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Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Trend: Starting Small Businesses Later in Life
Last week I published an interview with business humorist Hesh Reinfeld. Hesh is an example of someone in the Baby Boomer generation (i.e., those over age 40) who decided to start a business after having a few decades of experience under his belt.

He is part of a growing trend of people in the United States starting businesses later in life or after retirement. And he's got lots of company.

Yahoo Small Business commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a survey to gauge entrepreneurial attitudes back in April 2005.

Of those surveyed, 56% said they wanted to own their own business later in life. That's more than four times as many who simply want to retire and not work at all! This chart of survey data tells the story:

Even more striking was the answer to the question "when are you too old to start your own business?" "It is never too late" was the response of 47% of the people.

This desire to continue working later in life seems at odds with another trend, that of people foregoing high-pressure corporate positions or jobs that bore them, for lifestyle reasons. People are saying they do not want to be part of the rat race.

But is it at odds?

Not really. What I believe is happening is that people are moving towards better integration between their work and the rest of their lives. They see owning their own business as offering flexibility. The choice is no longer either work at a demanding pace or not work at all. Instead, they can work at something they really enjoy at a pace that fits with the rest of their lives. When work and personal life are integrated better, with flexible work hours and conditions, they want to continue working.
Monday, August 29, 2005
The Latest Editions of Blawg Review and Carnival of the Capitalists
If you are looking to explore some new blogs and see what your fellow citizens are saying in the blogs about business and legal topics, then I've got two suggestions for you:

Tags: ; ; ;
Latest UK SME Statistics

New figures released last week show the largest increase in the UK business population since records began in 1995. Approximately 260,000 more businesses were found to be in operation according to the DTI's Small Business Service.

The business population totalled 4.3 million last year, compared to around four million at the start of 2003.

The figures also show:

  • There were over half a million more businesses than in 1997.
  • The increase in the number of businesses is spread across the majority of industries.
  • The proportion of national employment generated by SMEs has increased from last year to its highest level in nine years.
  • At least 95 per cent of businesses in all industry sectors were SMEs.
The SBS also provides a full statistical breakdown of the Department of Trade and Industry report:

Almost all of these enterprises (99.3 per cent) were small (0 to 49 employees). Only 26,000 (0.6 per cent) were medium-sized (50 to 249 employees) and 6,000 (0.1 per cent) were large (250 or more employees).

At the start of 2004, UK enterprises employed an estimated 22.0 million people, and had an estimated combined annual turnover of £2,400 billion.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) together accounted for more than half of the employment (58.5 per cent) and turnover (51.3 per cent) in the UK.

Small enterprises alone (0 to 49 employees) accounted for 46.8 per cent of employment and 37.0 per cent of turnover.

You can find much more here.

Sunday, August 28, 2005
PowerBlog Review: Revenue Roundtable
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: This is the eightieth in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews of business weblogs. This week's review is being guest-blogged by Lynne Meyer. Lynne Meyer, APR, is president of A Way with Words.

By Lynne Meyer

The Revenue Roundtable isn't a single entity. It's a team.

Jim Logan, Michael McLaughlin, Susan Getgood, Kevin Stirtz, Jill Konrath and Brian Carroll are based all over the United States -- Massachusetts, California, Chicago and Minnesota.

These six savvy business experts work in international management consulting, marketing, sales, product development, publishing and communications. They've each received awards and recognition in business and in blogging. Now, in addition to their own individual blogs, they've teamed up to establish a group effort -- The Revenue Roundtable blog.

According to Jim Logan, their goal is to provide information about sales, marketing and business development to help small-business owners grow profitably. "Stick with us," Jim says, "if you want specific advice on marketing strategy, lead generation, managing a complex sale and expanding your business with your existing customers. And that's just the start."

That's a lot to promise, but Revenue Roundtable has a lot to offer. Even though there are six of them contributing, this blog isn't all over the map. Instead they organize their postings around topics. Together, they write on a topic to provide in-depth information and views on that particular issue. For easy reader navigation, they also have all their entries organized by categories, and they indicate at the end of each posting the category in which that entry will be filed.

I especially like their sales tips of the day. Their June 13 sales tip posting, "Don't bring all your goodies to the table," is a great example of the kind of practical sales and business oriented advice the site offers:
    "To be successful getting into big companies, you need to think small. Take a look at all the products or services you offer and determine which one(s):

  • Solve the company's most urgent problems,

  • Are the most differentiated from your competition,

  • Are in greatest demand, and

  • Create the best results the quickest.

  • Your job is to figure out which subset of your own offering will give you the highest likelihood of getting your foot in the door of that company."
Living up to its name as the "Revenue Roundtable" the largest number of posts are about sales and generating sales leads. That's what makes this blog so useful. For most small businesses, especially startups, generating sufficient sales is always one of the toughest challenges.

In addition to good solid advice to help companies build their businesses, the Revenue Roundtable offers a list of recommended business books. They even offer sales lessons from business books and movies, such as a sales lesson distilled from the film "Pulp Fiction."

The team blog or group blog approach adopted by the Revenue Roundtable is one of the latest trends in blogging. Sometimes these blogs are referred to as network blogs. They offer the advantages of multiple voices speaking on related topics. Yet they also offer variety that comes from each person approaching the subject matter from different perspectives and with different expertise.

Group blogs distribute the workload and keep from bogging you down as a solo blogger. Writing a blog involves a commitment of time and not everyone is prepared to do it daily or several times a week. A group blog takes some of the time pressure off.

If you want to see how group blogging is done well, visit the Revenue Roundtable.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Interview with Business Humorist Hesh Reinfeld
Hesh Reinfeld is a business humorist. His humor columns are syndicated and published in a long list of publications. We've published one of his humor columns nearby.

Hesh is an example of the new breed of Baby Boomer entrepreneurs, who build new businesses after having held successful careers. Often this group draws upon their past experience and knowledge, and it's precisely because they have had those experiences that they feel qualified at this stage in their lives to strike out on their own.

Hesh's website gives this background about him:
My problem was that I was always the one cracking a joke and getting one of those looks from my boss. You know the one. It says, "Hesh this is serious stuff. You can't joke about it, even though we all know how boring the meeting really is."

Whether at a replacement window manufacturer or a biotech start-up, I found the same behavior. The only difference was that people used a slightly different vocabulary.

My column, with its skewed perspective on business, got its start with the readers of the Central New York Business Journal (Syracuse). And they liked it. Over time, additional publications and web sites continue to sign me on and carry my column. I even went international when the Bermudian Business started publishing my columns.
Recently we had the chance to interview Hesh to understand what it is like to be an entrepreneur making your living as a business humorist. Here is his story, in nine questions or less.

Q: What's a typical day like in the life of a business humorist?

The reality is that I spend most of my time making sales calls. I am on the phone or sending e-mails to editors trying to sell my columns. I spend about 80% of my time doing marketing and sales and 20% writing.

Q: Is there a particular way you get inspiration for your writing? Do you skim newspapers, or meditate, or???

I force myself to sit in front of my computer. I go through notes and ideas I have jotted down. I am trying to get my brain into a story telling mode.

Once I have a working theme, it becomes a jigsaw puzzle. I have to put all the pieces together and use only 700 words. I usually get 90% of the story done and then I get stuck on an ending. I find it most useful to just walk away from the story and go shopping, eat dinner, etc. Then an ending will come to me and I run upstairs to my computer to get the words out of me.

Q: Tell us about your own entrepreneurial journey. Did you have to deal with a lot of naysayers, who said you'd never be able to make money at what you do? If so, what was your response? Would you do it all over again? Do it sooner?

A: At first I just wanted to get published. Then a local editor told me I had some promise but the real issue was the ability to produce a column week after week. So I kept on writing. I did have one ex-editor tell me that my stuff was not that good. I just decided not to talk to him for a while.

I did not know what I was getting into. I think if I would have taken a totally rational approach, i.e. done some serious market research, I would have told myself that the barriers to entry were too high.

Would I do it over again? Yes, but I wish I had started 20 years ago. But then 20 years ago I did not have the experiences under my belt.

Q: In your nearby humor piece about the entrepreneur, you sound familiar with the buzzwords that venture capitalists use. Is that because you have had experience raising money or as a VC?

I have worked in many different businesses from selling technical training programs to engineers to putting together a real biotech deal. So I just know enough to use the right buzz words.

Q: What is your business model?

I focus, focus, focus. I produce content for publications (print, web, radio) that want to connect with business people. Although I write funny stuff (I hope) I am very serious about my business. I help publications differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering a 'dash' of humor.

Q: Where are your columns syndicated?

My columns are syndicated through B2B publications either weeklies or monthlies. Currently my column is available in Syracuse, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Southeastern Florida, St. Louis. Kentucky, New Hampshire. Internationally my column is read in Bermuda, Australia, and I even got into a paper in Taiwan.

Q: What is the typical profile of your reader (or whom do you typically write for as a target audience)?

My reader is usually a small business owner. The letters I get say that they have faced similar concerns. So even though I actually write fiction, my work touches real business people; perhaps even more than all the "how to" books and articles.

Q: How would you describe yourself?

I have a wife who is ready to retire, 3 children, who are just about grown, and a mom who unfortunately is living with alzheimers. I volunteer twice a week running discussion groups for men in senior citizen buildings. I discuss my business problems with them. They are my true mentors.

Q: Is there anything else I haven't asked that you would like readers to know?

For 25 years I sat through business meetings and would ask myself, "how come no one else is laughing?" Then I realized that most people were but were just afraid of being the first one to crack a smile.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
The Entrepreneurial Addiction
Editor's Note: Not long ago I received a phone call from business humorist Hesh Reinfeld. He had been referred to me by author Barry Moltz. In addition to being an author and angel investor, Barry is a business networker extraordinaire. He knows the most interesting people -- people like Hesh Reinfeld.

Hesh and I spoke, and I found his humor to be intelligent, brilliantly incisive, and of course, funny. The following piece captures the essence of what it is like to be a serial entrepreneur.

Confessions of an Entrepreneur

By Hesh Reinfeld

I told my family that I finally accepted that my passion had become an obsession and you could even call it an addiction. They all laughed. What had taken me 25 years to recognize, they had known for years.

My wife detected my addiction as early as our honeymoon in Paris. All I wanted to do was spend time at the Bourse trading francs on the spot market. She kept on nudging me to see some old picture in the Louvre.

For my daughter it became clear when I demanded that her prom date be an officer in Junior Achievement. I thought it was a good way to ensure that she dated a young man with career aspirations. She saw it differently.

Her younger brother, the violin virtuoso, threw the matter of the addiction in my face when I told him I would not pay for his schooling at Julliard. The curriculum did not have a course in business development or even Accounting 101. How would my son know if his future agent wasn't cookin' the books?

It had been six months since I had read a business plan. And I missed it. I missed it real bad. I salivated when the Wall St. Journal driver came down my block... only to skip my house. My wife had a block on our cable TV- no more MSNBC and it was no better on the Internet, I couldn't access Bloomberg.

Last Tuesday a power stronger then me won out. I don't know how, but I ended up at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Club. My eyes focused on the booths along the back wall. I immediately saw the signs. A shot of single-malt Scotch, half finished, was being used as a paperweight on a four-color business plan. The reader, a silver-haired executive with monogrammed reading glasses was analyzing spreadsheets as he simultaneously served volleys of staccato like questions at the young man across the table.

This young man was obviously new to the game. His dark blue suit looked like he had not worn it since his bar mitzvah, and the tie must have been knotted eight years ago and never unraveled. He had ordered the latest micro-brew, but had not taken even one sip.

I sat at the next booth and listened in. I promised myself not to say a word. All I wanted was to eavesdrop and savior the rhythms of the conversation. I smiled as I heard the two argue over, burn rates, traction projections, alpha / beta sites, and most stridently, about valuations.

A cell phone rang, and the single-malt Scotch stood and walked a few steps to take the call in private. I jumped up and got into micro-brew's face. I told him he was under-capitalized. He was giving away his intellectual property. His burn rate was twice as fast as this so-called 'angel' investor was revealing. Big Pharma would pay a much higher multiple for the company if he would listen to my suggestions.

He looked bewildered. I said it again, "Don't make the deal -- you'll lose your company to this chamber of commerce man of the year wanna-be in seven months."

The conversation on the cell phone ended and Mister single malt Scotch asked, "Do we have a deal? " Micro brew-looked at him, then me, and said... "No way!" He reached for his beer and slid into my booth.

I don't have to tell you what happened next. You all know it too well. We sat for three and a half hours, re-doing spreadsheets on his laptop, and playing out various pro-formas.

I finally stumbled home, embarrassed and yet delirious with joy over the deal I had structured. My wife could see me hiding the business plan under my coat. She demanded to see my cell phone. Quickly she went through the calls I had made in the last four hours. She knew the area codes, New York, Brussels, London, and my newest haunt, New Delhi. I had been lining up angel investors.

What could I say? I had already used up my inventory of 'I promise it will never happen again's.' She had been going to her own meetings and knew that she needed to go on with her life and not let my addiction manipulate her.

Had I called my sponsor? She had not seen his number in my cell phone's call list. "No," I whispered.

She made me return to Entrepreneurs Anonymous (EA). I had stopped going to my meetings. I had beaten it or so I thought. But the truth is, we never do. I was just like everyone else in EA. I matched the profile perfectly. 80% of members have a relapse within their first six months. I was now another data point confirming that statistic.

My next stop is the 28-day regimen at the Warren Buffett Center for Recovering Entrepreneurs at White Sulfur Springs. I wonder if they will give me my old room back. Wish me luck.

* * * * *

For more of Hesh Reinfeld's writings, visit his website, www.heshreinfeld.com. And for backstory, read our accompanying interview with Hesh Reinfeld.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Older Entrepreneurs a Growing Segment
"Once dominated by young, highly-driven, technology-oriented entrepreneurs, startup activity is quickly being taken over by individuals who, while still driven and tech-savvy, happen to be in their 50s, 60s and 70s."

This quote is from an article in HispanicBusiness.com. The article, originally published in Franchising World, cites unpublished U.S. government figures which show the numbers of the self-employed over the age of 45 growing, with those 55 and older growing at the strongest pace:
"Unpublished government data obtained by Challenger researchers show that the number of Americans 55 and older categorized as self-employed in non-agricultural industries has increased 22 percent from 2,136,000 in May, 2000 to 2,598,000 as of May, 2005.

These senior entrepreneurs now represent nearly 27 percent of all self-employed workers, which is second only to 45- to 54-year-olds who make up more than 27 percent of the self-employed."
Of course, this comes as no surprise. Last year we noted the "Graying of Small Business" as one of the nine major trends in the small business market today.

It stands to reason that older individuals are starting their own businesses. People tend to retire earlier -- and, paradoxically, they continue to work after retirement.

Since many Americans these days are knowledge workers, starting their own businesses makes sense. They can sell their considerable expertise by becoming consultants, authors, speakers, or freelancers.
Monday, August 22, 2005
What Site Features Do You Want to See at Small Business Trends?
This autumn I will be implementing a re-design of the Small Business Trends site.

The new design will include an updated look and make better use of space.

Also, the site platform will be transitioned from Blogger software to WordPress. I've used WordPress on other sites and I am impressed with its simplicity and power. I've enjoyed using Blogger, but the fact is that this site needs more powerful features than Blogger offers today -- features such as categories, integrated search, true trackbacks, and ability to generate individual RSS feeds by category, to name a few.

The new features will make it easier for visitors like you to navigate through the pages of this site and find what you are looking for, especially key features like our Expert interviews and guest columns.

Another key goal is to make this site more accessible and friendly to visitors outside North America.

Despite being based in the United States, we tend to get a significant percentage of traffic (approaching 35% this month) from outside the U.S. Most of the non-U.S. traffic comes from Canada, European Union, India, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Philippines and other English-speaking places in Southeast Asia.

Below is a global map showing the location of the last 500 visitors to this site. This map shows traffic as of early this morning. Although this map is constantly changing, it gives a reasonable representation of the typical traffic distribution.

World traffic

Do you notice something? Except for a visitor from Hong Kong, there are zero visitors showing from China, a nation of 94 million Web users. Why? Largely it's because China blocks the blogspot domain. Moving off the Blogger platform and onto our own domain using WordPress will hopefully open this site to more Chinese visitors.

Do you notice something else? There are a mere handful of visitors from Mexico and South America. One of the new design features will be the instant ability to translate a particular post to a few key languages, including Spanish. In this way I hope we can provide more value to our southern neighbors.

What features would you like to see this site include? Please leave a comment below with your suggestions. I'm looking forward to your input.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
PowerBlog Review: Facteon Factoring Blog
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: We are pleased to bring you the seventy-ninth in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews of business weblogs. This week's review is being guest-blogged by Lynne Meyer. Lynne Meyer, APR, is president of A Way with Words.

By Lynne Meyer

The Facteon Factoring blog is something of a rarity. It's one of the very few blogs on the narrow niche topic of small business factoring. As such it is a testament to the wide range of different businesses that have discovered blogs.

It's the blog of Facteon, Inc., a factoring company out of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Factoring is the sale of accounts receivables as a source of financing. Businesses turn to factoring companies when they need cash to meet payroll or other operating expenses, and can't wait the sometimes lengthy periods for their customers to pay their invoices.

Tom Nort is the president of Facteon. The company has been in business for six years, along with many more years of industry experience behind them.

In the spring of 2005, blogging hit Tom's radar screen just as it is doing for an increasing number of small business owners. Tom says "Blog discussion is everywhere. I think I first considered doing a blog from a Wall Street Journal article."

He decided on a blog to fulfill the dual goals of (1) heightening Facteon's visibility online, and (2) providing a useful source of information about factoring and small business finance for prospects and existing clients.

He hired online marketing consultant Paul Chaney of Radiant Marketing to help launch the blog and make sure it got off to a great start.

The blog is notable for being fully integrated into the Facteon corporate website. The blog is presented as another section of the website, using the same design, corporate colors and navigation. Tom explains, "This makes it convenient for online prospects and clients to switch back and forth from the web site to the blog."

This blog is dense with information and links to other web sites and articles. Factoring as a subject has attracted a fair number of spam sites, yet very few legitimate factoring information sites. Paul Chaney oversees the editorial calendar for the blog, and says "solid responsible content" is the only way to go, adding:
"It goes to the issue of credibility. While it would be easy to set up a series of spam blogs as a way to increase page rank, why resort to less than credible marketing ploys? Also, who would a customer rather do business with, a company that uses any means it can to drive traffic no matter how spurious, or a company that has integrity in its dealings?"
Paul and Tom turned to well-known veteran blogger and small business expert Anita Campbell (CEO of Small Business Trends), to provide daily content. In addition to her small-business knowledge and experience, Anita has a background in banking, so she's experienced in small business finance.

As I read a variety of postings, it occurred to me that this blog is truly a 360 view of small business finance. It addresses a tremendous range of topics that impact all aspects of small business financial management, including: finding cash for business growth; insights on the kinds of businesses that are good candidates for factoring; the impact of the new bankruptcy laws on small businesses; valuing a business; and best accounting software packages, to name a few.

The blog lists postings under three categories: Business Finance, Factoring and Factoring News. The interview with Q & A format is put to good use in several postings, along with dividing up important topics and presenting the information in a series.

In terms of presentation style, the entries vary in length from 2-12 paragraphs. Rather than relying on long paragraphs, information is presented in "chunks" for easier reading and understanding. There's also good use of breaking out information with numbers and bullets.

In my opinion, the Facteon factoring blog is a good example of why a small-business blog should exist -- to educate and inform readers, providing them with what they need to know.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Trends in Blogging
Martin Lindeskog invited me to write a guest post over at the Egoist blog.

That gave me the opportunity to write about a non-business topic. I chose the blogosphere.

Check out Blogging Trends -- Good and Bad.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
The Rising Tide of Customer Defection

Editor's note: The following guest column comes to you courtesy of business author Laurence Haughton. He writes on a topic some think is a trend: customer disloyalty. Laurence examines it and explains what is behind it.

By Laurence Haughton

Right now somewhere between 32 and 94 per cent of all customers are thinking about ditching their current supplier for the competition.
  • About one-third of all insurance clients are looking around.
  • Over half of all cell phone customers are on the edge (the same is true in financial services).
  • Four of five apparel buyers are ready to switch.
  • And 94 out of every 100 diners who bought a burger last week may not come back this week.

And the stats are no better in professional services and B2B.

  • 55 per cent of enterprise software buyers are real antsy
  • 61 per cent of executives who outsourced something say, "Going forward, we'd love to find someone else to outsource with."

Some think this is a trend ... a sign of the times. "People aren't as loyal as they used to be," one businessman said. "And Wal-Mart has taught consumers all that matters is the lowest price."

There's certainly some truth in those observations. Competition is crazy, customers are fickle, and everybody is too busy to think about the long term value of a good relationship.

But in my research for my book "It's Not What You Say... It's What You Do: How Following Through at Every Level Can Make or Break Your Company" I uncovered a deeper reason, what I think is the root cause for the rising tide of customer defection (and potential defections) across all sectors.

A lot of customers just don't like their suppliers!

40% of Yellow's clients didn't like them

When Bill Zollars took charge at Yellow Trucking he asked the folks at headquarters, "What do our customers think of us?"

"They like us," Yellow's top managers assured him.

But Zollars wasn't so sure. He knew from his years at Kodak that head office executives can often be way off in their assessments of what customers are actually thinking. Zollars needed a fact-based, accurate benchmark of Yellow's customer sentiments so he could quickly make the right moves and radically improve Yellow's revenues.

Bill Zollars is one of the few big company CEOs who still thinks like an entrepreneur. So instead hiring an outside consultant firm to conduct a 12 month customer satisfaction survey, Zollars suggested his executive team roll up their sleeves and dig into several boxes of customer invoices.

"Find out," he told them,

1. "Did we pick everything up on-time?"

2. "Did we deliver everything on-time?"

3. "Did we keep everything in-tact (no scratches, dents or breakage)?" and

4. "Did we send the customer an accurate invoice?"

Zollars' thinking was simple. "Those are the four basic expectations a customer has when they hire a trucking company," he explained. "And if you fail to follow through on what customers expect they can't possibly like you."

Needless to say the results of this simple study were like a cold slap in the face. In 4 out of ten cases Yellow had failed to follow through on one or more of the fundamental things their customers expect.

"How can they say 'our customers like us,'" Zollars thought. "We let them down 40 per cent of the time."

Zollars knew what he had to do. He engaged executives and employees at every level, from headquarters to the loading docks and everywhere in-between, to implement an aggressive initiative to fix their follow through.

1. He made sure everyone was crystal clear about "just what was expected."

2. He took steps to make sure Yellow had the "right people" at every point of contact.

3. Zollars and his top managers got "enough buy-in" from everyone to overcome the law of inertia.

4. And Yellow reorganized their management to generate more "individual initiative" from every driver and at every depot.

Using those four building blocks Yellow soon reduced that 40 per cent of dropped balls and unforced errors to under 4 per cent. Revenues and profits shot up and Zollars set a new goal, to take the 96 per cent of customers who now "liked" Yellow to the point where they "liked Yellow a lot."

Is customer defection a trend?

Is customer defection a megatrend, caused by circumstances beyond any businessperson's control? Definitely not.

As Bill Zollars told the teams at Yellow, "...if you fail to follow through on what customers expect they can't possibly like you." And (as nobody should need to tell any businessperson) customers who don't like you are more likely to defect.

* * * * *

Prior to becoming a bestselling business writer, Laurence Haughton worked as a management strategist, researcher, and consultant -- advising clients in media, technology, distribution, and professional services. Find out more at www.laurencehaughton.com. Please be sure to read our accompanying review of Laurence's book. Also read Rob the BusinessPundit's review.

Monday, August 15, 2005
Review: It's Not What You Say...It's What You Do
Laurence Haughton's latest book has a startlingly simple premise:

businesses are successful not because of what they say they are going to do (their strategy), but because of what they actually do (how well they execute)

The latest management fads (ahem, I mean, techniques) don't offer the secret to success. The latest business buzzwords du jour are no panacea.

In the end it all comes down to how well you execute whatever strategy you decide to go after.

The Introduction to Laurence's book sums it up. It describes research called The Evergreen Project that examined 160 companies to find out why some outperformed others consistently:
The final conclusion surprised everyone. "It matters little whether you centralize or decentralize... if you implement ERP software or a CRM system," wrote the experts in their final analysis, "it matters very much though that whatever you choose to implement you execute it flawlessly."

Conventional wisdom is wrong. Becoming a winner, a loser, a climber or tumbler in any industry is not the result of finding (or failing to find) the perfect strategy for your organization. What makes or breaks your company is your grasp over management's most basic mission -- to make sure everyone at every level is following through.
So you might say, if the Introduction offers the magic formula for business success, why read the book?

There's an excellent reason.

Executing well in business is a lot easier said than done. Trust me, I know.

The book outlines what business managers need to do if they and their teams are going to follow through and execute their strategy. The advice is detailed, solid from a management perspective, and well-organized.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is its style. Laurence Haughton's writing keeps this book upbeat and interesting.
  • First, he tends to use real-life case studies to illustrate points. But these are not dry academic case studies -- they're colorful stories and vignettes. They involve companies and even people you may have read about in the news. They frequently include dialogue by the managers, as if they are characters in a screenplay. That's what makes the case studies so memorable.

  • Second, he writes in a staccato style, with short sentences and short paragraphs. A number of paragraphs consist of one or two sentences. This gives the writing a crisp cadence that makes the book easy to digest.

At a little over 200 pages the book can be read in a few evenings -- a virtue in our time-starved lives. Of course, you will want to refer back to the book at various points to put the lessons into place.

I recommend reading "It's Not What You Say... It's What You Do: How Following Through at Every Level Can Make or Break Your Company." Even though it is not self-styled for "small" businesses, the wisdom applies to any size business, large or small. Because after all, even small businesses need to execute well.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
PowerBlog Review: The REALTYGram
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: We are pleased to bring you the seventy-eighth in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews of business weblogs. This week's review is being guest-blogged by Lynne Meyer. Lynne Meyer, APR, is president of A Way with Words.

By Lynne Meyer

Frances Flynn Thorsen will not be silenced. The marketing director and realtor for Realty World Benchmark Realty in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA started her blog -- The REALTYGram Blogger -- to voice her opinions when she experienced censorship through the existing local real estate venue.
"Late last year I was unceremoniously dropped from a list server sponsored by the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, Association of Realtors. My posts and opinions often do not reflect the party line and political posture of the National Association of Realtors. I decided to look for another venue that was less restrictive, and a blog is the perfect vehicle for me."
Frances, who established her blog in January 2005, explains:
"My blog contains practical knowledge important in a real estate transaction, as well as an unfiltered look at legislative initiatives, with links to such things as forms, contracts, inspection issues and document viewers. I blog without the hyperbole that's attached to so many issues, such as the National Association of Realtors category, fair housing and predatory lending."
Lest you think she's a rebel without a cause, I assure you that her blog is very informative and educational, covering a tremendous range of topics. Content is king here, with postings about the secrets of real estate internet advertising, making sure a listing is legal, having a productive open house, and realtors' commissions and brokers' fees.

A blog provides a wonderful opportunity to raise questions about and scrutinize issues in your field. Frances is clearly not afraid of ruffling feathers by questioning some of the practices in her profession. She poses two questions we may have all wondered about: "Why is the realtor's portrait often larger and more prominent than the photo of the houses in the ad? Why is the text describing the real estate agent large and easy-to-read while information about the house requires a magnifying glass?"

To review a blog, it's important to look at a variety of postings from when the site first began. It was gratifying to see how this blog began to blossom a few months in when Frances started doing two things: 1) adding colorful photos and graphics to postings, and 2) writing more catchy titles. How's this for a catchy posting title: "Noisy Lovesick Frogs Disrupt Hawaiian Real Estate Market"? The graphics open up the blog, and the catchy post titles draw the reader in deeper.

Another thing she has done is set up a number of specific post categories, using words and phrases that consumers are likely to search by. For instance, there are categories for radon, commercial real estate, lead paint, home inspections and so on. This makes searching for information easy and older posts very accessible (and probably adds nicely to page views, also).

She also has assembled a targeted blogroll of real esate related blogs. She also links to other real estate websites regularly in postings -- all in all, she strives to make the blog a rich resource.

If, after reading The REALTYGram Blogger you have a hankering for more about the industry with "location, location, location" as its mantra, you're in luck. In her July 13, 2005 posting, Frances reports that both NBC and ABC are planning to release new television series about real estate agents. (Can "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire Realtor on a Desert Island Awaiting an Extreme Makeover" be far behind?)
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Introducing the Small Business Trends Forums
I'd like to introduce the Small Business Trends forums.

They're actually part of Small Business Ideas forum. It's a pretty friendly group over there -- warm and welcoming.

From time to time I will post a topic from Small Business Trends or elsewhere on the Web, for discussion at the forums.

Or feel free to start a new discussion thread over there yourself.

While you are over at the forums, download the free 60-page eBook "Small Business Search Marketing."
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Small Business Optimism Up -- And Also Down
Inc.com reports that optimism is up among U.S. small business owners.

On the same day the Los Angeles Times reports that confidence is down among U.S. small business owners.

So what's going on? Is one study right and the other wrong?

Welcome to the world of small business studies.

The Inc.com report covers the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) small business optimism survey. Generally the NFIB survey is highly regarded. The U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy even incorporates the NFIB optimism survey in its Quarterly Economic Trends report. That's one reason I place a great deal of confidence in the NFIB survey.

The Los Angeles Times cites a survey conducted by the Gallup organization on behalf of Wells Fargo. A big difference with the Gallup/Wells Fargo study, however, is that the full study is not made public. Typically most of us see only the press release and media articles written about the study. Without seeing the questions that were asked or more data it is hard to comment on the study.

When I started following these small business studies closely a few years ago, I immediately noticed the differences among studies. And it's not just differences between different studies. Even the NFIB survey moves up and down from month to month, as the chart shows.

NFIB Optimism Survey

The small business market is hotter than the Space Shuttle entering the Earth's atmosphere. Studies about small business are proliferating -- everybody's doing them. With that many studies, variances are to be expected.

However, even though the numbers may vary from survey to survey, or month to month, when you consider the big picture, often the differences between studies are not too significant. Bottom line: I wouldn't pay undue attention to differences between two surveys. Instead, look for trends over a longer period of time.

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Monday, August 08, 2005
Visit Blawg Review and Carnival of the Capitalists
Whoa! Cool! Small Business Trends has been included in a Blawg Review, the roundup of law blog posts (I guess that makes this site an honorary "blawg"). This week's Blawg Review is posted over at the Common Scold, where Monica Bay has used an innovative baseball theme. As you are reading all of this week's edition, don't miss the Illinois Trial Practice Weblog's funny entry "I Don't Speak Latin, and Neither Do You."

And, of course, be sure to check out this week's edition of Carnival of the Capitalists, the weekly roundup of business and economics posts, hosted over at View From a Height. Be sure to check out Evelyn Rodriguez's insightful observations in "Ideas Break in the Blogosphere."
Deciphering the High-Growth Startup Landscape in China
If you want to find out what's happening with technology startups in China and the venture capital scene there, I've found a promising resource: China Venture News.

And the best part? The site delivers context and perspective, without inundating the reader with too much detail or fragmented news stories. In other words, you can see the big picture, not just a lot of detail that's impossible for the distant follower (like me) to assimilate.

For instance, a few of the themes I was able to pick up just by reading the first few weeks of posts include these:
  • China still is not as innovative a culture as it needs to be or some would like it to be, although it is improving steadily.

  • Venture capital money is flowing from the West (especially Silicon Valley) and although foreign investment is welcome, "China still struggles with a comprehensive legal and regulatory structure for the growth-oriented venture capital sector."

  • China's domestic venture capital industry is not very robust but is growing at a rapid pace.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005
PowerBlog Review: Denali Flavors
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: We are pleased to bring you the seventy-seventh in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews of business weblogs. This week's review is being guest-blogged by Lynne Meyer. Lynne Meyer, APR, is president of A Way with Words.

By Lynne Meyer

Denali Flavors, "The Inside Scoop From One of America's Top Ice Cream Flavor Developers," is the blog of Denali Flavors, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA company that develops ice cream flavors and licenses them to dairies. Denali's claim to fame is the very popular Moosetracks ice cream.

John Nardini writes the Denali Flavors blog and its two associated blogs, Moosetopia and Team Moosetracks. John is executive vice president of marketing for the company.

John Nardini has fun with the blogs, and who can blame him? After all, the guy is in a business that's all about fun -- ice cream!

John started the blogs in March and April of this year, and he and five other Denali management members post several times a week among the blogs: "I started the blogs as a way to reach consumers, introduce them to Moose Tracks ice cream in a subtle way and drive them our main web site."

He explains the purpose of each of the three blogs this way:
  • Denali Flavors: Behind-the-scenes information from one of America's top ice cream flavor developers.

  • Moosetopia: Entertaining. The only blog written by a moose!

  • Team Moose Tracks: Information about the company's cycling team that raises money for a variety of local charities.
The three blogs offer a mix of content that make them interesting... and fun reads.

The Denali Flavors blog covers issues the company itself is dealing with, new product ideas, marketing ideas and small business issues. These postings include practical tips and references and links to other articles.

In an ongoing series titled "What Makes Denali Successful," owners Wally and June Blume have each employee do an individual posting in which they give their personal insight into what they think makes Denali successful.

Team Moosetracks showcases the company's dedication to raising money for charities and giving back to the community. Sponsoring an ongoing healthy activity that supports worthy causes can have good residual marketing benefits, too. Featuring them in your blog with lots of photos, as this blog does, is a good use of this communications venue to demonstrate corporate commitment to the community.

And then there is Moosetopia, a "character" blog. Denali's "Moose-cot" refers to Denali's moose company mascot. Moosetopia follows the travel adventures of the stuffed "Moose-cot." A photo accompanies his (the moose's -- yes, it's a blog by a moose) postings in which he explains where he is all over the country. There's even a Moose Page with Moose News and moose paraphernalia such as moose t-shirts, moose tattoos and the 2005 Moose-a Month calendar, all with the drawing of the Denali moose.

A key aspect of the Denali blogs are emails from customers. One satisfied customer wrote: "After exhaustive study and deep soul searching, I have come to the conclusion that the primary reason Saddam was such a dangerous bully is simply because he didn't have access to Denali ice cream. Luckily for America, your wonderful product is available to the vast majority of patriotic citizens, providing us our Daily Dose of Denali. As a good corporate citizen, you have the power to ensure world peace and eliminate strife among nations. Get your wonderful ice cream products quickly to all the trouble spots of the world!" Sharing these fun emails from real folks is a great product endorsement.

According to John, Denali's three blogs have "greatly helped us realize tremendous quantifiable results in terms of driving people to our main website. We've had an increase of 18 percent in web site visits, 10 percent more hits, and total time on the web site is up more than 26 percent. We've received most of our attention on Moosetopia.com, which attests to the validity of character blogs," he adds.

As of August 8, 2005 all three blogs will be consolidated under the main Denali Flavors blog.

I guarantee you'll enjoy reading the Denali blogs. Just make sure you have plenty of Moosetracks ice cream on hand when you do!
Small Business -- A Renewable Resource
It's heartening to see what happens when an entrepreneurial environment takes hold. The result is a seemingly endless and renewable supply of small business starts.

Anyone with an old industrial mentality might think there is a finite amount of commerce to be done in any society -- that after a while, there just wouldn't be a need for any new businesses.

But in an entrepreneurial environment, that is not what happens.

Instead, small businesses beget other small businesses.

New businesses are created to take advantage of the money flowing in an upbeat economic environment. What's more, there seems to be no end to the creativity of entrepreneurs to think up new business concepts. Businesses are "created out of nothing" so to speak.

A case in point is Ireland.

Just last month I wrote about how the number of small businesses in Ireland doubled in the last ten years.

Now a Sunday Times article profiles lifestyle businesses that enterprising individuals are creating in Ireland. A lifestyle business is one where the owner creates it so that he or she can live a desired lifestyle -- perhaps only working a few days a week or working under certain favorable conditions.

Many of these lifestyle businesses are created "out of nothing." That is, they are businesses of a kind that didn't exist previously or were barely heard of, often arising out of the owner's own interests or hobbies.

What makes these businesses possible is (1) the general entrepreneurial attitude and ingenuity to create new businesses, and (2) the economic good times, which lead to consumers having more disposable income. The more disposable income, the more these new and innovative businesses thrive. What didn't seem like a need before becomes a need when people decide that the goods or services will enrich their lives and they have the disposable income to pay for them.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Catering to the New Side Business Market
Signals vs. Noise has a thought-provoking article discussing the "side business" market. So just what is a "side business"? They describe it as the 1 to 10-person business:
"What's real are the millions of side-businesses out there. Independent freelancers, people who work for their employer during the day and then run their own side business at night, passionate hobbyists that generate some income (and even those that don't). It seems everyone has one these days. A little something here, a little something there. Something they love to do, or something they have to do, but the trend is clear: Many people are building their own side-businesses. And they need software (just not too much).

The big office suites aren't for them. The big project management apps aren't for them. The big heavy spreadsheets aren't for them. The bloated accounting and payroll apps aren't for them. What they crave are low/no-learning curve, simple focused tools that let them get their work done quickly and then get out of their way. And I believe they'll increasingly prefer that these apps will be hosted by someone else -- who has time for IT, or installs, or update patches, or....?"
The point of the article is: there's a neglected market of millions of tiny businesses out there thirsting for products designed specifically for them.

I love finding these kinds of on-the-ground descriptions of marketplace needs, because they are right on the money. And I happen to agree with this one, to the extent that there are millions of very small businesses that are underserved.

Rather than approaching them as smaller versions of corporate clients, these tiniest of businesses have buying behaviors that are more like consumers than businesses.

Read the whole article, because as of this writing there are over 60 comments. The comments demonstrate the challenges of cost effectively going after this market segment.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005
How to Build a Small Business That Lasts
Disx Disciplines"There's more wasted activity in your organization than you imagine." These jarring words are part of the advice Gary Harpst received from another CEO that eventually prompted him to found Six Disciplines Corporation.

Six Disciplines is unlike anything I've seen for small businesses. It's a book. It's a methodology. It's technology. It's a coaching system. It's something you'll be hearing a lot more about.

A few weeks ago I drove the two hours from my office south of Cleveland, Ohio over to Findlay, Ohio to visit the headquarters of Six Disciplines. There I met with Gary Harpst, the founder and CEO, and Skip Reardon, the Marketing Director, along with others in the executive team.

Following that meeting, we were lucky to get some of Gary's time on a recorded Conversation (podcast), which is hosted over at SMBTrendWire. Gary, whose first company is now part of Microsoft, outlines how Six Disciplines can shape the way entrepreneurs manage their businesses.

So head on over and read more and listen to: "Building Small Businesses That Learn, Lead and Last."

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Monday, August 01, 2005
Visit Blog Roundups to Discover What People Really Think
This week's Carnival of the Capitalists is now posted over at Local Small Business Marketing. Carnival of the Capitalists is a weekly roundup of economics and business blog posts from a variety of different blogs -- by reading them you get a sense for what people really are thinking. Michael Cage did a fine hosting job and as usual there are numerous excellent posts. Be sure to catch John Dmohowski's post "Always Selling" on Drakeview, about how small business owners need to be good at selling.

And while you are at it, check out the Blawg Review, a weekly roundup of legal blog posts. Many of the posts address business issues, and even the business junkies among us can find good reading. This week's edition is hosted over at The Greatest American Lawyer. Be sure to check out Larry Bodine's post describing what corporate General Counsels expect from their outside law firms -- apparently it doesn't include padding the bills.

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