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Employee-Owned Companies: Good for Business, Not So Hot for Film

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 2:12pm

The documentary We the Owners explores the highs and lows of employee ownership, with mixed results.

The thought of sharing the company you built with your employees might sound absurd to some entrepreneurs. But the owners of New Belgium Brewing, Namasté Solar, and DPR Construction wouldn't have it any other way.

These Colorado entrepreneurs are the stars of We the Owners: Employees Expanding the American Dream, a documentary directed by David Romero and released by Passage Productions that explores the risks and rewards that come with giving employees a piece of your business. The companies' equity-holders are known as "employee owners," meaning they have as much of a say in the business as the entrepreneurs who created it.

The documentary opens with Michael Miller, a beer delivery man who's been with Fort Collins, Colorado-based New Belgium for a handful of years. Upbeat and "in love" with his six-year-old daughter, he's meant to embody the typical employee owner and takes pride in working for the third-largest craft brewer in the country. He and his colleagues together own 41 percent of the company, and the percentage of their stake should increase over time.

Ray Tuomey, the cofounder of Namasté Solar, a Boulder company that designs and installs solar electric systems for homes, nonprofits, and government agencies, also likes the idea of employee ownership. "It's important to us that people pay for their stock," he says, because "we're trying to share the entire entrepreneur experience."

So what is that experience, exactly? The film does it best to convey this with shots of staffwide meetings, after-hours gatherings, and the occasional snippet of conversation among founders. But in many ways, it falls short of its mission to explain why employee owners--who numbered 11 million in the U.S. in 2012, according to the most recent survey by The National Center for Employee Ownership--are so integral to company culture.

For their part, the featured founders and employees provide plenty of sound bites extolling the virtues of employee ownership. Carlos Crabtree, a product engineer who rose through the ranks at DPR Construction, believes "we get more inspired results because [our employees] have a vested interest in the company." Wade Andrews, an installer with Namaste Solar, says "someone like me would be considered a grunt, but I feel a lot more valued having company input in meetings." Meanwhile, Marie Kirkpatrick, an employee with New Belgium, says she was drawn to the brewer because "I felt like I wouldn't be so much of a number" by having a stake in it.

But beyond these companies' open-book management policies, which put their spending decisions on display for all employees to see, it's hard to grasp how this setup would impact most people's day-to-day jobs. One forklift operator at New Belgium says understanding the math behind his company's balance sheet helped him better understand the paperwork needed to buy a house, but there are few other concrete examples.

It is clear, however, that employee ownership is the way of the future for many small businesses. They tend to experience lower rates of turnover and the employees do feel they have a vested interest in doing what's right for the company since, after all, they've had a hand in funding it by buying shares.

The film offers an interesting glimpse of small business life in Colorado (a.k.a. "startup country"), and those who are shaping its future. But halfway into the one-hour film, viewers will probably yearn to delve deeper into the issues these employee-owned companies face, from succession planning (DPR Construction) to replicating a caring culture (New Belgium Brewery).

More emphasis on the risks and downsides of employee ownership would have done this film--and entrepreneurs--justice.

Categories: Small Business News

4/9/14- Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

SBA Office of Advocacy - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 12:35pm
Page summary: 

Winslow Sargeant, Ph.D., Chief Counsel for Advocacy, U.S. Small Business Administration, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on the Office of Advocacy Fiscal Year 2015 Budget

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Categories: Small Business News

Bureaucracy Creeping Into Your Company? 6 Ways to Strip It Out

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 12:00pm

Yes, even a startup can get tripped up in red tape. Don't let it happen to you.

Bureaucracy is not a problem limited to Fortune 500-size corporations. It can creep into small startups, even in the early days. And when it does, it doesn't take much of it to hamper progress. A gargantuan-size budget becomes unwieldy, so upper management feels it must control spending with more and more policies. Or, a team suddenly has too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough incentive to speed up the cooking process.

In his new book, F.I.R.E.: How Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant Methods Ignite Innovation, Air Force officer Dan Ward explains how to make projects short, snappy, and tightly focused. Recently, I spoke with him about concrete ways to make sure bureaucracy doesn't strangle a startup's progress. Here are his tips:

1. Make intentionally short delivery dates.

One of the concepts Ward explores in the book has to do with making projects as brief as possible. It's a brilliant idea and one I know from personal experience. In my job as a tech reporter, I know I'll work harder and faster if my deadline is a week, not a month, from now. Ward explained to me how the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous project (NEAR) at NASA became famous for three-minute meetings meant to discuss the very next project deliverable. "This discouraged bureaucratic barnacles from latching on and slowing things down," he says.

2. Only count what counts.

Ward makes several points in the book about making sure you do not make it a bureaucratic imperative to track every project deliverable as if it were on an accounting spreadsheet. In NASA's NEAR project, for example, he says the schedule had only 12 items on it at any time, helping reduce bureaucracy and focusing the team on the important tasks. Having fewer major tasks means they become higher priorities.

3. Minimalism is a maximizer.

Ward says small companies also have a tendency to want to create only a few large big-budget projects. That's a mistake, he says, because bigger projects create more bureaucracy. Small projects--and smaller teams--work harder to finish tasks. Upper management has more of a hands-off approach to smaller projects; it won't interfere as much because the risks are lower. "If we keep the budget tight, we present a less attractive target for people with bureaucratic tendencies," says Ward. "Keeping the team small helps us stay off their radar screen."

4. Delay the creation of formal policies.

Ward says small companies tend to want to operate like big companies. They might make a long list of best practices (a term borrowed from the enterprise world), when the length of that list should be as small as the company itself. "Just because a large, successful company has a thick binder of corporate policies doesn't mean there is any relationship between binder thickness and organizational success," says Ward. "Adopting the formal trappings of a large company in order to appear more credible or prestigious doesn't fool anyone and actually reduces performance."

5. Co-locate your team.

Ward says one of the best ways to minimize bureaucracy in a startup is to situate employees together--no more corner offices. "When people sit side by side, there is much less pressure to institute formal, bureaucratic structures to manage the relationships," he says. "Instead of inflexible roles and responsibilities, co-located teams naturally develop relationships marked by direct communication that happens at the speed of need."

6. Forgo the constant meetings.

Meetings are for big companies, right? At times, it makes sense to gather the masses, but Ward says a meeting can be a form of overlord control. "Bureaucracies set up regularly scheduled meetings in order to bring people together, but there is often a misalignment between when the meeting is scheduled and when the conversation is needed," he says.

Categories: Small Business News

What Sheryl Sandberg Wants In 2016

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 11:00am

Facebook's COO explains the big mistake of 2012, and her ideas for political leadership.

One year after the publication of her Lean In, Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg is back on the press circuit for publishing a new edition of the book, Lean In: For Graduates. And she's getting asked about women in leadership not just at companies--but in the White House.

In an interview on HuffPost Live, Sandberg entirely dismissed the idea that she herself would fun for political office.

"I don't want to run for office," Sandberg said. "I really love my job at Facebook, and I really love Lean In."

Who would she want in the White House in 2016?

"I'd love to see Hillary Clinton run for president," she said. "And I'd love to see Hillary Clinton be president."

Asked about a potential candidacy for Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, Sandberg barely commented, saying she doesn't know Elizabeth Warren, nor whether Warren is planning on running for president.

Sandberg said looking beyond the White House in Washington is important for women as well.

In 2012, when the election meant 20 percent of seats in the U.S. Senate were held by women, Sandberg said that while that's reason to celebrate, it's not reason to say women have "taken over." "We need half the seats," she said, rather than one-fifth of them.

"For too long leadership has looked male and for too long leadership has looked white," Sandberg said.

Categories: Small Business News

Watch Out, Box: Dropbox Expands Its Enterprise Products

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:53am

At a press event Wednesday, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston revealed a new company focus.

In a move that signals that Dropbox isn't yet willing to cede the opportunities in enterprise cloud storage to any of its competitors, the company today announced the expansion of Dropbox for Business.

The new product, which was revealed by Dropbox CEO Drew Houston at a press event in San Francisco, is separate and more secure than Dropbox accounts for personal use. The service has already been available to a limited number of businesses since January, but now will be available to all businesses.

Security is the key feature Dropbox wants to highlight, as many of the 4 million businesses currently using Dropbox weren't previously able to use the application to store highly confidential content or information related to regulated industries. Dropbox's freemium pricing model now allows companies to pay extra for enhanced security features.

Dropbox faces lots of competition from companies like Accellion and Hightail (formerly YouSendIt), which also see gains to be made from focusing on B2B services.

However, Dropbox is perhaps most compared to competitor Box, who's valuation is at about $2 billion, and recently announced it filed for an IPO. Box, which was founded in 2005, has been heavily enterprise-focused since 2007. The company is currently seen as dominating over Dropbox when it comes to security aspects. Though interestingly, both startups say that they each have 97 percent of Fortune 500 companies using their platforms.

Another highlight of the event: Houston previewed a snazzy new feature designed to help businesses collaborate using Microsoft Office programs. Project Harmony, as it's called, allows two or more people to sync versions of Word, Excel and Power Point docs. They can also use a chat feature, powered by Dropbox, to communicate within an open Word project. Houston said the feature will eventually be compatible with more applications as well.

No word yet on an IPO. With a valuation of $10 billion, Dropbox is one of the highest-valued venture capital-backed companies. Earlier this week Re/Code reported that Dropbox secured a $500 million line of credit, which might indicate that it does not have plans to go public in the immediate future.

Categories: Small Business News

Productivity Boost: 6 Ideas for Revamping Your Workplace

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:46am

Here are some of the latest productivity-boosting office gadgets and layouts you can try out.

Sure, you have to be mentally game to boost your productivity--but your office space plays a role too. From layouts to gadgets, here are a few ideas for revamping your workspace and office to enhance your get-more-done attitude and creativity. --Laura Montini

In different wavelengths, light can act on the body like a drug, so says the latest research. So instead of chugging a cup of coffee to stave off that 3 o'clock feeling, consider turning up the blue light at the office. It's been found to suppress melatonin, a hormone that promotes drowsiness. Engineers at LED manufacturer Lighting Science have developed an app-controlled blue light, called Rhythm Downlight, which is scheduled to ship this summer, according to Popular Science.

"Hot desking" involves sitting at multiple workspaces throughout the office, none of which permanently belong to anyone. Design firm IDEO practices this system because it allows project teams to pick up and gather when and where they need. As long as employees are provided some personal storage space, they'll be willing to give up personal work space in the name of collaboration, Tom Eich, IDEO's Chief Technology Officer, told Businessweek.

Here's a little high tech to support your creative workforce as they move about the office. The TouchPico, from Singapore-based company Touch Jet, is a smartphone-sized pico projector that creates a touch user interface on walls and tables. In addition to serving as a portable whiteboard, you can use it to beam in remote workers via Skype, since the device is Android-powered. TouchPico won the Showstoppers Launch.it event at CES 2014, and the company said it plans to start selling the device -- for about $500 -- in June.

First Round Capital Partner Bill Trenchard has written that one of the most productive things a CEO can do is manage "by walking around" and asking teams how they're progressing. But rather than tower above them, pull up a seat -- or better yet a desk. This mobile desk on wheels from Opulent Items retails at $500.

There's been a lot of debate recently over whether the open office layout helps or hinders productivity. What is clear, though, is that noise is an issue in most work spaces. Studies have shown that noise interruptions during simple tasks actually provide stimulation to keep working effectively. However, interruptions during complex work cause individuals to take a longer time to re-orient. That's why experts from furniture designer Allsteel recommend that in addition to open spaces, each office has closed individual workspaces as well as closed shared workspaces.

Thermal comfort in the office might seem like the least of your worries, but hot and cold employees could be costing you. Researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that when an insurance company transitioned workers to a building with personal thermal controls, productivity increased by 2.8 percent, according to a post from design firm HOK. Not every office comes with the luxury of advanced temperature control, but having some fun gadgets around the office might to the trick. Try the USB-powered heating blanket or an air conditioned cooling cushion, for example.

Categories: Small Business News

3 Steps to Become a Better Leader

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:45am

LearnVest founder Alexa von Tobel and Samuel Bacharach, co-founder of Bacharach Leadership Group, demystify the essential skills of leaders and reveal how to instill them in yourself and your employees.

Categories: Small Business News

The Key to Negotiating Like a Leader

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:45am

Samuel Bacharach wants entrepreneurs to think differently about negotiation as a leader.

Categories: Small Business News

Leading in a Virtual Environment

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:45am

Samuel Bacharach discusses how in-person leadership skills can translate to digital interactions.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Train Any Employee to Lead

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:45am

Samuel Bacharach explains how to encourage your employees to understand the behaviors they need to develop to advance within your organization.

Categories: Small Business News

There Are No 'Born Leaders'

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:45am

According to Samuel Bacharach, leadership can be developed in anyone, as long as there's the desire to learn.

Categories: Small Business News

3 Steps to Become a Better Leader

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:45am

Alexa von Tobel and Samuel Bacharach outline the skills that can help anyone develop into a great leader.

Categories: Small Business News

3 Great Messaging Apps for Work

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:30am

To stay connected to colleagues and clients, try these tools--they're easier to use than the apps already on your phone.

Think about your work communications. Managing your email is probably a huge time suck. For the same reason, you probably hate it when someone leaves you a voice mail. And considering 90 percent of people in the U.S. supposedly keep their smartphone within reach around the clock every day of the week, you may just find text messaging the fastest, least painful way to send a message or get an answer.

If that's you, check out a few messaging apps you might like for communicating with colleagues and customers.

Voxer

Ideal for the construction, transportation, and hospitality industries, as well as any other industry in which people need to communicate without taking the time to make a call, this walkie talkie-like service is a mobile app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. For $9.95 a month, Voxer Business lets you listen to a voice message as it comes in or later as a recording; send audio, texts, and photos to individuals or groups of up to 500 contacts at a time; and forward messages and get message location details in real time. It includes several other features good for companies, such as Web access, team messaging, and administrative control of employee access, as well as enterprise-ready features such as data encryption and data retention policies.

Cotap

Though there's no shortage of group messaging apps, this free iOS and Android app is supersimple to use because you don't have to manually enter contacts or create groups. Instead, after you open the app and input your work email address, Cotap searches your phone's address book for anyone who also uses your work email domain, automatically creating your company's address book within the Cotap platform. It's slick, because the next person from your company who starts using the app will get immediate access to all the email domains already in there. Another positive: You don't need to share your personal phone number with co-workers to be able to message their phones, and vice versa.

HeyWire

This text messaging app is sort of like Google Voice in that you can text people either from a mobile app or from your desktop via a Web app, but instead of using a new phone number, HeyWire lets you use your business landline number so you can keep your business identity without having to use your personal phone number. And, unlike Cotap, HeyWire lets you text people outside your organization, such as customers, partners, prospects, and vendors, making it particularly popular with salespeople. HeyWire is $10 a month per user, and companies that use it either white label the service or incorporate it into an existing app via an API.

Do you use a messaging app for work that's not listed here? Please share it in the comments along with a few words regarding its merits.

Categories: Small Business News

Even Great Presentations Don't Always Get This One Detail Right

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:00am

If your audience walks away remembering the theme of your talk, you've done your job. Here's one way to make sure it happens.

Quick: How much time did you spend thinking of the title of your last presentation? I'd venture to say, not nearly enough.

Titles are important. My dad was an editor, and legend has it that sometime in 1955, a manuscript entitled Big Yeller Dog crossed his desk. He liked the book and decided to publish it, but he asked the author if he could change the title to Old Yeller. The author agreed, and the name is lodged in our collective psyches.

Titles sell. Gone With the Wind. From Here to Eternity. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. These are all great titles for presentations, too.

For instance:

"The Budget Surplus and the Bush Administration: or Gone With the Wind."

"Creating Customer Loyalty: From Here to Eternity."

"Comparative Online Dating Outcomes: or The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter."

Can you use good titles to set a tone for your presentations, without losing your buttoned-up professionalism? I think so.

I gave a talk once at the Pharmaceutical Management Science Association (PMSA) called "How to Get Brand Teams to Get Down on their Knees and Beg for More." I used the excuse that the meeting was in Nashville, and my talk needed to sound like a country and western song.

You can afford to jazz up your titles a bit. A good title sets the audience abuzz as it anticipates being entertained or intrigued. And the speaker can come back to the title throughout the talk if it serves as a theme. People may not leave humming the melody, but they might leave remembering the theme--which is a feather in the cap for any speaker.

And at the start, I like it when the speaker leaves the title slide up and delivers her opening so there's no new visual to distract me from my enjoyment of her beginning--that is, if she's done her homework and crafted a beginning designed to capture the attention of an audience.

The title of your talk should make people want to come hear it. If someone stops you in the elevator because you have a "Speaker" ribbon on your lapel and asks you, "What is your talk about?" you could say, "It's about unethical practices in the pest control industry and it's called 'Rat Finks on the Rise.' I hope to see you there."

And then, as you leave the elevator, you should turn and wink as the door closes.

Categories: Small Business News

3 Ways Putting Down Your iPhone Will Improve Your Business

Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 9:34am

What tech-obsessed business owners miss every day.

I love technology. I am often an early adopter of the latest high tech device. And I am also always after my staff to seek out new technology and new ways we can apply it in our business.

But even as I do this, I encourage small business owners to remember that technology supports - but does not replace - the key building blocks of any company. Too many people have their heads in their devices. It’s easy to forget three growth maxims for small businesses that are still true, even in the Internet age:

  • Referrals are crucial building blocks. Technology can promise to generate leads, prospects, opportunities and growth. But you can’t be fully dependent on the screen to generate new business. I remember working as a young man in my father’s commercial painting business and he used to drill this into me all the time: If the monsignor at St. Agnes likes your jokes and thinks you did a good job painting the rectory kitchen, he’ll tell Father Meara at Trinity whose brother John owns two apartment buildings. The business follows the relationship.
  • Community is your best investment. When you have a chance to do something good, do it in the community in which you do business. The community is not just your customers. It’s also your employees, your vendors, all the people most likely to remember your name. There are many worthy causes all around the world. Don’t forget to invest in your own backyard.
  • Conversations are your best source of competitive information. Today, it’s trendy to talk about “big data” and what it can tell us about how to run our businesses. All good information. But tech platforms do not negate the value of data you get over a cup of coffee or a back yard fence. When I was a kid, Dave the deliveryman for Sealtest Dairy would show up at to my grandmother’s door every day with a selection of milk, cheese, butter-;and data. Whose business was doing well, who owed who money, which of the neighborhood boys was in trouble again. He was the “big data” of the neighborhood. When I started my first flower shop, I set up a couple of plastic chairs and always kept a pot of coffee brewing so that folks would stop in, say hello, and chat with me about what was going on up and down the block. Today’s small business owners would be wise to look up from their screens and look for information in a conversation.
  • I started out with one flower shop. I never forget that my business did not grow from small to big on technology alone. Relationships, community and conversation were my earliest tools. That’s still true for small business today.

    Categories: Small Business News

    A Closer Look: 5 Crucial Phases of Startup Growth

    Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 8:46am

    Mohan Sawhney, professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, recently published a research-based list of five transitions companies need to make in order to scale.

    As difficult as it can be to go from startup to viable company, the next transitions in business growth--from small business to midsized one, or from midsized to large--can be even more difficult.

    "The organic nature of early-stage growth can often leave companies relying on a handful of talented leaders to handle everything from acquiring new clients to managing functions in an informal, reactive way," writes Mohan Sawhney, professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, in an article on the Kellogg site. "Once a company achieves a certain size, the needs of the business typically overwhelm these ad hoc approaches."

    Here's Sawhney's list of five transitions companies need to make in order to achieve scale:

    1. Opportunistic to strategic. "Executives should seek to narrow their markets and focus on targeted customer segments," he writes. That may seem like surprising advice--growing by narrowing your markets--but the idea is to avoid spreading yourself too thin. Many growth companies make the mistake of performing any and all services for any and all customers. That's a great way to grow to a certain level, but it's not scalable. To scale, Sawhney suggests making bigger, bolder bets (but fewer overall bets) in the areas where you anticipate the most demand, growth and profitability.

    I asked Sawhney if he could provide a few overarching principles that CEOs could use to determine which segments to focus on--and which ones to drop. He suggested using a simple model that he called the 3 Ms: momentum, margin, and materiality.

    "Momentum basically means to what extent are your sales growing, how much traction are you getting, what is the market's response," he explained. Margin is exactly that--the areas in which you have profitability. Materiality is Sawhney's term for the size of the market space. Specifically, you need to gauge how much room you have to grow in a given market space. Say you have $100 million in business in a given space; that's nice, but if the size of that space is $120 million, the opportunity is limited--it's not where you should place your bets.

    2. Projects to products. When you're small, you and your team can learn (and make mistakes) at the client's expense. But what happens when your team can't manage every project, all of the time?

    The answer, says Sawhney, is to "identify patterns in the delivery of services and then design products based on what can be repeated." If that sounds easier said than done, don't worry: Here's the blueprint 37signals used to go from projects to products.

    3. Ownership to partnership. It's common for startups to control every step of the sales cycle, from product development to supply chains to sales channels. To scale, you'll probably need to form partnerships--to reach customers that you don't currently have access to.

    I asked Sawhney to assess the risks of a partnership approach. After all, the most powerful partners are likely to be larger entities who don't always have a small business's best interests in mind.

    "The first thing to realize is that every partnership is a risk, because your partner can also become potentially a competitor," he said. Another risk, if you're accessing markets through parnerhips, is that your brand is not always in front of the customers--you can get buried behind the brands of other products, or the partner itself.

    To some extent, these risks are the inevitable by-product of entering any partnership where the other entity has more power. All you can do, says Sawhney, is exert whatever leverage you have. That leverage might be some protected intellectual property, which prevents the partner from replicating you.

    Another form of leverage is relationships: Perhaps you have access to people or networks that a larger entity could benefit from. The best form of leverage is to make sure you have a strong brand that resonates with customers. If customers crave your brand, then larger partners will always be motivated to cooperate with you in a win-win fashion.

    4. People to process. At small companies, one key group of gifted employees is usually the driving force. "When this core team can't scale, the shortage of talent can quickly become an impediment to expansion," writes Sawhney. This is why the core team needs "to embed expertise into the company's processes and structure to lessen its reliance on a few key people."

    That sounds logical, but executing it is another story. How do you actually go about embedding expertise?

    Sawhney's recommendations--software, systems, training programs--aren't surprising. The biggest hurdle, he says, is not the "how" of embedding expertise; it's whether the CEO and leadership team have the self-awareness to let go of their own private savvy, in order to disseminate their know-how throughout the organization. It's not easy, because relinquishing their stranglehold on key knowledge can make the CEO or the leadership team feel as if they are less indispensable.

    Moreover, it's usually the founder/CEO's private drive and hunger and knowledge that helped the organization grow from nothing to the point where it's ready to scale. To suddenly act in a different way, for the best interest of the organization, can seem extremely counterintuitive and uncomfortable. "Entrepreneurs are very used to managing everything on the back of napkin and in their head. They are not comfortable letting go of control," says Sawhney. He is fond of the maxim, "You have to let go to grow," as well as its sibling, "You're not going to grow until you let go."

    5. Relationships to brands. What happens when important members of your sales team leave the company? For small companies, a big risk is losing the key relationships that drive sales. But the stronger your brand is, the less you're at risk for customer abandonment when a key salesperson departs. "This process involves delinking the brand from relationships while still embodying the critical attributes that the company has delivered in its relationships," writes Sawhney. In other words: Define your brand not only by what it says, but also by what it does. That's the best way to form an enduring--and loyalty-inducing--brand identity.

    Categories: Small Business News

    10 Ways to Lose Friends and Irritate People

    Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 8:39am

    Here are things Dale Carnegie would have said...if he was snarky.

    Want to win friends and influence people? Here are 10 things that ensure you won't:

    1. You thoughtlessly waste other peoples' time. Every time you're late to an appointment or meeting says your time is more important. Every time you wait until the grocery clerk finishes ringing you up to search for your debit card says you couldn't care less if others have to wait unnecessarily. Every time you take three minutes to fill your oversize water bottle while a line stacks up behind you says you're in your own little world--and your world is the only world that matters.

    Small, irritating things, but basically no big deal? Wrong. People who don't notice the small ways they inconvenience others tend to be oblivious when they do it in a major way.

    How you treat people when it doesn't really matter--especially when you're a leader--says everything about you. Act like the people around you have more urgent needs than yours and you will never go wrong--and you will definitely be liked.

    2. You ignore people outside your "level." There's an older guy at the gym that easily weighs 350 pounds and understandably struggles on the aerobic and weight equipment. Hats off; he's in there trying.

    Yet nobody talks to him. Or even seems to notice him. It's like he's invisible. Why? He doesn't fit in.

    We all do it. When we visit a company, we talk to the people we're supposed to talk to. When we attend a civic event, we talk to the people we're supposed to talk to. We breeze right by the technicians and talk to the guy who booked us to speak, even though the techs are the ones who make us look and sound good onstage.

    Here's an easy rule of thumb: Nod whenever you make eye contact. Or smile. Or (gasp!) even say hi. Just act like people exist.

    We'll automatically like you for it--and remember you as someone who engages even when there's nothing in it for you.

    3. You ask for too much. A guy you don't know asks you for a favor; a big, time-consuming favor. You politely decline. He asks again. You decline again. Then he whips out the Need Card. "But it's really important to me. You have to. I really need [it]."

    Maybe you do, in fact, really need [it]. But your needs are your problem. The world doesn't owe you anything. You aren't entitled to advice or mentoring or success. The only thing you're entitled to is what you earn.

    People tend to help people who first help themselves. People tend to help people who first help them. And people definitely befriend people who look out for other people first, because we all want more of those people in our lives.

    4. You ignore people in genuine need. At the same time, some people aren't in a position to help themselves. They need a hand: a few dollars, some decent food, a warm coat.

    Though I don't necessarily believe in karma, I do believe good things always come back to you, in the form of feeling good about yourself.

    And that's reason enough to help people who find themselves on the downside of advantage.

    5. You ask a question so you can talk. A guy at lunch asks, "Hey, do you think social-media marketing is effective?"

    "Well," you answer, "I think under the right circumstances..."

    "Wrong," he interrupts. "I've never seen an ROI. I've never seen a bump in direct sales. Plus 'awareness' is not a measurable or even an important goal..." and he drones on while you desperately try to escape.

    Don't shoehorn in your opinions under false pretenses. Only ask a question if you genuinely want to know the answer. And when you do speak again, ask a follow-up question that helps you better understand the other person's point of view.

    People like people who are genuinely interested in them--not in themselves.

    6. You pull a "Do you know who I am?" OK, so maybe they don't take it to the Reese Witherspoon level, but many people whip out some form of the "I'm Too Important for This" card.

    Maybe the line is too long. Or the service isn't sufficiently "personal." Or they aren't shown their "deserved" level of respect.

    Say you really are somebody. People always like you better when you don't act like you know you're somebody--or that you think it entitles you to different treatment.

    7. You don't dial it back. An unusual personality is a lot of fun--until it isn't. Yet when the going gets tough or a situation gets stressful, some people just can't stop "expressing their individuality."

    Look. We know you're funny. We know you're quirky. We know you march to the beat of your own drum. Still, there's a time to play and a time to be serious, a time to be irreverent and a time to conform, a time to challenge and a time to back off.

    Knowing when the situation requires you to stop justifying your words or actions with an unspoken "Hey, that's just me being me" can often be the difference between being likeable and being an ass.

    8. You mistake self-deprecation for permission. You know how it's OK when you make fun of certain things about yourself, but not for other people to make fun of you for those same things? Like receding hairlines. Weight. A struggling business or career. Your spouse and kids.

    It's OK when you poke a little gentle fun at yourself, but the last thing you want to hear are bald or money or "Do you want fries with that?" jokes. (Bottom line: I can say I'm fat. You can't.)

    Sometimes self-deprecation is genuine, but it's often a mask for insecurity. Never assume people who make fun of themselves give you permission to poke the same fun at them.

    Only tease when you know it will be taken in the right spirit. Otherwise, if you feel the need to be funny, make fun of yourself.

    9. You humblebrag. Humblebragging is a form of bragging that tries to cover the brag with a veneer of humility so you can brag without appearing to brag. (Key word is "appearing," because it's still easy to tell humblebraggers are quite tickled with themselves.)

    For example, here's a tweeted humblebrag from actor Stephen Fry: "Oh dear. Don't know what to do at the airport. Huge crowd, but I'll miss my plane if I stop and do photos... oh dear don't want to disappoint."

    Your employees don't want to hear how stressed you are about your upcoming TED Talk. They don't want to hear how hard it is to maintain two homes. Before you brag--humbly or not, business or personal--think about your audience. A gal who is a size 14 doesn't want to hear you complain that normally you're a size 2, but you're a size 4 in Prada because its sizes run small.

    Or better yet, don't brag. Just be proud of what you've accomplished. Let others brag for you.

    If you've done cool things, don't worry--they will.

    10. You push your opinions. You know things. Cool things. Great things.

    Awesome. But only share them in the right settings. If you're a mentor, share away. If you're a coach or a leader, share away. If you're the guy who just started a paleo diet, don't tell us all what to order.

    Unless we ask. What's right for you may not be right for others; shoot, it might not even turn out to be right for you.

    Like most things in life, offering helpful advice is all about picking your spots--just like winning friends and influencing people.

    Now it's your turn. What would you add to the list?

    Categories: Small Business News

    Did Steve Jobs Lower Your Salary?

    Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 8:22am

    Google and Apple colluded to help keep salaries low in the Valley. Now your own workers may be affected.

    For years, Google and Apple had a gentlemen's agreement not to poach one another's employees. But now that a class action lawsuit has been filed claiming affected tech workers deserve $9 billion in total--that's billion with a B, not an M--it's clear this wasn't just a Google and Apple thing but something much bigger. Tech companies like Intuit and Pixar were also named in the suit, and now everyone is panicked, as they should be.

    Yes, high salaries are a concern for any business, especially startups. And if the free market had been functioning, Silicon Valley salaries may have soared higher than they already have, making it even harder to secure top-notch talent. But it's also likely higher Silicon Valley salaries would have had another result: talent moving to other regions.

    Already, up-and-coming tech hubs like San Diego, Denver, and Austin beat out San Francisco as the best places for startups in 2014, according to Forbes. So there's no telling what that list would look like today if Steve Jobs hadn't told Google, "If you hire a single one of these people that means war."

    By the way, this wasn't a casual comment made at a tech fair. This was his company's human resources policy. The New York Times relates the content of several of these emails such as this one from Apple HR:

    "Please add Google to your 'hands-off' list. We recently agreed not to recruit from one another so if you hear of any recruiting they are doing against us, please be sure to let me know."

    Meanwhile, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he wanted to stop discussing this subject over email, as he was concerned about the legal repurcussions. Let's be honest, what would a jury infer from such a comment? That you were knowingly engaging in illegal activity.

    In your own company, the desire to control your external environment is important. After all, this saved Google, Apple, and the other companies involved a boatload of cash by keeping salaries low (relatively speaking). But the expected payout, should the plaintiffs prevail in this lawsuit, will be just as high.

    If you want other companies to keep their hands off your employees, the best way to do so is by being a great employer. This means offering competitive salary and benefits, no doubt, but it also involves not being a jerk, offering great opportunities, respecting employees' differences, and perhaps even offering free lunch.

    You can go the free-market suppression route, but even Google isn't too big to fail (or lose a lawsuit, though it will take time before things come to light).

    Categories: Small Business News

    7 Things You Need to Know Today

    Inc Small Business - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 8:17am

    A roundup of the day's news curated by the Inc. editorial team to help you and your business succeed.

    1. Boston's Booming

    Boston startups secured more than $1.2 billion in venture financing in 142 deals for the most recent quarter, according to a CB Editorial study. That's the best quarter the city's tech startups have seen since 2009. Wayfair, an online furnishing retailer, raised $157 million ahead of its planned initial public offering, while the biotech, clean technology, and life sciences industries landed most of the financing.--TechCrunch

    2. Food for Thought

    Sheryl Sandberg makes a darn good point in an interview about her campaign against "bossy": "Next time you're about to call a little girl bossy, say instead that she has executive leadership skills. Everyone laughs. But then I say, think about saying that a boy has executive leadership skills. Nobody laughs. It's not funny! What that points out is how different our expectations are about boys and girls."--San Jose Mercury News

    3. Time to Hire a Pro

    Penalties related to employment taxes cost businesses $4.5 billion for the 12-month period ending last September, according to the IRS. Small businesses are especially likely to file incorrectly because they are not as well equipped as large companies to keep up with continually changing regulations.--Businessweek

    4. Show Me the Money--and the Advice

    You don't just want the money. According to a recently published Wharton School of Business survey of 126 startup tech executives, most companies want investors to be able to offer operational advice and help more than they want huge valuations or big-name venture capitalists. If you're looking for capital, make sure they can show you the ropes and not just the money.--Knowledge@Wharton

    5. Another Kind of March Madness Bracket

    The University of Connecticut may have won the annual NCAA basketball tournament, but it's Comcast who won Consumerist's 4th Annual Worst Company in America Tournament, narrowly defeating Monsanto in the finals. On most days, you may sit there thinking about what it would take to grow your business from SMB size to Fortune 2000 level. On others, you can sit back and be grateful for all the ways that your SMB status (and, of course, your ethical behavior) shields you from infamy.--Consumerist

    6. Browser Beware

    More details have emerged about a password-stealing encryption bug that was discovered on several websites yesterday. The bug, called Heartbleed, was found on Airbnb, Pinterest, and Creative Commons (to name a few), and though many of these companies have announced fixes, beware: lingering security issues still persist.--Mashable

    7. The Programmers Are Coming

    New York's tech workforce is booming--so say studies, at least--and two companies with announcements this morning are aiming to help companies find the programmers they desperately need. Hired.com is launching in New York City to match developers and employers, and The Flatiron School, which educates Web developers and software engineers, is getting an infusion of cash to grow.--Inc.com

    Categories: Small Business News

    The Small Business Advocate - April 2014

    SBA Office of Advocacy - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 8:17am

    The April 2014 issue of The Small Business Advocate features a visit by Chief Counsel for Advocacy Dr.

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    Categories: Small Business News
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