Friday, May 27, 2011

How Do You Prevent Summer Slack Off?

With Memorial Day upon us and some great temps in the forecast, we find ourselves looking at the productivity drain that can also hit small businesses this time of year. From vacations to employees who seem to get sick every time it's sunny and 85degrees on a Friday, things can easily slip. Perhaps you're even guilty yourself of slipping out a little early on Friday. Or Thursday. Well that is a perk of being your own boss, right?

The challenge is that in this economy, every shred of productivity matters. As Small Business turns the corner to recovery, there's really not a lot of margin for waste. Reduced staffing volumes have also added a strain to companies heading into vacation season. So what's your biggest concern with summer here (mentally if not seasoanlly)? What steps will you take to make sure you get time to enjoy your friends and family as much as your employees may see theirs? We'd love to hear feedback on your summer outlook. Share with us here, on LinkedIn or tweet us!

Happy Memorial Day, and thank you to the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Three Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

An excellent by John Baldoni post ran in the Harvard Business Review's blog today discussing what separates successful entrepreneurs from the pack. Full article link after the jump:

Sometimes when you're wondering what to do next in life, good advice can come when you least expect it — like when you're getting your hair cut.
Joan*, the hairstylist giving me a trim, mused aloud about what she was planning to do with her career. Cutting hair was just one part of her livelihood; she was also a professional caregiver as well as the owner of a rig that her husband operated. But her husband was about to retire from the road, and now they were wondering, "What next?"

Over the course of our brief conversation, in no more than the time it took Joan to cut my hair, I picked up on three attributes of her success that are helpful for any entrepreneur:

Practical. Listening to her brainstorm reminded me that successful entrepreneurs know how to keep their feet on the ground. First, they get inspired through personal observation, developing ideas from needs they see in the world around them. Second, they develop a concrete plan. They may work the plan, changing it as they go, but always with an eye towards getting a good return.

Purposeful. People with a practical outlook seek opportunities that add value, as opposed to opportunities that just seem "cool." (It's easy to forget this distinction, especially in well-established organizations.) Their focus is offering products and services that customers need and will pay for. For instance, Joan's second job as a caregiver: that's a service for which there is always a need.
Impatient. Sure, patience is a virtue in some cases. But for an entrepreneur, so is impatience. Joan is eager to make things happen so that she can continue to earn a good living. When it comes time for her husband to leave the trucking business, she will be ready with another venture. Her gumption and ambition make her impatient for success, and that drive increases her chances of getting there.

There's one final trait that successful entrepreneurs share: They realize that inspiration is useless without perspiration. Read complete text at The Hardvard Business Review
*Names have been changed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Easy, Hidden Tips for Small Business Branding

Q. to OED:
What are some inexpensive “hidden ways” to enforce who we are to our customers?

A. by OED Certified Advisor Seth Isaacson:
Every contact we make with a customer is an opportunity to enforce who we are as a company and what we stand for. You may not think about it as often as you should, but this is where customer service begins. Every interaction creates the brand of your company; it burns an irreplaceable image in the customer’s mind that cannot be easily changed. Simple things that a customer sees, such as the cleanliness of your office or store reflects the way your company operates. Making sure that things are organized, clean, and professional go a long way in creating a positive company image. Implementation requires minimal cost but means a great deal to your customer. It shows that you take pride in what you do and presents an unmistakable caring attitude. So, what are you telling your customers with every interaction? Additionally, are there other inexpensive ways that we can enforce our brand to our customers?

Many businesses rely on employees to interact with customers on every transaction. Do all your employees present a consistent company image to your customers? Customers want to know what to expect when doing business with you. Consistency is important. Does each employee conduct themselves with a caring, professional attitude toward your customer? If the answer to this question is “no”, or you don’t know the answer, you should immediately work on operational systems that address this issue. This is not only an inexpensive way to ensure proper customer service but reflects how you do business as a company. Putting these processes in place requires minimal cost and yet the return from improved customer relationships can increase your customer base as well as your profitability.

Connect with Seth's firm Entrepreneur's Advantage on LinkedIn, visit OED's Online Community, OED's LinkedIn Group, and follow us on Twitter!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ask the SBA _________:

We at OED are in full on planning mode for our Small Business Symposium June 9, 2011, cohosted by the NJSBDC of Northwest New Jersey. While the event is NJ-based, many of the topics, resources, and programs to be discussed can readily be leveraged by entrepreneurs in ALL states and territorities. Our Town Hall Meeting kicks of the day, and we are very pleased to have representation from the Small Business Administration on hand for our panel.

Beginning immediately, and running straight through our Town Hall Meeting, you can ask the SBA rep whatever you like. Submit your question here as a comment or tweet us @oed4smallbiz using #OEDSBA as a tag for quick view. We'll be tweeting live from site during the event and will be posting Q&A on line afterwards for refernce and follow up.

So.... what do you want to know from or about the SBA?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Business Identity Theft: More good news in plastic

By now, we have all heard the warnings about identity theft. If you are not a victim yourself, you most likely know someone who has had to do battle with their own credit report. Well, now the worse news and a huge word of caution: Entrepreneurs are more than 50% more likely to the victim of identity fraud than the average consumer. Yes, 50, you read that correctly.

According to an article published today by Kate Rogers on Bloomberg Business Week, citing Javelin Strategy & Research's 2011 Small Business Owners Identity Fraud Report, a staggering $8 million of fraud took place in 2010 alone against small businesses and their owners.  The article highlights some of the areas that make us entrepreneurs so susceptible to fraud. If you see yourself in any of the following, listen up:
*Tend to be smaller firms, with fewer accounting controls in place
*Tend to use online banking and purchasing with stored card accounts
*Tend to use common passwords among employees, share passwords, or have easily detected passwords
*Do not tend to maintain the most up to date software for viruses and spy ware
*Tend to have open wireless networks, allow guests access to wi-fi, and use unsecured wi-fi when travelling

While thieves tend to take the same amount from businesses as they do from consumers by transaction or case, the time and cost differential for small businesses to clean up the mess is a staggering 150% with non-recoverable legal fees paid out of pocket making up the bulk of costs. There are steps you can take, many of which are simply inversions of the statements above. For additional insight and VERY solid tips, please read the full article by Ms. Rogers on BBW.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Not so fast on credit card reform...

You have probably heard about some of the protection afforded consumers under the new credt card and banking regulations enacted by the Federal government under the CARD Act. What you may not know is that they might not mean a heck of a lot to your small business credit cards. According to Bloomberg Business Week's Jim Tozzi, surveys of the nation's leading banks indicate Bank fo America appears to be the only one extending the protection.

Credit card comparison website Card Hub polled the banks, and found their intent and working relationships with small businesses will remain as it was before. Card Hub's CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou responded to Mr. Tozzi that, "Small business owners get the worst of both worlds: They’re fully liable and they’re fully unprotected." Sky hiugh interest rates, hikes with littel to no warning, and tack on fee after fee all appear to be around for the long haul for small businesses.

The realtiy is that for many small businesses, credit cards serve as alifeblood for cash flow. Many of us would be hard pressed to operate a business at all with out a credit card. Ordering online would be insanely restricted. Travel by cash or check only seems a nightmare as well. Layer in security warnings about the hazards of using your debit card online and we really have few options a side from plastic.

The moral of the story is to BE AWARE. When those little paper inserts come in your bill, read them. If you get online statements, scroll through to the end read notices. Don't assume your personal and business accounts are under same policies, even if using the same issuing bank for each.

For the full text of the article, visit Bloomberg Business Week.