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.


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.


April Fools, Why Joke with your Customers?

April 1, 2009

april-fools-8Today is the first day of April, April Fools Day as it is traditionally called.  And more and more, most likely taking a page out of Google‘s book, companies are playing April Fool’s Jokes on their customers.  But why?  What is the point of playing a joke on people who trust you to deliver, or serve, or help them?  Why risk upsetting people?

Because a good story is fun, and something fun and different can spread.  Ideas that spread lead directly to success and, if you are a fan of Seth Godin, you know that is his rallying cry.  True word of mouth marketing exists when customers are so intrigued by your story or your beliefs that they tell their friends, they blog about it, they Tweet about it, etc.  When a lot of people do this in a short period of time, the impact is instant.

In many industries, a shift has occurred from the traditional relationships between business and customer to a new “friendly” relationship. Whereas before it was very important for companies to appear extremely conservative, respectable, and professional at all times, nowadays more companies are appealing to customers on a more personal and familiar level.  Having fun with customers is something that has developed from this “we’re a friend” methodology.

What better way to have fun with your customers than on a day when playing pranks is built right into the calendar.  I think its a very innovative way to create a buzz, and relate to your customers on a more personal level.

But here’s the catch…be creative.  Do something different and unique.  And make people appreciate the effort.  If you do something that takes no effort, and is not that creative, most people will just be annoyed.  The goal is, when a person realizes it’s an April Fool’s joke, they laugh and carry on with whatever business they have with you.

It’s already too late this year, but April Fool’s day is not the only time of year that you can have fun with your customers.  Contest and promotions built out of the same methodology can be a creative way to connect with the public.  But if April Fool’s day sounds like the sort of thing you or your company would like to work towards next year, you don’t have to wait to start the planning now.

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Getting Attention vs. Getting Respect

March 25, 2009

respectMake an impression.  That is the goal.  Whether you are an entrepreneur, a small business owner, a company, or just a person at an event or party.  But how?

Be different. I have referenced Seth Godin a number of times when I talk about the need to stand out and be different.  But it is very true, and he says it the best (and most often).  No one will ever notice you if you are the same as everyone else.

But here is the catch, there is a difference between getting respect and just getting attention.

Getting attention can help you get in the door. It can make potential clients and customers aware of your existence.  It can start a conversation.  But it doesn’t necessarily lead to success.

The guy who trips over the carpet in the middle of a crowded party might get my attention.  The company that offers a free car to the winner of a contest might get my attention.  But neither of those means anything in the long run.

Getting respect, in a business sense, means having a brand that makes people take notice. In a personal sense, it means that people genuinely understand you, and appreciate your point of view.

Getting respect leads to success.  It means, not only did you get their attention, but you did it in a creative and fashionable way, and you were able to keep their attention after the initial wave of awareness died down.

Getting respect means long term clients, it means brand loyalty, it means word of mouth marketing and referrals, and it means a corporate culture that stands for something.

Next time you have something to say, or you’re in a position to start a conversation, go for respect.  Start with something unique, something creative, and something that stands out.  But be sure to follow up with something real, something of substance, something powerful and meaningful.  The business, or person, that does this, will pave the way for lasting success.

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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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Book Review: The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur

March 3, 2009

tpeLooking for a book that can help you jump start your business idea?  Well I’ve got one for you.  For the second time since its release, I just read The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur by Michael Michalowicz.

Many of you may have noticed this book already on my Recommended Reading list, but after going back through it a second time, it was clear that I needed to expand on that recommendation.

Why is this book so valuable? It is rare that an author gives out such real, to the point advice in their first book, if ever.  What I mean by that is, instead of dishing out the usual dose of vague inspirational advice, Mike dives right into real businesses.  From his own experiences, and the experience of others he has worked with, Mike lays out the fundamental approaches to any small business strategy.

From financing to marketing, from organizational structure to idea generation, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur is filled with real life stories and suggestions that will help you get a clear vision of how to run your company.  This works for those entrepreneurs in the idea stage as well as a small business owner running a successful company.

The book is written in the most basic conversational tone, which makes it a quick read, and drives home the various tips that the author makes.  It is easy to pick up on important points, and even easier to apply those points to your own business or idea.  And unlike the average business book which harps on the same point over and over, making it easy to lose interest or lose focus, this book continues to throw new ideas at you with every page turn.

I love a book that inspires you to take notes in the margins, stop in the middle of a page because you just had an idea, and can be used as a reference after the initial reading.  For me, this book did all three of those things.  I would recommend it to anyone with dreams or a vision of starting their own business, or anyone who is interested in the subject of startups and small business in general.

To order the book from Amazon, click here.  To find out more about the book and its author, Michael Michalowicz, check out his website at http://www.toiletpaperentrepreneur.com, or connect with him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/TPEntrepreneur.

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Free eBook: Tips and Tricks to Make Money Online

March 2, 2009

Daniel Scocco of Daily Blog Tips had an idea, use the power of his network to create a collaborative ebook on making money.  So he used his blog to ask for submissions from any and all who wanted to participate.

After about a month of Daniel receiving submissions and compiling the tips, the book is finally ready.  And guess who is the first contributor listed?

I am sure that is just coincidence, but either way it could be a valuable tool, and an interesting resource.  I am offering the ebook, entitled “Tips and Tricks on Making Money Online” as a free download.  However, since it is a collaborative effort, I cannot post a download link here.

Instead, all you have to do is subscribe to my RSS feed either through a reader or by email.  Then, all you have to do is click the “Email the Author” link at the bottom of my feed to request the book and I will get it to you right away.

I want to thank Daniel for this opportunity.  I would love to hear what you think of the book, who’s tips you liked/didn’t like and why.  Feel free to email me with any questions or comments, or just add them in the comments section below.

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