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Archive for January, 2010

Small Businesses and Online Stores, Social Commerce Camp DC is for You

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Have you been looking for a FREE educational  grassroots event for small businesses, online store owners and entrepreneurs who want to start or grow their businesses? Look no further because on Saturday, February 20, 2010 KikScore, MyBusinessAssistant.com, Network Solutions and Mayer Brown will be putting on a first of its kind event in Washington DC.

Introducing Social Commerce Camp DC! This event is especially geared for small businesses, online merchants and entrepreneurs who want to get online and grow their business.  The morning long session will be moderated by Network Solutions Social Media Swami, Shashi Bellamkonda and will feature speakers that will focus on discussing real and practical ways of building and growing a small business.  During the Social Commerce Camp DC, we will be engaging in an interactive discussion of new and effective ways that online stores and small businesses can use social media, marketing, and PR to succeed online, build your brand,  get more customers and manage your business reputation.  The event will also feature quality time to network with other owners of online stores, small businesses, social media strategists and overall just some good people trying to avoid watching cartoons on a Saturday morning!

Here is the agenda for Social Commerce Camp DC on February 20, 2010:

8 a.m to 9 a.m:  Continental breakfast, registration and networking

9 a.m to 9.45 :  Session 1 – Social Media 101 for small business and discussion of real success stories

10.00 to 10.45 :  Session 2 – Starting and growing your online store/business

10.45 to 11.15 :  Check your Twitter account/ blogging time

11.15 to Noon :  Session 3 – PR tips and best practices for small business

Mayer Brown’s offices located at 1999 K Street NW, Washington DC 20006 will be hosting Social Commerce Camp DC.

We look forward to you joining us.  Registration details for Social Commerce DC can be found here. Also because Social Commerce Camp DC is a grassroots event that is serving ecommerce merchants and small businesses, let us know your thoughts on subject matter, topics or questions you would like answered at Social Commerce Camp DC. We will work to get them addressed that morning.

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Archive for January, 2010

Is There Brand Loyalty In A Recession?

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

sThere are no atheists in a foxhole, but is there brand loyalty in a recession?  In our household, the answer is…nope.  I’ve been noticing this past year the slow emergence of generic groceries cropping up in our cabinets.  Generics?  Dear Lord, the last time I was subjected to generic groceries was growing up with my frugal parents.  Instead of Fruit Loops, we got those Fruity O’s…you know the similarly colored, fruit-flavored cereal that comes in a bag.  Yum.  But my wife insists that times have changed and store-label food products are just as good.  So instead of Irish Spring, we now use Up And Up (Target’s generic brand of green soap).  It’s not bad.  Instead of NyQuil, another Target brand (we love Target).  Instead of Cinnamon Toast Crunch…we continue to get Cinnamon Toast Crunch (you don’t skimp on the important things).  But our household isn’t alone.  It appears that in 2009 there was a surge of generic and store label brands in grocery stores.

But besides my Cinnamon Toast Crunch, I did notice that our household isn’t going generic on clothing…specifically my wife’s boots and jeans.  And she is making the point to go to her favorite small business boutique to get these items (Garbarini, just in case you’re looking to do some shopping in Denver).  When I asked why, the reason she said 1)  because Garbarini has a much better selection than the department stores; and 2) she wants to make sure her favorites stores survive the Recession.

So this Recession may be an opportunity for small and online businesses for a couple of reasons.  First, shoppers are obviously looking to save money and don’t really care where they buy their Sony Bravia — obviously an advantage for online sellers with no overhead cost.  However, ther may also be some brand loyalty to stores and business that specialize on certain product lines and/or customer service.

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Archive for January, 2010

Small Biz Interview with Tufted Topper owner Madalyn Duerr

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

sunset_sailingIt’s a busy week for Tufted Topperand owner Madalyn Duerr as she excitedly prepares for the Strictly Sail show at Navy Pier in Chicago this coming weekend. Tufted Topper isn’t just for avid boaters, it is a unique custom mattress pad that can be created for any mattress. Tufted Topper was one of our first KikScorebeta customers and has been a great partner in providing feedback and suggestions not only on the KikScore products but also on small business ventures and various other tidbits. Thanks Madalyn and Tufted Topper – best of luck in the show this weekend!

1. Tell us about Tufted Topper and who you focus on serving?
Tufted Topper’ is a custom-made pillow top pad to make any sleeping area more comfortable, giving you mattress comfort without the mattress price. We focus on the marine industry but a topper can be used in campers, on hide-a-beds, or on your own uncomfortable mattress at home.

2. What prompted the launch of Tufted Topper?
The idea for ‘Tufted Topper’ came out of our own need. We were avid sailors spending long weekends on our boat. Sleeping quarters on boats are notoriously uncomfortable and custom mattresses are a very expensive luxury. We had a friend in the mattress business who agreed to make us a topper for our v-berth. It made a world of difference. Once others on our dock heard about the comfortable pad, they wanted one too. A new business was born. However, our friend did not have the equipment needed to make all the intricate cuts and corners found on most boats. After an intense six-month search, we found the perfect vendor and began exhibiting our product at several boat shows but it soon became apparent that we needed more visibility and an easier way for customers to purchase our toppers.

3. How did you get started selling online?
We quickly realized that a website was in order and that a ‘safe’ ordering process was not only important but necessary. Today, more than 85% of our business comes through online sales. Our customers want easy access to product information and simple ordering procedures . . . simple but succinct . . . a challenge when you want to attract customers and provide all the information you can without being overwhelming.

4. Where will Tufted Topper focus most of its energy in 2010?
In 2010, much of our energy will be focused on improving the website and making sure our customers have confidence in shopping with us. KikScore is a great tool that helps us demonstrate that trust online.

5. As 2010 begins, what trends do you see in your business this year?
Slowly coming out of a recession, we look to this year as a ‘retrofit’ year . . . . people remodeling their homes instead of purchasing new ones, getting new tires and brake jobs instead of buying new cars, adding a few small luxuries to their current boats instead of trading up. If that rings true, it should be a good year for ‘Tufted Topper’ . . . . a terrific and affordable upgrade for a boat, camper or home.

If you are out in Chicago this weekend, head to Navy Pier for the show and stop by booth 453 to say Hi to Madalyn and explore having a Tufted Topper custom fit for you!

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Archive for January, 2010

Are Successful Entrepreneurs Really Risk Takers? Malcom Gladwell Doesn't Think So

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

malcom-gladwellBy nature, I’m a contrarian.  It could be that I just like to argue, but if the conventional wisdom is one way, I’m inclined to believe the opposite.  Since “Blink” and “Tipping Point” became the reference points for almost everyone in the business world, I started to heavily discount any theory or research posited by Malcom Gladwell.  The great thing about being a contrarian, you don’t even need to read the work or understand the position that you’re disagreeing with — you just take the opposite side.  So, of course, I had a very good handle on Mr. Gladwell’s work without actually reading it.  Unfortunately, my intentional ignorance didn’t last long.  As a reader of the The New Yorker, I kept coming across articles that I really enjoyed.  The problem: these articles were written by Malcom Gladwell.  When does this guys sleep?  He’s everywhere.  I wouldn’t be surprised if shows up on Sesame Street, explaining  supply side economics in a child-friendly way. 

Why this long explanation?  Because I’ve completely abandoned by dim view of Mr. Gladwell, and repeat every single thing he writes as gospel.  I sicken myself.  Today will be no different.  In a recent New Yorker article, Malcom takes on the widely held belief that successful entrepreneurs are risk takers and mavericks.  In his view, that may be true for many entrepreneurs, it just isn’t so for successful ones.

Instead of being risk-takers, successful entrepreneurs are those with unique insight or information that see the value in something that others do not, and strike.  These individuals don’t risk their own money (or if they do, very little of it) and act more as predators than as free-wheeling mavericks.  He profiles Ted Turner and John Paulson to make these points.  And ends the with the results of a survey of individual business owners — where it establishes that this group is much more willing to settle for less monetary compensation so long as it is more certain.

So what’s your view?  Do you agree with Malcom, or are entrepreneurs risk takers?

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Archive for January, 2010

Small Biz interview with Little Duck Organics owner Zak Normandin

Monday, January 25th, 2010

LDO LogoToday’s KikScore interview is with Zak Normandin, owner of Little Duck Organicsa unique and tasty organic snack food for infants and toddlers – and adults too!  We came across Zak and Little Duck Organics on Twitter where Zak and team are actively promoting their yummy organic treats.  Little Duck Organics is relatively new to the online community and shares a passion for the world of small business and bringing a much needed product to the organic conscious community.  I had the pleasure of talking for awhile with Zak and sharing startup ideas and promotional concepts.  Thanks for your insight Zak and for being a KikScore customer!

1. Tell us about Little Duck Organics and who you focus on serving?

Little Duck Organics is a business that I started developing in February of 2009. My wife and I have always been a fan of all natural/organic/locally produced products, and when we went food shopping for our daughters we really didn’t see anything like that available in the baby aisle. Most of the products that were available contained added sugars, artificial flavors, and preservatives which we preferred not to feed to our kids. When we talked to other parents, they agreed that there was definitely a lack of wholesome, nutritious products available for babies. At the time, I was looking for a new venture to invest in, so I started researching what it would take to bring an organic line of baby products to market. It took me about 10 months to design our first line of products and arrange to have it manufactured and packaged. In December of 2009, we formally launched on Amazon.com and at independent grocery stores in New Hampshire.

2. How did you get started with selling online?

One of our first customers was Amazon.com. They started buying products from us in December to sell through their online grocery division. This was the first experience that we had with selling products online. At the beginning of this month (January), we set up our own online store to begin selling Little Duck snacks directly to customers through our website. This allowed us to have a little bit more control over product placement, descriptions, Etc. Overall, the experience has been great. We’re focusing now on increasing our conversion rate and finding new ways to advertise to potential customers.

3. Where will Little Duck Organics focus most of its energy in 2010?

In 2010, our goals will be to expand our retail and online distribution channels and develop the Little Duck Organics brand. One of our main focuses will be to build customer loyalty and awareness within the baby products niche. We will be working closely with the blogging community, and plan to do a lot of traveling to sample our products at retail stores. In addition, we’re planning on introducing two new products later this year that will compliment our current line of products.

4. If you had 1 lesson that you learned from your business that you could pass on to others about selling online, what would it be?

The biggest lesson that I have learned so far since we set up our online store is that you need to be very aware and organized with all of the external costs associated with selling a product through a website. Credit card fees, boxes, packing materials & shipping costs all add up with you are selling a product with a low retail price. You need to keep these things in mind and adjust your prices accordingly so that what you are offering to customers is still attractively priced.

5. As 2010 begins, what trends do you see in your business this year?

As far as trending goes in the organic baby sector, I think that there will be more of a shift from the conventional baby food companies to upgrade their product lines to incorporate more natural/organic options. Fortunately for us, Gerber will always be Gerber and Beech-Nut will always be Beech-Nut. No matter how they market their products, they will always have the same brand-association in the mind of most consumers. Our advantage is that we were able to start from ground zero and build a brand around a mindset (Creating delicious organic baby snacks with no preservatives or additives).

6. If your business could be any movie or movie character, what movie/movie character would it be and why?

I’ve always loved the movie “Click” with Adam Sandler. I really relate to his character, and although the movie does not directly relate to Little Duck Organics, I can see a lot of similarities between the story-line and our business. For anyone who has not seen the film, the main character is an architect who has the ability to fast forward his life to critical points of success. Basically, he does not want to have to go through the mundane and only wants to experience the promotions, bonuses, success Etc. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone who has not seen it, but at the end Sandler learns to appreciate his family, friends, and the journey of life more than he previously had. I’m making a big effort to do the same in my life and at Little Duck Organics this year. I need to enjoy the process of building the business and everything that comes along with it. We’re doing something that most people only dream of , and that in itself should be viewed as an accomplishment.

7. If Little Duck Organics could have a dream spokesperson for your company who would it be and why?

I can’t think of anyone specific off the top of my head, but it would have to be a celebrity or someone famous who has the same mindset as our company. I would prefer a mom who understands the value in feeding wholesome organic foods to their children.

8. How do the folks at Little Duck Organics let loose after a busy day working?

Although most of my time is spent building the business, It is nice to wind down after a long day at work. At home, I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughters. We love trying out new foods and traveling. In the summer, we usually go for a walk every night with our dog. My older daughter loves helping me cook, so I try to do that with her whenever I can. At three years old, she can already make a mean Alfredo sauce 🙂

9. Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers and the small business community?

Know your competition, Work your butt off, Pray for luck.  Cheers!

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Archive for January, 2010

Use More Cowbells to Keep Your Business Focused

Friday, January 22nd, 2010


If you run a small business, we all have the challenge of staying focused.  We are pulled in a hundred different directions.  You have customers calling you, that new product or service you want to launch, your accountant keeps calling you about this year’s taxes and oh yeah that employee you hired that is just driving you nuts because they are jamming to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face all day at work and not helping you at all.

This Saturday Night Live skit has a good lesson for all of us.  Christopher Walken plays THE Bruce Dickinson during the taping of one of the 1970’s classic songs by Blue Oyster Cult, “Dont Fear The Reaper.”  Walken playing Dickinson implores the band to focus on one critical element to make the song successful.  You will have to watch the video to really see.

What can small businesses learn from the video?

1. Every day make sure you are focusing on the central pillars of your business.  If its marketing to a niche, make sure you are doing everything possible to support your efforts doing that. If it is creating a consistent and coherent brand and then building it. Make sure you have laser focus on this pillar.

2. Eliminate or reduce the distractions of other tasks throughout the day so you can focus on the tasks that grow your business. Here is a great post on how to eliminate distractions in your business.

3. Try, and try again.  Even if you do get distracted.  Stop just like Dickinson does when he interrupts the band’s jam sessions and he makes the band focus on what he sees as the critical element!  If you get distracted, acknowledge it and get back to your core tasks. Yes, that means stay off TMZ and WaitingforNextYear (side note: great Cleveland blog – everyone growing up in CLE knows the refrain with our sports teams…”There is always next year.”)

4.  In the video, learn from Will Ferrell, that even if focusing on a critical element makes you look odd in your business or you have to anger some people by telling them to take a back seat while you focus on More Cowbell go ahead and do it. That focus will only help you and your business to grow, even if it has lots of cowbells.

5. At the end of every rehearsal (i.e. after you end a business day) look back and do a post-mortum: did you focus on the areas of your business that were most important? If not, figure out what you will do to refocus tomorrow.  If so, go celebrate and have a margarita – just dont spill it on your pants!

Did you learn anything from The Bruce Dickinson’s demand for “More Cowbell!” Please tell us in our comments section.

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Archive for January, 2010

My Favorite iPhone Apps: Business Related (generally)

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

iphone_homeI won’t get into the Smart Phone wars…Google vs. Sprint vs. Apple.  I own an iPhone.  The phone aspect is truly horrible…unless you enjoy the excitement of wondering whether you’ll get through an entire conversation without have the call drop on you.  But the Apps on the iPhone are great.  As I was on a business trip, I was noticing how often I used certain Apps to get through the day. 

There are plenty of other reviews of Apps for business uses.  A good one is the one done by Inc. — they list out 10 very good business Apps, inlcuding Jott (which transcribes your notes that you verbally take).  Thought there are other lists, that shouldn’t stop me from sharing.  And as you’ll see, mine include some fun ones (as all business and now play make Jack…wealthy, but really no fun).  Here we go.  My favorite (mostly business related) Apps:

1.  WSJ/CNBC — This is a bit of a cop-out…having a tie on the first choice.  But there is a reason.  The Wall Street Journal is a great App, but you have to be a subscriber to access it.  So if you don’t subscribe, CNBC’s App is a great alternative.  Of course, they both keep you up on the latest business news.

2.  WordPress:  A great App for mobile blogging.  I don’t mobile blog as much as I should, but I’ve done it a few times on this App and it is really slick.

3.  Touchlytics:  This App lets you track your site traffic/visits…just ties into your Google analytics account.  They have a good lite version of this App.

4.  iVideoCamera:  I was going to buy a iPhone 3GS — mainly for the video capability.  But then the new iPhone comes out later this year…what to do?  I found this App and for $.99, I have video capability and can instantly share it on our blog, YouTube and Twitter.

5.  AroundMe:  I have the Chipotle, Starbucks, and Target Apps, but if you need to find other stores (it’s hard to imagine that you would need to) you can find it easily on AroundMe.  You can also find a Chipotle on AroundMe.

6.  RingCentral:  Once you have a RingCentral account, you can manage your calls and call out from your RingCentral 800 number. 

7.  TweetDeck:  There are a lot of Twitter Apps, but this one, in my opinion, is the best.

8.  TextsFromLastNight:  Not a lot of business function, but it makes any meeting very tolerable.

Send us your favorite and we’ll reconsider this list.

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Archive for January, 2010

What Sparks a Small Business Venture?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

ks Pic2When starting a small business, what drives and motivates you? Is it passion for a cause or the imminent proof that there is a vacancy for a certain need? In talking with a variety of small business owners for our KikScore blog, the desires and drive to start their own venture vary as much as the different products and services they offer such as KKBB and SimplyAstro

If I were to have followed true passion in where I could be doing the daily equivalent of a comforting and true cause past time, I would have opened a No-Kill Cat shelter… however, this was a very difficult venture to get past my husband Lou, who has more of a passion for golfthan rescuing cats. Add the fact that neither of us has the building space or other means to house so many furry friends. Plus the overhead of running a shelter can be very costly and you need to ensure you have ample vet care on site and plenty of other key resources.

The general thought is you will find happiness doing what you love, it takes the ‘work’ out of ‘work’.   So what you need to find is a viable product, service, or solution that people need — or something that you can convince the general populous they can’t live without.

So how did my KikScore business partners and I end up here?

Another key element in launching a successful start up is to tap into the inner expertise of yourself to uncover a passion that had been slighted due to mundane day job activities, or inability (not to mention lack of desire) to climb the corporate ladder.   All of us at KikScore have vastly different backgrounds, yet a strong desire to not only be our own bosses eventually, but also to provide a product that is cutting edge.

Technology became a strong passion of mine, having launched my career shortly after college working for one of the most accredited entrepreneurs out there, Bob Parsons at Parsons Technology.  As technology and the Internet have migrated over time, running in stride and identifying the gaps are what caused KikScore to come to fruition.

How do I feed that need to own a cat shelter someday? Well… we do have multipe cats running about our home which reminds me I’ve saved some great lives. I frequently volunteer at the local shelter to share the warmth and experience some excess purring.DaxCosmoHeineken

Back to the original question, when starting a small business, what drives and motivates you? Share your stories and ideas with us. We’d love to showcase your small business story for the next KikScore blog!

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Archive for January, 2010

Diary of a Start-Up: Is this Business Making Me Fat?

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

fat_bastardMost of us on the KikScore team work day-time jobs. Working on nights and weekends is very reminiscent of grad school — your days are filled up and then you do your homework at night. Not a big deal. We are all thankful for our jobs as well as having a growing side business.

But this weekend, after watching Brett Favre put a hurt on the Dallas Cowboys, I thought about working out. Now mind you, I’m not a fitness buff (Raj, please stop laughing). It doesn’t take much to convince me to put off a work out — I just thought about some KikScore business that needed attention and that was that. It did get me to think about other small business owners, however, who have an erratic schedule. Does owning your own business make you fat(ter)?

Take my Dad…please. No, I’m kidding. He’s a great guy and has owned his own businesses for 30 years. But exercise came after raising a family and bulding a business. So, in other words, he could drop some pounds. Of course, there are plenty of examples of successful small owners who are in terrific shape. But are they the except to the rule? Most Americans are heavy by definition. But controlling for other factors, are small business owners in worse shape than most? After spending some time Googling some rather offensive search queries (‘are small business owners fat’, ‘are entrepreneurs in worse shape?’) I still can’t find a good answer. I did see that most small business owners are against the latest health care bill — but that has to do with the fatness of their wallets, not waistline.

So, any anectodal information or actual research on this would be appreciated. My wife is particularly interested in any information you may have.

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Archive for January, 2010

Small Business Interview with Sitemakers's Geoff Jackson

Monday, January 18th, 2010

sitemakers logo

Geoff Jackson is the Social Media Strategist & Web Marketer for the UK based ecommerce solutions provider, Sitemakers.  We came across Geoff and Sitemakers on Twitter in mid-December.  Geoff and Sitemakers can bring small businesses and the Kikscore community a unique and more global perspective on ecommerce and online business trends.

1. Tell us about Sitemakers and who it focuses on serving?

Sitemakers is a UK based company specializing in ecommerce services. We work with independent retailers to help them to become successful online retailers. We have our own ecommerce platform, LiquidShop, and we provide our clients with a full service including the software they need to run their website, a full design service, ongoing support and marketing services.

2. Where will Sitemakers focus most of its energy in 2010?

We will be dividing our energy between making sure our existing clients continue to grow their businesses and seeking out new clients who can benefit from our services. Existing website owners who move to LiquidShop invariably see an increase in their online sales and we want to help more retailers enjoy this growth during these difficult trading conditions.

3. If you had one key lesson learned from your online selling experience that you could pass on to others, what is that?

Something we notice regularly is that it is existing retailers who often do best when they branch out into selling online. They know their business, they know their market and have existing relationships with suppliers. We bring the technical knowledge and the specific retailing knowledge that relates to the internet and it is this partnership that lead to a successful online shop.

4.  As the new decade begins, what do you see as main new trend in 2010?

New technology that has really caught consumers’ imagination is the smartphone. Led by the iPhone, and now followed by Google’s own Nexus, these devices have changed the way that users think of the internet and their relationship with it. An easy-to-use device with intuitive applications, large clear screen and instant on-all-the-time internet connection all lead to the expectation that information is available whenever and wherever you want it. Barcode scanning apps such as Shop Savvy mean that consumers can do their price comparison in-store just by scanning a barcode and looking up competitive prices there and then. The number of people who have bought something using these devices has started to grow, and it is expected that more than half of users will have bought something using their smartphone by the end of this year. It’s been dubbed ‘m-commerce’ – but whatever it’s called it’s coming fast in 2010.

5. Do you have any parting thoughts?

Yes. Retailers who don’t have an online strategy in place are being left behind. Christmas sales show again that it is the multichannel retailers who did best. All retailers need to adopt a strategy that lets consumers decide when, how and where they will do business with them. This may mean starting a transaction in-store and completing online, or researching online and buying instore or even on the phone. Give consumers the options they want and they will stay loyal to you.

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below on this interview.

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