Skip to content

Inc Small Business

Syndicate content Inc.com
Inc.com, the daily resource for entrepreneurs.
Updated: 1 day 8 min ago

Expert advice on how to get started in social media for your business

Mon, 04/01/2013 - 4:00am

What are the best ways to engage with your customers in social media and what tends to deliver the best results. Watch this video for expert advice from Amber MacArthur, President and Founder of Konnect Digital Engagement.

Categories: Small Business News

Whole Foods CEO: Giving Employees What They Want

Sun, 03/31/2013 - 6:05pm

John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO and founder, talks about Obamacare and the benefits of salary caps.

Categories: Small Business News

Barbara Corcoran: The Best PR Move I Ever Made

Sun, 03/31/2013 - 6:00pm

Famous for earning great press coverage, Corcoran describes her smartest publicity move ever and why it worked so well.

Categories: Small Business News

An Antidote for Accounting Blues

Sun, 03/31/2013 - 4:12am

Put down that old, shrink-wrapped software.

New cloud-based services are hoping to change bookkeeping habits by luring businesses with interfaces that are elegant and intuitive.

Xero, an online program with apps for iPhones, iPads, and Android phones, features a dashboard that lets you see bank balances, recent sales, and upcoming bills. You can pay bills, track expenses, reconcile bank transactions, and send invoices customized with your logo. Another bonus? You can import invoices and expenses from Web-based billing service FreshBooks. Xero, which supports double-entry accounting and 160 currencies, lets you view and share interactive reports. You can also track inventory using a third-party add-on and connect to your payroll system. Plans start at $19 a month for five invoices and 20 bank statements.

A lower-priced option, Kashoo offers many of the same features as Xero, including FreshBooks integration. The double-entry system has an iPad app and supports more than 100 currencies. It lets you pay bills, track expenses, reconcile bank transactions, and send custom invoices. You can also view financial reports and statements on your dashboard. Unlike Xero, Kashoo does not track inventory, but a payroll feature is due out this year. Free plans include 20 transactions a month. For unlimited transactions, you'll pay $16 a month, billed yearly, or $20 billed monthly.

Categories: Small Business News

Barbara Corcoran: What Motivate Employees More than Money

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 2:00pm

How investing in "nonsense" helps Corcoran get 150% effort from her team.

Categories: Small Business News

3 New Takes on the Business Center

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 4:00am

Forget the old-school business center. Check out these three revamped hotel workspaces encourage collaboration.

Dreary hotel business centers may soon be a thing of the past. These days, more hotels are catering to the changing needs of road warriors by rolling out spaces designed for working in small groups. Here's the skinny on three of them.

Yotel
The Yotel New York at Times Square features eight "club cabins" with free Wi-Fi, a flat-screen display for presentations, and a boardroom table that seats up to six people on surrounding stools and a sofa. For a more casual vibe, the boardroom table converts to a coffee table. The cabins, which offer full waiter service, are available for rent by the hour by guests and nonguests. Business travelers can also meet in the hotel's lounge, which has private booths. Yotel plans to roll out similar offerings in several new hotels worldwide. Cost: $50 an hour

Westin Hotels
Westin began transforming its business centers last year, turning them into small-group workspaces that can be booked online by guests and nonguests. The rooms, currently in the chain's Arlington Gateway, Grand Munich, and Boston Waterfront hotels, feature videoconference equipment, flat screens, printers, Wi-Fi, floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, and office supplies. Westin plans to roll out the concept in 30 hotels worldwide this year. It is also adding private nooks with noise screens to its lobbies. Cost: $50 an hour

Marriott Hotels and Resorts
Marriott recently converted the ballroom of its Redmond, Washington, property into a suite of small meeting rooms and common areas. The rooms, which include flat screens, free Wi-Fi, whiteboards, and individual cubbies, can be reserved by guests and nonguests online. Marriott is identifying other potential locations for the concept. In another effort to woo business travelers, the chain is adding communal worktables to the lobbies of 200 hotels. Cost: $38 an hour

Categories: Small Business News

3 Ways to Get Inside Your Customer's Head

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 9:44pm

User experience expert Amy Buckner Chowdhry explains how to understand what your customer needs before you launch a new product.

Video Transcript

00:11 Amy Chowdhry: Whenever a company is looking to launch a new product, it is critical to do what I call "getting in the mind of your customer". We've seen over the years that far too often, a company will launch a new product, and say, "Well, now, let's research it and see what people think about it". And then companies started thinking, "Wow, they don't really love it now that it's launched. Let's spend some time testing some prototypes of it". But what you really need to do is spend time upfront, getting to know your customer, getting into their mind, to make sure that you build the right product to begin with.

00:44 Chowdhry: So, some things that we really recommend to our customers, where they do things like innovation games where they spend time with customers having them help create what... And describe what their pain points are, or their current need. Or we ask them to do things like spend time communicating with us through a diary setting, to give feedback about what their daily lives are like so we can understand where the product could fit in. Or we would want to do something like ethnographic research, which means going and spending time one-on-one with customers, watching what they do in their homes, or in their offices, kind of going into the wild. These types of research elements are critical 'cause they help you understand the gap between what exists today and what could be, and it releases that kernel of delight that you could develop. And that's the kind of thing that companies like PayPal are doing when they're redesigning and coming up with their first "mobile wallet" concept.

Categories: Small Business News

Slacker Employees Have No Idea They're Slackers

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 6:30pm

In fact, they think they are better than everyone else in the office. No joke.

You know those employees who constantly IM cat videos across the office or update their Instagram with selfies from their desk?

They may not be your employees of the month, but apparently, they are the most content.

A new survey found that in 42 percent of companies, slackers are the happiest employees. They tend to like their jobs more than top performers and they're more likely to call their company a great place to work.

The survey, conducted by Leadership IQ, an Atlanta-based consulting firm, found even more eyebrow-raising stats: These slackers also report being incredibly motivated and engaged in their jobs.

They also think they’re doing a better job than anyone else.

How can this be? The survey's lead author told the Wall Street Journal that the disparity arises because low performers get assigned the most basic tasks, so they’re naturally less stressed about them and ultimately more satisfied with their accomplishments.

As bosses dole out fist pumps to the lazy employees for getting their jobs done, the study said companies' top performers often pick up the slack.

Of course, the low performers don’t know that. According to the survey, they said they put in 100 percent at work.

Categories: Small Business News

Big Project? Tackle It Like a Pro

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 4:30pm

Do you want to be highly productive when approaching a big project? Here are five insights from a Harvard expert to help you start and finish with ease.

For most people, the best part of taking on a big project is the end. It feels great to look back and see all you accomplished. But the beginning has a different emotional impact, and many feel overwhelmed or intimidated. They don't know where to start. Others procrastinate until deadlines become imminent.

To solve this big project dilemma, I consulted Harvard Business School senior lecturer and Brookings Institution senior fellow Robert Pozen, who last fall authored a book called Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. The good people at Harvard Publishing asked him to write it because they were impressed at how much Pozen gets done compared to others they know. Here are five tips inspired by Pozen's book and my interview with him, which should help you attack big projects with confidence.

1. Identify Your Block

Are you a habitual procrastinator? Is fear a factor? The next time you find yourself stalling at the beginning of a project, have a conversation on the subject. Go out with a friend who knows you and can truthfully help you see unproductive patterns. Perhaps discuss it with your colleagues, boss, or therapist (if you have one) and address the core issues that are keeping you from stepping up to the plate. Is it your work environment, or are you truly overloaded, or do you have the wrong support team? Once you identify the obstacles, you can work to create effective remedies.

2. Start at the End

This is a big point in Pozen's book. People spend a ton of wasted time and effort doing research and writing what ends up being cast aside because it's later determined to be off track for the project. Pozen insists you don't need to start with a wide scope and then narrow. Do some preliminary research and sketch out your tentative conclusions. Then use those as a general guide for how the project will be completed. You should always keep an open mind and adjust as you go, but this way you won't waste valuable time on a wild goose chase.

3. Decide What's Good Enough

Pozen suggests that perfectionism is an enemy of productivity. Focusing on getting every detail right will create unnecessary work and frustration. Every project has its tolerance levels for error. You don't have to do shoddy work, just establish the quality level required and hit the appropriate mark. Not every project requires A+++ work. If a B is expected then hit the B (or B+ for you overachievers). If you find yourself with additional time and resources, you can always go back and improve the results, but only expend energy if the benefits outweigh the effort.

4. Leverage Peer Pressure

So often people will step up and do things for others they won't do for themselves. For many the emotional pain of letting someone else down is far greater than being hard on themselves. Delegate part of the project to other people. Get them involved so your own sense of obligation helps you meet deadlines and do higher quality work. Of course, having additional resources can also add to the efficiency and fun, creating greater incentive for engaging with the project. But ultimately involving people you care about will give you greater motivation and accountability to drive you from start to finish.

5. Create Reward-Based Motivation

Many would like to think that a job well done is motivation enough. Not true for lots of people. In fact for some the only motivation for finally starting a project is a looming deadline with negative consequences for failing to meet it. Stop using a stick and move to the carrot. Create a habit of rewarding yourself for milestones in projects of any size. Get that much needed massage AFTER you get 25 percent of a project started. Have you been jonesin' for a new putter or that adorable pair of Louboutins? What better excuse to get them than as a celebration for taking action on that gigantic project you've been delaying? Maybe the results will even lead to bonus income and help pay for the reward.

Like this post? If so, sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

Categories: Small Business News

What Your Employees Do When You Think They're Working

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 3:05pm

It's Friday afternoon. Are your employees actually working? Should you care?

Sixty-nine percent of employees report wasting at least a half hour of time per workday. Another 21 percent report wasting at least some time each week. The other valiant, hard working 10 percent who report that they never waste time? They're lying through their teeth.

Okay, I made that last part up. But I fully believe it. I've worked in everything from fast food to pharma and I've never met a person who wastes absolutely no time at work. Yes, there are occasional days where you are heads down all day, or in retail where the line of customers never, ever slows down. But to report that you never waste time? I don't buy it.

When are they wasting time? Fridays, of course. And when? In the afternoon. No one is shocked by this.

And just what are these employees doing when they are wasting time? The Internet, is, of course, the top time waster with 80 percent of employees spending at least some of their day browsing the web. The biggest draw? The news, with 37 percent of employees saying that is what they read the most. Sixteen percent say social media is their top time wasting priority.

However, when asked what site they visit the most, Facebook is the winner, with 15 percent of employees saying it is their most visited site. Yahoo is close behind at 14 percent, followed by 10 percent of networking focused employees who spend time on LinkedIn. (Inc.com is not mentioned because this is a survey on wasting time, and this website is never considered a time waster.)

But, while the focus is on online time wasters, people report that the biggest time sink is chatting with coworkers, with 43 percent. Web surfing comes in a distant second with only 28 percent.

So, does this mean you should be in a panic? Lock down your Internet? Grill people you see standing together in the hallway about their subject matter? Absolutely not.

While every second spent "not working" seems like lost money for the business, the reality is, being on, constantly, for eight hours can be draining. You need time to recharge. Your employees need time to recharge. If taking a look at Facebook or asking a coworker about her newest grandchild is what it takes, then let it go. And it turns out, 60 percent of those surveyed feel that spending 15 minutes on the internet improves their productivity.

What you, as an employer, should be looking at is end results. If your employees aren't getting their (reasonable) workloads done, then you start with the crackdowns--on an individual basis. Don't make the rookie mistake of implementing a blanket policy when you notice a problem with one person.

And think about how much your exempt staff works when they are not at the office. While they may text during the work day, it's quite possible that they are checking their work email while at the grocery store. If you demand 100 percent attention during the work day, you may get it, but they may rebel by giving the business no consideration during the evening and weekend.

This survey was conducted by Salary.com and the 1082 respondents are all recipients of the Salary.com newsletter.

Categories: Small Business News

What VCs Think About Women Entrepreneurs

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 2:31pm

An upcoming study examines exactly what VCs see when they look at a women entrepreneurs' skill-sets. Here's a preview.

An upcoming study from Stanford's Clayman Institute reveals that VCs may penalize women entrepreneurs who don't have a technical skill set. The study created two identical executive summaries and then swapped gender and education combinations, which were then all shown to potential VCs for reaction.

VCs were pitched the same idea from four types of entrepreneurs: (1) a man with no technical skills, but a business background; (2) a woman with no technical skills, but business background; and then a man (3) and a woman (4) with a technical background.

"What we found was that having a technical background helped both men and women. But it helped women more, in terms of likelihood to invest a higher percentage, and likelihood to schedule a meeting with an entrepreneur," Andrea Davies Henderson, one of the researchers on the study, told Buzzfeed.

However, the same cannot be said of candidates with business background. According to Henderson, the study found that "not having a technical background hurt women -- it hurt their chances of securing a meeting and securing funding. But it didn't hurt men."

Women are still battling with the perception that entrepreneurs are typically male and by trying to launch and fund a start-up without the appropriate technical skills they are in "violation cultural norms within a corporate setting," said Henderson. Men without a technical skill set are, however, are unharmed.

The study found that having strategic connections and strong recommendations within their network helped women entrepreneurs more than men when it came to trying to attract attention of venture capitalists.


Categories: Small Business News

4 Tips to Dominate the Retail Pricing War

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 2:30pm

Showrooming--when shoppers peruse brick and mortar stores but purchase online--is alive and well. Here's how to get customers to buy from you.

If you're in retail, listen up. A study conducted by Empathica showed that while in stores, 55 percent of smartphone owners compared prices between retailers. Think about this stat's gravity--while in your very store, over half of your customers are using smartphones to find a better deal and take their business elsewhere.

Fortunately, brands can also empower themselves with pricing technology to keep ahead of their competition in retail pricing wars. At Rise Interactive, we partner with 360pi to better understand competitive pricing and increase sales for our e-commerce and retail clients. Working with Alexander Rink, CEO of 360pi, we've outlined four tips to help you dominate the retail pricing war.

1. Get Out of Showrooming Denial

It's becoming faster and easier for shoppers to compare prices, and yet some retailers are still in denial that showrooming--when shoppers peruse brick and mortar stores but purchase online--is taking place in their stores. The sooner retailers accept that this is happening, the faster they can take the next steps to overcome it.

The first step retailers need to take is to gain visibility into how they are priced compared to their competitors. Often times this gives retailers the hard data they need to determine if their pricing strategy matches the reality of the market.

One tactic that brick and mortar retailers are taking to combat showrooming is to match prices of online retailers on a year round basis. Best Buy is one retailer taking this approach, and one of its spokesmen, Jon Sandler, stated that "showrooming is now dead to us" because of this strategy.

2. Make It Easier for Your Customers to Comparison Shop

This statement can make a retailer quiver; it sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Consumers have a great knack for finding deals, so they will appreciate it if you make it easier for them to do so. Retailers like Sears Canada recently created a web app for their customers to check the prices of their competitors with a single click.

This kind of functionality gives customers two things: confidence that they are getting the best prices and comfort that they are making the right purchase. Even in scenarios when the retailer is overpriced versus competitors, the retailer can match the price and avoid losing that customer.

3. Take Advantage of Automation Technologies

There is no denying that competitive pricing data is useful for retailers, but the question is how do they attain it? We have encountered many retailers who had entire teams spending countless hours manually checking retail prices online and in-store. There are several price intelligence tools on the market that automatically do this kind of task, in near real-time, with higher accuracy.

The competitive price data can be used in several different ways, one of which is to optimize paid search campaigns. In some cases, we've seen it boost conversion rates by up to 50 percent by limiting products where the retailer was overpriced versus the competition.

4. It Does Not Always Have to Be a Race to the Bottom

Although price is a critical factor (and sometimes the only factor that matters), retailers can still win by understanding what makes them great and providing their customers with exceptional service, sound expertise, convenience and the peace of mind knowing that they are buying from a reputable seller.

To sum it up, understanding your customer's retail shopping behavior is crucial. It will allow you to react and utilize pricing technology that will keep you ahead of your competition. Companies that adapt quickly will capture more market share, increase website traffic and achieve longevity.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Know If You're a Micromanager

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 2:20pm

Micromanagement could have a huge long- and short-term negative impact on your ability to be effective as a manager.

Micromanagement. It may seem like a little thing that's isolated to a few managers, or staff in your company, but the effects of micromanagement could have a huge long- and short-term negative impact on your ability to be effective as a manager, and your ability to achieve or exceed your company's goals. Take a second to think about these questions:

Do you tell your employees what to do?
Do you oversee all aspects of their projects?
Do you direct rather than empower?
Do spend more time on day-to-day tasks vs the growth of your company?

If you answered yes, to one or more of these questions, you may just be a micromanager, so I'll ask another question... at what cost?

What You Want

You want things done a certain way. The "right" way, and maybe even your way. I get it. But, when you tell employees exactly what you want, how you want it and when you want it, you're basically just telling them to execute. And, unless they don't enjoy thinking very much, they won't be satisfied for long.

The bigger question to ask yourself, or that micromanager you've got is, "can you articulate what you want the outcome to be, but let your employee chart how they get there?" Letting them become part of the journey can pay off big-time because, not only will they feel more valued, but you may actually get a better end product because you'll have more people generating ideas and solutions. Even though you're the boss, you may not always have all the best answers.

What Your Employees Want

So we know you want things done and you want them done a certain way. As I discussed, allowing employees to be a part of the journey can have a far-reaching positive impact because we know employees don't just come to work for a paycheck. They come for so much more including a sense of belonging and having a purpose, being productive, learning and contributing to a common or shared goal, having engagement and maybe even some recognition.

When you do all the thinking for them, you cut their legs out from under them, possibly robbing them of their creativity, ability to problem solve, their trust and ability to be flexible.

Just Say No to Micromanaging

The good news is, you can start to shift the habit of micromanaging by identifying why you or a manager does it, and make a few easy changes.

1. Identify Why

Do you have a new team that you don't know well, haven't established trust and confidence in? Do you have folks who don't carry through, or miss deadlines? Identifying the why will help you address the root cause and take action to help curb feelings of distrust, lack of confidence or other things you have identified.

2. Accountability With a Capital A

If you want your team be accountable, then make sure you work this into SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive ) goals for them that are realistic. If people aren't held accountable, they may never know they aren't meeting your expectations. At my online marketing company VerticalResponse, we work off of periodical reviews to make sure that what we want for our business is what our teams know they need to do. It's pretty cut and dry.

3. Let Go

Knowing when to step back and give your team the space they need to explore a problem, brainstorm, come up with solutions and execute on them is at the very core of every good manager. If you overstep your boundaries, give your team the right to give you feedback so you know how much rope to give them and respect when they tell you to scram. When I'm in a meeting and a decision needs to be made, many times the team will look at me and ask what I think? A lot of times I turn it around on them and say "What do you guys think?" This way they know they have a say.

Have you had to step back and let go? How did your experience play out? I'd love to hear some real-life examples.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, sign up for the free VR Buzz weekly newsletter and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

Categories: Small Business News

Want to Hire More Veterans? Drop the Jargon

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 2:07pm

To bring veterans into your business fold, you'll have to stop sounding like a robot in your company job descriptions.

Here's another reason to drop the business jargon from your job descriptions: You might be alienating veterans.

Derek Bennett, chief of staff at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, recently made the case that the business world's penchant for clunky phrases like "back-office cost" and "synergy" is in part responsible for driving disproportionate veteran unemployment.

The unemployment rate among Gulf War-era II veterans (who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001) is especially high at 9.4 percent, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This compares to an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent among veterans as a whole and 7.9 percent among nonveterans.

Bennett writes:

For veterans who are transitioning into the civilian workforce, there is just as much, if not more, confusion in trying to decipher the language of business than there is for you to decipher the language of the military...In the military, we all wear our resumes on our chests; it's readily apparent what your position and function, not to mention additional areas of expertise, are at a single glance.

So to attract veterans (and top talent in general), make your job descriptions more conversational, specifc, and energetic (some even suggest to think of it as a love letter).

A few other tips: Keep it short, make the first line pop, and put a human voice in your job post.


Categories: Small Business News

Now Shipping: 6 Great Gadgets From CES

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 2:00pm

CES is like being in gadget heaven: all sorts of technology you've never even imagined. But it's hard to know how much of it will make it to market. Here are six products from CES 2013 that just began shipping.

CES is like being in gadget heaven: all sorts of technology you've never even imagined. But it's hard to know how much of it will make it to market. Here are six products from CES 2013 that just began shipping.--John Brandon

After raising almost $1 million in crowdfunding on IndieGoGo, the .15-ounce StickNFind is ready for the limelight. These coin-sized stickers have an embedded Bluetooth chip. You can stick one on a laptop or your wallet, then use the iPhone app (Android coming soon) either to locate the object or get an alert when the sticker moves out of a contained area. The chip lights up and chimes, lasts about a year, and has a range of 100 feet.

This 23-inch monitor for Windows 8 computers has a 10-point touchscreen that responded more accurately to finger swipes and touches. You can connect up to an older Windows 7 desktop, upgrade your PC to Windows 8, and then use the touchscreen for paging through a report, swiping through a presentation, or zooming into a Google map. The monitor folds down flat for workgroup viewing.

Not all 13-inch laptops are created equal. Dell announced the FHD (Full HD) version of the XPS notebook at CES in January, and now it's shipping. This option boasts a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080, or about twice as many pixels as a standard laptop. The screen has a wide viewing angle of 178 degrees and edge-to-edge Gorilla glass. The laptop runs on Windows 8, has an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD drive.

This 7-inch tablet has one amazing feature: the price. For $139.99, you might be tempted to get one for every employee. The tablet runs on Android 4.0, has a 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage (expandable to 32GB), a front-facing webcam, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a port to output high-definition video over HDMI.

This brilliant lockable case is perfect for companies that issue iPads to employees. You can fit 10 iPads in up to three cases (for 30 total) and link the cases together. When you connect your laptop, you can then choose which iPad to sync. This is helpful in terms of making sure all of the iPads have the same apps, data, and iOS versions. A light shows which iPads are charging or have reach a fully charged state.

Available now on Verizon, this Windows 8 phone provides a few benefits to the business user. For starters, you can sync all of your Office docs using the Skydrive cloud service. That means, you can upload a business plan or a slideshow from your computer, then find it on your phone. The device has a 4-inch screen, a 5-megapixel camera, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and 8GB of storage.

Categories: Small Business News

Barbara Corcoran: The Two Key Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 2:00pm

The difference between founders who fail and founders who grow boils down to these two simple factors.

Categories: Small Business News

Review: Google Keep vs. Evernote

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 1:30pm

Which is the better note-taking app? Inc. contributing editor John Brandon checks them out.

Fans of Evernote and its note-taking app, take note: Google has its own productivity app it would like you to try. After announcing it will shutter the Google Reader app this June and close Google Notebook in 2011, Google has released the Google Keep app for both the Web and Android devices. It's a small step in the right direction, but one that doesn't measure up to the power of other options.

I'm already a big fan of the concept. Part of the reason is that I can't seem to remember my own name after a busy day of writing. Apps like Evernote, SimpleNote, and SpringPad are designed to help you collect your thoughts (or photos, or audio clips) in one place, then access them on the Web, a tablet, or your phone.

What You Get With Keep

I should confess this right away: I like Google Keep. I've been using it for a few days, and it fits right into my daily routine. On the Web, I can quickly jot down reminders about my upcoming articles in a clean, intuitive interface. Google Keep has a "less is more" approach.

You can customize the color of notes, and I like that Keep auto-saves (currently this works only on the iPhone and not yet on Android). The interface is uncluttered, so it's easy to focus on making a quick task list, dictating a message (which gets converted to text but isn't saved as audio), and snapping a photo.

One of my favorite features: As I visited sites on my phone, I could click a "share" link and save the site, including a preview image and the link, to Google Keep. That makes it a powerful bookmarking tool, even if that functionality only works currently for the mobile app, not the Web app.

Google Keep lets you see all of your notes in a thumbnail view, which makes them easy to organize and find. On my Samsung Galaxy SIII, there's also a widget that makes it easy to create a new note or task list, snap a photo, or record a memo.

How It Compares to Evernote

Evernote has nothing to worry about... yet. While I do prefer the clean interface of Keep, since it looks so much like Google's daily organizer Google Now, there's no question that Evernote is more powerful and useful.

For starters, Evernote lets you share notes with others; you can't do that with Keep. Evernote also lets you save Web links right from your browser (many sites, including Inc.com, offer an Evernote button), and you can add multiple images and audio clips to a note (in Keep, you get one or the other). And, for the big win, Evernote lets you place notes into notebooks. With Keep, it's strictly one-off notes that cannot be grouped together in any way.

Keep has other problems. You can't format text, drag and drop images into a note, scan unrelated notes to see for common themes (and then unite them), or work in offline mode, say, with a Chrome plug-in or a desktop app.

Still, unlike many of my colleagues in the tech world, and despite all of these limitations, I plan to continue using Keep. For me, the uncluttered interface is the best feature. I really need a tool that helps me keep track of my day but also lets me jot down a note on one device and access it from another. Part of the beauty of Google Keep for me as a writer is that it removes the complexity, auto-saves everything, and works reliably.

I'm also constantly living in the Google world anyway--with Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar. Google Keep works for me.

Does it work for you? Try it out and let me know in the comments.

Categories: Small Business News

This Start-up Wants to Get in Your Car

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 1:01pm

The team at Automatic promises its gadget can do everything from save you money on gas to dial 911 if you're in an accident.

When Thejo Kote came to the United States from India in 2009 to attend grad school at the University of California, Berkeley one of the first things that struck him were the cars that were seemingly everywhere.

In fact, the electrical engineer found himself working in Berkeley's civil systems engineering department and became intrigued with research his Berkeley peer Jerry Jariyasunant was conducting regarding the choices people make around transportation. Kote joined him at what he calls "the crossroads of transportation and computer science" and the duo came up with a brilliant idea: a little box you stick into the onboard diagnostics port in your car (usually under the steering wheel) that talks to your iPhone and pulls off cool tricks, such as telling you how to drive smarter and save fuel, finding your car if you misplace it, telling you why an engine light is on (and letting you turn it off in some cases), and even calling 911 if you crash.

I haven't tried it yet because the Automatic Link (the hardware) and the iPhone app don't come out until July, but when they do you can bet I'll be in line to test them. That's because there can't be anyone on the planet who loathes spending money on gas more than I do. Kote says Automatic can save you between 30-35 percent in fuel costs just by training you not to do things like accelerate too quickly, drive too fast, or brake abruptly.

If you own a new fuel efficient car--say a Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, or one of the many electric or hybrid vehicles coming off the line these days--you already have the ability to see how your driving affects fuel or energy consumption. Or maybe you've got a connected car that lets you access things like Pandora or Siri using the car's telematics, not to mention the ability to use your smartphone to check things such as the remaining life of your oil or the air pressure in each tire.

But for everybody else--people who own an older rig largely void of such contemporary features--this aftermarket gizmo is a way to catapult yourself into the realm of the technologically enlightened.

And, as Kote aptly points out, in this day and age you shouldn't have to buy a new car to get the functionality Automatic offers.

But what about the rise of the connected car? Won't all the intelligent and Internet-connected vehicles coming to market render Automatic obsolete? Well, the founders say they aren't worried.

Kote says there are about 250 million passenger cars on the road in the U.S. and about 15 million new cars are being added to that number every year.

"The number of cars that are not going to be connected or don't have a lot of these features which provide feedback, that's a large number. Actually 50 to 60 million new cars are going to be added to the road over the next five years that don't have any of those features," he says. "And if you also think of the fact that the average life of a car in the U.S. is 11 years as of last year, we're looking at a good 10 to 15 years before anything significant changes."

If Automatic can get even a fraction of those millions of car owners to buy its $70 box, the company stands to make a lot of money.

Investors certainly hope so. Automatic is a Y Combinator alumnus and is funded by Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund, and "a number of fantastic angels," Kote says.

Two side notes:

Ljuba Miljkovic is a third co-founder and the company's Chief Product Officer. He also met Kote and Jariyasunant at Berkeley and was first person they brought in when officially starting the company in 2011.

And if you're an Android fan feeling rebuffed--don't. An app for you is coming in the fall, Kote says.

Categories: Small Business News

Your Brand Is Only as Good as Your Unhappiest Customer

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 12:58pm

Think of your brand as what customers say behind your back, and the way you manage your company could change dramatically.

We hear a ton about brand-building, especially from big-company executives. But what is a brand, and why is it important to invest time and money building it? Vala Ashfar, CMO and Chief Customer Officer at Enterasys, sums it up pretty well in a tweet: Your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room. Yup.

Potential and current customers, investors, and employees can have a big impact on your company’s fate just by making an offhand comment about your business. And what they say about your business becomes your company’s brand. Those marketing executives are right. Building a brand should be a priority and a part of your strategic plan.

Aubrie Pagano, the co-founder of Bow & Drape, an online custom clothing start-up for women, says building her company’s brand is the toughest challenge she’s faced as a in her start-up. She’s meeting that challenge by making sure every business decision she makes reinforces the image of Bow & Drape as the online destination for women to show their great taste.

Here’s what you can learn from Pagano about brand-building:

Own Your Vision, and Your Changes

“Part of building a brand is knowing when to stick to your guns and knowing when not to,” says Pagano. As CEO, she learned the hard way that it’s her responsibility to make sure every decision and every action reflects the corporate vision. This is not always easy, especially for those of us who have a natural tendency to be people-pleasers.

Earlier in Bow & Drape’s formation, the business model looked quite different than it does now. The company's first business model connected designers with women who wanted custom clothing. But it turned out that that model put too much emphasis on the designer, and not enough on the customer. Pagano led her team in a complete business model overhaul.

Later, when a design contractor started taking Bow & Drape’s line in a direction that did not reflect the company’s brand, Pagano realized that she alone was responsible for bringing the clothes back in line with her vision. That wasn’t an easy conversation to have, especially when person on the opposite end of that discussion—in this case, the design contractor—is supposed to be the expert.

As CEO, Pagano had to own the vision and not back down. She realized that she is the expert of her business, and turning the Bow & Drape vision into reality starts and stops with her. When your brand is at stake, you have to make the hard decisions and have the tough conversations. There’s too much to lose if you don’t.

Develop Personas for Your Key Customers

Pagano’s responses to almost every question I asked her came back to the customer persona she and her team had created. She described her customer so well that I got the sense that Pagano had an actual picture of her typical buyer in her head. The Bow & Drape persona is a well-travelled urban woman in her mid-thirties. She is professional, decisive, busy and social; values quality, and invests in looks that reflect her classic style. Pagano used the personas to tell me the story of the Bow & Drape brand through the eyes and experience of the very women she is hoping to convert into customers. Developing personas to represent your customers allows you to empathize with the needs, passions, motivations, and construction of meaning of your target buyer.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Similarly, every one of Bow & Drape’s investors, partners, industry experts, influencers, and board members is chosen based on their ability to help the Bow & Drape brand meet and exceed the needs of the sophisticated women Pagano and her team want to turn into loyal customers. You need to get everyone on your team rowing in the same direction – toward your customers! That will help you make much better decisions that align with the customer-focused brand you want to create.

Build a Brand-Based Culture

Company culture starts on day one. Why? Because the culture of your company is a huge part of your company brand. You have to align your hiring decisions and team atmosphere with your corporate brand. It doesn’t mean everyone has to think the same or be the same person. It does mean that you have to create a team with shared values.

The Bow & Drape team is located in Boston and NYC. They use Yammer daily to share ideas, inspirational quotes, pictures, and anything else that depicts the Bow & Drape customer. The company culture fosters a brand based on the team’s shared passion: Giving any woman who wants to wear clothes that reflect her unique tastes with the ability to do so. And that is exactly what Pagano wants people talking about after a Bow & Drape employee or customer leaves the room.

What does your brand say about your business?

Categories: Small Business News

7 Signs You're Not as Self-Aware as You Think

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 12:49pm

Self-awareness is a really big deal for everyone, especially executives and business leaders. Failure to face reality can destroy your career and your company.

Being in the advice giving game isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's not like you get to sit on a mountaintop and just rain down pearls of wisdom on your clients. When it comes to executives and business leaders, it's almost never that black and white.

Granted, there are times when people are genuinely open to the voice of experience and perhaps a little objectivity. Then there's the opposite extreme: deep denial. Where they don't want to hear the truth no matter what you say or how you say it.

And in between those black and white peaks is a vast plane of gray, where people sort of know, deep down, what they need to do but something's stopping them from doing it. That something is almost always beneath the surface, meaning it isn't easy to get to and folks will often confound, thwart, or downright resist the effort.

The truth is there are lots of paths people take to avoid confronting whatever it is they don't want to confront. And those paths can lead to career demise or business destruction. No kidding.

We all occasionally avoid doing what we know we should do when we're not as self-aware as we think we are or when we put up walls to genuine communication and understanding. Sometimes, it turns out to be no big deal. Other times, however, it turns into a very big deal. Here are seven signs we may be heading down the latter path.

You bully. If we didn't have emotions, we wouldn't be human. Feelings are important guidance mechanisms. Anger and aggression are no different. They're signs that we feel threatened or scared. We go on the offensive and bully to protect something deep within us, something we don't want people to see, often feelings of weakness and vulnerability. Ironic, isn't it?

You're defensive. When chief executives resist a consultant or executive coach who wants to meet with their staff or outside directors one-on-one, when genuine and objective feedback makes them agitated or even angry, that's a sure sign. I'm not even sure why they call it "defensive, since defensive people almost always deflect by going on the offensive.

You're controlling. When you behave in a controlling way--when you micromanage, pick on the little things--it usually means you're not dealing with a big thing that's really bugging you. It means you're not paying attention to something really important. Left unchecked, that can definitely take you down a dark path.

You're passive aggressive. When you say, "Sure, no problem," then turn around and do the exact opposite, it means you don't want to confront others or be confronted by them. It's a deflection, an attempt to throw them off the scent so you don't have to deal with something that affects you deeply. Again, it's usually something you're not consciously aware of, something that makes you feel vulnerable or embarrassed.

Your behavior changes. When your behavior changes to the point where it's noticeable to others who know or work with you, that's definitely a sign that you're really bothered by something and not aware of how it's affecting your mood. If someone brings it to your attention and you're defensive, that's an even bigger sign.

You're grandiose. When we make over-the-top overtures to how confident we are in our ideas, our plans, our business, when our strategies defy objective reasoning or our goals don't pass the smell test, that's a sign we're genuinely in over our heads and are overcompensating to appear like we've got everything under control. I've seen and worked with quite a few CEOs in grandiose mode. If they don't come to terms with it, it never ends well.

You make excuses. Excuses, any kind of excuses, are ways of avoiding or deflecting negative attention. Pointing fingers and blaming others are common avoidance techniques that communicate our resistance to being held accountable. That's why playing the blame game is such a transparent sign of dysfunctional leadership or management. And yet, we see it all-too-often, don't we?

Categories: Small Business News