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How Technology Will Impact Your Productivity

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 10:49am

In an interview, artificial intelligence expert Colin Lewis discussed the very next ways you'll see Artificial Intelligence impact your productivity.

A few weeks ago, a post appeared in on Harvard Business Review asserting that the future of productivity lies in Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

Looking at the ways in which technology companies are investing in this area, Colin Lewis, a behavioral economist who provides advisory services in robotics and A.I., made the case that advancements in this field are on the brink of transforming the way people spend thier time.

But how is A.I. already affecting productivity -- if at all? Apple offers the voice-activated personal assistant Siri. Google Now continuously runs in the background on Google products, automatically organizing information and offering users reminders and suggestions. And earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled Cortana, also a voice-activated search and navigation system.

Lewis recently spoke with Inc. and discussed the way that people currently use these technologies. He also gave some predictions about the very next advancements in A.I. that will be a huge boon to personal productivity.

Why isn't this technology used more frequently? Could it be that it's just not advanced enough yet?

I put it more down to human nature. Our own procrastination if you like. We're not taught to simply pick up Siri. So it's people.

Are you suggesting that because this technology has learning capabilities, if individuals use it more, the better it will perform?

Exactly. Absolutely. It's like everything. The more we put into it, the more we get back from it.

What other kind of adoption hurdles do digital personal assistants face?

We want to see a reward. Every time we use a new app, there has to be a reward.

When you're building a schedule, you don't see instant gratification immediately. But when you have a schedule for a flight, or a meeting, and Siri or Google tell you that the traffic is heavy and you should be leaving sooner than you had planned -- that gives you some reward.

In what way can we expect to see the technology advance next?

I think when it can actually start to reason with you. Let's say you're debating an appointment. Which one is most important? And it can actually debate that with you and give you a hypothesis as it were -- why one could be preferred over the other.

How has your everyday changed ever since you started using Google and Siri religiously?

I believe it actually keeps me in a good time frame. I achieve things in an orderly manner. Without it, I would struggle. You know it's so easy just to spend that extra 30 minutes sitting in a cafe or chatting with colleagues or friends. These nudges, as it were, I think are terrific.

Whatever can nudge us in the direction of doing the things that we want to do. And that's what it's about isn't? We want to do these things.

I tend to break things into really small steps. Before I write [contributed Harvard Business Review] articles, I actually collate the research. What Siri should be doing is collating that research for me. It doesn't yet, but it will.

Any parting words?

Use it. Really, the more we use it the more it understands. It anticipates. That's exactly what I'm beginning to find.

Categories: Small Business News

Need a Loan? Now's the Time to Hit Up Small Banks

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 10:31am

Fundamentals for small businesses have improved, which puts you in the driver's seat when it comes to finding favorable loans.

If small businesses are the motor of the economy, small banks and credit unions are providing much of the gas.

In March, small bank lending to small businesses went up, as loans from big banks and alternative lenders dipped, according to the latest report by Biz2Credit, an online loan marketplace.

This is good news for entrepreneurs still trying to dig out from the recession, or looking for cash to grow that doesn't come with the higher interest rates charged by alternative lenders.

A look at the numbers shows that small bank loan approval rates rose to 51.6 percent, compared to 51.4 percent in February. (Similarly, credit union approval increased to 43.6 percent compared to 43.4 percent in February.) Meanwhile, big bank approvals dipped to 18.8 percent, compared to 19.1 percent in February.

"This is the first month since the October government shutdown that big bank approval rates have dropped," says Rohit Arora, chief executive of Biz2Credit.

The reasons for the big bank pullback, Arora says, are three-fold. First, big banks have more challenging underwriting standards and they may be waiting for 2013 tax returns from businesses. The harsh winter has also wrought havoc on business sales as customers stayed home and businesses themselves pulled in and perhaps sought fewer loans. Lastly, Arora says, banks haven't done a good job automating their loan processes, so it slows down their loan approvals.

In the past few years, smaller banks have responded to regulators and altered their small business lending strategies, bolstering their commercial and industrial loans, and turning away from more speculative commercial real estate loans. They've also benefitted from the Small Business Administration's Advantage loans of up to $350,000, the guaranteed portion of which they can easily sell on the secondary market, Arora says. Big banks, by contrast, are less interested in these smaller loans.

Alternative lending also fell, to 63.6 percent compared to 63.9 percent in February. In December of 2013, alternative lending approvals were as high as 67.3 percent, Biz2Credit reports.

Alternative lenders, which usually charge much higher rates for their loans and take daily debits from small business accounts, came into their own during the worst years of the recession when banks generally stopped extending credit.

But as economic conditions have improved, so have the fundamentals of small businesses, and that makes it more of a buyer's market.

"Alternative lending has really boomed and they’ve used the online space really well as more customers have migrated online," Arora says. "But the underlying cash flow of businesses is improving and they are less desperate to borrow at any cost.'

Categories: Small Business News

This Is How Startups "Level Up" After Raising Money

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 10:29am

So you've just closed a round of funding. Here's what to do now that you've leveled up.

One of the interesting things about being a VC is that you often see companies in transition. If you're an early investor like I am, that often means writing the first $2-3 million check into a business that previously had either survived on fumes or on a $500,000 angel round.

I also see companies as they move from having taken $1-5 million from me to their next round where they raise $8-15 million from Series B investors, and sometimes I lead at this round (we're stage agnostic but 80 percent of our deals are seed A).

Moving from a company that had less resources (and presumably by the time they're raising, depleted resources) to a company with newfound resources can be telling.

I have seen many companies raise their first $3 million and still act like a company that has no resources at all. And while this might sound to the inexperienced person like a sensible idea -- it is not. In a VC business when you raise additional capital you need to "level up" and act the round you are.

Of course I'm not preaching crazy, irrational spend or having Kid Rock at your next company party. But you do need to find a way to do activities that are more scalable. The founders are (or should be) the most valuable resources in the company and scaling implies that you bring in others to help accomplish tasks that allow the founders to get more leverage.

In some cases this is about getting routine tasks off of the founders' plates. It's why I wrote this post that the controversial first hire after an A round out to be an office manager / assistant / HR person who handles everything from stocking supplies to booking travel to scheduling group meetings. All of those things that you do yourself as a badge of honor in the early days are simply not your best use of time.

I'd say 20 percent of startups I see level-up early after their A round. What they do with the money is add more engineers and maybe hiring a marketing person. These are important leveling-up activities, but the CEO is often still up at 10 pm fucking around with QuickBooks entries.

Another obvious hire is thus a financial controller or finance director -- preferably somebody with business planning experiences and not just an accountant. This allows a CEO to create a spreadsheet of expected activities over the next year but not spend the additional eight hours perfecting and adjusting it. CEOs need leverage.

When you hire somebody really strong in this function, you can also give her the task of creating your board presentations. The average CEO spends 8-12 hours (sometimes more) preparing for board meetings. What if that time could go into thinking through the companies most important strategic issues, talking early with investors about their views and adjusting the strategic discussion slides rather than the update deck?

Level up. Act your stage.

I see the same thing happen at the transition from A round to B round. You've now raised your $10 million and you're doing $1-5 million run rate revenues so you actually have income. But you're still in shitty offices that make it hard to hire talented new employees who are looking to join a company "going somewhere" -- not a company full of scrappers.

B round companies need to also look for scaling opportunities. The best ones bring in more executive leadership so you can appropriate allocate resources across sales, marketing, product, engineering and support. The best ones by now have an amazing finance leader who often doubles as head of internal operations. This finance director now deals with finding office space, managing legal issues, implementing HR policies as well as doing accounting and planning board meetings.

Other B-round scaling issues? Often it is a good idea to have a junior PR person in your company to interface with whatever PR firms you work with. Often the seat-of-the-pants decision making has to evolve into company processes so groups can make good decisions. You finally need to start planning your product roadmap a bit further than your two-week sprints so that the rest of the organization has a chance to preplan for new features.

At the B-round great teams often hire their first business development person. While the CEO is still probably leading the charge on all biz dev deals of importance, there are the five sub meetings between open and close of a deal that require time and attention. You can do them all yourself, of course. But at what cost? Which other activities will get less attention than your negotiation over how the year-3 exit clause on your biz dev relationship will work?

If it's an enterprise software company you can no longer rely on tacit knowledge to win sales campaigns. I've written before about the infrastructure you need to provide:

Swiss Army Knife tool kits

Objection Handling training

Arming & Aiming teams with sales collateral, target client accounts, moving slow-moving deals to the marketing dept

And then there is the C round

The company raises $15-25 million or more.

The first thing I often do at this stage is counsel the CEO that it's time to be exactly that. The CEO of a seed-round company is still the doer of all tasks. Chief janitor if you will. Flipper of burgers. The CEO of an A or B round company still has her handles on the wheel doing all of the driving and often doing tasks herself.

At the C round she needs to level up.

By now the CEO either has super competent people running the functional parts of her business or she needs to bring in more heavyweight professionals to do so. The C-round CEO has to be more leader, less doer. The C-round CEO still gets her hands dirty but shouldn't be a control freak or become a bottleneck in the organization.

You hired a head of product for a reason. You paid him the big bucks because he wasn't the kind of person ready to take a risk with no pay when you started. But you have him now. Let him do his fucking job.

Your job is to sit down with him and plan out a strategic roadmap. Your job is to challenge his thinking because you've been spending the last few years in front of customers, competitors, partners and investors and you should have a more intuitive sense of the future. But your job isn't to make every decision for him. You're the coach, mentor, cheerleader.

As a leader it IS ok to overrule your head of product or other functions. After all, building organizations is about making difficult decisions across all functions and by definition this means overruling individual silos at times. But you can't exercise this prerogative often and keep talented people on your team.

If you end up intervening too much it's either because that functional leader isn't strong enough and it's time for an upgrade, or it means that you're overbearing and it's likely that your most talented people will seek greener pastures.

As a VC I look for the signs of leaders who are likely to be these kinds of task masters because I don't believe they are great team builders. This behavior very often comes out in meetings and presentations as the leader talks over his staff, tops and tails everything his team says or is downright condescending or rude. I have written about this before.

And while many leaders are like this and have pulled it off successfully -- it takes an extraordinary leader to be able to be an asshole and still attract and retain talented people. And it's often through sheer success of the company more than a desire for people to work with that leader.

So my counsel at this stage is often: build out your senior team, let them do their jobs, become a leader more than just a doer, allocate your time to the higher-level tasks like setting company goals, managing investors, talking to partners, managing the press, etc. And mostly your job anyways is to be chief psychologist to the uber-talented team you've built rather than being chief dictator.

One of the more important posts I wrote on this topic is that leaders should "dip, not skip." Meaning it is OK to reach down into the organization to have one's fingers on the pulse, but change should be delivered through your direct reports not through you.

And as companies move beyond the C-round the CEOs often become "captains of industry" which requires one to also build a personal network of other captains which can have a profound effect on large business development deals, M&A activities, mega financings, etc. These things don't happen by themselves.

They happen to those that level up.

This article was originally published on Mark Suster's blog, Both Sides of the Table.

Categories: Small Business News

What I Learned From My First Time Writing on LinkedIn

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 9:35am

Posting your views on the social network's publishing platform is a lot like a first date: Make the right moves, and you'll develop a rewarding relationship.

I was feeling pretty much the way you probably did on your first date: I was nervous, apprehensive, unsure of what to do and, of course, looking for a signal that I was making the right moves.

I'm speaking, of course, about my very first experience writing a post on LinkedIn's publishing platform. Once limited solely to influencers such as Richard Branson and Bill Gates, LinkedIn recently opened the platform to all subscribers.

Since then, many people have been clamoring to make their voices heard on the site. But not everyone on LinkedIn is going to break through the clutter and strike it rich. Here's an account of my experience, and what you can take from it when you try it for yourself.

Proper grooming

As with any important first date, I did several things to prepare. First, I thought long and hard about what I'd done right on my personal blog, which I began publishing in 2006, and continues to help my Klout score.

Next I looked to the Romeos and Don Juans of the LinkedIn world: people who'd already succeeded in wooing readers to their LinkedIn posts. What did they do to get a coy reader to say 'yes'? The most helpful was Neal Schaffer, a social media expert who provided no fewer than nine practical tips.

And last, but certainly not least, I asked our firm's resident expert on all matters social, Sam Ford, coauthor of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture for his thoughts on how I could make my first date a successful one.

The Moment of Truth

The writing process was déjà vu. As I sat down at my desk, I could feel the very same sweat bead up on my forehead as it did the night of my first date. And sure enough, my fingers trembled as they did when I reached out to hold my date's hand. Only this time they were aimed at a keyboard and I was trying to formulate a headline and angle.

Finally, just like that night long ago, I made my move. I finished writing (the subject I decided on was authenticity in advertising) and hit "post."

The result: I'd rate my LinkedIn performance about the same as I would my real first date: a four on a scale of one to 10. My post ended up getting 132 views and 2 likes. Decent, but certainly nothing worth bragging about in the men's room.

What I Did Right

1. I created what, in my mind, was a provocative headline ("A Germ of Truth in a Petri Dish Full of Lies").

2. I immediately established who I was (a PR pro and entrepreneur) so readers could determine if the post's content would be relevant to them.

3. I provided a link to a third-party source to help illustrate my post.

4. I took a strong point of view on the issue.

5. I used self-deprecating humor to end my post in an authentic, and vulnerable, fashion--hoping that, as it did on Twitter, Facebook, and my Repman blog, the good-night kiss would warrant a second date.

What I Failed to Do:

1. Show off the goods. I didn't tell readers I contribute two columns every week to or that I had been named a finalist for Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year competition. Nor did I tell them I'm a published McGraw-Hill author. And I also managed to leave out the fact that my firm had been named best PR agency of the year, B2B agency of the year, and the top workplace of the year by Crain's New York Business. For all LinkedIn readers knew, I could have been the fruit stand guy peddling strawberries on the corner of Park Avenue and 32nd Street.

2. Make my move early. Although my post was no longer than my typical blog or columns, it was probably twice the length it needed to be. As Schaffer advised in his tips column, posts should be around 300 words. "For professionals where time is money, many simply don't have the time to read a longer post. Keep it short and simple when possible."

3. Be mindful of my date's needs. While I did share my LinkedIn post on Facebook, Twitter, and my Repman blog, I did not follow Schaffer's advice to summarize the LinkedIn blog on my other channels and provide a link back to LinkedIn. And while I did embed one link to a third party, I should have provided more. No wonder my readers responded like a date who wanted to go home!

4. Be up front about my inexperience. I didn't start, or end, my LinkedIn post by letting readers know I was new at this. As a result, I lost any potential sympathy vote. I also lost the opportunity to engage with a brand-new audience by asking that age-old question at the end, "How was it for you?"

5. Enlisting help. Several members of the original LinkedIn program write about advertising, marketing, and PR. I should have mentioned these existing influencers, and embedded links to posts they've written on similar subjects. I also should have quoted some thought leaders with whom I'm already connected on LinkedIn.

I'm anxious to go on a second date with LinkedIn's publishing platform. Next time, though, I'll be better prepared and a bit more confident. I'm not suggesting I'm about to become the Warren Beatty of LinkedIn, but I do think my second time will be much better than the first. And least I hope that's what she'll say.

Categories: Small Business News

Heartbleed Proves the Password Is Dead. This Is What You Need Now

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 9:07am

The password had its day. There is a better way to protect yourself and your business--and you need to start using it today.

R.I.P., password. You were a good idea, and damned useful, in your time, but your time has passed.

The Heartbleed bug has made plain what everyone in cybersecurity already knew, whether they admit it or not: Passwords are dying. All of them. Got one of those fancy pieces of software that invents a unique and un-rememberable password for every one of your accounts? It's not enough. Do you make a new password for every service, based on a phrase so that you can remember it but the dictionary can't find it? That's certainly worth doing, but it may not help you.

The Heartbleed fiasco is just the latest in a series of events that demonstrate the password's obsolescence. In the past year or so, Evernote, LivingSocial, and Drupal are just three of the high-profile online services where passwords were stolen despite having been encrypted.

Even if that weren't true, it might not matter, as computers get fast enough, and algorithms sophisticated enough to guess the passwords of many or most users by brute force--even those smart enough not to use their kids' names, birth dates, alma maters, or anything else a clever bit of software could sniff out. Anything from your bank to your social media account that you access simply by typing a password into a computer or mobile device is not as secure as it should be or could be--no matter how sophisticated that password may be.

There's a better alternative. It's called two-factor authentication. It's widely available and growing. And it virtually guarantees no hacker in a distant country will be able to break into your accounts.

Two-factor authentication depends on at least two of the following three things:

1. Something you have

There are several choices in this category including "tokens" with LED screens that generate a secret code, USB devices that carry encryption information and will automatically enter a password into a laptop or PC, and other devices. But the item most quickly gaining popularity is something you doubtless already possess: a smartphone.

Many online services such as Google, PayPal, and many banks already offer an option which asks you to type in a code sent by SMS to your phone when signing in for the first time from a computer or mobile device. The Google Authenticator app will automatically generate such a code (handy if you're in a place with no cell phone signal) and the LaunchKey app will open on your phone when you attempt to sign in, so that you can simply swipe the phone to show that you have it. The list of services and companies that offer two-factor authentication is growing daily, and will see a big spike as a result of Heartbleed.

What if you lose your phone? There's always a fallback in which the service will either phone your landline or request a special backup password supplied when you first sign up. Using something you have as authentication reduces the danger from things like Heartbleed and other remote hacks nearly to zero.

2. Something you are

This is the fun stuff, where cybersecurity wanders into the realm of science fiction. Fingerprint scanners are already commonplace on laptops and the latest iPhone, but that's just the beginning. Facial recognition technology rapidly being developed enables devices with a camera, such as a PC, tablet, or smartphone, to recognize you simply by your looks. Voice biometrics technology soon to be deployed by some banks will allow their systems to tell who you are by listening to you speak.

And--who knew?--your heartbeat is as unique as your fingerprint. One startup is taking advantage of that by offering a $79 (pre-order price) bracelet that tracks your pulse and automatically signs you in to your accounts.

3. Something you know

Which brings us back to the password. Nope, we're not abandoning it entirely. Tokens and smartphones can be stolen, or even hacked. Apple's fingerprint reader has been fooled, although the hack involved lifting the user's fingerprint and then reproducing it with latex and a special printer. And even facial recognition technology isn't completely infallible. "Liveness" checks that guard against photographs by waiting for you to blink may be hacked by digitally flashing a series of three photographs with the eyes obscured in the middle one.

No form of authentication is absolutely secure, so you're always better off using at least two. The good old password, created at a cost of $0 and easily deployed anytime anywhere is an easy choice as one of them, as long as it's not the only one. I've been using two-factor authentication myself everywhere it's an option ever since reading this account of a Gmail hack which could easily have been avoided.

What about you?

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Categories: Small Business News

The Source of Pixar's Magic

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 9:00am

Pixar's co-founder Ed Catmull explains how to foster an innovative and creative culture.

Since Woody and Buzz first burst from the toy box in 1995, Pixar's 14 films have managed the hat trick of being at once technically inventive, emotionally resonant, and commercially gratifying. Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios (and of Walt Disney Animation Studios, since the 2006 merger), built the studio with--among others--Steve Jobs and storytelling maestro John Lasseter. In his new book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Catmull explains how they created a culture in which no one is without a voice and new ideas are protected. Catmull recently spoke with Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan.

Pixar originally built computers that processed high-resolution images. How did those origins influence your approach to innovation?

Because we started as a hardware company, I learned about manufacturing. And I was surprised that some principles of creativity came out of that environment, although people didn't think of it that way. That's why I found what Toyota did so remarkable. The company thought about the assembly line as a way to get product out. But it also engaged people in solving problems. And that turned the company into a creative environment. I saw that I had been defining creativity too narrowly.

How do you manage the tension between building on something that has proved successful and creating something wholly new and original?

A director will say, "Here are things that I think are interesting." And some of those ideas will be pretty far out. A rat that can cook. An old man who goes off in a house attached to balloons. These are not obviously commercial ideas. Other ideas look as if they will be more commercial up front. If, at Disney, we do a musical like Frozen, we know it has a good chance of being successful. When we do a Cars film, we know how it is going to do. So we try to blend things we know will do well and things that aren't obvious at all. By putting into the hopper both high-risk and low-risk, we signal to the team that we want it to be creative. But we're not betting it all on high-risk things, which would turn us into a boutique art studio.

Some companies run into trouble because they overly rely on the audience response. They say, "I am going to tweak the product in response to what the audience has shown it likes." But that results in incremental change and makes it more difficult to conceive of and to allow for something radically new. And you need both. You want to be in the middle ground between those two pulls.

Your book's title refers to "unseen forces" that hobble creativity. What are those?

There are levels to what we can't see, starting with the fact that, as we grow in management responsibility, people start to behave differently around us. You go into meetings where people have prepared for you. They don't want any surprises. That makes it harder for you to get information.

Then there's this imperative toward clarity that screws a lot of companies up. People want clarity, and so the leader tries to give it to them. But real clarity may not be there, in the situation. That leads to oversimplification and a false sense of confidence. At the same time, there are all these random events that have influences we don't appreciate. Right now, there are things going on in this organization, and I can't see them. So I have to be more aware, always probing, always looking for clues.

What roles do metrics and analysis play in an organization whose deliverables involve aesthetics and emotion?

When we make a film, we have hundreds of people producing hundreds of thousands of pieces of artwork. It's orchestrated in a very complex way, and we've got a lot of tools to assess the flow of information around the studio. So we can do quite a bit of analysis. But a lot goes on that we can't measure. And, in fact, there's a danger that measuring tools might lock us into a way of thinking. So every once in a while, we'll step back and say, "Let's break out of that mode of thinking and look at this in an entirely different way." For us, it's got to be a mix between the gut, instinctual side, and getting real data.

Pixar seems like a company that has never run low on ideas. Have you ever experienced fallow periods?

We are never short of ideas. But an idea is extremely complex. By the time consumers see something, they may think it's this one simple thing, with a name, like an iPod or an iPad. But underneath that thing are millions of ideas. So this notion of "the idea" is the wrong way to think of it. The question is always, Do we have a team that can tackle interesting problems and solve them?

For a company that experiments so much, you've managed to hold quality very steady. How?

Pixar has had 14 successful releases in a row. Every one of them opened at No. 1 at the box office. But that started--right at the beginning--with us saying, "We are going to screw up. Things are going to go wrong." And things did go wrong. We've had meltdowns along the way. Most people aren't aware of that because they only see the final product. We've had fairly big problems. But when they happened, we recognized them and we did a restart. In recognizing and catching a problem, regardless of the stage, we have been able to maintain a pretty high standard.

Pixar's keystone process is the Braintrust, a meeting used to deliver constructive feedback on works in progress. Can a company just put something like that in place? Or must it develop over time?

Disney's team members, knowing about Pixar's Braintrust, had put together something they called the Storytrust. But they didn't actually know how it operated. We explained to them that the idea was to remove power dynamics from the room. But a few months into it, we realized they were deferring to what John [Lasseter] thought before they would say what they thought. That's counter to what the Braintrust is about. We explained why deferring to John was actually damaging to them. They got better, but it took a few years before they were operating at a very high level. The reason is, it's not sufficient to say we trust each other. Trust can only be earned over a period of time. Now, [the Disney meeting] has turned into a remarkable room. But it took work.

What did Disney's acquisition of Pixar teach you about combining cultures without diluting creativity?

At the time of the acquisition, we put together a list of things we thought were important to our culture. It was a rather broad list. Some of it was a little on the silly side, and some of it was absolutely crucial. But at the time, we didn't know which was which. The agreement was that, though we were wholly owned by Disney, we would still do things in a unique, Pixar way. So we have different systems and policies.

Because John and I were in charge of Disney Animation, we made a clear choice that we would not merge the two studios, nor allow the studios to do any production work for each other at all. We felt this was important culturally, because when a studio solved a problem, then it had the psychological benefit of knowing that it did it on its own. Now people are proud to be part of Disney, but they believe they are Pixar. It's been a model for taking an existing strong culture and letting it thrive.

Categories: Small Business News

EPA Issues Proposed Rule Concerning Formaldehyde Emissions Standards for Composite Wood Products

SBA Office of Advocacy - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 8:32am
Page Title:  EPA Issues Proposed Rule Concerning Formaldehyde Emissions Standards for Composite Wood Products Page summary: 

On June 10, 2013, EPA issued a proposed rule in the Federal Register concerning formaldehyde emissions standards for composite wood products. EPA has now reopened the comment period for 30 days for that standard and will hold a public meeting for April 28, 2014 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Public comments are now due May 8, 2014.

On June 10, 2013, EPA issued a proposed rule in the Federal Register concerning formaldehyde emissions standards for composite wood products.

read more

Categories: Small Business News

5 Business Books You Should Read This Spring

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 8:15am

Why? They're great. And they'll help you become greater.

I promise they're all good:

1. Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter, by Henry Evans and Colm Foster. You lead all day, every day, but some moments really matter, and what you do in those moments makes all the difference.

Short on theory (but not too short) and long on practical applications, Step Up is a great book for anyone who needs to know how to step up more often--and when you think about it, title or no title, we all need to step up more often.

2. Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion, by Steve Yastrow. Though theoretically just a sales book, Ditch the Pitch delves into understanding people's real needs and interests so you can make a genuine connection.

Everyone gets hung up on perfecting an elevator pitch, but at its heart, business is two people coming together and extending trust. Yastrow shows how, if you want to influence and persuade, you don't have to become a different person--you just need to adapt to those around you and let who you really are shine through.

3. Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs, by Yukari Iwatani Kane. If a steady diet of how-to books has left you feeling flat, read Haunted Empire. It's a nonfiction book based on exceptional reporting that reads like a novel.

If you think you know everything there is to know about Apple or Jobs, you're wrong. Plus, Kane digs deeply enough into personalities that you'll recognize parallels to yourself and your employees, which makes this a practical book after all.

4. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds, by Carmine Gallo. I know. There are tons of books and articles that use the TED Talk theme to help you improve your speaking and presentation skills.

No problem. This is the best one. You'll learn how to become a better speaker--and better yet, you'll be excited about becoming a better speaker.

Plus, you'll find a slew of examples of Talks you can watch and learn from, even though that might take you on an hours-long journey down the TED Talk rabbit hole. (Don't say I didn't warn you.)

5. Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption, by Claire Diaz-Ortiz and Samuel Ikua Gachagua. An American woman goes to Kenya, by chance meets a young orphan boy, and in time their lives are forever changed.

Trite and clichéd? Hardly. Hope Runs is the best book I've read in a long time. Unflinching, thoughtful, and honest, it will definitely make you rethink what you're doing with your life.

And it shows that all it takes to find a little more meaning in our lives is to walk through just one of the many doors that are already open but that we never seem to notice.

Until now.

Categories: Small Business News

6 Ways to Deal With Frustrating People

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 8:00am

Are some people driving you crazy and blocking your path to success? Try these six tips to remove them as obstacles.

I find one of the biggest challenges in business is having to work with lots of people who don't always see things the same way or share motivations. Diversity of opinion can be very helpful, but so often these people will intentionally or unintentionally slow you down or block your way. Regardless of their intent, one way or another you still have to resolve their concerns to move forward.

Because any innovative forward progress is likely to stimulate pushback and resistance, you need a solid set of tools to deal with those who will stand as roadblocks to your success. Just because they frustrate you doesn't mean they have to keep you from achieving your objectives. These six tips and a little determination can help you overcome any adversary.

1. Figure out the why. Sure, some people are random and arbitrary, but most reasonable people have a motive for being a roadblock. Do some digging to find out this person's true objectives. Someone's contrary nature may have nothing to do with you, but if you can get to the root, you can figure out a way to placate the person and find some sort of compromise. Until you find out exactly why he or she is contradictory, you are wasting valuable time and energy stabbing in the dark.

2. Speak someone's language. So often, frustrating encounters are simple errors of communication. You may have knowledge and expertise in a specific area that is unfamiliar to your opponent. It also may be that he or she is the one with relevant knowledge and experience. Either way, you are better off sharing what you know and working together in an atmosphere of understanding. Take the time to ask for the person's perspective on the issue at hand. Once you know how he or she conceptualizes the situation, and the vocabulary the person grasps most intuitively, you can clear any static out of the channel.

3. Give them what they want. One of the secrets to successful negotiation is finding out what the other party wants most. What is the one thing someone most desires to leave the table with? What will he or she leave behind? Once you know what the person wants, lay out the circumstances under which you can give it, if at all possible. And remember--the thing doesn't have to be an object. It can be an opportunity, emotional or social recognition, or other reward. It can even be protection from a perceived threat on someone's horizon. If you can't meet his or her needs fully, have the person suggest an alternative and show that you are willing to work toward a compromise for the greater good.

4. Get the person invested in you. People work harder to be polite and accommodating to someone they like and respect. So, work to build a positive relationship with the person in the grand scheme. Take a genuine interest in his or her needs and wants. Show empathy and understanding for the person's concerns. Help him or her understand that you are a person who is more than just a goal-oriented taskmaster. Help the person see the greater good of your objectives in a way that is exciting and inspiring.

5. Go around someone. Sometimes, you just cannot bring people around to your way of thinking. If that happens, look for other routes to your objective. Ideally, you want the people causing your frustration to back down and remove themselves from the path. But if they won't, use your creativity to find other routes to achieve your objectives. No need to disrespect anyone in the process. Today's obstacle may be tomorrow's supporter.

6. Examine yourself. The man across the table may currently be the bane of your existence. But you are probably also the bane of his. Perhaps you are guilty of emotional resistance, territoriality, or obtuseness. Take a break from the battle and reflect on your own behavior. There might be ways for you to open yourself up to him, demonstrate good faith, and de-escalate tension. You can even ask your nemesis specifically what you can do to right the situation. You might be surprised at the simplicity of the response. At the very least, you will have assessed to a point at which you can clearly identify the source of the conflict.

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Categories: Small Business News

3 Tax Tricks for the Worst Procrastinators

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 7:30am

You still have the weekend to try to save on your taxes.

Mark Twain said, "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow." Well, a few days after tomorrow is officially April 15, and there isn't any time left to procrastinate on your taxes. With these tips, even the most time-constrained, frenzied entrepreneur can get taxes filed on time, without errors, and maybe even save a few hard-earned dollars.

First, let's quickly brush up on the changes to tax laws. The American Taxpayer Relief Act, or ATRA, and the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, created some changes from prior years. Certain individuals are now subject to a 0.9 percent additional Medicare tax on wages, self-employment income, and other compensation received. ATRA permanently extended the income tax rates enacted in 2001 and 2003. Top-earning entrepreneurs will be subject to a 39.6 percent top marginal tax rate. To add salt to those wounds caused by a higher marginal tax rate, high-income entrepreneurs may not be able to deduct the full amount of their personal exemptions or itemized deductions. On the positive side, entrepreneurs living in no-income-tax states, like Texas, Nevada, or Florida, will be able to take a deduction for state and local sales taxes paid.

With that in mind, here are three ways you might save a few dollars, even at this late hour.

  • If you worked more than one job in 2013, be sure to claim a credit for any overpaid Social Security taxes withheld from your wages.
  • Include all carryovers (investment interest, capital losses, and charitable contributions) from your prior year's tax return.
  • Consider setting up a simplified employee pension (SEP). As long as the SEP is set up before the filing of the return and the contribution to the plan is timely made, this can be a procrastinator’s best friend to reduce taxes.

If filing your taxes by April 15 still seems impossible, you can request an automatic six-month extension, which will give you until October 15 to file. This is accomplished by filing Internal Revenue Service Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. But beware, the full payment of your tax bill is still due on April 15.

Categories: Small Business News

6 Proven Ways to Work with a Bad Boss

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 7:06am

No one likes a jerk, and when the jerk is your boss it can be downright terrifying. But you have more control than you think. Much more.

Dislike your boss? You're not alone. According to research on the topic, three out of four employees say that dealing with their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. Two-thirds say they would happily take a new boss over a pay raise. According to Karin Hurt, author of Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, "The secret to a healthy boss-subordinate relationship is to remember that it's just that, a relationship. You're two messy human beings doing the best you can."

Boss-subordinate relationships are unnatural by design: You look to a person you have not chosen (and whom you may or may not respect) for affirmation, evaluation, and reward. In order to succeed you have to figure out what will make this person like you and adjust accordingly. To turn around even the most difficult boss relationship apply these six proven approaches.

1. Don't Become a Jerk Yourself

Whatever you do, don't sit around commiserating with coworkers about your bad boss. Stay focused on the work and avoid the gossip. If you need to talk to someone, choose HR or other formal support. Pay close attention to how the stress is impacting you, your team, and your family. Find folks who will tell you the truth. Bad behavior is contagious. Be sure you stay true to your own personal leadership philosophy.

2. Say something

If you think you've got a bad boss, and everyone else does too, I challenge you to go deeper. Get to know him. Tell him the truth. If everybody's frustrated, he knows it. Chances are, under all that bluster, he's starving for help. Ask about the pressures he's under, and how you can best help. Find out whether you're doing something that unleashes his inner jerk, and adjust as best you can.

3. Make her life easier

Is a well-known law of nature: Bad bosses get worse under stress. Do what you can to ease your boss’s pain. Do what you say you will, without needing to be reminded. Get ahead of deadlines. Communicate frequently in bulleted summaries. Your boss knows there are problems; shielding her from them will only make her nervous. She will sleep better knowing you're all over it.

4. Reduce dependency

It's not your boss's responsibility to motivate you, develop you, or direct your career. That's your job. Sure, the best leaders will help you grow, but never forget who's really in charge--you. So if your boss doesn't have it to give, don't waste time being frustrated. Stop coveting thy co-worker's boss, and find the support you need. Get a mentor. Develop stronger peer relationships. Work on special projects that expose you to other leaders and their styles.

5. Be true to yourself

Find ways to ground yourself. Exercise, meditation, and prayer are all good options. Remember that this bad boss is just one transient person in your life. This season will end, but you will live with who you are becoming forever.

6. Learn by (negative) example

You can learn as much from a bad boss as a good one. Pay close attention to the impact your boss's behavior has on you and your teammates. What doesn't kill you will make you a stronger leader. Keep a journal or make a running list. Make a vow to never be "that guy."

Remember: Leadership isn't easy, for your boss or for you. Consider your relationship with your boss as a learning laboratory. Leverage every interaction to improve your own leadership. Be the boss you wish you had.

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Categories: Small Business News

Disrupt Your Own Business

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 7:00am

Stew Leonard Jr. pushes you to embrace change in your business.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Act Like a Startup, Even When You're Not

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 7:00am

Just because you've grown into a big company doesn't mean you have to let go of your roots

Being an entrepreneur means never having to be corporate. But growing companies can be susceptible to changes in their environment. How do you retain a startup culture as you continue to grow? We asked members of the Entrepreneurs' Organization to share their experiences and insights regarding this topic.

Ensure the team comes first.

"We celebrate our wins with champagne and cheeses, huddle up every Monday morning to discuss the previous week's work, and go on annual team-building retreats, among other things. A big part of sustaining our culture is hiring people on the basis of our core values, and having leaders who emulate these values and beliefs--namely, have fun and enjoy the work. That's where it all starts."

Mark Shipley, EO Albany

President and chief strategic officer, Smith & Jones

Start the day with action.

"Our firm has an action-packed learning, recognition, and issue-driven 25-minute meeting every morning. We start the morning with a music video of one team member's choice, and usually end it with a funny saying or video. We have found this meeting to be a big culture builder, because everyone starts the day off on the right foot and gets to check in with the team. We usually have about 30 people in attendance."

Andrew Propst, EO Idaho

President, Park Place Property Management, CRMC

Fuel competition.

"We keep it fun and competitive. To maintain a healthy level of competition, we've set up regular challenges among the departments. For example, we have Feast Fridays, on which we eat together as a company and pitch creative television-show ideas. Winners are rewarded and losers clean the office. We also fuel a competitive environment. It allows us to keep the startup culture alive in a rapidly growing company."

Steve Gatena, EO Los Angeles

CEO, REP Interactive

Constantly communicate, no matter the distance.

"We have a global team working virtually around the clock, and we pride ourselves on our listening and understanding skills. Through our quarterly Skype sessions in which our international team comes together to listen to ideas and brainstorm for the future, all employees are encouraged to share their ideas for how the company and community can develop. We listen, we understand, and we develop to build relationships with our customers and our team members."

Jimmy Chiang, EO Orange County

CEO, Way Basics

Make fun a priority.

"Last year, we created a Director of Employee Happiness position. The director is responsible for planning companywide events, training programs, and more. For example, we created DSi University to help employees understand all aspects of the business and not just their day-to-day jobs. We also held a book club, in which we all read the same business book in groups. These activities keep employees engaged in the business and its overall success, which is one of the benefits of a startup culture."

Tom Turner, EO Nashville

President, DSi

Categories: Small Business News

How to Make Your Meetings Insanely Productive

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 6:30am

One simple change to your meeting protocol will eliminate 90 percent of the time that's wasted.

The time wasted in business meetings is like the weather: Everyone complains about it, but nobody ever does anything about it. Well, today we're going to change that.

The biggest misconception about business meetings is that they're a good way to communicate and share information. Frankly, that's ludicrous.

When meetings are used for conveying information, it forces everyone to spend time and mental energy understanding what was said and what it means.

Then, when it comes to making decisions about what needs to be done, everyone is thinking on the fly using that half-digested information.

By contrast, when everyone comes into a meeting knowing what has happened (i.e., information), you can jump immediately to discussing what needs to happen next and then making decisions to make that happen.

In other words, use your valuable meeting time to create the future rather than summarize the past.

Every meeting should have a pre-meeting email that summarizes the information that's needed to make decisions as well as a tentative agenda of the decisions that need to be made.

Yes, this requires more upfront work than simply calling a meeting where everyone goes over their list. It means preparing for the meeting rather than taking the lazy path of just showing up.

But think about the benefits! No more sitting through long presentations. No more spinning your wheels while everyone else gets up to speed. No more showing up at a meeting just to discover what it's about.

You go in, you discuss what to do, you make a decision. Boom! A meeting that would have taken an hour or more only takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Multiply this times the number of meetings that you (and everyone else) attend each year and you're talking about hundreds or even thousands of person-hours that can now be spent doing something productive.

That's a truly insane increase in productivity. All because of a little prep work. It's really that easy.

Preorder my new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, and get an exclusive bonus chapter (for you and a friend) as well as a signed bookplate. Details HERE.

Categories: Small Business News

4 Ways Your Brain Can Ruin Your Chances for Success

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 6:00am

Everything can be going along swimmingly--and then your pesky subconscious gets in the way. Don't let these four thought patterns trip you up.

The statistics for startup success can be grim. Approximately 75 percent of all startups fail, and about 90 percent of all products fail. Yet every day, new entrepreneurs dream up products and services and jump into the startup fray.

What's really tripping up the ones who barely make it out of the starting gate? The economy, of course, doesn't make things easy. But perhaps there's something much closer to home that increases the challenge.

Our brains are powerful processing tools, but just like most technology, they can be buggy. Your subconscious thinking can negatively affect the outcome of your startup, causing you to make mistakes. It only takes a small error in judgment to kill a fledgling startup.

Here are four ways your subconscious thinking might be ruining your chances for success, and how to combat these tendencies:

You fall victim to confirmation bias.

A psychological study with 8,000 participants showed people are twice as likely to seek out information that confirms what they already believe--that's called confirmation bias. A 2009 study by Ohio State also showed people spent 36 percent more time reading information aligned with their point of view than that which challenged it.

Obviously, this can be a problem for startup founders. If you surround yourself with yes men, no one will be able to challenge your ideas and help you improve them. It's hard to understand your target audience or the actual reality of your industry if you only surround yourself with information backing up your "perfect" idea.

The Fix: Encourage those on your team to present alternative perspectives. Spend time thinking about the possibility of your venture failing, and ask yourself what could go wrong. By stepping outside of your bubble, you can anticipate problems before they actually arise.

You use the past to predict the future.

If you flip a coin and it keeps landing on heads, is it then more likely to land on tails on the next flip? If you keep buying lottery tickets, are you bound to win eventually? The gambler's fallacy, or the expectation that past events will have an impact on future outcomes, can be all too present in startup thinking.

For example, the success rate for first-time entrepreneurs is just 18 percent, but it only rises to 20 percent for entrepreneurs who have failed in the past. Just because you fell down once, doesn't mean you're destined to cross the finish line this time.

The Fix: Don't assume your company is due success. If your startup isn't gaining the traction you expected, don't sit back and wait for magic to happen. Instead, identify the barriers to success and start breaking them down. Make your team look at your product or service honestly, and figure out where the problem may lie.

You're hard-wired to procrastinate.

If you've ever spent an hour looking at baby animals instead of doing work, you probably understand procrastination. Yet this everyday time-wasting can really add up to big holes in your productivity. Plus, it can be a very, very hard habit to shake.

Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, has found as many as 20 percent of people may actually be chronic procrastinators. And as stress mounts, the siren lure of time-wasting can become deafening.

The Fix: Researchers Dan Ariely and Klaus Wertenbroch found "precommitment," or setting meaningful deadlines, can help procrastinators on follow-through. Though internal deadlines aren't as effective as external ones, they can help cut down on procrastinating behavior.

Another fix is simple forgiveness, which can allow you to let go of past mistakes and focus on the future. Tim Pychyl, a professor at Carleton University in Canada, found students who forgave themselves after procrastinating did better on their next exam. Let go of hard feelings, and refocus on hitting your startup's deadlines.

You measure your value against others.

Your day is going great until you hop on Facebook (see above tendency) and read about all of your friends' personal and professional successes. Suddenly, the small win your company had this morning doesn't seem so great.

People tend to compare themselves with others and judge the value of one option through comparison. Comparing yourself with big, established companies or other startups in your space can dishearten your team and ultimately spell disaster.

The Fix: It's good to know your competitors, but don't fixate. If you want to compare your startup, look instead for ways to improve on your industry or ways your company is presenting a unique idea.

The brain is an imperfect organ, so it's important to recognize and correct the subconscious thinking that can get your startup into trouble. If you do, you'll increase your odds of finding success.

What do you think? What are some thought processes getting in your way? Sound off in the comments!

Categories: Small Business News

4 Things You Need to Know Today

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 5:23am

A roundup of the day's news curated by the Inc. editorial team to help you and your business succeed.

1. Food Startups Staying Hot

In the wake of Grubhub's successful IPO, investors are hungry for food delivery startups. Munchery, a San Francisco business that raised a $28 million Series B round on Thursday, is leading the pack--at least for now. The company plans to expand beyond the Bay Area, but faces stiff competition from upstarts like Spoonrocket, which is reportedly raising $10 million; Sprig, which raised $10 million last month; and Blue Apron, which reportedly is raising a $30 million round.--Mashable

2. Acquisition Update

Amazon announced its acquisition of comiXology, the New York-based maker of an app that allows you to read and buy comics, for undisclosed terms. Founded in 2007, comiXology, which sold 4 billion pages of comics in 2013, offers content from both marquee publishers like Marvel and DC and indie creators. More than half of ComiXology's readership is international--perhaps another reason why Amazon found the startup so attractive.--comiXology

3. Goodbye, Non-competes?

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed legislation to eliminate non-compete agreements in his state. He wants Massachusetts to adopt the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which prevents workers from taking companies' intellectual property to other businesses while allowing them to join or launch competitors. Incumbents, watch out.--The Boston Globe

4. You Heart LinkedIn

For the second year in a row, in 2013 LinkedIn was the favorite social media site among the Inc. 500, the fastest-growing private companies in the United States. The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth examined social media usage among the Inc. 500 and found that small businesses' use of nearly all social platforms was up from the previous

Categories: Small Business News

Minnesota's Minimum Wage Hike and Why It's Important

Inc Small Business - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 4:35am

Minnesota follows Connecticut and Maryland in raising state minimum wage.

Minnesota workers earning the minimum wage will see yearly raises under a bill given final approval Thursday that pushes the hourly rate to $9.50 by 2016 and enables automatic increases in the future.

The bill gives Minnesota one of the nation's most generous pay floors after years of being among the states with the lowest minimum wage. The bill passed with only Democratic votes after Republicans said it would cause hardship on businesses and narrow opportunities for those the legislation is designed to help.

The state House passed the bill a day after the Senate, both of which are controlled by Democrats. Gov. Mark Dayton announced plans to sign the bill Monday afternoon.

"Thousands and thousands of families will have a better life because of what we do today," said Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul.

Supportive lawmakers shared personal stories of flipping burgers or doing other entry-level jobs for little pay. "Many of the low-wage workers are the hardest working people I know," said Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby.

The floor wage required of most employers will climb from $6.15 per hour to $8 per hour in August. It goes to $9 next year and $9.50 the year after. In future years, the rate could rise by 2.5 percent through an inflationary mechanism. Those future hikes could be suspended if the economy stumbles, but officials could authorize catch-up increases once times improve.

Minnesota last raised its minimum wage in 2005.

Democratic backers hailed the bill as an overdue raise for more than 350,000 people making the least now. They said people in that situation tend to spend what they make quickly, helping cycle money into the local economy.

Republican lawmakers relayed concerns from business groups that the wage is rising too much too fast. They warned it would be a crushing blow on grocery stores and restaurants, causing them to raise prices or pare back employee rolls.

"I'm sure Minnesota will survive after this happens but a lot of people won't get that first line on their resume," said Republican Rep. Bob Gunther, a retired grocer from Fairmont. "It's going to be fair for some people. It's going to be devastating for others."

The GOP argued the hike will make Minnesota a geographic outlier. All of the state's neighbors match the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

"We can live in a fantasy land that maybe people are going to want to pay higher prices," said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa. "But the economy does not work that way."

Minnesota is one of four states currently beneath the federal minimum wage, though many workers automatically receive the federal rate. Anyone involved in interstate commerce, such as a retail clerk swiping a credit card, are entitled to the higher of the two wages. Some workers such as baby-sitters, taxi drivers, nonprofit volunteers and others are exempt from the minimum wage.

"It's an embarrassment we have one of the lowest minimum wages in the country," said Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield.

All employers won't be bound by the same wage rules. The bill preserves a tiered structure the state currently has. Businesses with gross sales beneath $500,000 will see the wage top out at $7.75 in 2016. Workers younger than 20 would be subject to a lower temporary training wage and companies could continue paying 16 and 17 year olds less.

Minnesota's measure isn't as ambitious as Connecticut or Maryland, which recently passed laws to gradually boost their minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. California's wage hits $10 by January 2016. Washington state has the highest rate currently at $9.32, but it rises annually by the rate of inflation.

Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, the bill's sponsor, said he was glad to see his state reverse course.

"We can choose to go the low-cost, low-tax, low-wage route. Some states are following it, and it is not going very well," Winkler said. "We do not have to accept a race to the bottom."

--Associated Press

Categories: Small Business News

It's Official: Small Businesses Love LinkedIn (and Social Media)

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 3:33pm

A recent study took an in-depth look at how Inc. 500 executives are using social platforms.

Fast-growing small businesses are embracing social media like never before, according to recent data--and LinkedIn still dominates as the platform of choice.

The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth released a new study that shows the big-picture trends in social media use among the Inc. 500--the fastest growing private companies in the United States-- in 2013.

Through observation and interviews with executives, researchers found that usage was up for nearly all social platforms--including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest--compared to the year before. (Foursquare was the only platform that saw a decline). And for the second year in a row, LinkedIn ranked as the most used platform, capturing 88 percent of those surveyed. Facebook is a close second, as 84 percent of small businesses are on the social network.

Here are some other interesting highlights from the study:

• Sixty-one percent of companies say that Twitter holds the most potential for sales growth.

• However, approximately half believe that sales from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are less than 1 percent.

• One in five companies have no social media plan in place.

• About 40 percent executives said they have a strategy planned in case a negative attack occurs online. That's down from 54 percent last year.

This is The Center's seventh annual study. When it first performed this research back in 2007, the study's authors noticed that Inc. 500 companies were outpacing Fortune 500 in their use of social media. Interestingly, this still appears to be the case today.

"The most recent data collected on both groups suggests that the pattern holds with 52 percent of the Inc. 500 blogging [compared to] 34 percent of the Fortune 500," the authors wrote.

Categories: Small Business News

Should Work Emails Be Banned After 6 PM?

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 2:06pm

Yes, it sounds lovely to have a life after work. But working harder also pays off.

Do you need protection--i.e., protection from the evil known as after hours emails? If so, you're not alone: Michael de La Force, chairman of the General Confederation of Managers in France thinks you do too, if you live in his country. After all, it's just downright terrible that someone would have to check their email before going to bed, hitting the gym, or taking a call at 8:30 p.m. Isn't it?

Give me a break.

I'm a big fan of work-life balance. In fact, I'm probably a bigger fan than most people, as I think one of the best ways to hire the best talent is to let your employees have a life. But this is ridiculous.

The economy is global. In fact, I am writing this column from my home in Basel, Switzerland, and if I turned off my email at 6 p.m. I'd have a heck of a time working with my clients in California. If I followed this email rule, I wouldn't have clients in California anymore, which would mean less income for me and more for somebody else. Someone, I suppose, who lives in the same time zone.

Sure, if you're working the register at the grocery store, when you're home, you're really at home. But if you're the manager of that store and have suppliers in France, how can you expect to find out what's happening if you fall off the grid after 6 p.m.? If you want to do business with Asia, forget it.

In reality, President Barack Obama is seeking a similar regulation. Recently, he demanded U.S. labor rules be revised to decrease the number of employees exempt from overtime rules. But by making the minimum salary for exempt status higher, he effectively told companies that more of their employees are banned from after hours emails and phone calls.

Again, while all of this sounds swell on the surface, the reality is that it's preventing people at the start of their careers from quickly progressing up the ladder.

Consider this: France limits its work-week to 35 hours in order to add more employees to its economy. But as of October last year, France has a 10.9 percent unemployment rate. Meanwhile, as of March this year, France's neighbor Switzerland, whose maximum work-week varies from 45 to 60 hour per week, has an unemployment rate of 3.30 percent. Clearly, restricting work doesn't have the effect politicians worry it will.

Long hours are legendary in startups, and many entrepreneurs wear them as a badge of honor. If you're running a startup, you might wish to encourage your people to put down the smartphone now and then and spend some time with their family and friends. But you have to balance that with the knowledge that working harder does get you ahead. And it's a tough world out there.

Categories: Small Business News

Second Time's a Charm? GoDaddy Strikes While the IPO Iron Is Hot

Inc Small Business - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 1:11pm

After one failed attempt at going public in 2006, Inc. 500 company Go Daddy decides the time has come now.

Sometimes it's all about waiting for your moment.

Just ask domain registration company Go Daddy Group, which has been on the Inc. 500 list every year since 2004, when it debuted as #8 on the list.

News has it that Go Daddy, founded by entrepreneur Bob Parsons and based in Scottsdale, Arizona, is now in the final stages of preparing for its initial public offering, and has gone so far as choosing its investment bank underwriters--Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase. Go Daddy is the biggest domain registrar in the world, hosting and registering 57 million websites from 12 million customers.

But the company has tried to go public before. Specifically, in 2006 it had an unsuccessful attempt, although it presciently cited unfriendly market conditions in its withdrawal statement from August of that year. That's a far cry from now.

The Right Moment

GoDaddy's timing this go around may be better: IPOs for 2014 are off to a red-hot start, approaching dollar volume levels not seen since 2000, just as the Dotcom bubble was about to burst.

Through the end of March, 64 companies went public raising nearly $11 billion, according to research from IPO adviser and research company Renaissance Capital. That's more than double the number of companies that went public in the first quarter of 2013, and the highest number since the same period in 2000, Renaissance reports.

Many technology companies, such as social media star Twitter, have experienced extraordinary success going public. Twitter went public in November and has seen its stock price more than double since then. (There have also been some less than outstanding offerings, such as the one had by digital game maker King Digital, whose stock price fell precipitously on its first day of trading.)

What's Changed

In 2006, Go Daddy planned to raise $200 million from its IPO, according to the S-1 papers it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commisssion. Like many in today's flock of IPO hopefuls, the company was in the red, showing mounting losses year over year. For 2005, Go Daddy reported nearly $12 million losses for the year ended December 31, 2005, a more than 200 percent increase compared to same period in 2004.

Sales in 2005 were $140 million, nearly double what they had been in the year prior. Current GoDaddy revenue is on the order of $1 billion, according to Bloomberg.

And in a real hat-tip to history, the lead underwriter for the transaction was none other than Lehman Brothers, the now-defunct investment bank that came to symbolize the greed of the Great Recession.

In 2011, Go Daddy, sold itself to KohlbergKravisRoberts and Silver Lake Management for more than $2 billion.

Previously known for its suggestive advertisements featuring race car stars and others, Go Daddy has toned down its image lately as it goes after mobile users and more small business customers, and as it has sought to expand into international markets, such as India and Latin America. Blake Irving, who joined Go Daddy as its chief executive in 2013 after stints at Microsoft and Yahoo, has led both directives. Go Daddy competes against providers such as Endurance International Group, which went public in October, raising about $250 million.

Categories: Small Business News
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