Blog Spotlight: Open Forum Offers Great Advice for Small Business Owners

July 29, 2009

logo_OPENSmall business owners are always looking for new ways to save money, market their products, talk to potential customers, find investors, etc.  Because the task of running a business is so vast, there are literally hundreds of things to take care of.  And if you can get some advice on how to handle just one of those things, it can be a great help.  And many businesses, consultancies, and experts have made a lot of money offering that type of advice for years.

When American Express decided to target small businesses, they created OPEN.  American Express Open offered new credit card services specifically designed to give small business owners what they were looking for from a credit card.  But they didn’t stop there.

More recently, American Express created the Open Forum, a blog of sorts to offer all types of information that entrepreneurs are looking for in one easy place.  The Open Forum brings together experts from many different fields, and gives straight to the point advice on such things as hiring, investing, marketing, innovation, and saving money.  Anything a business owner would want to learn is most likely sitting there waiting to be found.

They categorize their content into 7 main headings; innovation, technology, managing, marketing, lifestyle, money, the world.  It is easy to find the information that you are looking for, or just browse to see if you find anything interesting on that particular day.

This is a genius move by American Express, as it allows them to enter the social media space with a valuable offer that is perfect for their target market.  It also connects them with experts from across the business and financial world to give credibility and valuable content.

For any small business owner out there who has not checked out what the Open Forum has to offer, I recommend doing it now.  They have done a lot of work to the website recently, and they continue to produce even more valuable articles.

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Google Alerts for Small Business Entrepreneurs

July 14, 2009

logo_betaGoogle Alerts are a great way to stay up on news on any topic that might interest you.  What a Google Alert does is take any new blog posts, news articles, or web pages that mention a word or phrase of your choice, and email it to you directly.

For example, I receive daily emails on anything new for “Zach Heller“, “Be Innovation“, and “innovation blog“.  This helps me keep track of topics that I am interested in writing about, as well as stay up to date on anything the web has to say about me.

For entrepreneurs, these alerts can help you keep track of any new updates in your industry, anyone speaking about your company, or any deals your competitors may be offering, without having to do any of the research.  For example, you can set an alert for the industry name that you are in, one for each of your competitors names, and one for your company name.  Then you will start receiving emails on a daily basis with any new information on those topics.

It’s that simple, and it can really help you stay on top of your game. The last thing you need is for some important piece of information to be out on the web and you don’t ever take the time to look for and find it.  And trust me, any time someone has something to say about your company or brand name, its important.

To set up your alerts today, go to http://www.google.com/alerts.


Obama Looking to Small Businesses for Growth

March 16, 2009

obamaIt was not obvious to everyone during the campaign, but it always appeared that Barack Obama understood the role of small businesses have in the US economy.  An entrepreneurial culture, where small businesses can innovate and drive change is important to any economy, especially a struggling one.  And Barack Obama stressed that more than any of the other candidates.  And now, that message is moving to the front of the economic battle.

Today, President Barack Obama will announce a plan to help struggling small business owners.  This article, from CNN, discusses the two programs that his plan will address right away.

The first, called “the 7a Program“, allows for the Small Business Administration to back up to $2 million in loans to small businesses.  This frees up banks and other lending institutions to once again free up some funds and help small business owners meet the financial needs within the company.

The second, called “the 504 Program“, guarantees up to $4 million for small business development project.  Under the new plan, the fees for borrowers and lenders will be reduced or eliminated to make applying for these funds more attractive.

These are two important steps in turning things around for small businesses.  It is even more important that Barack Obama and the rest of his economic team focus on what small businesses can do to give a much needed boost to the economy.  Increasing the availability of short term funds will go a long way toward relieving many small business owners.  But to improve the nature of the economic climate, it may take more of a concentrated effort on paving the way for successful small business to grow and compete.

Often times, small businesses will find solutions to problems before the larger companies.  The problem is, the landscape is such that larger companies often have too much power and are resistant to change.  We have seen this in the auto industry, the printing/media industry, and the financial industry.  Times are changing and we need the President and his administration to see our flaws and empower those people with the answers to change things.

Small businesses are the start.

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Look to the Volcano

March 13, 2009

volcanoIf you’ve read this blog before, you know that I am constantly telling you to “Always be innovating“.  Yesterday, someone reminded me, if you are constantly changing and doing new things, life gets too hectic and the business could fall apart.  After thinking about that for awhile, I came up with this analogy to help explain what I mean a little more clearly.

Think if your innovation like a volcano.  Volcanoes are not always erupting (thank god).  They lie dormant for years between eruptions.  They are, however, without getting into too much detail about volcanic activity, tectonic plates, and geological theory, always doing something.  Deep beneath the surface, that volcano is getting ready for the next eruption.

And that is what you need to consider when it comes to innovation.  When I say, “always be innovating”, it means always be doing something.  Just like you would tell an entrepreneur to always be doing something that helps you move toward starting a company, you should always be doing something that will eventually lead to your next innovative breakthrough.

Things like brainstorming sessions, a call for ideas from all your employees, hiring a chief of innovation, talking to your customers, and doing various market research are all forms of innovation because they can all lead to innovation.  So I don’t mean that you should always be changing something in a major way.  I mean that there are little things that you can always do to encourage an innovative culture, open yourself up to change, and increase the chance of great innovative opportunities down the road.

And when that volcano erupts, you will have laid the groundwork for the entire company to take a huge step forward. Carry the momentum of innovation with you at all times and breakthroughs will await.

That is the definition of the phrase “Always Be Innovating”.

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Fire Yourself

March 1, 2009

youre-firedDo yourself a favor, fire yourself.  You are not good at handling those customer service calls, it takes time away from your day when you could be doing much more important things.  You are not good at collecting marketing and press related leads, and you don’t know what to say when you get a hold of them.  You are not good at filling out your taxes and handling the accounting, and you make too many mistakes.

As an entrepreneur, you may be good at a lot of things, but you also may be in dark when it comes to many tasks.  You should never be afraid to admit to your flaws or shortcomings.  Once your business is up and running, look for help.  You can always find people to do the things that you are not so good at.  Hire interns, hire friends, outsource your work, it all works.

The main reason that entrepreneurs don’t do this is because they are afraid.  They are afraid to let go of certain areas of the business because they don’t think that other people will try as hard.  As long as I am responsible for that, you’ll think, it will get done right.  The problem is, you will get so tied down in those menial tasks that you won’t have time to evaluate the business on the large scale and find new opportunities for growth.  You will stay as small as you are right now, forever.

When things stay the same, you are not innovating. You are not giving yourself a chance to grow, or try new things, or find new customers.  You are limiting yourself.

As an entrepreneur, the best thing you do is probably sell, or network, or market.  Focus on growing the business, and find people you can trust to handle the day to day tasks.  You will find yourself to be a lot happier at work, and you will free yourself up to continued success.

It takes a real forward thinking man or woman to fire yourselfDo it today.

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Think Innovation, Not Bailout

December 5, 2008

Making headlines today will be the announcement of the decision on whether or not to bailout the US Auto Industry.  What started as a $25 Billion request has turned into a $34 Billion request, and will most likely continue to grow if congress goes with the bailout option.  I read a great quote yesterday that made me think about this issue, saying that if the Big 3 could not handle the money that they earned, how do they expect to handle the money that we give them as a gift.

I am not one to relentlessly praise and uphold the free market, deregulate everything and let the chips fall where they may.  But I do think that when a company, or group of companies, are in danger of failing because of poor business practices, we need to let the market determine their fate.  The automakers have continued to be stubborn, throwing billions away on advertising campaigns, and dismissing the needs to provide more efficient vehicles that consumers have been asking for.

Now, I know that many proponents of the bailout will argue that these companies are simply too big to fail.  The fact that their downfall would affect so many other people is troubling, and the one point that makes me think a bailout is necessary.

But what if we take that money and put it into startups within the industry, or outside the industry?  What if the government would set up a program whereby entrepreneurs and small business owners could submit ideas through a selection process and get government backed loans to grow and develop?  Let others have a chance to succeed where the big 3 have failed.

Help out an innovative battery manufacturer in Toronto gain access to, or start their own, production facility.  Help out the more efficient manufacturers by allowing them to hire more people and expand production.  Help out parts manufacturers, allowing them to upgrade their shops with the latest technology.  Shake up the entire industry, then let the market play out.  New leaders will rise to the top, and soon, if the big 3 are still in business, they will learn to compete in the NEW auto industry.

It’s time to send a message to the various sectors of the economy.  Be smart, practice good business, and grow and develop efficiently.  There will be no more handouts to companies with flawed business practices.  That would be real change, and though it may take awhile to catch on, it would leave us better off in the long run.

I want your opinion.  Check out the poll below:

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Chief Innovation Officer

November 17, 2008

innovation-venn-1According to Wikipedia, innovation is a new way of doing something. Successful companies invent a new way of doing something, then package it, and sell it. Innovation is business. Success is a direct result of innovations on all levels. So it is no surprise that a new executive position is popping up within many large organizations these days, the Chief Innovation Officer.

Job descriptions may vary, but for a CIO, idea generation will always be king. Real innovators know that there is never a shortage of ideas. That is just the way some people’s brains work, constantly thinking of new ways to do things. Those are the people that can rise to the duties of CIO, and lead corporations to the next level.

This job position has become more and more popular over the past year and a half. Companies like Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Apple, Google, and Toyota all list this position among their list of executives in the organization. You can even attend various workshops and seminars to learn what you need to know to fill this role. Some of the things you will learn: fostering an innovative corporate culture, establishing innovation processes, building idea teams, etc.

In 2006, the University of Colorado became the first university to offer degrees in innovation with its Bachelor of Innovation program. I am sure there are fresh young minds out there being groomed for these positions right now.

In my opinion, a CIO can go a long way to helping a company go from good to great. The key is hiring the right person for the job, and then giving them the space and freedom to define the role for themselves. The innovation department is a place where ideas go to develop and people go to learn. It can be an extension of R&D, with a little technology and marketing thrown in the mix.

A lot of the qualities that I would look for in a Chief Innovation Officer are those qualities shared by entrepreneurs. He or she needs to be able to come up with ideas, strategize, and put it into action. They need to be able to see things through from start to finish, and then they need to be able to pass it on to others within the organization to run it while they create the next great idea. A good CIO should own their position, and be able to develop and put into action a few big ideas every quarter. With this type of constant growth, good companies will never be stagnant or hesitant, and it will keep things moving in the right direction.

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