Monday, December 28, 2009

Plans for 2010

At a family Christmas gathering my new nephew by marriage asked how my business was going. "Slow" was my response. People don't seem to have enough money or passion to pay someone else to write or edit their business plans, I explained.

Well, my nephew is a computer engineer and extremely bright. Before I knew it, he was telling me an idea for a new business. Amazingly, the business was in a growing industry in which I volunteer -- helping people aging in place. He didn't want to start this business himself; he just saw it as an opportunity. He had had no idea that I already had a passion in this area. Soon, he was asking me questions and giving me a whole new realm of ideas. He opened up new pathways of thought for me. He started talking about me writing my own plan for a new business.

My goals for 2010 suddenly took on new dimensions, and I became more impassioned. Now, I'm thinking of taking all my years as a member of the Advisory Board for Aging in Place in Darien and turning them into a business.

Later, I talked to another computer-engineering nephew, and he spoke about the importance of focus and passion. He has realized what he wants -- what stimulates him. That is how he can perform at a high level -- doing what he loves in the right environment.

So my advice to all you entrepreneurs out there is talk to people about your ideas. Listen to the questions they ask you. Think. And get passionate. Plan and take action.

It's a new decade. Reinvent yourself to work in your area of interest with people who make a great team.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Create Successful New Products

I've been reading a lot about new product development, marketing and new businesses. And all the articles are getting mashed together in my head. However, one piece has stood out in my mind - "The Path to Developing Successful New Products", which appeared in Monday's Wall Street Journal.

The advice reminded me of what I hear Venture Capitalists and Angels say over and over: Be focused. Meet consumer needs. Listen to your customers. But the article also mentioned creating a culture that focuses on completing the project - have enough resources devoted to the project and focus on the needs of the project - not the needs of the people working on the project. What I wonder about is why such advice needs to be repeated so many times in so many ways. I guess it's because too many business people don't bother to listen to their customers. They just want to listen to themselves.

Here's a link to the article:

Monday, November 30, 2009

Alms for the Poor Entrepreneur

Goldman Sachs and Warren Buffet have teamed up to give money to low-income entrepreneurs. But there's a catch. Most of the money will be connected to courses the entrepreneurs must take from community colleges and small business development centers. I used to run a small business center at Norwalk Community College and had a federal grant to mentor low-income people who wanted to start businesses. It was very worthwhile work. Out of 80 people we mentored, about three actually started businesses.

That's why I wish that some of the Goldman-Buffet largess ($500 million) would also go to entrepreneurs who already know what they are doing but are finding it hard to get the capital to jump-start their businesses. I know several entrepreneurs like that.

Banks have cut way back on the money they're lending to small business. They are cutting back on credit lines and credit cards. Small businesses are hurting badly, even though new small businesses are the engines of growth and employment in our great country.

I think community colleges are wonderful. And I believe it is essential for business owners and entrepreneurs to understand business. But there are many other ways I believe this money could help more businesses to get started and grow.

Read more here:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Marketers Learn From Online Chat

When I was in business school, and later when I worked at General Foods (now Kraft), one of the fundamental tenets of marketing we were taught is to focus on the end benefit for the consumer. As I built my career in marketing and advertising, that concept was always at the heart of any marketing message. While you can talk about the technical reasons a product works well, and you can show such things in a brief demonstration, the focus of any ad was on the product's benefit for the consumer. Benefits sell.

So I really had to laugh when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that claimed big companies like IBM were surprised to learn from online chat between their customers that all the customers really cared about was what the product or service actually did for the customers - the end benefit. Gee, the customers didn't care about all the technical gee-wiz stuff that IBM executives cared about.

I must say that I was truly amazed that a company like IBM didn't already know this elementary rule of marketing and that they had to learn it from online chat. Where have they been? (Probably just talking to themselves in corporate speak.) What has their advertising agency been saying to them? Was anyone listening? At least they're listening to consumers now. Yay for online chat!

When I work with entrepreneurs to develop a business or marketing plan, the one thing I emphasize is focusing on the end benefit for the target consumer. That is the message that must be developed and must come across. You'll see this in my Ten Questions Your Business Plan Must Answer on my website:

If you want to read more about marketers learning from online chat, visit All Things Digital or the Wall Street Journal --

Monday, November 16, 2009

New Tax Break for Business Could be Good

Despite the bad spin New York Times business columnist Gretchen Morgenson put on a new tax cut for businesses, I believe it actually could be highly beneficial for struggling small businesses. On November 6, 2009, President Obama signed a law enabling businesses of all sizes to carry back current loss from 2008 and 2009 for five years, instead of only two. That means they can offset profits from the boom. This new tax break is tucked into the Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009. That's the same law that extends unemployment and renews the first-time homebuyer tax credit.

While Gretchen bemoans this action as an unneeded, unwarranted gift to large, lobbying, cash-rich home developers who helped get us into our current financial mess, I feel somewhat differently. Many businesses - mom and pop stores, small contractors, manufacturers and other small businesses that make up the backbone of our country may be getting the cash relief they need to stay in business. That relief will come in the form of a tax refund, after they recalculate past tax bills from years past.

As Ms. Morgenson points out companies can "offset losses incurred in 2008 and 2009 against profits booked as far back as 2004. The tax cuts will generate corporate refunds or relief worth about $33 billion, according to an administration estimate." I will admit that when I first read her column, I was disgusted by such a gift to the already wealthy. But later, after a dinner conversation about it with my husband, I had second thoughts. I realized that this break could be good and could help the recovery, even if it rewards builders who do not plan to build until demand for new homes resumes.

Read the article in the New York Times:

Fair Game
Home Builders (You Heard That Right) Get a Gift
Published: November 15, 2009
Analysts say home builders will be among the biggest beneficiaries of a new tax break.

Friday, November 13, 2009

10 Questions Your Business Plan Must Answer

This week an entrepreneur called me to see if I could help her develop a business plan. She found me on the Internet and had been intrigued by my Web site, particularly my list of 10 questions a business plan must answer.

I told her that I had developed the questions based upon my 10 years of experience in writing business plans and my 15 years of mentoring and teaching entrepreneurs. Since I've been trying to include useful tips in some of my posts, I thought I'd put down my list of 10 Questions. These are the sorts of questions you need to answer to develop a successful business and to be able to interest investors or lenders. There are a lot of ways to express the essentials that are covered by my questions. I'm using language with the least amount of jargon.

If you want to learn the venture capitalist jargon, know more about business planning or speak to me about answering the questions for your business, email me at:

Ten Questions Your Business Plan Must Answer
1. What is your big idea?
2. What are you selling?
3. Who will buy it?
4. Why will they buy it?
5. How large is the market of potential buyers and is it growing?
6. Who is your competition and how is you business different from theirs?
7. What will it take to make and sell your product or service?
8. How will you get the news out to potential buyers?
9. Who makes up your management team?
10. How and when will you make a profit?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Events for Entrepreneurs

There are a lot of events for Entrepreneurs right now in the New York metropolitan area.

In New York City this week - New York Entrepreneur Week -

"(NYEW) is the largest entrepreneurial movement throughout New York State. For the first time, thousands of entrepreneurs across New York State will have the opportunity to actively engage the foremost entrepreneurs, investors and dealmakers both in the State and from around the world."

Coming up in Connecticut - December 9:

The SEVENTH ANNUAL CVG EARLY STAGE VENTURE FAIR is designed for entrepreneurs seeking capital to launch or expand a business. Selected companies receive:

  • Time on the agenda to deliver a 4-minute PowerPoint presentation to investors
  • Exhibit table
  • Write-up in conference book
  • Complimentary admission to November 19 Orientation and Early Stage Bootcamp, including feedback on dry run of presentation

WHEN: December 9, 1:00-7:00 pm (Orientation for presenters Nov 19)

WHERE: New Haven Lawn Club


  • Applicants should be seeking between $100k and $1mm.
  • All industries and locations are eligible.
  • $225 participation fee for accepted companies (Limited to 30 companies)

WHO WILL BE IN ATTENDANCE: Angel Investors and Early Stage Venture Capital firms.

More information at:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Women-Owned Business

The Center for Women's Business Research says they're surprised by their research showing that women's businesses contribute significantly to the economy. Why are they surprised? I've known that for years.

What surprises me is that only 28% of businesses are owned by women. My bet is that a lot of the entrepreneurial activity going on is not picked up by studies. Perhaps that's because many businesses stay small and don't employ many people.

The ones that do, contribute a lot to the economy. That's why several experts quoted in an article about the study said that the nation should do more to help women grow their businesses and take them out of the bottom tier to move into the mid-sized range.

Making that kind of leap is very difficult for any business. It means a different form of management and space. Cash flow changes. A lot of businesses that can't make the transition die. At least, that is what I've seen personally. The nature of what you do day-to-day changes when you have employees. But it is good for the economy as a whole.

The actual study cannot be accessed online. I got computer code, when I tried to do it. To read about the study, see this article in the New York Times:

Practically Speaking
One in Four Businesses Calls the Owner ‘Ma’am’
Published: November 5, 2009
More than a quarter of all businesses are women-owned, but a high proportion of those are one-woman shops. Organizations are working to help them size up.

CVG - Alternative Energy

CVG & ACG-CT Breakfast Meeting:
Investing in Alternative Energy

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
7:30 am - 9:30 am
Sheraton Hartford Hotel, East Hartford, CT

The alternative energy sector offers the promise of profits and employment creation as it attracts private investment and public sector support. Join with members of CVG and ACG-CT at our annual Hartford Breakfast meeting to hear what our distinguished roster of panelists have to say about the emerging regulatory and investment climate. Topics will include a preview of the most promising technologies and innovations, firm strategies for coping with the lack of credit, access to capital, and how to navigate the political and regulatory landscape.

Participants Include:
Moderator: Jon Coifman
Vice President, Social Innovation & Environment
Waggener Edstrom Worldwide
Panelists: Michael F. Foley, Ph.D
President and CEO
Reflexite Corporation
Peter V. Longo
President and Executive Director
Connecticut Innovations
Joseph G. Mahler
Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
FuelCell Energy

Dr. Michael Werle
Founder and Chief Scientist
FloDesign Wind Turbine, Inc.
Conference Fees:
CVG Members: No Charge
Non-Members: $75
Click here for Directions
Click here to Register

Presented by:


CVG Sponsors:

Lead Sponsor
Connecticut Innovations

Gold Sponsors
Economic Development Corporation of New Haven
Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge
Fiondella, Milone & LaSaracina
Robinson & Cole LLP
Shipman & Goodwin LLP
Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C.
Webster Bank
Wiggin and Dana
Yale University

Silver Sponsors
Business New Haven
Capital Advisors Group
CHL Medical Partners
Fairfield Partners Executive Search
FirstMark Capital
Hartford Ventures
Murtha Cullina LLP
O'Connor Davies Munns & Dobbins
Pullman & Comley, LLC
University of Connecticut

Media Sponsors
Connecticut Business Magazine
Fairfield County Business Journal
Hartford Business Journal
Mass High Tech

© 2009 Connecticut Venture Group · 203.256.5955


From The Connecticut Venture Group

THE 2009 EARLY STAGE VENTURE FAIR is designed for entrepreneurs seeking capital to launch or expand a business. Selected companies receive:
• Time on the agenda to deliver a 4-minute PowerPoint presentation to investors
• Exhibit table
• Write-up in conference book
• Complimentary admission to November 19 Orientation and Early Stage Bootcamp

ORIENTATION November 19, North Haven Campus of Quinnipiac University, Room 250
1:30 pm – Registration
2:00 pm – Tapping into SBIR grants as a source of capital
2:30 pm – Capital Sources and Current Valuations
3:15 pm – Pitching Investors
4:00 pm – Logistics at December 9 Early Stage Venture Fair
4:30 pm – Dry runs of PowerPoint pitches, with expert feedback

To attend the November 19 orientation register at

The orientation is free to companies that have applied to present on December 9. All others, $125.

Click here for directions:

VENTURE FAIR December 9, New Haven Lawn Club
1:00 pm – Exhibitor Set-up
2:00 pm – Presentations by entrepreneurs
3:30 pm - Break
4:00 pm – Presentations by entrepreneurs (con’d.)
5:00 pm – Reception in exhibit area

To present and exhibit ($225 including two admissions), apply at

To attend only, please register ($55) at

Click here for directions to Lawn Club:

For more information please visit, or call Bernie Lynch at (203) 256-5955.

SPONSORS: Business New Haven • Capital Advisors Group • CHL Medical Partners • Connecticut Innovations •
EDC • Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge • Fairfield Partners Executive Search • Fiondella, Milone & LaSaracina • FirstMark Capital • Hartford Ventures • LaunchCapital • Murtha Cullina LLP • O'Connor Davies Munns & Dobbins • PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP • Pullman & Comley, LLC • Robinson & Cole LLP • Shipman & Goodwin LLP • UHY Advisors • University of Connecticut • Updike, Kelly & Spellacy P.C. • Webster Bank • Wiggin and Dana LLP • Yale

Friday, October 30, 2009

Business Tip: Make Your Marketing Authentic

Sometimes I get emails from corporations that think they are engaging me. They offer me cute, fluff-filled blogs and hard-to-access coupons. In actuality, all they're doing is making me cringe. They're attempting to use social media and failing miserably. It's probably because the information has been approved through several layers of management who are too concerned with their own message. They wind up talking to themselves, not to consumers.

But entrepreneurs can make the same mistakes. To cut through the clutter and reach your audience where they are, you have to understand their needs. And you have to begin to understand the new, new media.
  • Who are the trend setters?
  • What do they want or need?
  • What will make them spread the word about your new business, product or invention?
  • What media are they using and how should you best use it?
  • How can you develop an authentic voice?
It takes study and asking lots of questions to get to the right answer. To help you on your way, take a look at a new study from PopSugar Media. The summary is worth reading, at least if you want to reach women consumers successfully.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Connecticut Venture Group Events

Upcoming Events:

CT Digital Media Conference
When: Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Time: 3:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Where: University of Connecticut
Stamford, CT
Charge: CVG Members: No Charge
Non-Members: $55 (pre-registered)
Non-Members: $75 (pay at the Conference)
Additional Information: Click here for more information
Register to Attend: Click here to register to attend
Digital Media Firms Expo and Demo Info: Digital Media firms raising capital or interested in exhibiting should call Bernie Lynch at (203) 256-5955 or email $175 fee includes exhibit space and two conference registrations.

CVG - ACG(CT) Breakfast Meeting:
Investing in Alternative Energy
When: Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Time: 7:30 am - 9:30 am
Where: The Hartford Club
Hartford, CT
Charge: CVG Members: No Charge
Non-Members: $75
Additional Information: Click here for more information
Register to Attend: Click here to register

Orientation for Venture Fair
When: Thursday, November 19, 2009
Time: 1:30 pm - 5:30 pm
Where: TBA
Charge: No cost to companies that have applied to present on December 3rd. All others, $125.
Registration: Click here to Register

Early Stage Venture Fair
When: Thursday, December 3, 2009
Time: 1:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Where: New Haven Lawn Club
193 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, Connecticut
Click Here for Directions
Charge: To attend: $55
Presenting and Exhibiting Companies:
$225 (includes two attendees)
Registration: Click here to register to attend.

To apply to present and exhibit, click here

Sign Up to receive notices of upcoming events

© 2009 Connecticut Venture Group

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

To Get Funding, Get Creative

A lot of entrepreneurs who approach me to do a business plan for them think that it will be easy to raise funds because they have the best idea since the personal computer. But last week the Wall Street Journal ran an article on how very hard it is for entrepreneurs to raise money. According to the article entrepreneurs are turning to boot camps and contests. Sean Conway, owner of, wound up with $500,000 in funding by participating in a summer-long boot camp in Philadelphia called DreamIt Ventures. Of course, to win a contest or get accepted into a program, you need a solid plan and presentation. I recently helped an entrepreneur with his application for a grant to seed new businesses in Brooklyn.

The article went on to say that venture capital funding has been declining since 2007 and is now at about the same level as the mid-1990s. That doesn't mean entrepreneurs aren't trying. Entrepreneurial activity is usually high during downturns. The point of the article is that VCs aren't the only source of funding. And if VCs do fund you, you will have to give away a large equity stake.

So think a bit differently. As always, friends and families can become your first backers. But contests are worth entering. For example, you can compete at and InoCentive.ocm - both sites that reward inventors for solving challenges. Read more at the Wall Street Journal -

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Recession Ends Family Businesses

Did you know that 90% of the businesses in the United States are family owned or controlled? That includes many Fortune 500 companies. This factoid was news to me, as I read about the demise of some family businesses in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, October 6, 2009.

The recession is just cutting too deeply into the top line -- the revenue -- for the companies to stay in businesses. Many family businesses were caught off guard when sales dropped by 50%. Family members who always thought they would work in the family business forever are out of jobs. They have special relationships with employees and with other family members, so the end of the business is very, very hard.

Family businesses that survive tend to be ones that had some sort of disaster plan or that didn't have a lot of debt tied up in the business. It shows how planning and conservative business practices are really important. To read more, go to:

5 Ways to Ruin Your Next Presentation - - Business Technology Leadership

5 Ways to Ruin Your Next Presentation - - Business Technology Leadership

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New England Venture Summit - Dec. 8

If you're looking for capital or thinking of starting or expanding your business, Venture Summits are great to attend. The New England Venture Summit is now accepting applications from companies that want to present.

If you're not at a stage where you are ready to present, you can still learn a lot about what Venture Capitalists are looking for, if you go with your ears and mind open. Talk less and listen more.

You can find out which niches the investors operate in, how much they are looking to invest and how much they expect to make on their investments. They will tell you what they want to read in your business plan.

(By the way, I have no association with the upcoming summit, but I do want to spread the word about it for the good of my readers.) Read on....
New England Venture Summit announces:
Call for Presenting Companies

4th annual conference will showcase 50 of the hottest early stage and emerging growth technology, life sciences and clean tech firms


If you are a startup seeking capital and/or partnerships submit your plan for the opportunity to present at The 2009 New England Venture Summit, the premier venue connecting emerging growth companies with active venture capitalists, angel investors, Corporate VCs and investment firms.

Now in its 4th year, the program will bring together over 500 executives and feature thirty leading VCs on timely panel discussions, presentations by 50 cutting edge companies and high-level networking opportunities.

The early application deadline for presenting opportunities is October 21st, 2009.

Apply to Present:
To be considered for one of the Top Innovator slots, please e-mail for an application.


Inqueries related to presenting? Contact Adam Negnewitzky at


To nominate a company send email with details to

The 2009 New England Venture Summit
December 8th, 2009
Hilton, Boston Dedham

Click here to register now

Warm Regards,

Joe Benjamin
Founder & CEO
youngStartup Ventures
Where Innovation Meets Capital

Friday, October 2, 2009

Business Tip - Plan & Streamline Your Operations

One of my favorite serial entrepreneurs is an ace at working out all his operational plan. He and his wife and business partner always spend an inordinate amount of time working out all the details of how they will get their business up and running. They have amazed me with how thorough they are in learning about the spaces they could occupy, the government licenses and approvals they would need, and the technology and employees they would need to make the business as productive as possible. I often wish my other clients were as thorough as this couple.

Nevertheless, they still discover things not turning out exactly as planned. When that happens, they figure out a way around the challenge.

When you're planning a start-up or are running a growing business, operations can be an after-thought or can be overwhelming. But having a detailed operating plan can make the difference between success and failure. Understanding the key components that drive your business's productivity can help you free up cash flow and use scare resources more wisely.

Planning and flexibility can help you roll with the economic punches. Another one of my clients during the downturn realized that shutting down his warehouse and business offices could help him cut costs. He and his wife and partner (a different entrepreneurial couple) now work out of their home and outsource all their warehousing, design and manufacturing, allowing them to focus on building sales and managing the outsourcing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CVG Workshop for Entrepreneurs

This Wednesday, the Connecticut Venture Group is giving a workshop for entrepreneurs in Stamford, CT, to help them with business planning and with finding capital. The next day, there's one in Hartford on resources available through UCONN. Worth attending, if you're in the area:

Upcoming Events:

Entrepreneurs Association Workshop: Developing Your Business Plan:
What You Need to Know
When: Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Time: Noon - 2:00 pm
Where: University of Connecticut
Stamford Campus, Stamford CT
Directions and Parking
Charge: $20. For Entrepreneurs Only
Other Info: Lunch will be available
Registration: Click here to Register
More Information: Click here

Accessing UConn's Resources to Develop and Expand Your Business
When: Thursday, October 1, 2009
Time: 4:30 pm - 6:30 pm
Where: UConn Graduate Business Learning Center
100 Constitution Plaza
Hartford, CT
Charge: No cost. Registration is required as
seating is limited.
Registration: Click here to Register
More Information: Click here

Sign Up to receive notices of upcoming events

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tip of the Week: "Freemiums" As a Business Model

Choosing a business model that will generate revenue is important in the online and off-line worlds, especially in a recession, when investors and creditors are particularly jittery.

One revenue-generating model that has worked very well entails the concept of a "Freemium." A freemium model starts with giving away free stuff or free access to build a loyal customer base and then charging for deeper access or merchandise. Author Chris Anderson discussed this idea at Advertising Week at the Mixx Conference. His comments were captured and posted by Ad Age in this online video.

Chris notes that Club Penguin and the online Wall Street Journal both use the freemium model to lure customers to start opening their wallets to buy premium content or merchandise.

Think about your business model. Can you think of creative ways to generate revenue from a loyal customer base?

For more on developing a business plan, visit:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Health Care Bill Will Cripple Business Owners

The proposed health care reform bill will seriously harm entrepreneurs, freelancers, business owners, starving artists and part-time workers. We need a plan that lets people self-insure for the small stuff but protects us from catastrophic health care costs -- in other words, a high deductible plan. That is the only plan that is reasonable for people who can barely afford insurance now. It also makes people think twice before approving lots of tests or running to the doctor for the sniffles. It puts control in the hands of the consumer. But the current plan outlaws high deductible plans. This is crazy.

In states like NY where high deductible plans are outlawed, insurance for a part-time worker or freelance individual is $1,000 per month. In states like CT where they are allowed, the cost is $100 per month. For my daughter who is a nursery school teacher, even $100 per month is hard. She lives in MA, where her premiums are 40% higher than CT and are rising at 16% annually, even with a high deductible plan. (So much for Massachusetts's claim that costs are under control there. And, no, she cannot get subsidized insurance from the state. They turned her down on a bureaucratic technicality.) She can barely make ends meet. This is not right.

The new bill is misguided. It will have highly detrimental, unintended consequences that are far reaching across the economy as it puts health insurance further out of reach for those not employed in a corporation or government system. And it will make people even more insulated from the true costs of medical care. This will not help get costs under control.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Business Tip: Be Happy in Your Work

In one of my favorite movies "The Bridge on the River Kwai," the commandant of the Japanese prison camp tells the British prisoners, "Be happy in your work." Part of the irony in the story is that once the British took ownership of building the railroad trestle for the Japanese, they did become happier. It made them feel less like prisoners. They had pride.

So when I read Sue Shellenbarger's column in the Sept. 16 Wall Street Journal about happiness in work, I thought of Kwai. Her piece, "Plumbing for Joy? Be Your Own Boss," reinforced something I already suspected -- that entrepreneurs and small business owners are the happiest people. Yes, they work more hours and harder than the average person, but they are in charge of themselves and their businesses. Plus, most people who start businesses do it in a field in which they have a passion or a talent. They are following their bliss, as Joseph Campbell would say.

The article reflected a major study by the Gallup Poll of people's attitudes toward their work/occupations. A plumber who owns his own business is a very happy fellow. The article is well worth reading.

So my business tip this week is to find your passion. Follow it. If you are thinking of starting a business, do it. But only do it, if you think you'll love the work.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Business Tip: Know Your True Competition

One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make is thinking that they have no competition. I can't tell you how many have told me that their idea is so new and innovative that no competitors exist at all. But the truth is that some other product or service is competing for the customer's time, attention and money. Investors know this. They always look askance at businesses that claim no competitors. Investors want to read a good competitive analysis and know that you know what your competitive advantage is.

You may just have to think more broadly. Who is a partial competitor? Who is in a related industry who might jump into your category and become a competitor?

I just read a great quote from Mike Linton, who is the former CMO for Ebay and Best Buy, which shows how even large, established industries don't always understand who their true competitors are. Read it, and think of how this might apply to your business and category. The quote appeared in Ad Age.

"Don't be blindsided by the competition and get lost in what innovation is.
Record labels still believed they were each other's competition even as they engaged in legal battles with music download, peer-to-peer sites and the consumers who used those sites. They didn't see that consumers were bypassing the $19.99 CD en masse while Apple created a colossal digital-music franchise."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Management Lessons From Ford

Some people think that entrepreneurs cannot manage well. To that end, I'm recommending a terrific interview with Alan Mullaly, head of Ford Motor, which appeared in the New York Times on Sunday, September 6. It has so many nuggets of great advice on management and building an organization. It also has excellent personal advice for anyone who wants to advance their career.

Here is a brief excerpt and link to the article:

"One of my favorite stories is an analogy where this reporter stops by a construction site and he interviews three bricklayers. He asks the first bricklayer, “What are you doing?” And he says, “Well, I’m making a living laying these bricks.” The reporter says: “Oh, that’s great. That’s very noble.”

"He asks the next bricklayer, “What are you doing?” And he says, “Well, I am practicing the profession of bricklaying. I’m going to be the best bricklayer ever.”

"And the reporter asks the third bricklayer, “What are you doing?” And he says, “I’m developing a cathedral.”

"There is technical excellence and professionalism, but we all want to contribute to making a cathedral. And the more we feel that and we know what our part in it is, the more I think you can take the team performance to a whole other level of excellence."

To me an entrepreneur is building a cathedral. An entrepreneur always has to have the big vision in mind -- the end grand result. He or she can then turn that dream into something real by getting others to share the vision.

Planes, Cars and Cathedrals
Published: September 6, 2009
Ford’s chief executive says corporate leaders should articulate a compelling vision for their employees.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Small Business Top Blogging Tips

Wow! I just read an amazing article about the top 101 things small businesses can do to build their businesses. The advice is from 50 small business bloggers. The advice is actionable and smart.

Here is a link to the article:

Read and follow the advice. This advice is good for all businesses - big and small, old and new.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Investing in the Developing World -

I watched a fascinating interview with Venture Capital pioneer Alan Patricof, of Greycroft Partners, on CNBC this morning. He said that very few ventures will go public as an exit strategy. It has just gotten too onerous and expensive. However, there will be many ventures that exit by being acquired.

He went on to talk about the U.S. using foreign aid more wisely by giving money more carefully to developing countries.

You can watch the interview on CNBC.

Investing in the Developing World -

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Start-Up Tips for Nonprofits - Get a Fiduciary

As a member of the board of advisers for two start-up nonprofits, I've learned a secret: You need a fiduciary sponsor. In other words, you need an established nonprofit to help incubate your start-up nonprofit. Aging in Place in Darien, for example, is being sponsored by the Community Fund of Darien. All fund raising is done under the Community Fund banner, and then the money designated for AIP gets funneled to us. This way we get to make sure our concept, mission and vision are all viable. We can fine-tune our strategic business plan. And if we decide that we are worthy enough to become an independent nonprofit, we have an office to work from and funds to keep us going as we fill out all the forms for the state and the IRS.

It helps to be able to show the IRS that the organization is a viable one that meets a real public need. All the business details that IRS wants to know about, we can answer because we have been up and running.

The key to finding a fiduciary to accept donations and provide incubation is discovering one whose mission meshes with your own. Then, you need to work out a contract that stipulates how you will interact with each other. There are lawyers who specialize in such matters. Go out and find one -- preferably one that will do the work pro bono or for a reduced fee.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Start-up Tip - Do You Need a Mission Statement?

I just saw another business plan with a mission statement, and I thought, "How '90s!" Mission statements can be useful, but they really have become passe.

A good business plan should focus on answering the questions investors, creditors and strategic allies ask most often. And "What is your mission statement?" is not one of those. Better to spend your time writing about your value proposition, your management team, your relevant market, your business model (how you'll make money!) and your exit strategy.

A credo or mission statement can be a good way to express your goal for your business and how you'll conduct your business. It can go hand-in-hand with your vision for what your business will become. It can be like a rock that you return to in a storm. But it really doesn't have to be in your plan at the outset.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Business Tip - Deliver Great Customer Service

When I deal with a company of any size, I want to be treated well. I want polite and intelligent salespeople, customer service reps. and tech. support experts.

When I write business plans for start-ups, I always ask what the plan is for customer service. To me, customer service is a key component of your business and marketing plans. You can have all the advertising and PR in the world but drive customers away with poor customer service. Not only that, but you'll gain great word-of-mouth advertising, if your customers are happy. That's because customers are more likely to sing your praises when satisfied and tell everyone they know how much they dislike your company when dissatisfied. They'll even tell people they don't know by broadcasting dissatisfaction on the Internet. Just think of the songwriter who put a song about United breaking his guitar on YouTube, or the current diatribe about cell phone companies in the NY Times.

You want great PR - great viral marketing - great word-of-mouth recommendations.

Zappos is a company that has become incredibly successful because of its great customer service. Business Week and Advertising Age have both run articles about Zappos's customer service recently. I highly recommend the articles: Zappos essentially brings the shoe store to you via the Internet.

So as you plan how you'll start up or how you'll grow, remember to build in a plan for terrific customer service.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Pro-Goldman Article

I've always liked James Stewart, who writes the Common Sense column in the Wall Street Journal. His latest is why we should not hate Goldman Sachs for making money. Good food for thought. But, then, so is Krugman in the NY Times, who says what Goldman is doing with risky investments is bad for the country.

Another Hurdle to Health Care Reform: Too Few General Practice Doctors - Knowledge@Wharton

Knowledge @Wharton has a good, balanced approach to the pros and cons of the new health-care overhaul. Worth reading.

Another Hurdle to Health Care Reform: Too Few General Practice Doctors - Knowledge@Wharton

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Health-Care Questions

I listened to Obama last night, and he was so persuasive. Then I thought back to what I'd read about the details of the health-care overhaul in the Wall Street Journal, and I went back to having doubts.

My biggest problem is what the plan will do to small and growing businesses, burdening them with more taxes, penalties and mandates. It will also place a greater burden on the poor working class, forcing them to purchase insurance they can't afford. That is what has happened to my daughter, who is a part-time nursery school teacher in Massachusetts. The state will not approve her application for state-paid insurance because she currently has personal insurance, but she can't afford her premiums. If she drops her insurance, she has to pay a fine to the state. Her employer doesn't cover her. What a mess! Not only that, her insurance in Massachusetts is twice what it was in Connecticut because the insurers in MA must take everyone. Our federal insurance will be a mess like this.

Meanwhile, how can new and small businesses grow or simply stay in business with the sudden new burdens of paying for expensive plans or paying fines? What will part-time workers do? Pay a fine and stay uncovered? How does that help anyone?

I went looking for answers in The Wall Street Journal. Good reading. But it didn't make me feel any better.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Start-up Tip: Set Your Time Line for Growth

You've heard the expression, "It's all in the timing." That can be applied to a lot of things, hitting a tennis ball, catching a wave when you're surfing, starting new plants in the spring, or starting a business and growing.

Most entrepreneurs are surprised at how long it can take to start a business. But think about it, there are many, many details that have to be worked out and executed after you have the big idea. That's why a detailed plan can help you get on -- and stay on -- the right track.

Begin with the end in mind. Where do you want to be in five years? Three? Two? One? Work backward from that and think about all the milestones you have to hit in order to arrive at your idea of success. Write up the milestones and outline a plan for meeting each one. If you're working with other people, make sure that you are all on the same wavelength and share the mutual goals and the methodology for meeting them. Figure out how long it will take to meet each one. Make a time line.

If you have investors or creditors, make sure that understand your milestones and time lines and buy into them. Most investors or creditors will be willing to put more money into your business (or expect payback) when you reach mutually agreed upon milestones.

While you're setting the milestones, set up metrics by which you'll measure your progress toward meeting them. This could be sales figures or other hard data about your consumers or customers and their response to your service or product.

Keep your eyes on the goal, and go for it!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Start-up Guru: Y Combinator's Paul Graham, Venture Capital Article - Inc. Article

I just read this article about Paul Graham and his start-up incubator on Inc.'s Web site. It's a fascinating look at a successful entrepreneur who is passionate about helping others start tech-oriented businesses on a shoestring. Indeed, Graham makes the entrepreneurs be frugal. Sounds like a great lesson to me.

The article is long, but it's well worth reading.

The Start-up Guru: Y Combinator's Paul Graham, Venture Capital Article - Inc. Article

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Help the MacLeod family turn the page - Susan Campbell | Fear, itself

I wrote the PR that was sent out to build awareness of MacLeod's plight. I'm excited that a blog picked it up and is disseminating the information. It's an important, sad story.

Help the MacLeod family turn the page - Susan Campbell | Fear, itself

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Start-Up Tip: Execute Your Plan

One of the start-up companies I've done plans for just died after three years of existence. I am really sad. When I was talking to the former CEO who had hired me to write their plan, he lamented that they had deviated from their plan just before execution. That was the beginning of their end.

One board member got cold feet because of a comment from a social media expert. He suddenly lost sight of his passion and his vision. What a pity. The vision had been great. They had raised several million dollars to execute it. Then, two weeks before the national roll out, they deviated from the plan and the vision. It was chaos from then on. I helped rewrite their plans, but they kept not executing. They kept changing things or not executing as well as they could have.

Eventually, professional managers took over from the founding entrepreneurs. That was the true death knell.

You've seen it on a national scale. Jobs had to return to Apple to get the company back on track. But Bezos never left Amazon or Gates, Microsoft, while he was building the business. The visionary has to see the dream through to fruition. He or she has to keep that focus and execute the plan.

So get a great plan that has focus, vision and passion. Then, execute it. Don't lose heart. Don't listen to the naysayers.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How to Hire and Manage

Teach for America is shaking up American education. In an interview with the New York Times, its founder, Wendy Kopp, talks about how she has learned techniques that work for her in hiring and managing. I thought it was a terrific article with really good insight.

Charisma? To Her, It’s Overrated
Published: July 5, 2009
Wendy Kopp, who started Teach for America, believes that teachers must have perseverance as well as the ability to influence and motivate others in a sophisticated way.

Eradicating Mud Cookies: Global Executives Try to Connect Profit to Social Good - Knowledge@Wharton

Eradicating Mud Cookies: Global Executives Try to Connect Profit to Social Good - Knowledge@Wharton

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Word of Mouth Is Not Enough

A friend of mine has started a contracting business. When he gave me his business card, I asked him if he had a Web site, and he said no. "I get all my business through word of mouth," he said.

Well, word of mouth is not enough. When I hear about a business from a friend, I want to look up the facts and learn more about that business. I go to the web. My actions are quite normal in today's marketplace. That's why any business needs a Web site with your value proposition and your contact information.

Ideally, it should also tell people a bit about your background and services. This gives people comfort that reinforces the good stuff they heard via word of mouth. A Web site also enables additional word of mouth to spread (viral marketing) when a friend sends a link to your Web site to another friend.

There are plenty of ways to get a low-cost Web site. I have an ad link to the service I use,, on my Web site: Look for the link and click through to learn more. They have great templates that are easy to use. Or you can hire a professional to help you.

I've helped several of my clients revamp their sites with new copy and navigation. They both experienced increased sales as a result. Contact me, if you want to learn more:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Small Business Tips: Get a Web Site

I am about to renovate a bathroom. I began my search for a new vanity by going online to see what my local kitchen and bath stores had to offer. I came up dry. One place I used for my last renovation three years ago still has no Web site! It has a listing on Yahoo! yellow pages, but it has nothing to click-through to. Other places with Web sites had sites with nothing to look at. They say they have to come out and measure and design. Guys! Give me some choices online. Give me some ideas. Don't make me drive all over.

If you want to sell, if you want customers to come in the door, you need a Web site. The Web site is your gateway to the world, even with a local business. These small business owners have no idea that local people search locally. I read recently that about 30% of small, local businesses still don't have a Web presence. That is crazy. The majority of people have broadband and shop online.

But the big companies are no better. Kohler's site is too hard to navigate.

I finally went to a kitchen and bath store and sat down with a salesman. He took me all over the store, gave me two thick catalogs, and wrote up a computerized proposal. He kept up-selling. Maybe that's why the places don't have Web sites. They want to up-sell. But you need people to come in the door first. Let customers find you on the Web.

If you have a business, put up a Web site. You can do it cheaply -- about $10 per month for an off-the-shelf template -- or very well -- thousands of dollars for a great site with all sorts of capabilities.

Let the public get to know you online. Bring in the traffic. Research shows that most people shop online and buy in the bricks and mortar store. I repeat - if you have a business, you need a Web site.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Optimum Rewards Undelivered in Connecticut

I was excited to switch all my communications to the Optimum Triple Play. I saved $70 per month. But when the first year was over, almost all the savings evaporated. Every time I see an ad for the Triple Play or see my monthly bill, I get a wee bit miffed. But there's not much I can do, and I'm still saving a little over my old mixture of internet/phone/tv. When my friends who've thought of switching ask me about what I pay, I tell them. It seems Optimum and Cablevision of Connecticut won't tell them how much their bills will rise after the introductory year. Why not? I think Optimum is losing potential customers by keeping mum. They told me. I did the math and made the switch.

They may also be losing lots of potential customers with their so-called loyalty program, Optimum Rewards. It offers free movies. Well, I live in Connecticut. There are no free movies in Connecticut. The free movie theaters are all on Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. In my state the company is called Cablevision of Connecticut. Why can't Connecticut have free movies, too?

When I called and emailed the company with my request, I was told, "We only offer Clearview Cinemas. Can't you drive to Long Island or New York?" Driving to Long Island is NOT a reward. I asked why people in Connecticut couldn't get free movie downloads to make up for the lack of Clearview Cinemas in our state. No answer.

What are the marketing people thinking? They send me email ads touting the free movies. They advertise them on TV. But they don't deliver the reward in Connecticut. This is not how to win loyalty.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Valuing Your Business

I'll admit it. When I read the Forbes article on valuing a flower shop, I thought of Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady." The article "How to Value a Flower Shop" is worth reading because it uses numbers in its illustration and quotes research facts. The article really lays out the sorts of things that business owners or potential owners need to think about and pay attention to.

My clients often ask how VCs will value their business. This piece gives a good snapshot.

How NOT to Write a Business Plan

The Wall Street Journal's Business Insight section on Monday, June 22, 2009, featured an entrepreneurship article titled "Why Business Plans Don't Deliver."

Since I write business plans, I wanted to be sure that I was in synch with what this expert had to say. I am. The article pointed out the five most common flaws in plans. Reading them made me laugh because they are the same flaws I see most in the plans that are brought to me for editing. The top five are:

1. Being in love with your own idea and not paying any attention to filling a real need.
2. Unrealistic sales projections -- not knowing enough about the markets you're entering.
3. Over projecting sales, without understanding costs.
4. Over-hyping the management team without realizing they don't have the skills or background needed.
5. Not being aware of the risks and pitfalls ahead.

When I worked for Business Plans International, we never put in a risks section because we felt that was for the lawyers to do. However, I believe that a well researched competitive analysis that explains how your company distinguishes itself helps investors know that you have thought things through.

The article is well worth reading.

If you need a plan edited or written, please contact me at: and visit my Web site at: I've been writing plans that answer the questions investors ask most often since 1999.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Start-Up Tip - How Will You Make Money?

In an era when companies like Twitter can raise millions in capital and have no revenues flowing in, you may wonder why your business needs revenue or profits to exist or to raise capital. Twitter is simply in a league by itself. Investors invested in young, smart people with track records. That can happen -- but not very often.

The average Joe or Jill has to be able to demonstrate to investors that their business idea can make money. That means you need to plot out how you're going to do it. I've had all sorts of ideas of how I'd make money, if I were running Twitter, but they are not about to hire me. I'm not young and hip.

Making money is not that mysterious. You make a product or create a service, and you sell it to customers. Of course, Twitter doesn't sell its service. Google doesn't either. But Google does sell pay-for-performance advertising.

So, ask yourself -- What am I selling? What can I charge? With pay-per-click or pay-for-performance advertising, the market determines what you can charge. Demand drives the price and the volume because advertisers bid on the keywords they are buying. This works the same on Bing, Yahoo! and other pay-for-performance search engines and ads.

But what if you sell knives? You have a great design. Where will you sell it? What will you charge? How will you get it to consumers? What will it cost to manufacture? All these calculations go into figuring out how you're going to make money. Even if you don't like to do math, learning to do this kind of math is essential (and fun) because it empowers you to understand your business. Entrepreneurs who understand their businesses can more easily raise money and can have an easier time making money.

Take a look at other products on the market and see what price points they sell at. Find out what the sales volume is. Think about your wholesale price to your customers and how that will compare to the retailers' final price to consumers. Figure out the mark-ups and the profit margins. What is normal in your industry?

And while you're at it, remember the importance of having a brand. It doesn't cost a lot to make Nike sneakers, but Nike charges a lot for them because of their brand name. Can you create a valuable brand like Nike or Google? Even Twitter has become a valuable brand because of all the people using it. It's helping to fuel the revolution in Iran. How powerful is that?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hyatt Makes Good

When I contacted Hyatt Concierge about my problem with promotional certificates, they were apologetic and helped me with my problem. They didn't have to help me because it was my credit card issuer -- Chase -- that had sent me the misleading promotions. Of course Chase didn't want to help me at all. They gave me a bureaucratic runaround.

Now, Hyatt has a better place in my mind, and Chase has a worse place. Hyatt redeemed their premium brand image. Chase still seems cheap and out of touch with consumers in my mind.

This is a great lesson in branding and the power of customer service to reinforce a brand image.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hyatt Needs Lessons in Maintaining Its Brand Image

John Wallis, Hyatt's head of global marketing, has announced a massive global marketing effort. They want to build the brand to overcome the effects of the recession. Hyatt has even opened a Twitter account so people can use Twitter to arrange concierge services. But that isn't going to do much when Hyatt's loyalty cross promotions and customer service cheapen the Hyatt brand image.

Our family signed up for a promotion to stay in a Hyatt Resort or Hotel anywhere in the world, via a credit card reward program. After spending thousands of dollars on our card and receiving our promotional certificates, we tried to book Hyatt stays in four different cities, only to be told our certificates were no good. When we complained to customer service, we got back a letter filled with grammatical mistakes and sentences that were non sequiturs. Hyatt’s letter explained their way out of honoring our certificates through technicalities. The certificates are the lowest-level, redeemable in places such as airport locations and frequently visited spots like Uzbekistan. This is no way to build trial or loyalty. In recent travels, we drove past the two of Hyatts where our certificates were not welcome, and we just shook our heads.

Our image of Hyatt has been truly damaged. We feel disappointed and cheated. Mr. Wallis needs to look into how Hyatt runs promotions and customer service, if he wants to build his brand.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pitching to Angels

The New York Times ran an excellent small business column on June 11 on how to pitch to angels. It confirmed what I have learned over the past 10 years of working with entrepreneurs on their business plans and attending angel and VC pitching sessions. Being well prepared is far more important that enthusiasm that verges on hyperbole. I've pasted a synopsis of the article below and a link. If you want to be successful, do your homework and get a great management team together. You also really need to hone your elevator pitch.

Feel free to contact me, if you have any questions about how to pitch to angels.

DealBook: In Pitching to Angel Investors, Readiness Tops Zeal
Published: June 11, 2009
For entrepreneurs hoping to land start-up capital, some advice from the experts: Don't get carried away when you pitch your product.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Start-up Tip - What Will It Cost to Start Your Business?

When a group of entrepreneurs called me a few months ago about editing their business plan, I asked them how much money they wanted to raise. They said $150 million! I truly could not believe my ears. How could a new venture possibly cost that much?

Well, they were planning on purchasing all sorts of heavy equipment to create a renewable energy business and setting up shop in several states. Another potential client needed $1.5 million to pay lobbyists to help effect legislative changes that would make their business more viable and create demand.

Even in a booming economy, these are not reasonable start-up expenses, in my humble opinion.

But in a recession, you really need to consider bootstrapping. Start as small as you can and expand organically, plowing profits back into the business. Capital has dried up. Banks still are not lending; lines of credit are shrinking; friends and family don't have disposable cash to lend or invest; VCs and angels are pickier than ever.

So you need to ask yourself, what is the minimum I need to get started? Write down the expected expenditures on paper or in a financial computer program like Excel. Make yourself a spread sheet. Think of the cash that will need to come in to cover monthly expenses and capital expenditures. Ask yourself if you can go without a salary? Without benefits?

Here are items you need to think of:
Cost of you producing your product:
Raw materials
warehousing, picking and shipping

office or factory or warehouse space
some office equipment
marketing - advertising, pr, promotion, website, branding, graphic design, trade shows, etc.


Capital expenditures and leases

The list goes on -- What can you do without? What is essential? Do you need to create samples? Brochures?

Figure it out and write it down.

If you need help, go to the Small Business Administration ( I also consult or can provide my written guidelines to financial planning. email me at -- I know how to demystify financial projections and using Excel.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

facebook and urls

From MediaPost Publication --- Facebook To Offer Vanity URLs
by Mark Walsh, 5 hours ago
I've copied this article from MediaPost because it has really useful information that I have not seen in other articles about the personal or brand URLs that Facebook will offer on Saturday.

facebook/username countdown

Starting at midnight Eastern time on Saturday, Facebook's more than 200 million users will be able to personalize the URLs for their profiles, the company announced Tuesday. By rolling out so-called vanity URLs, the company aims to make it easier to find people and brands on Facebook via search engines, while potentially boosting its own traffic as well.

Until now, a user's URL has just been a randomly assigned string of numbers.

The new usernames for profiles and Facebook Pages will be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

"Your new Facebook URL is like your personal destination, or home, on the Web. People can enter a Facebook username as a search term on Facebook or a popular search engine like Google, for example, which will make it much easier for people to find friends with common names," according to a post on the Facebook blog by Blaise DiPersia.

The move is expected to set off a land rush among individuals and businesses for the most desirable URLs. Already, hundreds of vanity URLs have been doled out to celebrities and other prominent people on Facebook such as President Obama ( barackobama), according to the Inside Facebook blog. Now marketers can also capitalize on the new URLs to drive traffic to their Facebook brand pages.

But the company warns about choosing usernames carefully: "Once it's been selected, you won't be able to change or transfer it. If you signed up for a Facebook Page after May 31 or a user profile after today at 3 p.m. EDT, you may not be able to sign up for a username immediately because of steps we've taken to prevent abuse or "squatting" on names. And only Pages with more than 1,000 fans before May 31 will be able to choose a vanity name.

According to Inside Facebook, the company is also barring brand pages from choosing generic vanity URLs such as "pizza" or "flowers" and allowing rights holders to prevent their trademarks from being registered as usernames.

To that end, it has created a form to request Facebook block use of a trademark in a URL. Not allowing users to change or transfer URLs is designed to thwart a black market from developing around usernames.