Women Entrepreneurs: Still a Long Way to Go, Baby

Women Entrepreneurs Still a Long Way to Go Baby

Why support programs that help women entrepreneurs?

Consider that women entrepreneurs are the fastest-growing group of small-business owners. What’s more, women own nearly a third of all businesses (29 percent), but they bring in only 4 percent of all U.S. revenue and 6 percent of all U.S. jobs, according to the second annual The State of Women-Owned Businesses report from American Express OPEN. That means there’s a big opportunity for growth.

In an effort to spotlight the issues, OPEN is publishing a series of infographics. Below, we share the first. It’s also creating conversation around the topic on social media by inviting people to complete this sentence on Twitter and Facebook:

I am #PoweringTomorrow by ____________.

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Women Entrepreneurs: Still a Long Way to Go, Baby

 

3 Questions You Must Ask Before Securing a Small Business Credit Card

3 Things You Must Know Before You Sign Up For a Small Business Credit Card

Almost all major banks and credit card processorshave a card tailored specifically for small businesses. Before you jump in and sign up, it pays to first think about the new credit you’re taking on.

A business owner can usually get a higher credit limit on a business card than on a consumer card, and typical rewards include business-friendly discounts, like on shipping and office supplies. They also helpkeep business and personal finances separate.

“Almost any business credit card will fulfill about 80 percent of what you need, but the extra 20 percent is more nuanced depending on how you plan to use it,” says Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research at Austin, Texas-based CreditCards.com, a review and comparison website.

Review sites such as CreditCard.com, CardRatings.com, and Bankrate.com offer online tools to compare interest rates, rewards programs and annual fees. Regardless of which card you chose, there are three questions you must ask yourself before signing up.

Related: 5 Ways to Get Paid Faster

1. Do you really need it? While it’s tempting to sign up for a credit card at the first sign of a cash-flow crunch, avoid making a knee-jerk decision, Woolsey says. Most consumers already have four or five credit cards in their wallets but only really use one. If that’s you, then consider designating one of your personal credit cards for business purposes only.

Also, remember that credit card processors and banks will use your personal credit history as a reference for the business card. If your business doesn’t make it and you have to declare bankruptcy, your personal credit score is going to take a hit.

2. What are you going to use it for? If you plan to make large purchases with the credit card that you can’t pay back immediately, your top priority should be to secure a card with the lowest interest rate you can find. But if you’re looking mainly for convenience, such as ordering monthly supplies that you plan to pay off each month, then search for the card that offers the best rewards programs.

Related: 3 Simple Financial Tools to Help Track Business Success

While you might prefer no annual fee, sometimes the perks make the fee worth it. “Before you pay an annual fee, you should ask yourself: Am I getting something above and beyond that justifies the annual fee?” says Woolsey. For example, one American Express business card — with an annual fee — comes with complimentary entry into airport lounges, a popular perk for frequent travelers.

3. How organized is the rest of your financial life? If you aren’t on top of all of your bills, you run the risk of having your interest rates raised without advance warning on a business credit card. While the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act protects consumers from predatory pricing, business cards are not covered in the law.

“Small business cards are still subject to the whims of the card industry in terms of the pricing policies, fee policies,” Woolsey says. A credit card issuer can look at any publicly available source of information about you to determine your risk profile. “If you have been late with your water bill or cable bill, they can jack up your interest rate even if you have been current on the small business account,” he warns.

 

Finally, Guidance on Employer Social-Media Policies

Finally Guidance on Employer Social-Media Policies

For as long as I’ve been writing about the National Labor Relations Board and social-media use policies, I’ve been advising businesses to ensure that their policies and guidelines for employees are reviewed and vetted by legal counsel. That’s because the NLRB hasn’t been a bit shy in ruling that a number of employers have violated the National Labor Relations Act when setting such policies. The problem was that the board hasn’t exactly been forthcoming in providing specific guidance with respect to what it wants to see in such policies and guidelines in the first place.

That all changed recently when the agency — which is responsible for, among other things, investigating and remedying unfair labor practices — issued a 27-page memo (PDF) on the topic. In it, the board reviewed social-media policies from several businesses that it claims run the risk of infringing on employees’ free speech and labor rights, then offered guidance for businesses going forward.

Among the recommendations to businesses when creating and distributing social media policies for employees are the following six points:

1. Know and follow the rules: All of your employees should be urged to read your social media policies and guidelines, and you should make it perfectly clear what is considered inappropriate, being assured that such acts will not be tolerated.

2. Be respectful: The board suggests that your policy explicitly state that employees should be “fair and courteous to fellow associates, customers, members, suppliers or people who work on behalf of the employer.”

Related: 5 Steps to Creating a Social Media Policy

3. Be honest and accurate: This includes never posting information or rumors that are known to be false.

4. Post only appropriate and respectful content: Specifically, maintain the confidentiality of company trade secrets and private or confidential information; express only personal opinions; don’t represent yourself as a company spokesperson without permission.

5. Use of social media at work: Don’t use company equipment for personal messaging unless it is work related.

6. Media contacts: Don’t speak to the press without checking with the company’s human-resources department or function beforehand.

The NLRB acknowledges in the memo that more fine-tuning of social media policies and guidelines on the part of employers will be necessary in the future. For example, warning employees about releasing confidential materials online might sound reasonable, but such action might prohibit those very same employees from discussing and disclosing information regarding their own conditions of employment, which the board considers a “protected concerted activity.”

 

3 Signs You May Need to Ditch Your Bank

3 Signs You May Need to Ditch Your Bank

There’s a love-hate relationship between entrepreneurs and banks. In fact, one in four small businesses changed banks in the last four years, according to a survey out this week from the National Small Business Association.

The two most popular reasons for making a move are feeling “mistreated” by a bank and seeking betterfinancing options, according to the report from the Washington, D.C.-based small business advocacy group. In particular, small business owners are least impressed with big banks. Of those small businesses that work with big banks, only 14 percent reported the services and finance offerings as “excellent.” At the same time, 43 percent of respondents who work with community banks and 38 percent who use credit unions rate their respective banks as excellent in the same areas.

To be sure, it’s a hassle to switch banks, but sometimes it is worth it. Here are three signs you need to make a change:

1. Abrupt changes in financing terms. “If their credit line gets cut or interest rates rise unexpectedly, I think that is pretty telling,” says John Paglia, a professor at Pepperdine University’s business school. Almost one in four business owners have seen the terms on their loan become worse in the past year, according to the NSBA survey. Some were given no reason, while others were told their business had become more risky or banking standards had been raised. Meanwhile, 29 percent of survey respondents reported having their available line of credit reduced in the last four years.

Whether you’re securing a loan or line of credit, be sure to read all of the fine print, keeping an eagle eye for language suggesting the bank can change your loan terms based on “changing market risk,” or other vagaries, Paglia warns.

Related: 3 Questions You Must Ask Before Securing a Small Business Credit Card

2. Your bank can’t keep up with you. “If the bank doesn’t have what you need at the next stage of your growth, then you need to look elsewhere,” says Bob Seiwert, head of the American Bankers Association’s Center for Commercial Lending and Business Ranking. For example, every bank has a cap on what they can lend out at any one time and a limit on what they can lend out to any one firm. “If you need a lot more money than that banker is comfortable lending to any one business,” says Seiwert, “that is a sign that you have outgrown your bank” You may also need additional financial services as your business evolves.

Related: A Common Personal Finance Mistake New ‘Treps Make

3. Your banker doesn’t talk to you. “Not all business owners are financially savvy from the day they open their doors,” says Terry Jorde, the Senior Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff at the Independent Community Bankers of America. You deserve a banker that is willing to sit down with you, talk to you, listen to your business plan, and really learn about the business you are running. The banker “should be there to guide them through the process,” Jorde says. And if you have to continually “re-educate” your bank about your business, she says that is a pretty good indication that you should be looking for another bank.

Once you have decided that your current bank is no longer serving your needs, talk to other businesses in your community about which bank they use, adds Paglia. If you are looking for a smaller bank, the BankLocally website has a zip-code look-up for community banks.

From $200 Million to $500K: Lessons from Digg’s Slow Demise

From 200 Million to 500K Lessons from Diggs Slow Demise

Not long after launching in 2004, social news aggregation site Digg was heralded as a tool that forever changed the nature of the news media. By 2008, the site was nearly acquired by search giant Google for $200 million.

Yesterday, Digg was bought by a company called Betaworks for – wait for it – a mere $500,000. Betaworks is the company behind other tech brands like URL shortener bit.ly, website analytics tool Chartbeat and another social news site News.me.

How did a former social-media darling, founded by serial entrepreneur Kevin Rose, see its value drop so precipitously when the social web has only grown in popularity? Over the years, the site has been plagued by some unfortunate missteps. Here are three lessons any entrepreneur can learn from Digg’s slide:

1. Continue to innovate and provide value.
One of the coolest features Digg had when it launched was the ability for users to “digg,” or vote for their favorite content, and “bury” the content they didn’t like. The more diggs something got the higher it was regarded among the Digg community. It created interactivity around the content on the site.

But a number of competing social companies adopted similar features that allow users to vote content up and down. Among them Facebook and Twitter. When Digg failed to innovate, it fell behind the competition. And its traffic figures have been in steady, if not dramatic, decline.

Related: 4 Lessons Every Entrepreneur Can Learn from RIM’s Downfall

2. Make sure the system works.
Digg’s social voting feature also was one of its downfalls. When you’d visit the Digg website, you’d probably think the content at the top of its homepage was voted there by the site’s millions of active users. If so, then you’d be wrong.

At least one report suggested that Digg’s popular content was dictated by a group of power users. It said the site’s top 100 users accounted for more than half of the stories that appeared on the homepage. In other words, Digg was mostly highlighting the opinions of only a small, select group of users.

If Digg’s algorithm was playing favorites with some users, it was inevitable that it would anger many others.

3. Pay close attention to design execution.
Perhaps the final straw for Digg came in 2010 when the site launched a major redesign thatignited the furor of its users. It was aggregating stories from other news aggregators due to a glitch in its new auto-submission system. Server issues caused functions like commenting to stop working. The site kept crashing.

While many sites experience some technical hiccups as well as some negative feedback from upset users following a redesign, this one caused Digg users to declare a “quit Digg day,” and many jumped ship for competing news aggregator, Reddit.

Telltale Signs You Have a Workplace Bully

Telltale Signs You Have a Workplace Bully

Workplace bullying affects 35 percent of employees, according to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), a Bellingham, Wash.-based nonprofit organization. Gary Namie co-founded WBI with his wife, Ruth, after her first-hand experience with bullying. In an interview, he shared his best advice to entrepreneurs for managing this nefarious problem. What follows are edited excerpts of the interview.

Entrepreneur: How can you recognize a bully in the workplace?

Gary Namie: Bullying differs from tough management because it’s driven by the perpetrator’s personal agenda and has nothing to do with improving the bottom line or accomplishing a mission. You might see it in how people are speaking to or about each other. Listen for harsh, unfair feedback about some employees. If you sense team members are being ostracized or being given unfair tasks or deadlines, a bully might be behind it. Any time your gut tells you there’s something wrong with how an employee is being treated, you need to address it because it’s going to hurt productivity and cost you good people.

Entrepreneur: Are there “types” of bullies?

Namie: There are four, but a really competent bully will adopt several of them:

  • The Screaming Mimi is the fist-pounding, vein-bulging maniac who publicly tries to make an example of others, using fear and humiliation as management tools.
  • The Constant Critic gets employees behind closed doors and rips them to shreds. The irony is this bully targets people because of their competence.
  • Jekyll and Hyde is the smarmy, passive-aggressive type. This bully has an ingratiating style that wins favor with management, and then uses rumor and gossip to destroy others’ reputations.
  • The Gatekeeper is a decision-maker who undermines you by denying what you need to succeed because it makes him or her feel powerful. She undermines important elements like budgets and deadlines, setting up others to fail.

Entrepreneur: What should you do if you find a bully in your company?

Namie: First, make sure you’re sending the right message from the top: Intimidation is not acceptable. Develop a written code of conduct covering performance expectations and acceptable forms of behavior. It’s fine to say, “We’re going to be hard-driving, hard-working, and profit-driven.” But you also need to say, “We’re not going to beat each other up in the process. We’re going to treat each other fairly, or there will be consequences.”

Employees need channels to report bullying when it happens, such as through a human resources contact or someone other than the manager who may be the problem. Spell out what happens if bullying is discovered: Warnings, impact on performance reviews and, in severe cases, termination. Apply those consequences consistently or they will be meaningless. As the company leader, you need to eradicate bullying when you find it because it’s like a toxic gas in your company, killing employees and chasing away talent.

 

Courting Bloggers to Tout Your Products? Get Ready for More Content Marketing Disclosures

Courting Bloggers to Tout Your Products Get Ready for More Content Marketing Disclosures

If you’re doing content marketing and reaching out tobloggers and other social-media “influencers,” get ready for more disclosure rules now in the offing.

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association is seeking comment on its updated Social Media Marketing Disclosure Guide before forwarding a final version to the Federal Trade Commission. The guide is meant to help businesses and bloggers comply with the FTC’sGuides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The update, still in draft form, suggests marketers establish an in-house media policy so everyone — advocates, agencies, partners, networks and vendors — knows what the required disclosures entail in order to prevent false or misleading claims.

What’s more, bloggers and other influencers — would need to make sure their relationship with a marketer is publicly disclosed when making statements, reviews or endorsements about that marketer’s product or service.

The proposed policy also recommends prominent placement of disclosures where consumers can readily access the content — not buried deep in the content in a tiny point size — and must be clearly stated.

Related: 5 Steps to Developing a Killer Content Marketing Strategy

The intent of the FTC’s guidelines on endorsements and testimonials in advertising is to ensure that consumers know who’s behind the marketing messages they receive online — especially when such messages influence their purchasing decisions. The FTC requires both marketers (the advertisers) and advocates (those touting the product) to disclose any connections they may have among themselves. And that includes compensation in the form of money, gifts, loaner products, privileges, discounts and other considerations.

The update also extends its guidance beyond the usual social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to a variety of other outlets, including:

  • video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo
  • photo-sharing websites such as Flickr, Picasa and Pinterest
  • curated-content service providers such as Storify.com, Paper.li and Scoop.it
  • sponsored content
  • affiliate networks
  • referral networks
  • podcasts

To see the details, download WOMMA’s Social Media Marketing Disclosure Guide (PDF). Submit your comments by June 28, to Word of Mouth here.

 

Facebook’s Marketing Tools You Might Not Know About

Facebooks Marketing Tools You Might Not Know About

Among the plethora of social networks, Facebook, with more than 900 million active monthly users, might represent the biggest marketing opportunity for companies large and small. But marketers who think that creating a Facebook page and walking away is enough should think again. From advertising opportunities to finding new customers, a lot goes into successful Facebook marketing.

Facebook keeps small-business owners in mind when it rolls out new products and services. “The more that Facebook can help small businesses grow relationships with their customers and increase sales, the better,” says Sarah Smith, Facebook’s director of online operations. Smith, age 35, oversees the social network’s small-business growth team based in Austin, Texas.

We chatted with Smith about how marketers can make the most of Facebook for business. What follows is an edited version of our exchange:

Entrepreneur: What’s most important when using Facebook for business?
Smith: Be real. People want to hear from the authentic you and have fun interacting with your business. Your customers are already on Facebook, checking out photos of their friends and videos of their niece’s first steps. They’re also eager to hear the story of what’s really happening in your business.

Entrepreneur: For business owners, what’s the most important metric to measure?
Smith: All businesses should be paying attention to the number of “People Talking About This” and friends of fans reached in their Page Insights page in your Admin Panel. Understand what types of posts are resonating with your fans and how you’re getting your messages to go viral. Ideally, you should have some sort of promotion that gets customers telling you that they heard about you on Facebook, so you can start to link your sales with your Facebook activity.

Related: 3 Ways to Supercharge Fan Engagement on Facebook

Entrepreneur: What Facebook tools are underutilized by small-business owners?
Smith: Page Insights is one, which offers free market research for your business. Use it to find out who your customers are, what type of posts are getting the best response from fans and how your advertising is driving new fans, new shares or new app installs.

You can also like the facebook.com/marketing page to get updates from Facebook on products and tips. Go to facebook.com/classroom to check out some of the new webinars we’ve just started rolling out.

Entrepreneur: What does an entrepreneur need to know to get the most out of Facebook advertising?
Smith: Play around with Facebook targeting. People put their likes and interests on their Timelines, so advertising can granularly target people who would be more interested in hearing from your business. If you’re running a health-food store, for instance, target people in your area who have “Vegetarian” in their profiles or health-related interests.

You can find broad categories such as expectant parents, moms, iPhone users, golf enthusiasts and even other small-business owners. Broad category targeting can help you find exactly who you want more quickly.

There’s also the new Promoted Posts. From your Page, you can turn those “must see” posts — say, for example, a celebrity comes into your restaurant — into ads to reach more of your fans. When you see in Page Insights that a post is getting really good response from fans, you can promote those posts quickly and easily.

 

Kid Franchises Tap the Tyke Market

Franchises See Big Markets in Little Buggers

Little tykes are big business – a reality that hasn’t escaped the franchising world.

Up one aisle and down the next at the recentInternational Franchise Expo in New York, there was no shortage of franchises aimed at young children… and parents who may be willing to pay handsomely for their services.

One relative newcomer is Cool de Sac – its slogan is “Eat Well. Play Smart.” – a full-service restaurant with soaring open rooms where kids can munch on healthy meals and hang out at playstations while parents enjoy upscale grownup fare like seared tuna and wine.

“You’re seated in a restaurant and you can have sight of your kids the whole time,” says Alejandro Abascal, managing director of the Miami company, which has two corporate locations in Florida.

Cool de Sac is looking to open 30 stores in the U.S. and 50 internationally within five years, but the physical requirement – each restaurant is 8,500 to 10,000 square feet – raises the price of entry. Franchisees need to invest some $850,000 to $2 million initially, Abascal says.

Franchisors offering physical fitness programs, child care centers and academic help also are looking to expand.

Kidokinetics, a Weston, Fla., franchise that offers sports programs in schools, camps and birthday parties, wants to add five franchisees this year.

“It’s a great market for people out there who want to get P.E. back in the schools,” says Terri Braun, the company’s founder and president. Many schools, she added, are “outsourcing P.E.”

Kidokinetics has locations in Texas, North Carolina and Florida. Franchisees invest between $42,900 and $57,000. “I don’t want to grow too quickly,” says Braun, adding that she’d rather have 10 happy franchisees than 100 who may be dissatisfied.

Rita Goldberg opened her original British Swim School in Manchester, England, more than 30 years ago, later brought the concept to the U.S. and started franchising last October.

The Sunrise, Fla., company, which teaches infants through adults, recently was poised to sign its fourth franchisee. Franchisees, who use hotel or school pools, can get started with less than a $50,000 investment, says Goldberg, although costs potentially could reach nearly $90,000.

There are great young swim teachers, and “they never think they can make a future” in swimming, says Goldberg, who aims to show them otherwise.

 

A New Tool for Adding Facebook Features to Your Website

A New Tool for Adding Facebook Features to Your Website

Good news for the social media-minded business owner: Facebook has made it easier to integrate its social functions into many websites. The Menlo Park-based social media giant released its own pre-made plug-in for popular website and blogging tool, WordPress.

With the new plug-in, called Facebook for WordPress, website owners can add Like, Subscribe, Send and Recommendations buttons easily onto not only pages, but also to photo albums and online stores — adding extra sharing and engagement options. One function called Social Publisher automatically posts new content on a website back to a company’s Facebook page. There are also Insights functions, which track how much activity occurs.

While dubbed “the official” Facebook plug-in for WordPress, this tool enters a crowded field of Facebook add-ons, including Facebook Connect, Facebook Tab Manager and Facebook Members.

Here are four reasons why a business might consider integrating Facebook features into its online experience:

1. It is easy to add.
Websites that run on WordPress should find the plug-in simple to download and to configure from the WordPress control panels. Options include color, size, and choosing which pages to place Facebook links on.

For sites that do not use WordPress, you can still add many of these features to your site. Visitdevelopers.Facebook.com and choose from similar options. Facebook will then provide you with a few lines of code to copy and paste into the edit tools on the control pages of a website.

Related: 3 Ways to Supercharge Fan Engagement on Facebook

2. Gain new “friends.”
By adding a “Like” or “Share” button on a page or post, businesses are allowing customers and visitors to easily share content on their own Facebook walls. This feature can help spread a company’s message further, faster and helps information go viral.

Consider using Facebook’s commenting feature, too. It allows businesses to prevent anonymous disparagers and puts real names and faces to comments.

3. Access more detailed analytics.
The plug-in’s Insights feature can provide an added dimension to analytics for businesses. Firms already have access to Web log data for how many people visit their website and where they come from. But with Insights, businesses can tell how many visitors actually “Like” a page.

For example, posting a photo album that gets 100 views can be further analyzed by tracking which picture gets the most “Likes”. The data you collect from Insights can help you improve customer engagement with your site.

4. Keep your brand socially relevant.
The plug-in makes it about as simple as possible to place a well-known icon such as the Facebook “Like” button on a company page. With more and more socially-aware customers, this can help add extra credibility to a site.

Upgrading a website with Facebook apps can signal to potential customers that a company is worth being friends — and doing business — with.