Recommend This Seemingly Unknown Candidate
You've never heard of Laraba right? Look, I don't know this woman either. I've never met her. We've never communicated. I looked her up online and she seems pretty nice. She's got a couple of kids and liked to swim when she was younger. Hopefully she still does because swimming is good exercise. Also, she kind of looks like Penny from The Big Bang Theory and I like Penny because she's funny and smarter than you think. But that's not why I believe Laraba should be appointed to lead the Small Business Administration. It's because of what she currently does for a living. Ready? She's the senior vice president of customers at Southwest Airlines where she's in charge of customer support and services and customer relations. And she's been at Southwest since 1984.
Now you're starting to get it, right?
Just last week a friend told me a story about Southwest. His mother-in-law had passed away after a long illness in Florida and religious circumstances required that his family bring her body back home to the Philadelphia area as soon as possible. All flights were booked. His wife called Southwest Airlines' customer service for help. And help they did: they found space on a plane and provided a special guide to escort the bereaved family through the airport and the complicated process of bringing a departed loved one home. I hear these stories about Southwest all the time. I'm a frequent flyer of US Airways and have no beef with them. But even I notice a difference when I fly Southwest. The attitude of the employees. The extra perks and accommodations. The songs. And most importantly: the willingness to serve.
That is what the country needs at the Small Business Administration.
What Customer Service Has to Do With the SBA
The SBA administers and guarantees billions in loans. That's really its primary purpose. I get that. And this should continue, even expand. Some may argue that its loan guarantees aren't effective for all small businesses. But I know many who have benefited. The agency played a big part in helping the small business community navigate through the last recession and even through this current economic malaise. But, in my opinion, it could and should be doing much more.
The SBA should be the customer service arm of the government. Whenever any small business owner has a question or problem involving federal bureaucracy the agency should be the very first place he or she calls. The problem may be about a contract, a tax matter, an environmental law, a regulation, a dispute. These are all the ways that the government affects the typical small business owner's life. When a small business has a problem now, no one knows where to turn for help. It's not to say that the SBA doesn't try to be a conduit. But there is so much room for improvement. Clients that I know who have tried to deal with the SBA on a regulatory, tax, or contract matter usually throw up their hands in frustration and are forced to hire an attorney to figure it all out. If they can afford to, that is. Small business owners don't have the time or money to be able to handle these complex matters on their own.
I'm not saying that the employees at the SBA have to be as cheerful, friendly, or even break into song like some of the people at Southwest Airlines do. (Although I must admit that would be kind of cool.) But they should be advocates, not administrators. They should all be trained in the art of navigating the U.S. government. They should be positioned as an arm of the typical small business owner, a resource, a friend, and a conduit of answers. The SBA should have a database of relationships and contacts at every governmental agency to help cut through red tape and make life easier for owners. The typical SBA employee doesn't have to be an expert at taxes, for example. But he or she should be able to quickly connect owners to someone competent at the IRS who can help with taxes.
Skip a Bureaucrat, and Even a Small Business Owner
For Mills' eventual replacement I hope that the president doesn't appoint some patron of the democratic party or a big contributor to his campaign. And believe it or not, I don't care if that person has had "small business experience," or if her father "ran a small business" a thousand years ago. The Small Business Administration doesn't need a small business owner in charge and it certainly doesn't need a government bureaucrat as its leader either. It needs someone who knows how to run a large organization that provides the highest level of customer service that is envied by just about everyone.
Which is why Teresa Laraba is perfect for the job.
It would be a challenging transition for her, but I know she could do it. Customer service is customer service, regardless of the organization. If she's given the authority and the resources to put the right team and structure in place she would surely take everything she's learned at Southwest Airlines and turn the SBA into a completely different and better organization that's way more focused on its end users.
But look, I don't know if she'd even take this job. In fact, she'd be crazy to leave her position at Southwest and her nice family life in Dallas to travel to DC for a job that probably pays less and comes with a heck of a lot more grief. But maybe there's something the president can do to convince her. Maybe free upgrades whenever she flies anywhere around the country on SBA business? No charge for her luggage? Priority check-in? I'm sure he can come up with something.
Small business lending increased for the first time in 10 quarters, according to the SBA.
Lending to small businesses is up for the first time in 10 quarters, according to a report released by the Small Business Administration this month. In their quarterly bulletin on lending, the SBA detailed how Data from FDIC Call Reports shows that business lending increased 0.4 percent between September and December 2012 to $586 billion.
Lenders reported that they had eased lending standards for both commercial and industrial (C&I) loans as well as commercial real estate (CRE) loans. But while terms for C&I loans have loosened, terms for CRE loans have remained relatively tight—despite increasing demand for them.
Leading the charge in terms of loans to small businesses in 2012 was Wells Fargo, which lent a total of $32.8 billion, according to a report released Monday by SNL Financial Services. Here’s a list of the top 10 lenders to small businesses for 2012 according to the report:
Don't be intimidated by customs, language translation, and currency exchange--exporting is easier than you think. Five tips to get started.
Small to mid-sized business are often intimidated about the export market. It’s easier, after all, to sell to Denver than to Denmark, to Philly rather than to the Philippines. Customs, language translation, currency exchange, and uneven protection for intellectual property lead many businesses to ask, “Why bother?”
Here are five reasons exporting is an opportunity you should pursue:
1. Made in the USA is a coveted brand worldwide, despite that some folks here have gotten cynical and don’t always give it its due.
2. The Export-Import Bank of the United States guarantees receivables for a small insurance premium. When we shipped wire forms to an electronics maker in Singapore, the Export-Import Bank provided the receivables guarantee for a small fee. I’d never heard of the company and my banker had never heard of the company, but we were both able to sleep at night because the transaction was covered. The government kept 0.5 percent of the deal for the coverage; I got the other 99.5 percent. Not to be overlooked, my employees got some overtime out of the contract and a local producer received my steel order. I don’t know that many manufacturers are aware of the program. It could help lessen some of their anxiety about wading into exports.
3. The Gold Key Matching Service, offered by the U.S. Commercial Service of the Department of Commerce, provides a driver (which you’ll need in places where you can’t read the street signs), a translator, and they’ll prequalify prospective companies to meet with overseas. The service covers about 70 nations that constitute most export markets for American business. I used the service, for a nominal fee, when I visited Korea on a trade mission with the governor of Maryland.
4. About 95 percent of the world’s potential clients live outside the United States. They’re becoming wealthier and will require services and products. There’s a big, growing world of customers beyond our borders. Marlin Steel, for instance, has had revenue growth as high as 25 percent--and that's not because the steel wire basket business in America was growing at a 25-percent clip. A full quarter of our revenue now comes from 36 foreign countries. We export material handling containers from Argentina to Uruguay, China to Denmark.
5. Exporting is not just for big business. Small and medium-sized enterprises make up more than 90 percent of America’s exporters.
This week, new rules kicked in requiring inventors to be the first to file in order to get a patent--but that's not all you need to know.
If you've got a patent in your future, you definitely don't want to drag your feet.
That's because on March 16, in a third wave of legislative changes stemming from the America Invents Act of 2011, the U.S. patent system officially morphed from a first-to-invent model to a first-to-file model. As part of switch the concept of prior art has been expanded to include any kind of publication by somebody else before you file your patent.
What It Means
In essence, there could be more obstacles that can block you from getting a patent.
As a result, according to Ed Walsh, a shareholder in the Boston-based IP law firm Wolf Greenfield & Sacks, in most cases it's going to be to your advantage to get the patent application on file as soon as possible.
"I know that that's not necessarily what small businesses want to hear because that means spending money sooner than you would like to, but there's really not a lot of great options," he says. "Otherwise you can try to rely on secrecy--keeping your idea under wraps, staying in stealth mode. But by the time you start wanting to release your ideas it's really to your advantage to have at least a provisional application on file."
What's Different Now
While the message isn't radically different than the advice he would have given a year ago under the old rules, he says the difference is there's a greater risk today that you'll be barred from getting a patent if you wait to file.
For one thing, if anybody puts an idea into the public domain in any way--even a day before you file--you're going to have trouble.
"If somebody else files a patent before you do, then that blocks you. Even if somebody else files a patent in a foreign country and later that same patent application gets filed in the U.S., the filing in the foreign country sets the date on which that patent application blocks you. So now you have an entire world full of people filing patent applications that can potentially block you from getting a patent in the U.S.," Walsh says.
To learn about other AIA rule changes, check out my previous story: New Patent Rules: What You Need to Know. Or for more information, visit the USPTO, which has dedicated an entire section of its website to the new rules.
A plan of attack when the only job candidates you can find are jerks.
Dear Evil HR Lady,
I read your article, It's Time to Fire the Jerks. So much easier said than done.
In a VERY small company (under 10 people) it is extremely difficult to find competent workers, even during high unemployment. What HR advisers never seem to understand is that small companies have very different HR issues. Usually the owner is the HR manager.
If I were to fire every problem employee, at times I would be running the entire company myself. It can literally take years to find a replacement employee who has minimal competence.
The best employees rarely want to work for small companies and headhunters don't give their best prospects to one-off clients. Therefore, I'm forced to put up with problem employees for far longer than I should.
I absolutely agree with you on many fronts: Hiring is hard. HR in a small company is vastly different than HR in a large company. Headhunters prefer high volume. And, I'll add another problem: No one in your company (including you) is an expert interviewer, resume screener, and general hiring master.
Still, jerks shouldn't be allowed. Even though they are doing the work, they are detrimental to the overall health of your workforce. The jerks will drive the best people out.
But, how can you get the work done when you have all the problems you listed, and still get rid of bad employees? Here are some things to think about.
You're focusing too much on previous experience and not potential. Hiring someone is a huge risk, so we often want to hire someone who has done, in the past, exactly what we need them to do in the future. The problems with that are two fold: 1. It's often difficult to find someone with the exact skill set you need and 2. When you find that person, they are often already bored with that and are ready to move on.
The reality is, skills are pretty easy to gain, as long as you have the right background. Sure, you wouldn't want to hire me as an engineer because I have no engineering skills whatsoever. But, if you need someone to do a specialized engineering task, it's likely that someone with a strong engineering background in a related (but not identical) area could quickly learn what you need.
Many people want to grow in their careers and when they are looking to change jobs, they tend to look for a promotion rather than a lateral move. People with exact experience aren't as likely to be interested in the job you offer.
Open your hiring practices up to include people who have potential rather than experience and you'll vastly increase your hiring pool.
Your job as the manager is to quash bad behavior. I am not a fan of firing people without much thought. It shouldn't be a one-mistake-and-you're-out situation. But, you cannot allow bad behavior to continue. Some things (like sexual harassment) are illegal and you need to stop them or face lawsuits, fines, and bad public relations. Other things are merely annoyances and many managers think they can just ignore it. You cannot ignore it.
An employee who picks on someone else, bullies coworkers, or is overly grouchy, needs to be talked to. It should be abundantly clear that this behavior is not acceptable.
You may be modeling bad behavior. People often act the way they think the boss wants them to act. If you are consistently getting bad employees, you're modeling some bad behavior. When you hire, you probably specifically seek out the jerky behavior that later drives you nuts. It may well be a characteristic that you have.
It's time for a real evaluation of yourself--to figure out what you are doing that is jerk-like and then specifically screening new hires to exclude that behavior. This may be extremely painful for you, as it probably turns your hiring on its head.
Drop the headhunters. As a general rule, headhunters can be helpful. Sometimes they are worth the money. However, if you are having bad luck with them, drop them. Treat your candidate searches like you would a job hunt. Find that new candidate through networking. Ask your current and past good employees if they can recommend someone. Use LinkedIn. Seek out the unemployed, specifically. Why? They may be more willing to work for a small business. They also may be willing to devote more time to learning new skills.
Evaluate your pay structures. If it is tremendously difficult to get good employees, you are probably underpaying. If you can't get the best employees, you aren't attractive enough. Now, small businesses often have small budgets and you may not be able to find someone with the expertise you need for the cash you have available. In that case, change your job description to fit your budget. It's better to hire a good person with less experience than it is to hire a lousy person who is willing to accept a low salary.
Have a problem employee or a people management question? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.
When it comes to conflict at work getting to a Goldilocks moment - not too much, not too little - is hard. Here's how to get your team to debate productively.
Teams walk a delicate balance with conflict.
Too much and you get rancor and paralysis. Too little and your team stumbles along implementing unchallenged and probably suboptimal ideas. So how do you get to that Goldilocks moment where there's neither too much conflict nor to little?
Kellogg School management professor Leigh Thompson has some ideas. In a long discussion about her new book, Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration, on Kellogg insight recently, Thompson takes a long detour into the psychology of conflict and what leaders can do to ensure their teams fight in a healthy and productive way.Focus on Problems, Not People
Thompson outlines the difference between benign conflict, which can actually sharpen your team's thinking, and more malignant arguments, stressing that good fights are about ideas, not people.
"Benign conflict focuses on the substance of the problem, not the people espousing the argument,” she says. "The malignant type of conflict is where people attack the person making the argument. They question their intentions, their integrity, their motivations."
How can you steer a conversation towards the former and away from the latter? "Try this exercise: the next time someone attacks your idea, try to state what you think their argument is. Try stating their argument even more forcefully than they have stated it," Thompson says, adding, "resist getting personal. Instead, offer to share how you arrived at your belief. Focusing just on arguments and data—and setting aside personal feelings—takes some practice, like playing piano or riding a bike."Don't Settle for Instant Consensus
Sometimes everyone naturally agrees, but those situations are generally so obvious that you wouldn't have called everyone together to talk about them in the first place. If you pooled the best minds of your business to discuss something and everyone is in instant agreement, you're probably going about debating it wrong and missing a valuable opportunity to delve deeper into the issue.
"If you have a group in which everyone seems to be in agreement, that’s a signal that you’re going to have to do some work. You either need to appoint a devil’s advocate or invite an outsider in who’s going to disagree with you," says Thompson.
Prodding your people to be less conflict adverse can lead to real benefits, according to Thompson who cites recent research that shows, "brainstorming groups that engage in open debate, challenging each other in benevolent ways, perform better than groups that don’t have any debate at all. Managers often tell groups not to criticize each other, but the data actually suggests that debate helps the creative process."
To help stir up healthy conflict, she advises suggests discussion participants refrain from staking out a definite position too early in a conversation. Once people have taken a firm public stance they're hesitant to change their minds and others are often hesitant to dissent, leading to what she terms "pluralistic ignorance." Testing hypotheses and trading arguments about theories often works better than planting a flag and asking team members to try to topple you from opinion mountain.Walk the Middle Way
Another key to productive debates is knowing how often to call for them and when to end them.
"You don’t want to always be debating. Even if you and I are having benign conflict, at some point we need to be doing other things," she says. Your aim should be the conflict sweet spot: "Avoiding conflict isn’t good; debating each other all the time is not that good either. You want to have a moderate amount."
How do you find that conflict "sweet spot" with your team?
Have you made any of these mistakes? If so, you're not benefitting from Pinterest as much you could be.
"If your brand isn't on Pinterest, you're getting left behind!" "Pinterest drives more sales than Facebook!" Advice like this, from consultants, social media experts, and--yes--websites like this one have a lot of truth to them. But they've pushed some small companies into jumping into Pinterest without taking the time to think things through. And that's led to a lot of mistakes, according to Debba Haupert, channel director at the social media marketing firm Collective Bias, and creator of the blog Girlfriendology.
Here are the seven biggest mistakes she sees companies making when they use Pinterest:
1. Starting out without a strategy.
"We have to be on Pinterest because everyone else is!" isn't a strategy. And if you don't have a strategy, you may be wasting time, Haupert warns. "Know your keywords and use them in profiles, pins, and boards," she says. "Know the categories where your customers will find you. You have to put some thought into it before you jump in."
2. Using lackluster graphics.
Pinterest is image-driven and your pins are competing against professional photography from landscapes to kittens doing cute things. "You can't be cheap about your photography," Haupert says. "If you're going to make the effort and dedicate the budget and hours it takes to be on Pinterest, you have to have engaging, amazing images that will get you noticed and re-pinned." For instance, she explains, if your product is a vacuum cleaner, don't just post shots of your product. Post a before-and-after image of a carpet after it removed a stain. Pinterest users with stains on their own carpets will take notice. Another option is to skip the photography and create interesting graphics with text or charts, she adds.
3. Being boring.
Brands become boring if they appear overly corporate, Haupert explains. "Legal worries have scared some companies away from pinning stuff. That's too bad because nobody will follow them if all they're pinning is their catalogue or images from their website. I'll just go to the catalogue or the website if I want to see that stuff." If this is you, she suggests adding a line to your bio explaining that your pins are merely intended to share what you find interesting, not necessarily endorse it.
4. Leaving boards unchanged for too long.
"That shows a lack of engagement and a missed opportunity," Haupert says. "If you start it and then forget it, there's no reason for anyone to follow you."
At least move boards around from time to time, she says. And pay attention to seasonal issues--don't have summer fashions on your board in January.
5. Using representatives who don't understand the brand.
Companies often hire recent college graduates or other young folks to pin on their behalf only because they know Pinterest better than their older colleagues do (and they're often available cheap). "A lot of small business owners tell me their friend's son will handle social media because they 'get' it," Haupert says. "But they may not know your brand or the tone you want to convey."
6. Forgetting your audience.
It's too easy to get lost in pinning what you find interesting or what represents your brand without paying attention to what your target customers care about. So pay attention to what people like, Haupert says. "Notice what they re-pin, then just do more of that," she says. "You need to interact, respond to questions, and make sure you have boards aimed at your specific audience."
7. Ignoring the competition.
Notice what other companies in your field are doing, and mine their pins for good ideas. For instance, Haupert noted that both a local coffee shop and Starbucks had Pinterest boards. The Starbucks' board featured appealing shots of coffee drinks that were getting re-pinned frequently. The local coffee shop had merely posted its logo and left it at that. "Make sure you know what companies going after the same customers are doing," she advises.
Everyone's reaching out to everyone else on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. If you want a response, you've got to follow these rules.
Before social media, if you wanted to reach out to someone for whatever reason, there were only three ways: face-to-face, by phone, or by email. And that meant you had to find them, their phone number, or their email address.
Now you can tweet, link, like, post, or message your way into pretty much anyone's life. Anyone can do it. And therein lies the rub. Everyone does do it. And the competition for people's limited time and attention is enormous.
So, you've got to differentiate yourself from the pack. Stand out. Get noticed. That's the only way you're ever going to get a response. Sure, it's hard to do. Hard, but not impossible--if you follow these seven rules:
Make sure it makes sense. I get requests from people every day that I just can't make heads or tails of. I don't know what they want or why they think they can get it from me. They either don't make sense or they're not appropriate, at least not to me. It's a showstopper.
Make it personal. People respond to whatever it is that interests them. And most people are interested in themselves. That's why a long introduction about you isn't likely to get their attention. Hopefully, there's a good reason why you're reaching out to this person. Some sort of connection you have with their background or something they wrote. Use it. Just make sure it's appropriate. Use a little common sense.
Make sure there's a WIIFM. I get loads of requests from people. They spend paragraphs telling me what's in it for them. I know what's in it for them. I want to know What's In It For Me. Everyone does. If you can't do that, then don't bother. You might get a polite response, but that's all you'll get.
Be brief. Everyone's pressed for time these days. Time is their most valuable asset. Be brief. And whatever you do, don't waste a couple of sentences telling them that you know how valuable their time is. They already know that. Respect them by getting right to the point--after you've made that all important connection.
Don't be generic. If it begins with, "We're looking for help from people like you," you can pretty much forget about getting a response. If you think you're going to get anyone's attention or help from a generic request on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, you've definitely been out in the sun too long.
Ask for help. Don't ask me why, but people are generally suckers for someone who needs help. That said, it helps to ask for help in a way that somehow relates to them. How to do that is specific to the individual. Learn about them and try to figure it out.
Don't ignore the obvious. There are several obvious things to pay attention to here. One is the language. If you're not fluent in English or whatever language the person uses, get somebody to help you. I get tons of requests I truly can't understand. It also helps if you're in the same industry. People are generally willing to network with folks they can relate to in some way.