Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Credit Crunch?

With the current condition of the economy, everyone seems to be concerned about the ability (or rather inability) to obtain credit. As entrepreneurship fuels the economy, this could potentially be a rather grave concern if entrepreneurs are unable to obtain credit to grow their companies. 

However, although a recent survey by Wells Fargo indicates that optimism is low for entrepreneurs, "four out of five small business owners said they did not perceive credit as difficult to obtain."

Why is credit not that big of a concern for entrepreneurs? My guess is that entrepreneurs have learned to persevere and find a creative way to get things done no matter what. The bar can also be relatively high in order to go the traditional credit route via a bank. It typically requires an entrepreneur to think thorough the business opportunity, prepare a business plan and financial projections. These projections must be realistic and believable enough to convince a lender to take on the risk of the loan. Thus, entrepreneurs have likely found a few different options to get the financing they need, and if financing isn't available, they find another way to get through the situation.

That said, even if credit is not the main concern of entrepreneurs, how the economic conditions impacts their ability to sell their product/service obviously is. Unfortunately, there is no real quick fix here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Going Green

I read an article this morning on how some larger companies are going green (attempting to be more environmentally friendly in highly visible ways) in order to attract not only customers...but employees! With the rise of the creative class, some highly desirable employees are being a bit choosier about the kinds of companies they work for. They want to work in an environment where they know they are making a difference.

If you are a start-up company and want to be competitive, there is further motivation for going green. Not sure how? For starters, you should at a minimum...

  • Recycling in the office
  • Using eco-friendly suppliers
  • Go digital (reduce paper consumption)
  • Offer carpooling and/or working from home
  • Use energy-efficient light bulbs

Visit for some additional ideas.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Freebies

Last month I blogged about the many free online resources that are available. is another website to check out -- a directly of free online resources!!!

image even has a section dedicated just to business-related freebies. Some of these include free press releases, a free online storefront, and free template for business cards.

Some of the other, interesting freebies pertain to Internet access, web space, and webmaster tools.

Like anything that is offered for free, do make sure you read the fine print!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Creative Marketing?

I am expecting our third child in early January and we are waiting to find out if the baby is a he or a she. While I was shopping the other day in a shoe store, a vibrant lady came up to me and told me that she was 100% confident that I was going to have a boy. She went on to chat about how she is always right about these things and that I should call her after I have the baby to confirm that she is right. Miss Sherrie (as she likes to be called) then went on to tell me that she is a professional psychic.

Afterwards, I got to thinking -- wasn't that a creative marketing ploy on her behalf? Miss Sherrie has a 50-50 chance on getting the gender of the baby correct (although perhaps her psychic abilities increase that chance....haha). For those that she does guess correctly, they then have her phone number and are probably more likely to call her up to find out what else she knows!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Setting Yourself Apart

Some industries are more competitive than others and to the average consumer, it is hard to tell some of the business within those industries apart. Think about the dry cleaners, book store, coffee shop, gas station or even hotels. They all pretty much offer the same product/service as their competitor.

This weekend, I was traveling and had to select a hotel. I went online and in the mid-price level, the hotels all looked pretty much the same -- the rates were within $10 of each other, they all offered a complimentary breakfast, pool, high-speed Internet, etc. I ended up settling on the Country Inn & Suites, just because I hadn't been there in a while.

When I arrived, something really stood out to me that I hadn't seen before at a hotel - imagetheir Lending Library program. In the bookshelves surrounding the fireplace in the lobby, they had books available that were geared towards all ages. A simple sign explained that you were welcome to pick a book to read, and if you didn't finish it during your stay, go ahead and take it with you and just return it the next time you visit a Country Inn & Suites. What a nice idea!

This program probably doesn't cost a fortune, but it was a nice surprise that I will remember - and for me, will separate this particular hotel from the mass of other hotels in the mid-level price range.

As an entrepreneur, this is exactly how you need to think. Your mainstream product/service has to be competitive, but then try and look to see how you can offer a unique perk or something unexpected that the customer will take away from their experience.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Free Online Resources: It is just a matter of looking

One of the things that I enjoyed about doing market research is that, 9 out of 10 times, the information was out there -- it was just a matter of finding it. That meant doing some exhaustive web searching or going to the library to talk with the librarians (who are in my mind extremely brilliant and knowledgeable).

I have since come to realize the same thing when looking for web applications. If there is some sort of online service that you want, more often than not, it is already being produced and out there. And, many times, those applications are free. This is great news for the bootstrapping entrepreneur that is trying to save a dime or two.

In the coming months, I will attempt to periodically profile some of the applications that I think are useful. And, I'll start with a few right now that might surprise you.

Launched in 2000, the intent of is to provide people with access to public events. This is accomplished by giving away free web-based calendars. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, I am not that interested in publicizing my events through their website -- but I am very interested in providing an interactive calendar on my website where my customers / suppliers can see what is going on. What I like about this application (besides it being free) is that it is easy to update on their website and then I can incorporate it into my own website by either providing a link or embedding it as an actual interactive calendar. [Delivered by Mailman logo]

Listserves are another great resource for any small business. It allows users to subscribe to your mailing list, and then you can correspond with news, updates or promotions. Our business has historically used this service via, and it has worked well for us - and I do appreciate the extra graphic options that it provides. However, I have also come across some free applications for listserves (with unlimited usage) that I am now using for another organization and recommend you consider. The free application I used is Mailman, and is definitely worth checking out.

By now, is starting to become a household name of sorts! But, think of it from an entrepreneur's perspective -- what a great way to advertise (FOR FREE) your products and services, or your employment needs.

imageA family member recently referred me to For some businesses, creating a scrapblog of sorts may be a good marketing tool or a good way to showcase some of your products. However, I found it to be helpful for other reasons. Specifically, I found it very helpful and user friendly to create a customized website header (and saves you the cost of purchasing a photo editing software and in my mind, is much easier to work with). It is also helpful from a marketing standpoint to create customized, professional looks to help with your marketing material.

On a marketing note, the new HP Creative Studio is also pretty neat. It is an online application that allows you to create business cards, logos, flyers, brochures, websites and more. They do charge for some of their higher level services, but also offer free templates for the cash strapped small business owner.

If you have come across any free online resources that you feel are particularly helpful, feel free to let us know!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Podcasts: Learning on the Go

A colleague recently shared with me that she frequently downloads podcasts (for free) from iTunes in order to keep up to date on the iTunes screenshotlatest business news while she is on the go. They can be played on either your iPod or your computer. After taking a look at iTunes, I was quite impressed as they literally have 1000's of free podcasts available for download.

Within the 'business' category of available podcasts, the top 10 audio podcasts include:

1. NPR: Planet Money Broadcast

2. The Dave Ramsey Show - The Truth about Life and Money

3. Wall Street Journal This Morning

4. APM - Marketplace

5. Bloomberg on the Economy

6. World Business News

7. Harvard Business Ideacast

8. Get-it-done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips to work Less and do More

9. Wall Street Journal's What's News

10. Bloomberg Economics

There are also many podcasts available that pertain specifically to entrepreneurship. By far, the most popular downloaded podcast was Rich Dad's Podcast by Robert Kiyosaki (who I have recommended previously on this blog). Overall, there were 86 podcasts that came up in a search on the word 'entrepreneur.'

Regardless of whether or not you are an entrepreneur, one of the keys to being successful in life in constant learning.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Economics of Pumpkins

I just returned from a local pumpkin farm with my family -- and I must say first off that I was very impressed with the entire experience.  It is only open on weekends in Sept/Oct, so I wasn't expecting a whole lot of infrastructure, but I was wrong. There were so many activities and it all looked brand new (although I know it has been there for a while). It exceeded my expectations to say the least.

They really have a great business concept.  It is marketed to families during the day and they get a lot of youth groups and teenagers in the evenings as they are open until 10 pm. They have activities that appeal both to families (pony rides, corn sand box, bouncy barn, farm animals, etc.) and teenagers (corn maze, fire pit, hay rides, etc.). Everything was high quality and the workers (likely family and friends) held a sense of pride and happiness. Perhaps that is because it is only only 7 weekends out of the year, and there isn't necessarily a drainage of energy. It is surrounded by gardens of beautiful sunflowers. Most surprising was that there prices were reasonable. And, did I mention that it is in the middle of nowhere?

And...of course...I began to wonder about the economics of this little (or not so little) pumpkins. One of the workers mentioned that they bring in 4000-5000 visitors a weekend. So, if we average this to 4,500 over 7 weekends, this brings us to an estimated 31,500 visitors. We spent $40 for our family of 4 (including our 5 pumpkins), averaging $10 per person. This is probably a pretty conservative average spending considering that while we purchased a few snacks, we did not have lunch there and our two girls were under 5 and got in free. But still, 31,500 visitors at $10 per visitor comes to $315,000 for the season. Not bad, huh?

After doing a bit more research, I found out that the owner is an out-of-town lawyer that spends his weekends working on this ranch and donates a portion to charities every year. What a nice ending. I'm definitely happy for this entrepreneur -- for providing a great product in a great way that I hope to return to year after year.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Executive Summary

A colleague recently passed along a link to me of some 'tools for entrepreneurs' on a website for CID Capital. As CID Capital is a venture capital firm, they frequently review business plans and are very familiar with what to look for to critique whether or not a new venture is likely to be successful. 

One of the tools that I believe is especially helpful is their executive summary outline that they require entrepreneurs to submit so that they can determine if it is something worth further pursuing with them. What is an executive summary? Well, it is a shortened version of the business plan, typically only a couple of pages long. It is a very useful tool for enabling investors, such as venture capitalists, bankers or friends & family, to be able to quickly get their arms about what it is you are trying to do -- and then determine if it is a good fit for them.

Although many business plan courses recommend that you write the executive summary last, after you have completed writing your business, I believe there is some value in starting with the executive summary. It helps you get your thoughts down on paper and forced you to be concise and really think through it all on a bigger level right away. You can also use this executive summary to get some feedback on the idea from people you trust before moving forward.

So, if you are a start-up or even a more mature venture, I strongly encourage you to check out the executive summary outline provided by CID Capital and/or one posted elsewhere. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Steps for Starting a Business

Recently, I've been searching online for potential web resources that outline the steps for starting a business. This would be helpful for someone that wants to start their own business, but isn't sure where exactly to start or what to do. Most people, in my experience, are especially anxious about the paperwork and legality side of a business -- as they usually have the business idea down pretty well.

One of the better "steps" that I found was by, which included the following:

  1. Create a Life Plan
  2. Choosing a Business Modelimage
  3. Create a Business Plan
  4. Select a Business Structure
  5. Create Key Business Assets
  6. Find the Funding
  7. Organize Logistics
  8. Find Great People
  9. Establish the Brand
  10. Market and Sell

I liked these steps because it starts out with creating a life plan, which I firmly believe in. You don't start a business just for the heck of it, it needs to fit into your life strategy. I think it is also pretty realistic in the sequence of starting a business. They offer much more detail after every step -- providing the wanna-be entrepreneur with the guidance he/she needs.

The Small Business Planner put out by the SBA is also pretty good as they focus on what is needed not only to start up the business, but also grow and eventually exit the business. They offer a specific set of steps within each of the four categories below.

  1. Plan your business
  2. Start your business
  3. Manage your business
  4. Getting out

Building on my previous post about looking for local websites when doing market research, a last source for identifying the steps for starting a business should be a local government website -- depending upon whatever state you live in. As a whole, these websites are not (in my opinion) that great for offering an overall sense of what it takes to get your business started, but they are especially useful in providing you with the paperwork and bureaucracy that needs to be taken care of. As an example, the State of Illinois offers a step-by-step process with links embedded to all the necessary government forms.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Information Overload

The good thing about the Internet is that it makes an enormous amount of information available at your fingertips.

The bad thing about the Internet is that it makes an enormous amount of information available at your fingertips. It is like going to Wal-mart to buy toothpaste and feeling a bit overwhelmed at ALL the many different kinds and choices you have -- when all you wanted to buy was just some ordinary toothpaste!

The real question then becomes -- how can you maneuver online to find good and useful information for the purposes of starting your own business? Here are just a few suggestions...

- Trade Association websites: One of the first places to look should nearly always be a trade association website. Most industries have trade associations (i.e. National Restaurant Association) and they can be a wealth of statistics, knowledge and trends -- that can very well impact the development of your business idea. To find your trade association, simply do a google search of the words 'trade association' and whatever industry it is you are entering.

- Find websites 'close to home'. For instance, if you are looking to start a business in the state of Illinois, you might look to the Illinois guide (sponsored by the state government) that includes details specific to that state. Also, check out your local Small Business Development Center or economic development corporation. It is a good place to look for local grant and loan programs that may be of help.

- Entrepreneurship-related magazines: There are many magazines geared to entrepreneurship that have a lot of up-to-date statistics, articles and help by topic that can also be a good starting point. One of my favorites is Entrepreneur Magazine.

- Try the SBA: The U.S. Small Business Administration actually has quite a bit of good, basis information to start with. Check out their small business planner.

- Get some referrals: Pick up the phone or go talk with people to find out what websites they recommend. Word of mouth is usually a great source!

How do you sift through all the information on the web?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Web Resources: DocStoc

A while back, I was referred to a website called 'DocStock.' Here are the main benefits:

(1) Find Documents

- Download legal, business, tech & educational documents

- Store your documents online for free

- Get your documents indexed by search enginesdocstoc: find and share professional documents

(2) Share Documents

- Upload and share your documents with the world

- Get business leads by sharing your documents

- Embed documents on your blogs and websites

I was a little skeptical at first, but then I gave it a chance and browsed around. I personally have always thought that it is easier to start with an existing template instead of starting from scratch. The types of documents available under the business category include biz planning, contracts, employment, financing, job descriptions, operations, project management, sales and marketing, and Spanish press releases. Hmmmm....ALL the kind of stuff an entrepreneur needs to do to actually get the business up and running.

If you are looking for some help with putting together a business plan, for instance, they have over 3000 documents on this topic alone - and that are further segmented by due diligence, executive summary, Internet start-ups, Market research and sample business plans! I also appreciate the fact that you can also choose to view the most viewed, downloaded, reviewed, recent and/or highest rated.

Now, keep in mind that some of this is more or less junk and useless. You also have to beware that their is nothing backing the actual quality of the documents, But, that said, there is a lot here that as an entrepreneur I believe you will find of use. Don't reinvent the wheel (or shell out a lot of big bucks) unless you have to.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Customer service: Is it overrated?

Have you visited Taco Bell lately? At least in the area where I live, if you pull up to the drive-thru, you will be asked "how are you today?" As I was expecting the typical "how can I help you today" or "go ahead with your order whenever you are ready", this surprised me a bit. tacobellSo I answered, "fine, thank you."

However, the experience again began to impress me in that the reason why franchises in general are successful are because they can create processes for everything! Yes, they can create processes for their food preparation, and although I personally believe that franchise food is marginal at best, people go there because they always know exactly what to expect. However, the more fascinating aspect is that processes can be created for other aspects of the business such as accounting procedures, order intake, cleanliness procedures, etc, and in the case of Taco Bell, customer service. I have not researched it at all, but I am fairly certain that the Taco Bell drive thru workers are specifically training in how to address the customers. This makes it easy for the franchise owners to ensure a certain level of customer service every time!

What can YOU learn from this? Well, even if you are not interested in owning or operating a franchise, you can learn from them by creating processes for every aspect of YOUR business. In turn, this will not only allow your customers to know exactly what to expect and improve your reliability, but it will also help your business to run more smoothly.  

A great book to check out that talks more about the critical importance of processes and imitating what franchises do well is The Emyth Revisited by Michael Gerber.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Integrating entrepreneurship into your every day life

I recently visited some friends that work for themselves as construction contractors. Their business is small (just the husband and wife team for the most part) and they live modestly. When I pulled into their driveway, there were flowers blooming all around their home that took my breath away - hundreds of lilies in almost any color, hostas everywhere and quite a few other flowers that I do not know their names. When they moved into the house three years ago, there was not a single flower there. You see, flowers were their passion and starting the following summer, their plan was to start selling them.

We then went inside their home where their dog had eight puppies that were just two weeks old - my daughter did not want to leave them! I then learned that this particular breed of puppies would sell for over $200 a piece, and that was their plan once the puppies were old enough.

I left thinking about how entrepreneurial they were with their passions and their every day life -- and how smart they were to be able to find a way fund their passions and bring in a little more money while doing so. I learned first hand that entrepreneurship doesn't always mean writing long business plans and integrating cutting edge technology - it can also mean simply being smart and creative - or entrepreneurial - with how you live your life.

Do non-profits need social media?

If you are an entrepreneurial non-profit, or wish to be, some of the questions that you might be wondering is (a) what social media applications are appropriate? and (b) how should I integrate them?

Like for-profits, I suggest starting with a bit of market research. See what your 'competitor' non-profits are doing, or perhaps better stated, what other best practices are out there that you can learn from. If someone else is doing it, it makes much more sense to take what they have done and customize it to your specific needs/preferences. A website that was recently referred by the Church of the Customer blog is the "Association Social Media WiKi." Although the number of associations that have registered to date is not huge, you can definitely pick something that is relatively close to your industry and see what social media venues it is using and check them out. A great start.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Assumptions versus Knowledge

One of my favorite quotes is that new ventures have a 'high ratio of assumption to knowledge' (McGrath & MacMillan, 1995, p. 4). Essentially, when you start a business, you are relying on a huge pile of assumptions. Take the business plan, for instance. It is an important tool that I highly recommend, but it is based almost completely upon assumptions such as what price you think you can charge, how you think the customers/competitors will react, the sales you think you can get, etc. You will likely get financing if your assumptions appear believable, but it is still not a guarantee of success.

As a business grows, however, this ratio of assumption to knowledge should change. You will get customer feedback regarding your prices and products/services. You will see how your competitors react. You will find out how much sales you can actually build. Then, if you are going to be successful, you integrate this knowledge into your working business plan to reduce your reliance on all those unknown assumptions. 

As I am writing this blog, I am sitting here at my favorite coffee shop and just finished a conversation with the owner. (By the way, if you ever get to Linton, IN, you have to look up Francisco de Borja!!!) They are in their second year of business and he described their experience thus far asA cup of coffee. a roller coaster as they try to figure out what works and doesn't work for their business. One example he gave me was their pastry cases, they realized that customers are more apt to purchase pastries if they are on the counter where they can see it and help themselves rather than in the case. I've also noticed that they have modified what they sell for lunch and also what they sell retail.

What I admire about their business is that they are willing and open to taking in new knowledge and integrating it to produce a more successful business. Other businesses can get stuck on that initial business plan (based entirely on assumptions) and don't take the opportunity to adapt and grow into a mature business with the new knowledge being given.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What to read?

While there are many, many books related to entrepreneurship out there, an author that I would recommend is Robert Kiyosaki. He has not only authored many top selling books, but also produced games, programs and coaching to help get his point across and that provide in my opinion a valuable educational service. His focus is primarily financial, and this has everything to do with YOU and/or how YOU view the financial aspect of your business.

I was initially turned off by the wording of his best selling book Rich Dad Poor Dad, as my goal in life is not to be rich. However, after giving it some thought, I strongly agreed that I would rather be efficient and smart with my resources than foolish and wasteful.

To give you a taste of Koyosaki's philosophy, here is a table that he uses to describe his 'poor dad versus rich dad' comparison:

Poor Dad vs. Rich Dad

My Poor Dad Says   My Rich Dad Says
  "My house is an asset."   "My house is a liability."
  Rich dad says, "If you stop working today, an asset puts money in your pocket and a liability takes money from your pocket. Too often people call liabilities assets. It's important to know the difference between the two.
  "I can't afford it."   "How can I afford it?"
  The statement "I can't afford it" shuts down your thinking. By asking the right question, you mind opens up and looks for answers.
  "The reason I'm not rich is because I have you kids."   "The reason I must be rich is because I have you kids."
  "I'm not interested in money."   "Money is power."
  "When it comes to money, play it safe - don't take risks."   "Learn how to manage risk."
  "Pay myself last."   "Pay myself first."
  Rich Dad always took a percentage off the top of any income he earned. He put this money into an investment account that went toward purchasing his assets. Poor Dad spent all his money first and never had any remaining for investments.
  Believed that the company you worked for or the government should take care of your financial needs.   Believed in financial self-reliance and financial responsibility.
  Focused only on academic literacy.   Focused on financial literacy as well as academic literacy.
  Learned only the vocabulary of academia.   Learned the vocabulary of finance – "Your words are the most valuable tools you have."
  "I work for my money."   "My money works for me."
  Thought that making more money would solve his financial problem.   Knew that financial education was the answer to his financial problems: "It's not how much money you make that's important – it's how much money you keep and how long you keep it."

You can learn more about Robert Kiyosaki and the products/services he offers by visiting his website. If you are familiar with this series, let me know what you think.