Small Business Tips

February 2019 Archive
Tips for Running a Successful Seasonal Business

Spring is in full swing and summer isn’t far behind. Seasonal businesses such as landscaping and swimming pool cleaning are beginning to see a huge boost in sales. As the seasons change, their sales will creep downward, while businesses like ski resorts and Christmas stores will have a large upswing.

When you own a seasonal business, it’s important to know how to maintain an income year round to support you and keep the business alive.

Budget, Budget, Budget
First and foremost! What’s coming in and, more importantly, what’s going out? Know your capabilities. Don’t only budget for the months that business is good, but budget for the entire year. There are bills that have to be paid all 12 months, whether business is good or bad, such as utilities, taxes, maintenance, and rent.

You also need to consider how much you depend on the seasonal income for your daily life – food on the table and a roof over your head. If the seasonal business provides enough income for you to live off of all year, know what you need to get by each month and set that amount aside as soon as you can when the cash flow begins.

The Off-Season
Some seasonal entrepreneurs just take the off-season as an opportunity to have an extended vacation, and I bet it’s really nice. Others are busy bodies and need to have something to do all the time (like me). Unfortunately, however, some seasonal businesses don’t provide enough income to sustain the whole year. If you’re one of the later, then consider expanding the products or services your business provides.

If you own a Christmas store, consider selling decorations for the other holidays throughout the year. In landscaping, a job that sees little to no work in the winter? How about putting your decorative skills to use and offering Christmas decorating and lighting services. If you own a farm, expand your crop to include spring, summer and fall crops, and maybe even consider building a green house to grow crops in all year.

Another option, if you own a camp, ski resort, or theme park and enjoy your time off but need the extra income, is to have registration deadlines that include registration fees, a couple of months before the camp opens (or incentives to buy season passes several months in advance). This helps to distribute your income over a longer period of time, making it easier to get by without giving up the vacation period.

Use Time Wisely
If you have the opportunity to keep your time-off, use it wisely. Take the chance to provide regular maintenance or repairs to the equipment you use, without dipping into your work season. Also, use the down time to budget for the next season and year ahead. Another great use of the off-season is marketing your business, whether it be through fliers, direct mail, or phone calls. Whatever you choose to do with that time, be sure and budget for it.

If you own a seasonal business, do what you can to enjoy it. The off-season can provide a great opportunity to spend time with your family and pursue other passions. Do what you can to preserve that by running your seasonal business efficiently and successfully.

Related Reading:
• Running a Seasonal Business

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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, February 25th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

Direct Mail Marketing Tips (2 of 2)

Okay, so you’ve decided to use an advertising letter to reach out to the community and get them to use your product/service. Yesterday we covered the basics on the appeal of the envelope and letter itself in order to get your mail opened and read. Today, we’ll talk about what the letter should say to stir an interest in what you have to offer.

1. Background Information
Typically, most potential customers that will receive your advertising letter will not have heard of your company. So, give a little background information about your business – when you got started, why you got started and the goals you have.

2. Your Market
You may want to consider briefly stating who your market is. If everyone can use your product or service, say so. If you’re specifically targeting stay-at-home moms, then say so. If your market is specific, this will help to narrow the field a bit. Also, you may want to encourage those that don’t fit into the specified market to pass the information on to someone they know who does.

3. The Product/Service
The most important element of your advertising letter is, of course, the description of the product or service your business provides. And though you definitely want to mention the features your product/service provides, be sure that you mention the benefits of those features – the desired outcome that using your product/service will produce.

4. Testimonials
If you have them, use them. The best way to do this is as an insert. This draws more attention to the individual review, showing that it’s important. And, if available, consider adding a picture of the client who provided the review. A real face always makes what is said more trustworthy.

5. A Special Offer
Give the potential customer an incentive to respond quickly by provided a special offer with a deadline. Otherwise, they will set your advertising letter aside to “think about it” and might actually end up forgetting about it. Give a discount if they contact you within a certain amount of time, provide a smaller product or service free with the purchase of another, etc.

6. Keep it Short
Try to keep the advertising letter as short as possible. One page is best, even if you make the font a bit smaller than usual to accomplish it. Anything more than that could seem overwhelming and a waste of time to the potential customer. I can attest to the fact that I never read the advertising letters that are more than one page… it is not appealing at all.

Remember that not every person you send a letter to will respond. In fact, the response rate for direct mailing is usually less than 20%. But, if done effectively, more business than you had before, no matter how small the number, is always a good thing.

Direct Mail Marketing Tips Part 1

Relevant Material:
• 7 smart ways to find new customers

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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, February 24th, 2019 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Marketing |

Direct Mail Marketing Tips (1 of 2)

These days, mailboxes contain more junk mail (also known as direct mail) than anything else. Clearly this marketing strategy works to some degree, otherwise businesses wouldn’t keep doing it. As a small business owner who is just starting out myself, I am able to combine the need for marketing with a still apparent consumer perspective. And, if you plan on marketing through the US postal service, here are some things to keep in mind:

Letters are the most effective way to personalize your advertising enough that the consumer at least looks at what you have to offer. Postcards get glances before they hit the wastebasket, and catalogs usually just get set aside for a time to thumb through that may never come along. Advertising letters are the happy medium that may mean increased success.

Though the body of your letter will obviously need to be typed in order to mass produce and insure ease of reading, there are still great ways to add a personal touch. Take the time to chose letterhead that is appealing. Stick with earth tones for the color of the paper, staying away from plain white and colors found in the crayon box, especially bright ones. Basically, you need something classy, yet trendy and modest, yet attention grabbing. And of course, a great logo and your business’ contact information.

Hand-written touches are the most important element. First, hand-write the addressee’s name. That way the consumer knows you thought of her personally and thought she would enjoy hearing about the product/service or special deal you are offering (even if she has no idea who you are).

Next, sign your name personally (with the typed version underneath, of course). Don’t use a stamp or an electronic signature, but actually take the time to sign each letter your business sends. Not only does it add a personal touch, but it aids the consumer in believing that you personally stand behind the product or service described above your name.

If you’re sending the letter as a special office for previous customers, write a “P.S.” at the bottom of the letter, in your own hand-writing, asking him how the cordless drill he bought last month is helping him with the new deck he’s building. Let the customer know he’s important to you by remembering him and aspects of his life specifically.

When adding these personal touches, do so in blue ink so that it jumps out at the customer and emphasizes that you actually wrote it. Many larger companies will use a script font for these personal touches and simply change the text color to blue… in an attempt to add the appeal of a personal touch without the actual effort to do so… and potential customers can see right through it (I always do). So I would recommend you don’t do that, if it can be avoided.

When sending advertising letters, your envelope makes the first impression. It will make or break whether the potential customer actually opens your letter. First, make sure the envelope matches your letterhead. Avoid simple No.10 white envelopes or window envelopes (which are synonymous with credit card offers), but take the extra expense to have the return address pre-printed just like your logo and use the same color paper.

One way to practically guarantee that your advertising letter will be opened is to keep the envelope free of clutter. Just stick to the mailing address, return address and a stamp/postage mark. The extra phrases some businesses put all over the envelope, such as “Act now!” or “Open immediately for a great offer!” are a dead giveaway that what’s inside is advertising, which means many of them will likely end up in the trash without the seal even being broken.

If possible, hand-write each mailing address on each envelope. A tedious task indeed, but this provides an added personal touch that piques the curiosity of the consumer about what may be contained inside. And if you get them to open the envelope, you’ve won half the battle.

Now that you know what may help you to get that “junk mail” actually opened, what should you do with the text of the letter that turns it from “junk mail” to quality advertising? Tomorrow I’ll cover some tips for getting the potential clients to consider buying what you have to offer.

Direct Mail Marketing Tips Part 2

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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, February 23rd, 2019 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Marketing |

When You Should Consider Hiring a CEO

When you start a business, it’s your baby, your life’s ambition come true. You spend thousands of hours building it, nourishing it, helping it grow. But just like a child, there may come a time when you have to loosen the reigns a bit. It may be time to hire a CEO.

Here are some clues that it may be time to put your business in another person’s hands:

• If you’re more comfortable planning the next big product for your company, but not with delegating who does what to make that product happen, you may need a CEO.

• When you don’t feel like you provide the professional presentation that clients are looking for, it may be time for a CEO to handle them.

• If your company has had ample turnovers, internal problems and a lack of direction, a CEO may be able to help clean up the mess.

• If all of your time is spent on operating the business and other important growth elements such as customer service, business development, and marketing are falling by the waste-side, time to bring in some CEO management.

The purpose of a CEO is not only to manage and operate the company on your behalf, but to give you constructive criticism and advice. And you have to be able to take it, because it’s the CEO’s job to make sure the company runs smoothly, and that may mean some necessary changes you’re not ecstatic about.

Also keep in mind when looking for someone to fill the CEO position that he needs to understand and share your values and vision for the future of your business. After all, it is still your business, so the track it is on should stay relatively the same. The CEO may bring other possibilities to your attention, but you will make the ultimate decision and she will have to be someone who can accept and respect that.

Putting the management of your business in someone else=s hands is a scary thought and requires immense consideration. But with someone who is capable and on the same page as you are regarding values and goals, he/she can actually make the experience of being an entrepreneur much more enjoyable.

• Bringing in a CEO

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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, February 22nd, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations, Startup |

Business Tips from Presidential Campaigns

Well, it has begun. The race for the White House in 2008 has started nearly two years in advance. But things are a bit different on the campaign trail this time around. The biggest difference: the candidates reliance upon the internet to develop their following. And business owners need to pay attention, because the strategy works.

Nearly every candidates website has some sort of blog post in which the candidate expresses his/her thoughts on a certain issue. John Edwards announced his participation in the race on his website one day before the press conference where he did the same. This gave his followers a feel of somewhat “privileged information,” not to mention brought in a little extra press coverage.

The candidates that keep a blog going throughout the campaign trail have caught on to the fact that the largest benefit of a blog is making your supporters/clientele feel like a part of the team. Keeping them informed with the daily issues at hand, whether that be how a candidate’s visit to a factory went that day or the new product that your company is releasing, help them feel like a part of your company, or in this case, campaign.

Leave it to Hillary. Senator Clinton launched her campaign for the presidency in a webcast on January 20th. Talk about tech savy. She continues to have weekly “HillCasts” in which she addresses various aspects of her campaign and her position on various matters. The idea is to appeal to the younger generation of voters out whose resource for news and information is the internet.

As a business owner, consider using video to announce the launch of a new product or a promotion. Posting such videos to YouTube as well as you’re own website can definitely generate some response. And let’s not forget that a video of someone like the CEO helps the customer to feel like there is actual person behind the business. It helps provide a sense of comfort and security.

Social Networks
Senator John McCain has invited supporters to sign up for their own “McCainSpace” site, to help them feel more involved in the campaign. Now even those supporters who may have little to no experience or knowledge base for helping on the campaign trail can feel like they are making a difference for the candidate they believe in.

Gov. Bill Richardson invites his supporters to join what is deemed his “grassroots campaigns” on sites like MySpace, Facebook and Flickr. Supporters can link their sites to Gov. Richardson’s as well as post their own blogs on the candidate and his issues.

Businesses can follow suit by developing social networks centered in their company’s ideals and benefits. Allowing customers to post their own reviews or blogs through your website allows them to feel involved. The loyal customers become part of the marketing concept for your company.

In all of this it’s important to remember to stick to the truth. Falsehoods will find you out, especially when you are inaccurately promoting a product or service you provide, or the statistics about your company.

Also, keep in mind that, along with the good comes the bad. If you open yourself up to the community, there will be people out there who are not pleased with your company, whether it be the service/product, the customer service department, or the charity you donate to. You can’t please everyone, and those that you don’t will definitely make themselves known. This is a risk you take when opening yourself up to the public, so be careful and stay on guard.

• Business Trick from Presidential Campaigns

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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, February 21st, 2019 @ 12:08 AM CDT

Marketing, Networking, Operations |

Last Minute Tax Tips

As if you haven’t heard it enough, the deadline for filing 2006 tax returns is April 17th this year. And, just to add to the stress, that is only 5 days away. For those of you who haven’t filed your returns yet, or haven’t even started, here’s some last minute tax advice:

Take Your Time
Though the deadline for filing may be haunting your dreams at night, avoid taking shortcuts or fudging numbers, even as estimates, to get your taxes completed quicker. Though the consequences may not be immediate, speeding through your returns will only cost you the pain and suffering of a possible audit down the road. Take your time and calculate each number appropriately. It’s worth the extra effort.

Maximize Deductions
Now, when I say “maximize” I don’t mean make stuff up to get a bigger deduction. What I do mean is to make sure that you are getting all of the deductions you deserve. Some deductions can easily be overlooked, such as the home office deduction or your mileage for going to the post office or a meeting location. Another not-so-obvious deduction is retirement savings. Check out my previous post, The Right Way to Write-off Business Expenses, for more tax deduction possibilities and rules.

Double and Triple Check Your Work
Before signing on the dotted line, double and even triple check all of your calculations. According to, most of the mistakes on tax returns are simple addition and subtraction errors, and they lead to most of the inquiries the IRS makes.

Another option is to use a tax calculating program, rather than yourself and an adding machine, such as TurboTax, which is designed for both personal and business tax returns. In fact, I’ve used TurboTax for the last four years and have been very pleased with the results, especially the audit check, which double checks your return for any problems that might trigger an audit before concluding the process.

File an Extension
If you just don’t feel like you will be able to get your returns completed and postmarked by April 17th, you can file an extension by filing out IRS Form 4868 and submitting it by the deadline instead. Your extension will be for six months, so your returns will be due by October 15th.

It’s important to know that you should submit an estimated payment of the taxes you will owe with the Form 4868. Otherwise you will have to pay a fine and interest on October 15th. It’s important that the estimated amount you pay is no more than $1,000 from what you will actually owe when your returns are submitted. Less than $1,000 short will mean an additional fine, so it is better to over estimate.

If you run into problems or have questions about your return, help is available. The IRS has a toll-free help line at 800-829-1040 or you can access helpful articles on the IRS Website.

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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Taxes |

Networking Cards: The Business Card Alternative

Resumes contain oodles of information and anyone approaching college graduation or looking for a new career should have plenty on hand. But, unless you actually see a help wanted sign hanging somewhere besides a fast food restaurant (wouldn’t that be the best use of your college degree), chances are you’re not going to want to carry stacks of paper with you to hand to every big time business owner you come across.

A nice alternative to the bulky resume for those who are perusing the job market are networking cards. With the same shape and dimensions of a traditional business card, networking cards provide only the pertinent information so that prospective employers that you simply meet in passing don’t feel as bogged-down with your inquiry about a position.

Unless you are seeking a job in a more creative field (such as architecture, graphic arts or art restoration), which opens the door for a slightly more creative networking card, the design of a networking card needs to remain sleek and classy, as a resume would be.

Just like business cards, networking cards need to list your name (of course) and all your contact information such as home phone, mobile, e-mail, etc. You may want to consider including a picture of yourself on the card as well, so that the prospective employer can remember you more easily when they come across your card later.

Another item to consider implementing into your networking card is a single statement that encompasses your job objective, what it is you are looking to accomplish with a new career in the [fill in the blank] market. Sometimes narrowing your goals to one statement can be difficult. If that is the case, consider listing your strongest selling point. In other words, the strongest quality that you have to offer prospective employers.

You never know who your going to meet in your daily routine. And though it’s ideal to always have a resume available, it’s not always practical. Networking cards, much like business cards, are a great way to get your name out there, whether it be to a possible future boss directly, or someone who knows somebody who might be interested in talking to you about a position.

The bottom line is, if you’re searching for a new career, networking cards can be an effective tool for you. Design yours today!

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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Networking |

What Makes Women Entrepreneurs Different from Men?

Over the past few years, there has been a surge in business startups by female entrepreneurs. Today I’m going to discuss how the way women run things may be a bit different from how men play the game.

Stronger Focus on Values
It’s not that men don’t put values in the front lines of their company, but most women entrepreneurs make it the number one priority over everything else. According to Margaret Heffernan, who recently wrote How She Does It: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Rules of Business, women think about what their business will stand for before they start planning anything else.

Will Ask for Help
Many men (not all) have difficulty asking for help when it comes to something like their very own business. Pride can sometimes get in the way. But most women don’t have a problem admitting that they’re not sure how to accomplish a certain task or what needs to be done next in the building-a-business game. This can sometimes provide an advantage in a well-spring of knowledge from sources that help ground their business more quickly.

Focused on the Working Environment
According to Heffernan, male entrepreneurs see their businesses as a machine, while female entrepreneurs see it as a living organism. I can see where she’s coming from. Men may be more likely to take the position that “bad parts” (employees) can easily be replaced with new and better functioning ones. Many male entrepreneurs may overlook the fact that the “parts” are going bad because the machine as a whole is not in great condition. Some may take the position that a new employee here or there will help to make the business function better, rather than examining the whole business under a microscope to see if there may be underlying problems.

Women entrepreneurs tend to be on the other end of the spectrum with the perspective that, if the environment their employees are in isn’t working, then the entire “ecosystem” of the business, if you will, could collapse. Basically, women entrepreneurs focus more on making sure the work environment is comfortable to obtain the best performance from their employees, rather than expecting the best from their employees despite the work environment.

Strength of the Business
Women entrepreneurs tend to focus on building a business so strong that it could function completely and successfully without them. Men build strong businesses, but often want to make sure they are always part of the central element that keeps things going. According to Heffernan, women entrepreneurs are more like the “conductor of the symphony – the person who doesn’t make the noise, but pulls it all together.”

• Men Dominate, Women Orchestrate

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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, February 18th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Ownership |

How to Secure Your Business Against Computer Viruses

Bank accounts, client information, protected business processes… all are right there in front of you and can be accessed with the touch of a button. Every business has a least one computer with all the crucial information contained within. Truthfully, a good business can’t run without a computer these days.

So why is it that, despite the obvious threats of hackers and the like that loom out in cyberspace, many business computers (and even personal computers) are not being properly protected? Even if you think you’re taking adequate precautions to protect yourself and your business, chances are, you’re missing one of the crucial elements that will leave a gaping hole in your system, making it fully accessible.

To properly and effectively protect your computer, be sure to follow these steps:

1. It is absolutely critical that your computer have an anti-virus scan program, such as Norton, Mcafee, or my personal favorite used on all my home and office machines Panda Internet Security 2007. Most new computers come with one installed, but only with about a year subscription to their services. Once that year runs out, you no longer have access to the updates required for continued protection, so always keep your subscription up to date. The yearly cost far outweighs the loss you could have if a virus attacked.

2. It is also imperative that you regularly update your anti-virus programs virus definitions. Typically you can set the program up to where it updates the definitions automatically, without even bothering you. This is efficient if your system is connected to the Internet 24/7. If not, be sure that the definitions are updated when you do connect. Without current virus definitions, your system is not protected from the latest bugs.

3. Make sure that your operating system, like Windows, is regularly updated as well. Again, you can set the system up to where it updates automatically, but even then it will occasionally ask you about certain updates. Typically these updates contain software security patches. These patches do exactly that, they patch up holes in the system that may give access to hackers and viruses.

4. Run virus scan often. At the very least, run it weekly, but more often will protect you better. Also, be sure to back up the documents, projects and information you have saved to your hard drive on a regular basis. If you’re using a server, have each computer user back-up their information to the server weekly. If not, I recommend backing-up to a flash drive or CD-R. Save information that you could not replace if the system were to crash.

If you do end up with a computer virus even after taking all the precautions possible (and it can happen at some point), there are steps to take to get rid of the problem. First and foremost, if the infected computer is connected to a network, immediately disconnect and isolate that computer. Some viruses are able to quickly spread to other computers on the network. Train your employees to take proper action when a problem surfaces.

Next, find the removal tool for that particular virus. Your anti-virus scan program can warn you that the virus exists and say that it is deleted, but 9 times out of 10, it’s not completely gone. You will typically need to use the removal tool, most of which can be found by doing an online search with “[virus name] removal.”

Once the virus is removed, be sure to do another virus scan, just to make sure. If the virus crashed your operating system, format and reinstall. This is where the backup that you’ve been running comes in handy. You can always reinstall programs, but cannot replace the information on those programs, such as the client bills for the last three years.

And finally, once everything is reinstalled, run virus scan again, just in case. You can never be too careful when it comes to computer viruses… ever.

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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, February 17th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Technology |

Demand for Healthy Pet Food Presents Business Opportunity

If you’re an animal lover and looking for a niche market to start a business in, then healthy pet food may be the product line for you. Following last month’s pet food recall, pet owners are on the prowl for a healthier alternative for their extended family members.

Canada’s Menu Foods, which produces dry and canned dog and cat food for over 50 brands, pulled over 60 million canned and pouch products off of store shelves after reports that the products were causing the deaths and illnesses of pets across the nation.

Upon further research, Menu Foods and the FDA discovered that the finished products manufactured between December 3, 2006 and March 6, 2007 contained melamine, which it typically used in making plastics. The contaminant coincided with the switch to a new distributor for the wheat gluten ingredient contained in the products (see Menu Foods’ March 30, 2007 press release).

Since the recall, sales have skyrocketed for a number of small businesses across the country that manufacture organic and/or chemical- and preservative-free cat and dog food. The Honest Kitchen out of San Diego, California reports four times the online orders and a 100% doubling in actual dollar amounts.

Many of these small businesses got their start by providing home cooked meals to their own pets. KosherPets in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida started after its owners couldn’t find anything on the market that would help their Dalmatian’s skin allergies. But once Martine Lacombe started making kosher meals for their dog, they saw immediate improvement.

The neighbors were so impressed they were asking where they could buy the food for their dogs, but there was nothing on the market. So, KosherPets was born in 2001, bringing in $10,000 it’s first year, $100,000 its second and is expected to rake in up to $500,000 this year.

Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen states that, “people’s animals are like their babies…they enjoy participating in creating a meal for their cat or dog, rather than scooping something brown out of a can.”

I have three dogs at home, who are, in fact, much like children to me. I’m not ready to spend the extra cash on organic and preservative-free dog food, but I can definitely understand the appeal.

Many dogs develop skin allergies to the preservatives and chemicals in dog food, including my four year old Lab/Great Dane. Thankfully we have found a dog food that helps alleviate the problem, though not completely. If the organic products were more affordable, we would definitely switch. Maybe it just takes more entrepreneurs tapping into the market to make the products that are the best for our pets more readily available.

• A Growing Appetite for Healthy Pet Food

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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, February 16th, 2019 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Ventures |

Aprils Fools Day Office Pranks

I know I am one of the many who are guilty of dreaming up fabulous pranks that would have everyone in the office rolling… but I never have the nerve to actually follow through with pulling them off.’s Top 10 Office Pranks Exposed reveals some very inventive and hilarious office pranks that were pulled off, including the culprits. My personal top three from the list are:

• Placing a sticky-note on the bottom of a co-worker’s mouse that says “April Fools.” It may take a few minutes for her to figure out why his mouse doesn’t work, but it will sure produce a good chuckle.

• All the employees band together and call in sick the same morning about an hour before report time (particularly if a new hire is to start that same day). Then, everyone shows up to work at the same time, maybe with breakfast in tow.

• While the new technical service representative was out of the office, some employees of a printing company sent all of his equipment, including the computer monitor, through the shrink wrapping machine.

A sense of humor in the office is a must to get through the day, but be careful when planning a practical joke, because your job could be on the line. Be sure to think through all possible reactions from your co-workers and the consequences of such reactions. Also, be sure not to do anything that might hurt someone’s feelings or distract the rest of the work day.

And, above all else, be sure you know your boss and how he’ll react well enough before pulling a practical joke on him. Anything that embarrasses him or undermines his authority will quickly cost your job.

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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, February 15th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Tips for Dealing with Calls from Upset Clients

Unfortunately we can’t please everyone and many times those who are unhappy in any way want to express it. I know because not only do I receive the calls, but sometimes I make them when I feel the customer service I received is lacking in some way.

So, what should you do when you’re on the receiving end of a call from an upset or irate client? There are many tactics to keep in mind, and though some may should cheesy, they can be very helpful in making the call end positively.

• First and foremost, listen and take notes. If you have to relay the situation to someone else, it’s important that you don’t get any of the information wrong.

• Stay positive, both in your tone and in your head. Thinking that the caller is being ridiculous will translate into your tone and will definitely not help the situation.

• Don’t talk down to or berate the client – always remember that their complaints are important to them and you should express an understanding of that.

• Do not take their complaint personally or become defensive. If you do you’re opening the opportunity for the conversation to quickly escalate to a bad one.

• Do not interrupt to defend yourself or the business. Only interrupt to detour the conversation back to a positive level if the client’s emotions begin to escalate.

• Express empathy to the client’s situation. Put yourself in their shoes and try and see their perspective. Not only will it make them feel better, but it will help you to discover the best solution to the problem.

• Take responsibility for your actions and apologize assertively when you personally have made a mistake (do not apologize for other employees, because that is admitting their fault in the situation when you’re probably only getting selective facts and perspective).

• Thank the client for sharing his concerns with you and try to find a solution you can both agree on, even if that means talking it over with other staff members and calling the client back with options.

There are always exceptions, but sticking to these simple guidelines will help you to turn the conversation with upset clients in a productive direction that will hopefully guide you to a resolution that everyone is happy with.

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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, February 14th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

A New Way for Employees to Get Paid

Some say that there will soon come a day when checks are no longer in existence. Well, how would you like to get paid by your employer with a debit card? Sounds a bit strange, but it’s catching on and here’s why:

Many businesses have employees, such as minors or new U.S. immigrants, that don’t hold bank accounts. When those employees receive their paycheck, they will pay up to 10% of the check in order to get it cashed. A recent alternative is providing employees with a payroll debit card.

Basically, the employer deposits funds in a payroll account and then distributes payroll debit cards to his employees. Each card has an amount attached to it that is equal to that of the employee’s paycheck for that pay period. The funds can be withdrawn from an ATM or the card used as a debit card at any retailer.

Not only does it save employees without bank accounts the expense of getting a check cashed, but it also saves the employer the expense of printing paper paychecks. Checks typically cost $1-2 to print, while it is only about twenty-cents to provide a payroll debit card.

There are still a few bugs left to work out, however. Most state laws require that employees get their entire paycheck on pay day. This could be a problem if the ATM machine has a withdrawal limit that is less the the employee’s paycheck amount. The employer may to have to pay extra ATM withdrawal fees for all of the funds to be accessible at once.

Not to mention the fact that changing over to a payroll debit card process (in addition to direct deposit) can be time consuming, as most employees would be wary of such a change at first. It would take some time to reassure them that the process is secure and efficient.

Payroll debit cards are clearly one of the first steps in the extinction of checks. Despite the wrinkles that remain in the process, it is definitely something that makes things a bit easier for the employee, and requires less paperwork for the employer, which is always a good thing.

• The End of the Paycheck

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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, February 13th, 2019 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Money, Operations, Technology |

New Technology Leaves Spell-Check in the Dust

We all use spell check. Admit it, you know you do. Even with a degree in English, spell check is critical to my daily routine at a law firm. What I find incredibly frustrating is when I want to know more than if a word is spelled right. I want to know if the sentence actually makes sense and sounds professional or if there might be a word that would get my point across better. But spell check doesn’t tell me, and I wish something did.

An Israeli software company called WhiteSmoke recognized the need and has developed an outstanding solution. Their program scans written English text and makes suggests of ways to improve sentence structure, make sentences clearer and more fluent to the English language, a.k.a. “text enrichment”.

The program provides specific suggestions for improvement of the document based upon relevant content and context, derived from the millions of English language documents stored in its data base. Everything from government and legal documents to newspapers to short stories.

What got this idea hopping was globalization and the fact that the internet is dominated with the English language. Important professional documents can be intimidating, but so can e-mails to clients and employers. WhiteSmoke’s program provides a means for communicating with others without your job hanging in the balance.

And WhiteSmoke’s number one buyer: the United States, which isn’t surprising. Not only do our regional dialects, and lack of confidence, hinder the proper use of context and grammar, but there is also a tremendous demand among those who know English only as a second language. Even if they can speak fluently, English is an exceptionally difficult language to produce accurately on paper. WhiteSmoke’s software can relieve some serious stress in that department.

This is one of those ideas we all wish we would have thought of first. Regardless of whose idea it was, I get the feeling WhiteSmoke’s product will be a common additive to Microsoft Office in the years to come. And WhiteSmoke is already reaping the benefits of this innovative commodity.

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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, February 12th, 2019 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Technology |

Business Structures Help Fight War on Terror

That’s right, small businesses have what it takes. And the U.S. military is finally starting to see that. Recently, the Pentagon has been passing around The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, a book originally written for businesses.

The basic idea of the book is that “centralized organizations are like spiders and can be destroyed with an attack to the head . . . decentralized organizations transfer decision-making to leaders in the field [and] are like starfish — no single blow will kill them, and parts that are destroyed will grow back.”

Sound familiar? That’s because our war with terror is against organizations that are decentralized. We can take out leader after leader, but until we understand their mentality completely, we won’t get very far because there are leaders all over the place.

How does this connect to small business? Well, actually, many small businesses across the national have long embraced the “starfish” mentality. Only now is the U.S. military catching on to the fact that they could learn a lot from fellow citizens on the home front.

A great example of a centralized organization (a “spider”) is Enron. The CEO went down, and took everyone with him. That wouldn’t be the case with a decentralized business. Employees are split into parts of the whole unit based upon their task, given goals to achieve, and then all given equal opportunity to achieve them.

Everyone is trying to be the best, so everyone is doing their best, which results in a well-oiled, fit business machine. Each person is equally important to the best possible function of that machine. Granted, occasionally someone will malfunction, and may even slow the machine down a bit, but it quickly repairs itself.

And, yes, there is someone to answer to, but the idea of CEO is a bit different. Instead of always looking over your shoulder and giving orders, he is more or less there as a guide. What he tells you to do is more like a suggestion, and, out of respect (not fear), you take his advice.

Decentralized businesses don’t always work, however. As you might expect, there are instances where things get out of control… one or more people trying to take over, etc. It just depends on the number of employees and the personalities you’re dealing with. Decentralized businesses are for those who want to share the glory, not hoard it all for themselves.

It’s those weaknesses that our military intends to focus on in the war against terrorism. Taking hints from The Starfish and the Spider is a good start. We may just be well on our way to a victory… not to mention some rocking places to work.

• Can Small Business Help Win the War?

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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, February 11th, 2019 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Operations |

Competing for Business with a Former Employer

Imagine the scenario: you’ve been sitting behind a desk in a lonely cubical somewhere, punching numbers all day for a large accounting firm. And you’ve noticed a few things along the way… things you would do differently if you ran the place, things you would improve or expand on. Just about the time you’ve had enough of the claustrophobia, it hits you — why don’t you start your own accounting firm?

It’s a wonderful idea, but there are some things you should consider before attempting it on your own. If you don’t, you may be facing legal battles with your former employer.

Non-Compete Agreement

The first thing you must do is see if there was a non-compete agreement anywhere on the paperwork you signed when you were hired. Basically, a non-compete agreement protects a company for a given amount of time from competition after an employee leaves.

In other words, if you signed one, you may have to wait a year or more after you leave the large accounting firm to start your small one. You are also usually prohibited from adopting trade or operation secrets or snatching up clients from your former employer.

If you signed a Non-Compete Agreement, consult an attorney before you make any moves. They are often unenforceable, depending on the terms and the state you live in. Better to be safe than sorry though.

Be Honest
If you get along with your current employer, and especially if you consider yourselves friends, then just be upfront with him. Tell him you are planning to leave and go off on your own into the business world. Ask for pointers on how to get started.

You might even consider asking your boss to provide you with some networking connections he may have that aren’t clients to help get you started. The more credit you give your employer for helping point you in the entrepreneurial direction, the less likely he’ll be to pursue legal action against you.

It’s also important to not tell clients you are leaving before you have, as that would be deliberately undermining your loyalty to the company. Even if you’re not loyal in your heart, refrain from causing any form of sabotage, since it could easily bite you in the rear later.

Generally, it’s just best to protect yourself and be open about your plans. Most employers will respect your boldness to step out on your own without trying to pull them down. After all they were probably once in your shoes, so they understand the appeal.

• Starting a Business – and Not a Legal Battle

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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, February 10th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Startup |

Small Business Health Bill to Return to Senate

It was proposed last year, and didn’t make it through. But Senator Michael Enzi intends to sponsor the small business health care bill again this year, despite the opposition he’s facing from many angles.

The State Association of Attorney Generals, the American Caner Society and the American Diabetes Association have all expressed concerned about some holes in the bill in its current condition and want some changes made.

Let’s examine the current bill from both angles:

• Will allow small businesses to pool insurance policies together, much like large corporations and unions currently do.
• Will give many businesses, who otherwise couldn’t, a chance to provide health insurance to their employees.
• The more people in the insurance pool, the better the cost to each business owner.
• The insurance pool spreads the risk involved over a larger number of people, so it doesn’t hurt the pocket nearly as much if an employee in the pool were to get sick.
• It opens up more health care options.

• Coverage does not have to meet state requirements, which can result in large holes in the coverage provided. Important and all too common medical problems like diabetes and breast cancer might not be covered.
• The lack of requirements also allows business owners to provide their employees with a “bare-bones” policy that may covers very little of the fees associated with even routine doctor visits.
• May cause the price of services not covered under the policy to increase in order for medical providers to make up the difference.
• The lack of state oversight could eliminate customer protection on many levels.

With 41 state attorney generals signing their names in a letter of complaint about the holes in the bill, it is expected that Senator Enzi and his colleagues will have to go back to the drawing board to develop some sort of compromise.

But I truly feel they’re on the right track. Far too many people in this country are without health insurance and something needs to be done about that. Giving small businesses the means to provide coverage to their employees is the first step in disposing of the problem.

What do you think? Is the bill fine the way it is? Should changes be made? Are there other alternatives? Share your thoughts.

• Senate fight over small-business health care

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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, February 9th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Human Resources |

Marketing with a Dash of Controversy

Heart Attack Grill — the name just makes you want to run, but which direction? It’s intriguing, to say the least.

So is the whole atmosphere of Jon Basso’s grease-filled restaurant in Tempe, Arizona, which opened just over a year ago. It’s that atmosphere and the controversy surrounding it, that has put Basso’s business on the map. Advertising isn’t even necessary for him these days.

The attention he’s getting revolves around items on the menu such as the Quadruple Bypass Burger and Flatliner Fries, some topping out at 8,000 calories each! Other items available for purchase include full-sugar sodas from Mexico (no Diet Cokes here) and even filterless cigarettes.

And, get this, the guys used to own fitness training studios! But, after hearing weight-loss motivated clients confess over and over about their diet cheats, Basso decided that everyone needed a place to dive into the grease once in awhile and indulge themselves.

The boldness doesn’t stop there. He has already faced opposition from the Arizona Board of Nursing and the Center for Nursing Advocacy because of his waitresses being scantily clad in sexy nurse uniforms. The associations claim it “degrades” the profession, but Basso claims that it helps to “glorify the job for the younger workforce.”

And Basso is eating it all up (pun intended). Afterall, he’s already obtained national recognition for his grill. And, despite the negative tone many reports may take, business is booming! Can you say viral marketing?

It don’t know that the Heart Attack Grill is on my list of places to go before I die (or maybe to die, in this case), but I commend Basso for his enthusiasm, creativity and daringness to be different.

Fries anyone?

• Cashing In On Controversy

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Friday, February 8th, 2019 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Marketing |

Avoiding the Courtroom: Tips for Deterring Litigation

It’s a risk every business owner takes the moment he/she opens their doors – being sued. And there are a lot of reasons your business could be pulled into court – everything from unpaid bills to outrageous claims of fraud against your company.

Anything from the substantial and justified to the frivolous can come against your business at any moment, and if you want to avoid the long, tedious court process, you’d better make sure you’re ready.

Attorney Fees Clause
Every contract you have should contain a dispute resolution section. Within that section, it’s a good idea to state that, should any dispute proceed to litigation and you win the case, the client would be responsible for your attorney fees.

This would make any client who doesn’t really have a case against you think twice before filing a lawsuit. On the other end, should you need to sue a client for an unpaid balance, etc., they will probably refrain from fighting you much if they know they will have to pay attorney fees for you.

Limitation of Liability Clause
In addition, consider adding a clause in your contract that limits your liability and damages, should there be a flaw with the product you provide, etc. For example, if you provide a product or service on a regular basis that is worth $5,000.00 then put a clause in your contract that limits your liability to $5,000.

This covers any defective products you may have, avoids needless court proceedings to determine an amount for damages, and keeps you from losing the shirt of your back to pay for non-economic damages.

Arbitration Clause
Another option is to put in the contract that any disputes that cannot be immediately resolved are to be conducted exclusively through Arbitration. More or less, arbitration is another form of mediation.

One party files a form requesting Arbitration and provides the fee up-front, which can be in the ballpark of $750. This sounds like a lot, but can be much less than a trial in court would cost with attorney fees and the like. And, whatever is decided during Arbitration, is held with the same regard as a judgment in court. More information can be found on the American Arbitration Association website.

It’s important to be aware that your business insurance may cover your liability if there is a dispute. If something comes up, the first thing you should do is check with your insurance company to see if such matters are covered under your policy.

If the situation is covered, the insurance company will take over negotiations on your behalf and, hopefully, settle the matter. Be aware, however, that the insurance provider will only pay out to the extend of the policy limits. You are responsible for anything above that (but they will always try and settle below the policy limits if possible).

Another smart move, before any threat of lawsuit even comes close to your business, is to purchase additional liability insurance through your provider. A typical business policy will, unfortunately, only cover minimal disputes.

There are additional provisions for matters that would be more likely to occur for your specific business – from employment practices liability coverage to advertising practices liability coverage and the like. Be sure to talk to your provider and be aware of all of your options.

Though these steps cannot guarantee that your business won’t go to court over something, they will help to avoid it as much as possible. Keep in mind that the best thing to really do is protect your business and your customer. If you do both honestly and efficiently, then the problems should be minimal.

Always consult with an attorney before changing or developing your business contracts to make sure your business is fully protected under the law. The statements in this article are not to be taken as official guidance, but, rather, as an informational supplement to the legal aspect of your business strategy.

• 5 Litigation Secrets

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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, February 7th, 2019 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

The Adverse Effects of Poor Communication

Anyone who is in the sales industry knows the importance of how you communicate to a potential buyer. One false move, or should I say word, and you may have lost their business forever. Truth be told, however, the way you talk can affect every aspect of your business, whether you’re in sales or not.

Here are some ways you might be turning customers away because of how you speak:

Bad Grammar
This is the most obvious and common problem, which can often convey to others that you lack intelligence. Yet, it is the most difficult flaw in speech to change. Using “good” when you should be saying “well” is extremely noticeable, but also extremely hard to unlearn.

I honestly feel that parents these days don’t step up enough and teach their children the correct way to speak at a young age, not realizing that they are allowing a laziness that, down the road, may adversely affect their child’s career.

There is one false move that is often made unknowingly by many people, and that’s to end a sentence with a preposition (words like as, in, on, by, to or since). Grammatically, prepositions are supposed to be placed prior to a noun or pronoun, so ending a sentence with one is incorrect.

But, this is a common grammatical bad habit from childhood, which even I am guilty of. In fact, you could probably find that I’ve done so in a couple of posts (oops), which is really sad since I have a degree in English Literature. And it’s unfortunately ingrained in most of us as okay at a young age, and even after a college degree I still mess up. It is just something we should all be aware of and watch ourselves.

Too Majestic
What I mean by this is talking over people’s heads by using uncommon vocabulary (like those who enjoy learning and using a new word from the dictionary each day) and overly emphasized proper grammar. There has to be a balance between saying things correctly and using common local colloquialisms (like using “ya’ll” in the south) to keep whoever is listening engaged in what you have to say.

If you constantly talk to everyone as though you were a scholar of the English (or whatever) language, no one will want to listen. They will reach the same conclusion as if you were using bad grammar — that you’re a moron without any social skills.

Too Technical
With any industry there are terms that are only known and used by those within the industry. The average Joe likely won’t understand what in the world you’re talking about when you try to tell him that you feel like it would be best to proceed with filing a Trial De Novo in his case (going with the legal field here because it’s what I’m familiar with).

Instead, you would tell him that you think it would be best to ask the court for a “new trial.” The acronym KISS (keep it simple, stupid) most definitely applies. Keep it in laymen’s terms when discussing your industry with the general public.

If you’ve realized that you might be guilty of committing one or more of these communication flaws, find someone you can trust and rely on to help you recognize when you are making the errors.

The only thing you can truly do is vow to fix the problem, be self aware and practice. People will notice the effort and commend you, either with a pat on the back, or by really listening to what you have to say.

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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Networking |

Should You File a Patent on that Great Idea?

These days, as new businesses continually pop up on every corner of every freshly constructed commercial street, there are bound to be some duplications and similarities along the way. One way you can protect your business practices from being copied by another company is to patent them.

According to the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent is: a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

In other words, a patent keeps other businesses from making money off of your ideas. This is not simply limited to a product you have come up with, but also business practices and strategies. This also includes combining two or more products/strategies that have already been patented to form a better and more useful product or service.

For example, in Breakfast in a Whole New Way, I discussed breakfast restaurant owners who were getting patents on what kind of mix-ins could be combined with cereals, such as M&Ms and skittles, in order to keep competitors from adopting the same options for customers.

The patent process is very long and loaded with paperwork. And it is difficult and expensive to enforce a patent if someone else tries to infringe on it. So, before you sort through all the red tape, ask yourself these questions:

Has someone beat me to the punch?
Before even considering a patent, you need to make sure that no one else has already beat you to it. There are a number of online searches available including USPTO’s and Google Patent Search, which are both free. Other searches such as Delphion require a fee.

Is it worth it?
If there isn’t a patent like yours out there, then you need to determine if it is actually worth the trouble to pursue a patent. In order for it to be worth while, your business should center around the product/service you want to patent.

If someone where to copy your invention and it would result in the demise of your company, then a patent is definitely worth your time. However, if the patent is for a side product that doesn’t bring in as much revenue as your big seller, then it’s probably not necessary.

Do I have the resources?
It takes a lot of time and money to enforce a patent if someone is tapping in to your creativity. It can also be extremely expensive to defend yourself if someone else sues for patent infringement. Be sure you have the resources available to protect your company if you were to face opposition on either side.

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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, February 5th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

Grimy Entrepreneurs Rake in the Money

A grimy entrepreneur… the first thing that may come to mind is a mobster involved with rotten business deals. No, I’m talking about that kind of grime. I mean grime as in smelly, rotten, nasty and downright disgusting business ventures that are quite lucrative.

I love Dirty Jobs, hosted by Mike Rowe on the Discovery Channel. It has the appeal of NBC’s Fear Factor, but I can actually watch it without throwing up or turning away . . . well, most of the time.

The show has featured everything you could possibly think of, and anything you couldn’t, that constitutes as a job most of us would refuse or be extremely unhappy to do.

Some examples of dirty jobs that have been featured on the show:

• Skulls International, a company in Oklahoma that cleans all types of skeletons, from chipmunk to human to giraffe.
• Bio Oregon, a fish recycling plant.
• A dairy farm where the owner makes biodegradable/plantable flower pots out of cow patties.
• Coyote Texas Turkey Farm, home of the liquid compost turkey pile.
• San Francisco Waste Treatment Center (enough said).
• Ohio State Department of Transportation, Road Kill Recovery Division – ewwwww!

We all have our ideas of dirty, disgusting jobs that we would never do. Let’s face it, none of us longed to scoop dog poo out of people’s yards for a living or be a trash collector when we grew up. I knew a guy who was a trash collector… and I also know how much money he made and, if I were desperate, I might consider it… despite the fact that I’m a female!

The point is, somebody’s got to do the ugly work. Could you imagine how life would be if no one picked up the roadkill or the trash or worked in the waste treatment centers? I don’t even want to think about how disgusting our existence would be.

And, since so few people jump at the chance to do the nasty jobs, most of them pay pretty nicely. Skulls International charges $7,500 to clean a human skeleton (less for animals, because they don’t smell as bad), and expects to reach over $2 million in sales this year.

Clearly, they are in high demand, as are most other entrepreneurs who venture down that dark, grimy alley of the not-so glamorous business. They see that the public is in need of a specific service and that no one else is doing it because of the muck involved, and just dive right in (so to speak). Hey, have at the slime between your toes!

Related Readings:
• Filthy Rich Businesses

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Monday, February 4th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Ventures |

Top Movies About Entrepreneurs

In honor of the 79th Annual Academy Awards, which airs on ABC, I thought I would bring to your attention’s Entrepreneurs in the Movies, a list of 13 movies that embody the entrepreneurial spirit. The list even inspired a film festival at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Though I won’t discuss all 13 movies, I wanted to touch on some of my favorites on the list.

High Fidelity
This movie reveals every entrepreneurs innate desire to start a business directly connected to something they love. Rob Gordon, played by John Cusack, taps into his passion for music and opens a record store all his own. Pretty cool job if you ask me. And the movie’s pretty great too.

The Aviator refers to Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) as a “serial entrepreneur,” and I love the image that portrays. If only we all had the guts to dive into something as hardcore as he did, even if everyone around us thinks we’re nuts (despite the fact that Hughes sort of was).

Based on the actual life story of Howard Hughes, we see the many hats he wore, and wore well, of director, producer, head of RKO Pictures, creator and owner of Hughes Aircraft (which included designing airplanes), and major shareholder (which resulted in his control) of TWA. Despite his extreme eccentricities, “serial entrepreneur” couldn’t have described him better.

Forrest Gump
Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.

Ah, dear Bubba. Who can blame Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) for being inspired by his dear friend to start Bubba Gump Shrimp? With a ratty old shrimping boat and a depressed friend (Lt. Dan played by Gary Sinise), Forrest Gump is the only fictitious movie on the list to result in the start of an actual company, with Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant & Market spanning 15 locations in the US.

And my personal favorite movie on the list…

Their luck runs out and their careers in the academic field are over, but nothing will get them down. Instead, the charming businessman Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), the devoted scientist Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and the supernatural historian Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) start a business hunting ghosts.

There you have it, my top picks from the Entrepreneurs in the Movies list. Which is your favorite?

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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, February 3rd, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Ownership |

Customer Reviews Make Business Better

The strategies of MySpace and YouTube are spreading as more and more online businesses are adopting comment pages, allowing customers to post feedback, good or bad, about the products and/or services they provide. And it’s working to their benefit.

Customers want to be heard; they want their opinions and experiences to matter, and having a forum to express those to the public often satisfies that desire. Customers also want to see what other people, someone other than the manufacturer or distributor, have to say about the product.

That’s exactly why, when we buy something defective, we run and tell anyone who will listen how horrible the experience was. Or, in contrast, when our experience with a company is great, we recommend them to everyone. It’s all about word-of-mouth, and there is much more appeal is getting the word out to the whole world in addition to those in our immediate circle.

And that’s where websites like come in. Epinions has been around for awhile, as a catch-all for consumers to review and rate products from toothbrushes to dog food to digital cameras, regardless of the manufacturer or retailer. This freedom of expression found its way through MySpace and YouTube, and the world noticed just how much everyone wants to be heard.

And business owners have noticed. At the end of 2006, 43% of e-commerce businesses offered a place on their site for ratings and reviews of products and services. This is up from 23% in 2005. Some sites even allow customers to post pictures or video of themselves using the product. The customers then send a link to friends, which causes more and more potential customers to click through the site.

According to’s article Retailers Take a Tip from MySpace, “Customer feedback is opening the eyes of the industry, changing the way they market, manufacture and merchandise.” The negative feedback leads them to reexamine the products and services they provide, making sure the customer is satisfied, even if that means pulling the item from the shelves.

Negative feedback also decreases returns, as customers who read them are more likely to set aside their “imaginary expectations” for the product and realize its true function.

Positive feedback on a product results in better sales on that item and others, as customers begin to trust the retailer more. Some studies show that customers who check out the highest rated products on a business’ site are 49% more likely to buy something. The top rated items draw customers in… even if they weren’t planning to spend money.

If you’re interested in adding this new buzz to your site, but concerned that you don’t have the manpower to filter out the crazies, businesses like BazaarVoice and PowerReviews have come to the rescue. Their service focuses only on the feedback you receive and makes sure to keep out the ranting and cursing of consumers who are really displeased.

And the fact is you can’t please everyone, but it’s better to know where your product or service needs improvement, than to find yourself unaware of a problem at all. With a more internet savvy consumer comes demand for a more internet savvy business. Consider the possibilities of giving your customers a voice and the benefits that will have upon the success of your business.

Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
The Lawsuit Risks of Having a Website
Marketing Your Website
Dealing With Angry Customers
What’s in a Domain Name?
Product Stickers and Respect

By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, February 2nd, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Marketing |

Why Small Businesses are Gullible to Scams

What’s this world coming to that so many people are scamming others for money . . . and we’re falling for it? It really blows me away that so many people fail to do their homework and check out what their told by a random nobody who calls them up and says, “You owe us money.”

Granted, some of these scammers are good… too good really, but most of them prey on the gullible. And, unfortunately, small businesses can be far too gullible. They’re targets. New small businesses are hit by scammers because they have less experience in the ways of the business world and will probably assume everyone’s who they say they are.

Also, most small businesses are too small to afford a full-time legal staff to check out offers or claims. And many are in desperate need of investors and will jump at the chance of “free money.” And that’s what the scammers are hoping for.

There are endless scams out there, but if you own a small business, here are three common scams to look out for:

With this tactic, scammers order a product from you and mail in a check for payment, but they write the check for more than they owe, making look as though it was simply a misunderstanding, such as sending a check for $950, when the bill was $750, and claiming the seven looked like a nine. Your company sends a refund of $200 with the shipment of the items purchased.

But, a couple weeks later, the check bounces because the account is closed or doesn’t exist. And you’ve just given away your product, been stuck with the bill for a bounced check, and are out $200.

What makes this work is the fact that the small business owner is gullible enough to trust that the check will clear, and that should never be the case, not even with your regular customers, and MOST ESPECIALLY not with a new customer. Give the check 7-10 days to clear the bank before you even ship the product. And, if the check is written for too much, return it and require the correct amount. Make it part of your payment policy and you’ll avoid the scammers.

Disappearing Act
A common example is a fax received asking if you are interested in selling your business. If you are and you contact the company, they charge you several thousands of dollars (we’re talking $5-10K) for that company to determine what your business is worth. The problem is, you pay them and they never return. Poof, they disappear.

The best way to avoid this type of scam is to check out any business, whether you hear of them by fax or word of mouth, before giving them your money. Check their registration with the Secretary of State and the Better Business Bureau. Ask around and see if anyone else has heard of them. Even do a Google Search. Chances are, if they’re scammers, you’ll find out real quick. And unless you can find a solid gold list of references and validation, don’t even both.

Directory Listings
Fake invoices have been around for awhile, but an added twist to this fraud is that many scammers are claiming to be directory listings, whether in print or online. They typically call and tell you that your listing is about to expire and convince you to renew. Then they send you a bill for several hundred dollars.

Generally, however, there is no directory to begin with and you’ve just paid to have your company name listed nowhere. As a rule of thumb, if you’ve never heard of or even seen the directory, it probably doesn’t exist.

A great way to throw the scammer for a loop is, when they call for your renewal, ask for a copy of the previous directory so that you can make sure you like they way your company is listed before it’s renewed. They’re sure to hang-up at that point.

Again, always check to verify the true existence and good standing of a company before you do business with them. I have listed helpful resources below. Don’t give the benefit of the doubt — that’s what makes you gullible in the scammer’s eyes. I guarantee, anyone who is a legitimate customer will understand your skepticism and wait patiently for you to verify their company or funds.

National Fraud Information Center
Better Business Bureau
BBB Online Reliability Seal Program
Federal Trade Commission
Internet Crime Complaint Center

Related Readings:

• Common Small-Business Scams
• Systematic, Inc.: How to Steer Clear of Internet Scams

Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Small Business Scams
Recruitment Management Software
How Accessible are You?
Professional Employer Organization Services
C|net Launches Small Business Site

By Michelle Cramer
Friday, February 1st, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Money, Operations, Technology |