Our First-Time Visitors

A Serial Entrepreneur Becomes A Millionaire From An Accidental Startup

Monis Rahman, serial entrepreneur, accidentally launched Rozee.pk when he needed to find more programmers for his startup.

Getting A Mentor

I had a strategy session with a business start-up owner a few months ago. She was six months into her start-up and needed some ideas during her development stage.

Simple Steps To Creating Your First Website

When you make that decision to start a business, you immediately become a multi-tasking maniac. Let's face it, you will have a lot of work on your hands.

Why 'Core Competency' Is Important To A Startup

Well, I like the answer that Norm Brodsky gives in his book, The Knack: "It was the one thing we had that our competitors couldn't offer, and by the time they caught up, we had a foothold in the market and were known for providing that service."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Book Review: Networking 2.0 with the book "LinkedWorking"

Ever heard of the story behind the Dr. Seuss startup? When Dr. Seuss completed his first book, "And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street," he had a difficult time getting it published. He was told that his book was too different and his verses too difficult to read. After his 27th rejection, he encounters an old friend, shares his publishing woes, and this friend who happens to be a juvenile editor at the time, is influential in getting Seuss his first publisher.

The authors of LinkedWorking used this Dr. Seuss story to emphasize a point, that it was

"A simple, almost chance, reconnection with an old friend that launched him into becoming one of the most beloved children's authors of the twentieth century."

Are you at that phase of your startup when building a support system of business partnerships and potential clients is the first thing on your mind in the morning and the last thing you think about before bed?

Then you must get the book LinkedWorking, (www.linkedworking.com) the guide for building the famous "know, like and trust" feeling with clients and business partners using the famous social networking website, LinkedIn.

Just in case you are a skeptic, let me emphasize this point. The book is based on real world experiences and comes from real world networkers. The authors are: Frank Agin (Founder & President of the famous networking group, AmSpirit-if you haven't heard of AmSpirit and you are a business owner, you've slacked on your networking skills and I urge you to learn about them), and Lewis Howes (Pro Athelete, Founder of Sports Networker, Inventor). I should also mention that the Social Media guru himself, Chris Brogan, graced the foreword.

Here's what makes the book LinkedWorking valuable: It offers a step-by-step-personal guide from the founders AND testimonials from other tried-and-tested professionals. So, it's not just a "how-to" book--it shows you strategies to improve your networking skills through social media by showing you real-world examples from professionals and business owners. And it all makes sense. It's as simple as that.

My favorite summary quote of the book is from Gary Unger, Author of How to be a Creative Genius, "you can not expect to grow your business by sitting in your office or home all day...the same is true on LinkedIn. You cannot just set up a profile and wait for people to come to you...you must be actively involved." This quote simplifies what the book LinkedWorking is all about.

The authors in LinkedWorking uncover their 3-Step-Action-Plan for growing your network and client base using LinkedIn. Since I won't tell all the secrets because I want you to go out and buy the book, I'll tell you what my action plan is (based on one of the steps from the book):

  • I will spend up to 30 minutes a day on LinkedIn--30 minutes in the morning, evening or early afternoon (the authors urge that these are the best times of day)
  • I will invite three interesting people to my network each day
  • I will answer two questions per week on subjects in which I want to be recognized
  • I will start a LinkedIn group within a month

If you have just started your business and you are reading this blog, in order to make good use of this book, you must first get a LinkedIn account. Then set up a profile (with picture), start by inviting everyone within your outlook or email address book, and then purchase the book LinkedWorking. Then follow their process.

I will admit that I have a LinkedIn account and have been doing some of the things the authors have suggested, but have not been doing what it takes to make my LinkedIn experience a success. I have not gotten strong solid results, because I have not put in the solid effort.

So, as I've stated, I will be following some of the steps in the book and I will update you later on my process. Stay tuned...In the meantime, feel free to befriend me on LinkedIn.


About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Startup Business Consultant & Owner of Isaac Business Services LLC; an agency that offers startup concierge & business planning services for small businesses.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The New SBA lending guidelines & What it Means to your Business

Like most business owners, you're probably wondering how the new bill affects lending and SBA guidelines. Well, here are three main areas to pinpoint:

  1. SBA-backed loans now have a 90% guarantee increase. Since startups normally cannot get loans because of a lack of guarantees, the SBA is now taking an increased interest in paying back banks in the event of a default loan. The only downside is that for some smaller loans, it may entail a business owner receiving a lower dollar amount due to down-payment requirements. Also, credit score requirements will also be more stringent.
  2. Fees waived: loan fees may seem small in nature but they add up on SBA loans; especially when your business requires a high loan amount. Fees are now waived for major SBA loans (i.e. 504 loans)
  3. $35,000 bridge loans for business owners who have fallen on hard times. This loan should help them pay bills and/or take care of payroll in a down month. Only downside--lenders are not sure who fits this bucket yet, they await further guidelines.
Plus: Ever heard of the secondary market for SBA loans? This is where broker-dealers buy huge sums of SBA loans from banks and then resell them in the form of securities. By doing this, money is freed up for banks to lend because now there's interest being made and the bank has investors.
Think of it as the same way bonds work. See, in order for your nearest hospital to be built, municipal bonds are sold to consumers at certain interest rates, and the money is then used to build municipalities (like your hospital).
The problem is, these secondary brokers have bought huge sums of SBA loans and have had trouble reselling them. They usually resell in the forms of pension funds, to European banks, etc. However, with the current economy, they are now sitting on huge pools of money that they must sell in order to give banks the incentive to lend.
Otherwise with no help from secondary lenders, banks preserve their extra capital instead of lending. Why? Well banks must keep certain reserves for various reasons.
So without the help of the secondary market to make them some extra money, banks simply sit on the cash they have to protect themselves.
So, the Obama Administration will now have the Treasury Department buy back about $15 million in securities linked to small business loans; in order to free up the credit crunch. Sounds good right?

I'll be following closely and keeping you updated right here. Stay tuned!


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Feeling Down about your Startup? Learn from the Spanx Startup Story

Ladies, know how difficult it is to get the right pair of underwear for a pair of cream or white pants? (sorry fellows). Well, this is the problem that Sara Blakley, Founder of Spanx underwear had. This "pain" made her recognize the need for her business--Spanx. At 27 years old, Sara founded her company Spanx, a company that provides footless body shaping pantyhose for women, that creates slim shaping and invisible lines.

Although Spanx is now a 300 million dollar company, even Sara had some difficulty when starting. She had the idea of the product she wanted, but her first step was to get a patent for the idea. Then, she had to convince manufacturers to help her produce a product for patent. After calling several manufacturing companies, she finally got an interview with one who ended up agreeing only after being convinced by his young daughter.

After this step, she then had to make lots of calls to find retailers willing to sell her product. Neiman Marcus was the first retailer to agree to carry Spanx; but only after Sara gave a personal demonstration in a bathroom stall!

It took Sara two years of planning and behind-the-scenes work to get her product in a major retailer. It also took her two years to get a mills manufacturer to produce her products!

Now, she has an office for Spanx with over 75 employees, boosts millions in sales and has a recognized brand. Plus, she has celebrities as clients.

So you think your startup project looks painful and fruitless right now? Think again!! You will have just as many bad days as you will good days. The key is to
  • Be patient: you will not be an overnight hit, plan your business while you work or pursue educational interests

  • Be open to change: you will have to analyze the changes in your business and market and adjust your products or services accordingly

Learn this from a proven brand--Spanx! Most importantly, take it one day at a time!!!


About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Founder & CEO of Isaac Business Services LLC; an agency that caters to start-up businesses. http://www.isaacbusinessservices.com/

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Great Debater for your Business is You


I saw the movie The Great Debaters again this week for the third time and have been saying the famous lines from it to myself all week. To help his students get introduced to a world within which they felt insecurity and trepidation, the professor in this movie (played by Denzel Washington) sought to motivate them by testing their inner strengths.

The professor tried to get his students to see that they were really competing against themselves--that they were testing their own abilities.

So these are the famous lines from The Great Debaters that were repeated a few times during the movie:

Professor: "Who is the Judge?"
Students: "The judge is God."
Professor: "Why is He the judge?"
Students: "He decides who wins and loses; not my opponent."
Professor: "Who is your opponent?"
Students: "My opponent does not exist."
Professor: "Why does your opponent not exist?"
Students: "He is a mere dissenting voice to the truth I speak."

Neither my competitors or the naysayers I sometimes run across will get the benefit of being the judges for my business or its outcome. My judge is God. My opponent to me--does not exist.

Take these strong words from this movie and apply them to your startup business during these first tumultuous years. You will need them. Thanks Denzel for writing, producing and starring in such a fierce movie!

Who is the judge??!! Who is your opponent??!!


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Snuggie Startup And The Lesson It Could Teach Your Startup


By now you've heard of the famous Snuggie--the blanket with sleeves. Their infomercials always sail across the television screen and a simple search with the name on google will give you lists of testimonials. Their target audience simply loves the product!

Although products similar to the snuggie has existed before, the founder of Snuggie used some strategic planning methods to properly position his product.

When asked by Oprah how his company could still see record sales during a recessionary period, Snuggie's owner Scott listed three reasons why he feels his company has been so successful:
  1. Great commercials
  2. Great product
  3. Value Price Point ($14.95)
And guess what? These successful tactics were all a part of their business planning process that was restructured as they went along. They tested 1000 items--these items were sent to friends and family. Soon after, they received more orders than expected. Revenues were projected at 60 million dollars!

Key lesson to learn from the Snuggie startup: Don't be closeminded about your target customer; you can't simply make them up or envision them to be a certain way. Introduce your product or service and run a test to see who really buys. How do they buy--meaning what would they pay for such a service/product and what payment methods? What value do they want added?

Then ask yourself, what would make this customer buy? The answer to this question is what will help you position yourself within your market. The same answer will affect your marketing and advertising techniques. Always stay tuned to your audience and industry because this is where you will find the answers to your challenging business questions.



Cheryl Isaac is a business start-up strategist to service businesses going online. She contributes to Forbes here and blogs about Making Business Personal here.  

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: "How Starbucks Saved My Life"

So you're probably wondering what importance a book with such a title can have on your startup business. In this book, the author mentions, "I was stopped as I entered by a man....from Personnel. He asked how things were going, and if he could do anything more for me. I...asked him if I could do anything more for Starbucks. 'Just find more people with a positive attitude like yours' he told me."(pg 194)

Business owners, you need to find more positive people to talk to, confide in, and to hire as employees. You need to be and stay positive.

This true story by Michael Gates Gill is about him, a former executive and creative director of an ad agency who, after twenty-five years, suddenly finds himself in search of a job when he is replaced by younger executives. Having been raised by upper class parents while attending great schools (i.e. Yale), he once lived a sheltered life on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Now divorced and having to relocate to a poorer section of the city, his job search leads him to Starbucks, in an area close to the mainstream city, where he goes from being served to learning how to serve.

His boss ends up being an African American younger woman; a woman who bore some resemblance to the one he fired as an executive because he thought she was simply there as an Affirmative Action token. Very soon, he finds himself having to adjust to being the only white male and he starts to understand how it feels to be a minority.

Throughout this great, easy flowing narrative, the authors shares lessons taught to him by Starbucks. He learns that ordering people around is not the best way to accomplish goals. Instead, he learns the Starbucks' method to ask, "would you do me favor..." He also learns the training by sharing method--his African American colleague informs him, "I learn from you by helping you learn."

The amazing relationship that transpired between he and his boss is inspirational. She teaches him to interact with people and discover his true talents, he teaches her the KISS method--Keep It Simple Stupid--often used when creating presentations for advertising. A mentorship then ensues between them.

I recommend this book for anyone; particularly business owners with employees. This is a smack-back-to-reality-guide for anyone who needs to keep grounded and understand how to treat others. It is also an inspiration--the author's story is indeed a motivational one because he kept pressing forward despite the odds.


About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Founder & CEO of Isaac Business Services LLC; an agency that caters to start-up businesses. http://www.isaacbusinessservices.com/

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Planning a Vacation? Save some Money and attend a Business Conference while you're at it

Business owners learn quickly that multi-tasking and mixing business with fun is sometimes a necessity. If you are a start-up business or aspiring entrepreneur, you might as well start learning this technique. If you're planning a vacation or visiting friends, plan effectively by locating a conference in your vacation area--add some value to your vacation package. Why budget separately?

So, I've found three conferences early to mid-year that you may find advantageous. If you plan on taking a trip to any of these wonderful tourist-friendly cities listed, plan ahead and set a day aside to attend a business conference, learn some new things, and meet some new people who could help your business.

Here are three upcoming conferences in three major cities:

BlogHer Conference: Starting Thursday, July 23rd at the Chicago Sheraton, this conference's objective is to provide business owners with innovative ideas for social media networking; particularly blogging. You should be able to network with brand marketers and social media experts. Pricing starts at $99.00. You can get more details by going to BlogHer's website (http://www.blogher.com/).

Boomer Biz Summit: Starting March 19th at Bally's Las Vegas, this one-day conference will feature powerful speakers like industry leader Guy Kawasaki. The summit's objectives is to help business owners and professionals learn how to reach out with the right voice, the right message and the right channel to win trust and business with baby boomers. Prices start at $325.00. To get more details, visit the website at http://www.boomersummit.com/.

Florida Conference for Women: Starting May 12th at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, this one-day conference will feature nationally recognized speakers, presenters and panelists who are leaders in business, media, health, personal development and finance. They'll share their experience and expertise on everything from blazing new trails, tackling challenges and achieving their goals and dreams. Registration is $90.00. For more information, visit the website at http://www.flconferenceforwomen.org/



About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Founder & CEO of Isaac Business Services LLC; an agency that caters to start-up businesses. http://www.isaacbusinessservices.com/

Monday, March 9, 2009

Business Week's Top 25 Customer Service Gurus

It's in! Drum roll....According to Business Week's third annual ranking report, these 25 companies "looked for smart ways to cut costs that didn't slash service." They are ranked Business Week's "Customer Service Champs."

The winners are:
  1. Amazon.com
  2. USAA
  3. Jaguar
  4. Lexus
  5. The Ritz-Carlton
  6. Publix Super Markets
  7. Zappos.com
  8. Hewlett Packard
  9. T. Rowe Price
  10. Ace Hardware
  11. KeyBank
  12. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts
  13. Nordstrom
  14. Cadillac
  15. Amica
  16. Enterprise Rent-A-Car
  17. American Express
  18. Trader Joe's
  19. JetBlue Airways
  20. Apple
  21. Charles Schwab
  22. BMW
  23. True Value
  24. L.L. Bean
  25. JW Marriott

The companies were ranked for their quality of staff, efficiency of service, percentage of customers who would definitely recommend their brand, and percentage of customers who would definitely repurchase.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

GROW! 2009 Conference-Day Three

So you know how everyone talks about risk-taking in business? Well, Day 3 of Grow! 2009 Marty Grunder commenced with a speech from a risk-taker himself; Lt.Col Buck Ballistic Burney--U.S.A.F. Retiree and CEO of Mission on Target. The Lieutenant received a standing ovation because he was straight-forward, humorous, down-to-earth and real! However, I think the fact that he was candid with the audience about his life and mistakes, people related to him and instinctively liked him. To get a tiny sneak preview of some of the exciting videos we got to see from the Lieutenant, (and trust me there were a few), you can click here ; then click on the video link.

Throughout the conference, we also learned tips to weather the storm that is the failing economy. We learned how to become great leaders. We learned about 40 great ways to create new business in the economy, and 11 Ways to Out-Service, Out-Sell, and Out-Do the competition. We learned so much stuff, our entire days were dedicated to learning and we got back to our rooms at night time.

There were two phrases that Marty Grunder said/quoted that really stood out to me then, and still does now:
  • "Take an Interest in others and they will take an interest in you"
  • "How would the leader you want to become, do the things you need to do?"

As you move forward with your startup business, how do you plan on getting your customers to notice your interest in them? How do you plan on becoming the leader you've dreamt of becoming? There was so much I learned that I've already started to implement. I will keep you guys posted. My advice to you is to find a conference to attend, and soak in the information., then implement it for your start-up business. You can also choose to attend the GROW! 2010 conference. For more information on future Marty Grunder conferences, click here.

About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Founder & CEO of Isaac Business Services LLC; an agency that caters to start-up businesses. http://www.isaacbusinessservices.com/

Monday, March 2, 2009

GROW! 2009 Conference-Day Two

Day two at GROW! 2009 with Marty Grunder included speakers like Dr. Matt Shank of the University of Dayton, and bankers from Park National Bank.

I looked forward to hearing from the University of Dayton--one of the few universities in Ohio that has a concentrated entrepreneurship track and course material designed to enhance entrepreneurial mindsets (click here to see my June 2008 blog post about University of Dayton) Dr. Shank, Dean and Professor of Marketing, spoke about Smart Marketing--which includes strategic marketing planning and the SWOT analysis. If you've written a business plan, you should be familiar with the SWOT analysis. It is basically recognizing how your business can be positioned within its industry by analyzing the:

Strengths
Weaknesses
Opportunities
Threats


of your business, your industry, and using this information to creatively put together a marketing and planning strategy. He also stressed the importance of knowing your target customer and demographics. This is something that so many startups overlook when planning their businesses.

Meanwhile, bankers Doug Compton and John Schuermann of Park National Bank listed the reasons they feel businesses fail:
  • When business owners take their eye off the ball: by getting too engrossed in the business day-to-day affairs, that they forget the health of the business. My advice is if you find yourself in this predicament: get help and surround yourself with business advisors.
  • Not having a plan: bankers all stress this necessity--a roadmap for the business. Where do you want to be in 3-5 years? What do you need to get there? Having a plan could determine a 5-year success track vs. a 10-year success track.
  • Not making necessary adjustments: so many business owners and startups neglect to follow trends in the industry, keep updated, learn about new strategies, technology aides, pricing structures and products.

Another key point stressed by these bankers that I always stress to my clients is the need for a banker who is also a vital partner in your business. If you have a banker who does not show interest in your business, move on and find another. Your banker should be able to help you save money on fees, adjust your accounts to fit your banking needs (this way you don't pay unnecessary fees) and they should always help you analyze statements from other banks. Take this from a former banker--startup and small businesses can be catered to by banks; you just have to ask and find a willing banker.



About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Founder & CEO of Isaac Business Services LLC; an agency that caters to start-up businesses. http://www.isaacbusinessservices.com/

Sunday, March 1, 2009

GROW! 2009 Conference-Day One

When did you last attend a conference and the host knew your name and the name of others in the room? Or have you been to a conference where you've run across participants who have been attending for ten plus years? Or maybe I should ask if you've ever attended a conference where guests were invited to the host's home? (I must add--the same home that has entertained a president). Well, this was my experience at Marty Grunder's GROW! 2009 conference and if your answer to all of the above was NEVER!, then you should consider attending GROW! 2010.

"Zig when everyone else is zagging," is the phrase we heard repeatedly from Marty Grunder at this conference. It is also a reference to the eighth step in his book, The 9 Super Simple Steps to Entrepreneurial Success--where he urges entrepreneurs to "perform in a way that is contrary to the norm (See my December 21, 2008 post about this book). And this is exactly what he employed with this conference. I've been to a few small business conferences and none have employed the strategies used by GROW! to create such an intimate and learning experience that draws repeat entrepreneurs every year.

Attending GROW! 2009 was one of the best investments I've made for my business. Since it was an intimate group, we were able to take topics that may seem simple, and turn them into brainstorming and strategic discussions. So, I've decided to give you a short version of some great information learned. Here is the short version to Marty's Day 1 tips that stood out to me:
  1. Lead by Example: my favorite quote was one quoted from Clay Mathile, "how do you tell you're a leader? Turn around and see who's following you." We then strategized about simple and realistic ways to become better CEOs and business leaders.
  2. Have Integrity: We discussed having zero tolerance for employees, affiliates or contractors without integrity and the risk we take when we don't implement this strategy. The real-life examples from a successful entrepreneur like Marty Grunder was an eye-opener to the importance of this tip.
  3. Be Enthusiastic: sounds simple, but it's not. We discussed ways to look for new ways of doing things, ways to let our communities know that we really love what we do, ways to encourage customers to help us grow our businesses. Marty then mentioned his method of showing enthusiasm for business owners and his community--his Good News In Dayton radio blast. (you can view by clicking this link or going to http://www.goodnewsindayton.com/)
  4. Use Communication as a key: One discussion that stood out to me--the importance of sharing your mission and vision statement with employees and also accentuating these value statements by continuously reaching out to current clients.
  5. Do a little bit more than the other man/woman: One tip given to aid us in this strategy was, "how would the leader you want to become, do the things you need to do?" This question calls for some serious contemplation from any entrepreneur.

We also heard from Professional Organizers, Lori Firsdon and Barbara Warner of Encore Professional Organizers--a company that teaches you how to differentiate between a busy day and a productive day. If you are a solopreneur or you have a small team, you definitely know the positive influence organization brings to your life--it could mean that extra hour in the day to cook dinner for your family or the extra call to a client who has no idea how you could juggle everything you do and still remember they had a sick child.

I bought the 25th Hour Binder from Encore Professional Organizers and just in case you're wondering the outcome, I will be blogging about it later so keep posted!

As a last note, every one of his attendees can remember one statement that Marty Grunder continuously emphasized--"...take an interest in others, they will take an interest in you." (from Dale Carnegie's book--the book that got me started in entrepreneurship--"How to Win Friends and Influence People"). So, I would like to start by taking an increased interest in my blog readers and subscribers.

Please send me a tweet via Twitter, contact form via my website (http://www.isaacbusinessservices.com/) or facebook message and I will send you a condensed version of all State of Ohio governmental agencies that can help your business. This will include: how-tos for government contracts, agriculture business grant information, aid for the green industry, investor funding for technology companies, alternatives to bank financing via state agencies, short-cuts to obtaining licenses for restaurants, and much more--all in one place/few pages! Plus, I will take your feedback about topics you would like to hear more about.

Also, if you are an aspiring entrepreneur who also has a blog, follow my blog and I'll post yours also (on one condition--no foul or inappropriate content). Thanks for subscribing to my blog and I just want to take the time to let you know that you are appreciated!!

Stay tuned for more information on this great conference. You can also visit http://www.martygrunder.com/.

About the Author: Cheryl Isaac is the writer of this blog and the Founder & CEO of Isaac Business Services LLC; an agency that caters to start-up businesses. http://www.isaacbusinessservices.com/

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