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Friday Small Business Roundup: Email Marketing and More

July 12th, 2013 ::

Is your email marketing getting the results you want? Read Monika Jansen’s Top 7 Takeaways From the 2013 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmarks Study to learn how to pump up your ROI.

Wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes…Most Small Businesses Aren’t Prepared for Disaster. Is Yours? Read Karen Axelton’s post to get ready.

Does your business slow down in summer? Check out Rieva Lesonsky’s post 5 Ways to Make Downtime Productive Time and get the most from your slow season.

If you’re feeling frazzled by all your mobile devices, check out Rieva Lesonsky’s post, Can Unplugging Make You More Productive?

A picture is worth 1,000 words. Make your blog posts, social media efforts and all your marketing outreach work better with the tips in 6 Effective Ways to Improve Your Visual Marketing, by Monika Jansen.

If you’re running a business without health insurance, you could be putting more than your health at risk. Read Maria Valdez Haubrich’s Could Ignorance About Health Insurance Cost You Your Business? to find out more.

Make sure you’re marketing to customers and prospects the right way. Read Rieva Lesonsky’s How Tablets Are Changing Online Behavior to learn what consumers want now.

Did you know writing a book can be a great marketing tool? Read Monika Jansen’s post How to Self-Publish and Market a Book to learn more.

Economy: Thumbs Down; Entrepreneurs: Thumbs Up

October 3rd, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

“I can’t get no satisfaction,” Mick Jagger wailed in one of The Rolling Stones’ biggest hits. Maybe Jagger should try owning a small business. The results of a recent Gallup poll found that despite economic challenges, U.S. small business owners are thoroughly satisfied with their businesses.

The percentage of small business owners saying they are extremely (17 percent) or very (38 percent) satisfied with being a small business owner—a 12 percent jump compared to the third quarter of 2010. Another 29 percent of owners are somewhat satisfied—meaning that overall, a whopping 84 percent are satisfied. In comparison, just 16 percent of small business owners say they are not too (10 percent) or not at all (6 percent) satisfied with their businesses.

Since you could expect satisfaction to relate to a small business’s success, Gallup also asked the entrepreneurs how successful they believed their businesses were. Thirty-nine percent report feeling extremely or very successful, and more than half (51 percent) say they feel “somewhat” successful. That means 90 percent of small business owners think they’re successful to some degree.

Interestingly, in separate Gallup polls, small business owners have been expressing growing pessimism about the economy in general. This quarter’s Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index showed small-business owners’ overall optimism had declined; Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index dropped too; and another Gallup poll found limited capital spending plans among small business owners.

Given these attitudes, why are entrepreneurs feeling so positive about their businesses? There are a couple reasons I can think of. First, small business owners are natural optimists—we wouldn’t start businesses otherwise. And even when we think the economy is in trouble and the government isn’t much help, we’re confident in our own abilities to get through the tough times.

Second, this attitude isn’t just braggadocio—it’s reality. We have gotten through tough times, and four years after the Great Recession hit, any small business owners who’s survived and thrived has a right to feel extremely proud of what he or she has accomplished.

However, there’s still a lot of ground to gain back. In 2007 (before the recession began), 47 percent of small business owners Gallup polled felt their businesses were extremely or very successful, compared to 39 percent today. But like the small businesses in Gallup’s survey, I’m confident that no matter what the coming months (and the presidential election) bring, America’s small business owners will stay positive about their futures.

Image by Flickr user openpad (Creative Commons)

Web.com Small Business Toolkit: Google for Entrepreneurs (Programs and Partnerships for Small Business)

October 2nd, 2012 ::

Google for Entrepreneurs

Not a company to think small, Google has launched a new website, Google for Entrepreneurs, to bring all things entrepreneurial under one umbrella. Use the site’s search feature to find workshops, networking events and mentoring sessions around the world that support startups and entrepreneurs. Programs and online tools to grow your business are highlighted, plus Google-led programs will bring experts and tools directly to entrepreneurs. Some of the current projects include partnering with business accelerators and incubators and teaming up with Women 2.0 to bring their Founder Friday events to more cities.

Web.com Small Business Toolkit: National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day (Mentoring Event)

October 1st, 2012 ::

National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day

Are you an entrepreneur over 50 who could use some expert advice? In May 2012, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and AARP launched a strategic alliance to provide American entrepreneurs over the age of 50 with real-world, actionable information to start or grow a small business. Through this alliance, the two organizations have jointly committed to train 100,000 “encore entrepreneurs” over the next year. October 2 (that’s tomorrow), you have a chance to meet mentors from the SBA’s network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), and SCORE chapters, who can help you take your business to the next level. Click on www.sba.gov/mentorday to find an event near you.

Patent Reform Is Getting Closer

July 4th, 2011 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

The U.S. patent system has been mired in problems for years, ranging from a huge backlog of unexamined applications (more than 700,000, according to CNNMoney.com) and a three-year wait to get approved (or denied) for a patent. With more people inventing things or processes (including intellectual property and technological inventions), the examination process has become more complex and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is struggling to keep up.

But now real change to the system is finally in the wings. In March, CNNMoney.com reports, the Senate passed a bill to revamp U.S. patent law; in late June, the House of Representatives passed a similar bill. The America Invents Act and the Senate bill have several key aspects in common:

  • They would change U.S. patent law from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system, meaning the first person to apply for a patent—rather than the first person to come up with the idea—would receive the patent. While this may sound odd to us, it’s actually the system used by most other nations, and it helps prevent conflicting claims by individuals who contest patents after they are granted.
  • They include provisions that would help keep patent battles from going to court.
  • They enable the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to set fees and possibly keep them. (Right now, Congress sets fees, keeps the money and then gives a budget to the USPTO.) The change would enable the USPTO to charge higher fees for more complex patent reviews and lower fees for simpler ones, helping alleviate the underfunding that has contributed to the current backlog.

Next step: The two bodies just need to reconcile the differences between the bills—which should be fairly simple, since the only major difference in the two bills is how the Patent Office collects fees. Although no timetable has been set for reconciliation, President Obama has said he would sign a patent reform bill; once signed, this would be the first major change to the U.S. patent system since the 1950s.

How will the proposed changes help—or hurt—small business? There’s good news and bad news for inventors, depending on how you look at it. First, the good. According to David Kappos, director of the USPTO, being able to set and keep its own fees would allow the office to hire staff and update its IT infrastructure. Kappos has estimated the changes would allow the office to cut its backlog in half, ensuring that most patents are processed within one year of application.

Now, the bad: Many small business advocates are concerned the bill will hurt independent inventors by forcing them to compete with huge corporations for who can file first. With big companies having financial resources, R&D teams and legal armies on their side, will small businesses win?

Image by Flickr user Cliff 1066 (Creative Commons)

The Entrepreneurial Mindset — Good and Bad Reasons to Start a Business

April 21st, 2010 ::

by Carol Roth

She made a lemonade stand and even though we told her no one would be buying lemonade in November she managed to make $6 in less than an hour on a dead end street. Donald Trump would be proud.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/ / CC BY 2.0

You may wake up one day with an amazing idea for a new business. As the days go by and you realize that you are smarter than your boss, that your co-workers smell like bologna sandwiches and that your desk has gum underneath it circa 1972, you may actually really think about pursuing it.

If you read a magazine or talk to your friends and family members, you may hear some of the hype on entrepreneurship (nobody likes to tell you the dirty little secrets) and you may start to believe one of more of the following:

  • Your idea will get you rich;
  • Your idea will get you rich quickly;
  • You can escape the corporate grind;
  • You can be your own boss and have the freedom to do what you want, when you want;
  • You can work shorter hours and have more free time for your hobbies, families and other passions;
  • You can do more of what you love to do; and/or
  • You will “do it better”

Unfortunately, most of the reasons that people start businesses are myths based on a gross misunderstanding of what it means or what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

So, what are some good reasons to start your own business?

There’s a customer need! We have more products and services available to us than we would ever want or need, which makes today’s entrepreneurial landscape very different than it was just 50 years ago. If there is a gap in the market that customers are desperate for a solution to and willing to pay for, that’s a darn good reason to start a business. Remember, Ray Kroc didn’t start McDonald’s because he was bored or unfulfilled; he did so to meet a customer need!

You are THE person to meet that need. Having a customer need is great, but why the heck are you qualified to meet those needs for your customers? Maybe you have unparalleled industry experience, knowledge and/or contacts that make you the ultimate candidate to make a difference in this market? If so, bingo – you are on the right track! If you don’t have anything to bring to the table, go get something before showing up for dinner, if you catch my drift.

You want to RUN A BUSINESS. Everyone thinks that if you love to do something, you will get to do more of it when you run a business. Wrong-o. When you run a business, you have to do and oversee so many functions, from marketing to accounting to employees to customer service and more, you actually spend less time doing whatever it is you enjoy doing. Your job as an entrepreneur is not to do one thing, it is to run a business. So, if you love to wear multiple hats and are jazzed by the idea of managing all aspects of a business, plus you think that is a good fit for your skills and experience, you are headed in the right direction.

And finally…Is it worth it? Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should, that you will be successful, or that it is the best choice for you given your goals, circumstances and opportunities. You have to look at the rewards of your opportunity and see if they justify the risks – and I am talking both financial and qualitative risks and rewards here. Far too many people trade their salary and risk their savings for an opportunity where they are making the same or less money, working more hours and have more stress. In the game show world, they call that trade a “zonk”. Don’t get zonked – make sure that the risk/reward tradeoff makes sense for you and that you have the opportunity to significantly improve upon your current situation or do better than other situations that could be available to you.

Carol Roth helps businesses grow and make more money. An investment banker, business strategist and deal maker, she has helped her clients, ranging from solopreneurs to multinational corporations, raise more than $1 billion in capital, complete hundreds of millions of dollars in M&A transactions, secure high-profile licensing and partnership deals and more. Carol is a frequent media contributor on the topics of business and entrepreneurship, including as recurring/featured guest on Pittsburgh Business Radio’s Women Mean Business show. She blogs about issues affecting entrepreneurs and their businesses from her Unsolicited Business Advice blog and is the author of The Entrepreneur Equation, a book about evaluating the realities, risks and rewards of business ownership, coming out late this year. She holds a BS degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.