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.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Startup Tips - How Big is Your Potential Market?

I always get a chuckle out of the startup presentations that talk about a multi-billion dollar market potential. Inventors or entrepreneurs who think they've created a product for everyone think that their potential market is every person in the United States. Sorry. That's just not feasible.

Investors (private, angel and VC) look for entrepreneurs who have truly figured out what their relevant market is. These savvy business owners know how to narrow the market and focus on the people who are most likely to purchase their product. They narrow by behavior, demographics and geographics.

A typical woman who is over 65 is in all likelyhood not going to be looking at heavy duty razors. Those are aimed at youngish males. Youngish males are not going to be looking for skin care that makes you look younger. How about power toools? Who will be buying them? Who will be buying your new smart phone app or educational service? If you have a service business, will you start out regionally?

Once you've got the relevant market nailed down, then you need to estimate how large it is. How many people? What do they spend on similar products annually? What are the trends? To get this information, you can ask a librarian at the local public library to help you. Or you can do Internet searches, using Bing, Yahoo! and Google. There are government data, industry associations, newspaper and magazine articles, Wikipedia (but be careful with this) and company websites.

All can help you with your research.

Want help doing the research? Contact me at I've been doing such market research for over 15 years. Read more about me at

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Deadlines for Grant Proposals from Small Businesses

SBIR Solicitation Topics Alert

If you have any questions, please email us.

The CT SBIR Office offers SBIR/STTR Proposal Reviews at No Cost to you.

National Science Foundation
FY 2010 SBIR - Solicitation Open
Deadline Reminder June 9, 2009

Department of Defense
SBIR 2009.2 Solicitation Open
Deadline Reminder – June 17, 2009

Department of Homeland Security
SBIR FY09.2 – Solicitation Open
Deadline – July 2, 2009

Coming Soon:

USDA Solicitation Opens June 26
NASA Solicitation Opens July 7

National Institutes of Health

• Please Check for deadlines of various SBIR grants through NIH or check the site.

• Five New Request for Applications/Program Announcements added. Link1 Link2Link3 Link4 Link5

Recovery Act or ARRA Grants Available

RFA-OD-09-008 Released: June 2, 2009 Deadline: September 1, 2009
Recovery Act Limited Competition: Biomedical Research, Development, and Growth to Spur the Acceleration of New Technologies (BRDG-SPAN) Pilot Program (RC3)

RFA-OD-09-009 Released: June 2, 2009 Deadline: September 1, 2009
Recovery Act Limited Competition: Small Business Catalyst Awards for Accelerating Innovative Research (R43)

NIH recently added a Program Notice that may be of interest to SBIR participants on the 'Special Announcements for Small Business Research Opportunities' page on their SBIR web site.

Other Useful Information

Please check Zyn and for other important information concerning the SBIR/STTR Program

Monday, June 1, 2009

Angel Fair Coming in September

Cantor Colburn LLP
Innovation & Entrepreneurship Showcase & Awards
The Third Annual Innovation Pipeline Awards is Growing! SAVE the DATE: September 17, 2009 in New Haven.

By Liddy Karter, Program Director, Innovation Pipeline Accelerator

CTC's Cantor Colburn LLP Innovation & Entrepreneurship Showcase & Awards
featuring, Connecticut's Innovation Pipeline, FastTrack & Companies to Watch, and the Northeast Angel Summit, September 17, 2009 in New Haven

In addition to a poster fair and an awards ceremony for the Innovation Pipeline Accelerator companies from 4:00 - 7:30 PM, we are adding the Northeast Angel Summit, a whole day of activities around angel investing and seed funds, the primary source of capital for emerging companies. With over 25 angels groups and seed funds from New England, New York, and New Jersey convening for training, syndication, and new company pipeline building, if you need outside capital now or in the future, this is the place to meet.

more at:

Start-up Tip #1 - What is Your Value Proposition?

Thinking of starting a business? As part of your planning process, you must come to grips with what your value proposition is. In advertising we used to call it a "unique selling proposition". But really all you're doing is figuring out what the true value of your business, product or service is.

How are you filling a real need in a unique way?

As you prepare to answer this question, think about who will use your product and why.

If you can answer this question in a 45 words or less, you are on your way to success.

Contact me, if you want more tips on crafting your value proposition.