Pinterest for Small Business Retailers: Marketing Hot or Not?

Red Pinterest logoIf you are savvy about social networking, you know that Pinterest is all the rage lately. But, do we really know what Pinterest is? According to its website, the social media site is a “Virtual Pinboard” that “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” The About page talks of using the service to plan weddings, redecorate your home and organize recipes–a far cry from a platform that contemplated a business use down the road. However, as with everyone on the Web today, if it’s free and you can create a community around your product, service or industry, businesses flock there trying to push their wares. Pinterest has struggled to manage the change, but certain business users have stuck with it as the platform addresses these missing functionalities for marketing purposes. I’m going to try to contextualize what makes Pinterest so appealing to people, what I see as a challenge for Pinterest’s growth, and then what aspects of the service are positive for Small Business retailers on Pinterest. From there, you can make your decision whether investing in Pinterest is right for you and your business.

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Smart Entrepreneurship: Small Business Financial Management

Small Business Financial ManagementGuest Post by Barbara Greenwald of Sheinwald Financial Strategies.

 

I define “Smart Entrepreneurship,” as the willingness to plan ahead, adjust your plan as you go along, know your own limitations and when to consult others, only take risks that you understand and can afford to take, deliver your product or service with the utmost quality and professionalism, and always manage your business functions (especially your financial management) well.

Owning your own business requires research, planning, dedication, persistence, problem solving, and resilience. Whether it is generating revenues, keeping the cash flow going, maintaining employee morale, or managing the growth of the company, the buck stops with you.

My insights are gleaned from 30 years of lending money to small businesses. My efforts as a financial strategist are always to provide guidance that will contribute towards a smoother ride. If owning your own business were an easy path to success, however you define success, then everybody would be doing it.

Do you have 6-12 months cash to support both your personal and business cash requirements? 

You want your business to be a source of pride and fulfillment, not a source of worry and distress. Why not strive to be in a position where you can minimize any worry about money? Properly managing financial risk is one of the most important elements of running your business.

Having sufficient resources will permit you to concentrate on generating sales, hiring and training the right employees, and implementing operations. All too frequently businesses are going along and a cash flow shortage suddenly occurs when a receivable doesn’t come in when expected; or when a business expands rapidly. To better understand when revenue growth will eat cash, ask your accountant, your banker, or a financial strategist like myself. .

Depending upon the size of the business and the pace of its growth, a periodic financial check-up with an expert is advisable. Just like your personal health, if you don’t catch a problem early enough, it can be much harder to resolve in a favorable manner. It’s advantageous to be proactive and keep the financial health of your business fine-tuned.

What do the right financial advisors mean for your future success?

If a company doesn’t have its books set up properly to reflect its financial status at any given point in time, and it has not selected an accountant to pull regular financial statements, the owner won’t know if the company is making money, losing money, or breaking even, and will not have the financial reporting to make sound financial decisions when future opportunities or other challenges present themselves. Lack of knowledge about a company’s financial status is one of the biggest financial risks a business owner undertakes.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you have an accountant and an accurate accounting system kept current?
  2. Have you found a banker who will follow your business progress and be prepared in advance to set up a financing facility?

What is your plan if you find that you are making progress towards increased growth and profitability, and you find you need more capital?

If you cannot identify sources for cash for the fixed overhead for your personal and business expenses for at least six months, which might include a spouse’s salary, consider a back-up plan. Finances can operate on a shoestring and even transform you into a better money manager, but can also create a more nerve-wracking experience and a greater possibility of failure.

The most important message I can deliver is to understand the financial risks you are undertaking, the business implications, and your own personal risk tolerance. It is important to only take risks you can afford to take to preserve the long term potential of your business venture.  Cash provides the maximum flexibility to get through downturns in your business or the economy. In the end, everything starts and ends with finance.

If you are a Government Contractor, please join me for my upcoming talk:
Tuesday, May 8: “Financing for Government Contracting: The Importance of Timing” presented by Barbara Greenwald, Sheinwald Financial Strategies. Held at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400 from 9:00 – 11:00 AM. Register online or call 703-778-1292 for more information.

Photo courtesy of Andres Rueda

Google to Great Webinars: Google Sites

Using Google to Be Found, Part 1 – Google Sites from Ray Sidney-Smith on Vimeo.

In our first Webinar, we present Google Sites, the Internet giant’s tool to help your Small Business quickly and easy draft, edit and publish a Web site in minutes!

Google describes its product as:

With Google Sites, you can easily create and update your own site. Google Sites allows you display a variety of information in one place—including videos, slideshows, calendars, presentations, attachments, and text—and share it for viewing or editing with a small group, an entire organization, or the world. You always control who has access to your site.

We go over you would use Google Sites to plan and implement a new site, how to modify the look and feel, how to navigate the basic and some intermediate features of the product. During the Webinar, we allotted ample Q&A time with our favorite “Google-ologist,” Ray Sidney-Smith, and had some great questions!

Do you have a question after watching the video? Ask it in the comments below, or tweet @w3consulting and include the hashtag #googletogreat in your tweet. We’ll post a video response to your question!

Protecting Yourself as You Do Good for Others

insurance
insurance (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)

You are a member of a non-profit board of directors.  The organization works with at risk youth.  An employee engages in conduct that brings the non-profit negative publicity and the inevitable lawsuits.  Or, the organization fires an employee and the former employee files a employment discrimination complaint.   In both cases, the complaints name individual members of the board of directors as well as the organization, its officers and certain employees as defendants.  What happens now ?  Who hires and, perhaps more importantly, pays for defense counsel ?  Is it you ? Who pays for any settlement or judgment ?  Does your homeowners insurance step in ?  If you are a professional who carries professional liability insurance, will it step in ?  Does the non-profit have directors & officers liability insurance (D&O) and does it cover this type of matter?

Giving back to the community by lending time and talent to non-profit boards of directors is a rewarding experience;  you, the non-profit and the community enjoy great benefits.  Lawsuits never materialize.  However, when someone files a lawsuit and names the board members, the lawsuit exposes the individual board member to potential liability, to the expense of retaining defense counsel and the possibility of funding, at least a portion, of a settlement or judgment.  Without some sort of insurance to pay the bills, the individual board member is responsible for his counsel fees and any settlement or judgment share.

Most insurance coverage that individuals carry do not cover such lawsuits.  Homeowners insurance and their umbrella policies are unlikely to pay for the costs of defense or a settlement or judgment in these cases.  Automobile policies likewise will not cover these lawsuits. If you are a professional who carries professional liability insurance, it is also unlikely to cover these lawsuits.

To protect itself and its board of directors, non-profits should carry D&O insurance.  Such insurance protects individual members of the board, the organization itself and, depending on the policy, volunteers of the organization.  Depending on the terms of the D&O policy, it will pay for the costs of defending a lawsuit, which maybe more expensive than any settlement, pay the settlement or judgment (assuming the policy covers the underlying acts) and provide peace of mind to all involved.  Remember that you do not have to be negligent or engage in an act of malfeasance to be sued; the lawsuit need not be meritorious for the board member to be forced to retain counsel to defend a meritless suit.

Although some states, including Virginia, have statutes that limit the amount for which a member of a non-profit board is ultimately responsible, the statutes have limitations and do not compensate the members for the costs of defending the lawsuit.  Before volunteering for a board of directors position, ask the organization about its insurance coverage.  If it does not have D&O insurance, suggest that it obtain it.  If purchasing such insurance requires board approval, make acquiring it one of your first goals.  If you are already a board member, examine the organizations insurance coverage.  If the organization does not have proper coverage, work with the organization to obtain it.  It will protect not only you but the organization and its assets as well.

 

Casart Coverings Finds Inspiration From Maya Romanoff Wallcoverings. Where does your Small Business find inspiration?

After attending a wonderful lecture by Joyce Romanoff, President of Maya Romanoff handmade wallcoverings in March, I am now even more appreciative of their exceptional wallcovering now that I am more familiar with their process and their work ethics. I’ve been admiring this company’s products since I first saw their three dimensional Beadazzled™ wallcovering back in the late 80′s, when I attended one of the Design Houses at the Washington DC Design Center. They have since expanded this line to include Bauble, Geode, Leaf, Leaf Rain, Bijou and Marquetry. In fact, any image or photo can be “bedazzled” with hand applying glass beads over the surface. It’s quite stunning and looks like a beautiful, beaded ball gown.   

Maya Romanoff Bedazzled™ wallcovering

 Bedazzled wallpaper from Design House 2008

Joyce mentioned that their big break came when The Limited used their wallcoverings on columns on many of their flagship stores throughout the country. This helped bring broad public awareness regarding to the unique quality of Maya Romanoff wallcovering because they worked so organically well with the interiors while still making an impact.

All of their wallcoverings are handmade in some way — by fabrication and or applying a decorative finish. We watched one of the Maya Romanoff artisans show us a step-by-step demonstration of two different treatments. Many of the Maya Romanoff workers have been with the company for generations and the business is family run. I was surprised how similar the techniques were to what I and other decorative painters use for wall treatments. The difference is everyone has their own “special” ingredients for their paint wash and the substrates may be different. In this case, the finish, not unlike a brushed-on, sponged-off treatment with highlights, was applied over a clay-coated, crumpled, vinyl wallpaper.

 

The final result glistens. It looks wet but dries quickly with the clay treatment. It is installed flat but the crinkles and pockets of pooled pigment give the impression of a marble-like appearance

The second finish was applied over hand applied wood veneer panels, tiled as wallcovering, which almost seemed too beautiful to retouch.

This beautiful wallpaper can also be installed as ceiling tiles and with that little extra glint of crystal. Get the super glue. Yes, Swarovski crystals can be applied.

Maya Romanoff has quite a progressive history — having been around since 1969, when Maya, the company’s founder, reproduced his tie dyes as wallcovering. He is quite a successful hippie. Since then, they have led the way for producing the largest amount of handmade wallcovering, which requires a  traditional and professionally installation. They also have helped to employ and bring work to help several impoverished countries’ economies and have been given a lifetime humanitarian achievement award for their efforts.

Besides admiring their gorgeous wallcoverings and this company’s ethics, I can completely resonate with their philosophy:

  • They encourage creativity and risk taking while remaining true to business guiding principals.
  • With wall décor trends becoming more luxurious for residential and hospitality, they want their wallcoverings to have fine attention to detail without taking over a room but becoming organic with its surroundings and beautifully blend in.
  • They encourage their artisan creations to have the spontaneity and energy of a work of art.
  • They promote hand painted vinyl and realize wallcovering is not just for walls anymore and can be used on a multitude of surfaces.
  • Wallcoverings can be “green” with sustainable materials, longevity, and low VOC. Many of their wallcoverings will long outlive paint.
  • Their goal is to put the handcrafted back into value and balance handcrafted techniques with machine and technological production.

My fascination and admiration continues and even more so, after sadly learning that Maya now has advanced stage Parkinson’s Disease, so many of their charitable efforts go toward this funding. Take a look at the Maya Romanoff website; they continue to be a source of inspiration.

Although Casart Coverings does not have or could not afford to have this type of handcrafted production, we have designs that have been originally handcrafted. Our wallcovering materials, however, are not handmade and require machines and technology but the two do marry to create our final product. And of course, our wallcovering is removable and reusable and like Maya Romanoff’s can also be customized. We like this personalization part of our business. It keeps us close with our customers and helps us make an even more exceptional product to suit their needs. At present, we are really the only reusable wallcovering company offering such extensive custom services.

— Ashley Spencer

 

Make Every Day Earth Day

Make Every Day Earth Day at the Office
“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” Has this become the mantra of the first two decades of the 21st century? To a dedicated few perhaps, but so far most behavior change has focused on recycling , rather than reducing or reusing the products we use in everyday life.
To see if I am making a correct assumption here, ask yourself if your habits have changed significantly in the last few years regarding conservation, energy efficiency, and a lifestyle with less physical waste. For example, do you turn off the lights more frequently, use water saving toilets and energy-efficient light bulbs and (Energy Star) appliances, and turn off computers and other “idle” media when they are not in use?
At work, have you switched to lights that turn themselves off when there is lack of movement in the space (as at the Alexandria SBDC offices)? Have you stopped the bottled water habit and switched to water filtered at the faucet instead? Do you use ceramic coffee cups and plates and individual reusable water bottles instead of the use once and throw away variety? Instead of answering “paper” or “plastic” at the supermarket, many shoppers, although still usually a minority, now bring their own multi-use non-woven or other grocery shopping bags. They are sometimes rewarded with five cents off at checkout. Some municipalities such as San Francisco have gone as far as banning stores from providing plastic bags and business seems to be thriving in spite of this minor inconvenience.
Surprisingly, changing behaviors can be good not only for the environment, but also for a business’ bottom line. There are plenty of ways to make a small environmental contribution and save the business unnecessary expenditure at the same time. Builders can construct energy-efficient buildings that are attractive to prospective tenants, and they do not have to become LEED-certified to do this. You, as a business owner, can reduce and reuse, as well as recycle, within your office or workspace and set an example for employees, customers and the community. If you develop a reputation as an environmentally-friendly business, that might help to attract new customers or solidify relationships with your existing client base.

Three Simple Steps

  1. Paper – certainly something that can be reduced, reused AND recycled. While not easy to go paperless, reducing paper output, and using both sides of the paper are easy steps in the right direction. It will also decrease the ink cartridge bill, which can be significant in itself.
  2. Mail – cutting down on snail mail will have an immediate impact. Fax, email and social media have reduced the need for using the post office, UPS or FedEx.
  3. Lunch room – providing a refrigerator and microwave oven for employees will be popular with staff, and will encourage them to bring food and beverages for lunch. Provide a way to filter water from the faucet to discourage the throwaway plastic water bottle habit and encourage staff to bring their own reusable water bottles. Plastic plates, utensils and cups are not necessities. Paper napkins may be harder to relinquish.
If you have the budget and opportunity to do some branding and be environmentally-friendly at the same time, there is an increasing choice of products made from recycled materials (e.g. pens or t-shirts made from plastic water bottles), reusable bags, including lunch bags, water bottles, and many other everyday items used in a typical workspace.
So, although there is only one official Earth Day, and it falls on Sunday, April 22, 2012, every day can be an opportunity to make a difference in our own consumption patterns. If we remember to “reduce, reuse and recycle” we can continue to make an individual and collective impact on conserving our scarce resources and the environment we are fortunate to live and work in, here in Northern Virginia.
The author, Judith Harley, owns and operates Oxford Communications, in Alexandria, Virginia. Oxford Communications provides branding for businesses, associations and non-profits through the use of custom-imprinted promotional items, corporate apparel and business gifts. Oxford Communications is known for providing creative environmentally-friendly options for clients.

Celebrate Earth Day by Recycling Your E-Waste!(ourtakeongreen.com)

 

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Effective Business Writing: The Seven Keys for Small Business Owners

The Seven Keys to Effective Business Writing from Ray Sidney-Smith on Vimeo.

Eliza Dolin, of Ivy Quill Communications, presents a summary of her recent workshop at Alexandria Small Business Development Center on “The Seven Keys to Effective Business Writing.”

Today in Small Business History: Architecture Loses a Genius. We Learn How Not to Run a Small Business

Portrait of Frank Lloyd WrightFrank Lloyd Wright died today, April 9, 1959. He worked for the acclaimed Adler & Sullivan architectural firm throughout the latter decades of the 19th century, under the mentoring of the great architect Louis Sullivan. In 1893, after departing with some dramatics from his employer-architecture firm, as his Wikipedia article states, “Wright established his own practice….” And, while we may have lost one of the greatest architectural geniuses of our Nation yet on this day, we gained some valuable insights into how (as well as how not) to run a Small Business from those years after 1893 when Wright ran his firm.

 

FUNCTION OVER FORM

Louis Sullivan coined the phrase, "Form ever follows function."
Louis Sullivan coined the phrase, "Form ever follows function."

Frank Lloyd Wright was the force behind Usonian-styled housing design and what he believed was the way in which to overcome the great housing problem. Clearly, this was inspired by his mentor, again Louis Sullivan, who coined the phrase, “Form ever follows function.” We’re lucky to have one of the examples of this style of design right here in Alexandria, Virginia, the Pope-Leighey House, which was reconstructed and moved to its current place in southern Alexandria off of Route 1.  You can visit the Pope-Leighey House to see the tour and experience the brilliance of Wright’s design. Contrary to his architectural beliefs, the principles of utility in designing a house was also not apparent to Wright in his own finances. If you read his biography, you learn that he forgot about the basic principles of business–to turn a profit. He loved to live and dress lavishly and died penniless. His legacy is great but not because of his financial wealth. In business so often we forget that utility is much more important in Small Business than looking perfect. Let Wright be a lesson for us all.

Pope Leighey House - 1940 - an example of the Usonian architectural style of Frank Lloyd Wright
Pope Leighey House - 1940 - an example of the Usonian architectural style

 

 

RELATIONSHIPS MATTER

Though his relationship with Louis Sullivan was challenged, he still paid for and buried his former employer and erstwhile-friend when he died, also impoverished and alone in a Chicago hotel on April 14, 1924. Relationships matter in Small Business, much more than with big brands, even when the professional relationships are strained. Many small businesses in the United States are started and grown with the people we know and trust; even more are built with family members (husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, children and extended family). These are relationships worth preserving, even when the business of life impacts the personal. You never know when you need your former business colleagues, family business partners and long-time friends turned business associates to bury you, but you know that day may come.

FAIL WITH GRACE

One of the most vital traits for every successful entrepreneur is our ability to persevere in the face of repeated failure. Perseverance requires a belief you learned something from the prior failure to make your next plan a success. Frank Lloyd Wright suffered losing one of his wives and adopted daughter in a house fire; his subsequent rebuilding of the house was also burned down a few years later. He rebuilt the home (Taliesin III) even though he suffered a loss of some half-million dollars in 20th century currency! Frank Lloyd Wright also had two failed marriages, another failed relationship that virtually ruined his career here in the United States, and still managed to publish the great portfolio that made him famous in Europe. In the face of adversity, it seems that Frank knew how to fail with grace, brush off the dust (read, gossip and backstabbing), get back up on the horse and charge forward into the next chapters of his life. We should all be so lucky to have such resilience.

 

While Frank Lloyd Wright may have made some great mistakes in his life, he still stands as a great lesson for us today as Small Business owners.

 

Louis Sullivan photograph courtesy of Wikipedia
Frank Lloyd Wright photograph courtesy of Wikipedia
Pope-Leighey House photographs courtesy of cliff1066™