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Archive for March, 2010

How you respond to customer issues is important… anyone can be reading!

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

While researching a couple of issues from a recent KikScore customer signup,  the importance of a quick and informative response to current and would be customers became critically evident.  As a small business, you need to educate your customers so they have confidence in the product you are providing, and also share information in layman’s terms to alleviate confusion and not tech-speak your customers into oblivion.

I struggle with this balance while straddling the technical and marketing role at KikScore (and in my day job too).   Your customer base doesn’t share the in-depth knowledge that your team has on the inner-workings of your system, and thus you need to take a step back when responding to a customer inquiry/issue and put yourself in the customer’s shoes.   This entails not only empathizing with the issue at hand, but also providing deeper context surrounding the potential resolution/fix to the customer’s concern and conveying that back to them in a timely and informative manner.

In the world of social media today, any response you share with customers (and prospects) can (and most likely will) be posted or passed along the internet waves and will have an impact on not only the legitimacy of your business/product but also on its future branding potential.

SocialSmallBiz is doing a series on customer support and social media and the intertwining of each.  A fantastic quote to live by, for ANY small business owner “It Takes Months to Find a Customer… seconds to lose one”

How do you handle your customer inquiries and responses?  Please share your best practices and lessons learned with us.

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Archive for March, 2010

Company SWAG: Does it Help Your Small Business?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I love being a small business owner for several reasons: you’re on the forefront of trends; you interact with other small business owners and share ideas; you are forced to think creatively about getting the word out about your business.  But the thing i love more than anything about owning a small business is wearing my KikScore baseball hat.  First off, it’s pretty cool as far as those type of caps go (it’s a washed out grey, so it goes with almost anything…my wife disagrees, but what does she know?) 

I’ve been wearing corporate baseball caps for years…usually from my day-job/corporate employer.  So it has special meaning to me to wear my own branded gear.  But here’s the question — does it actually do anything for KikScore?  I’ve been walking around every airport, city park and taco stand with my hat on, but I haven’t seen a spike in traffic since I’ve been wearing it.  Same goes for my KikScore bumper sticker.  So is this just a vanity hat? 

This weekend, my parents flew out to Denver to visit my wife and me.  I’m at the airport by 7:30 am on Saturday morning.  Through the crowd I see the outlines of my parents.  My Dad is wearing a baseball cap.  But as he approaches, it’s not the KikScore hat I gave him, but some free hat his neighbor gave him.  What the hell is going on?!  So I ask him about it and he sheepishly said he can’t find it.  Can’t find it?  Not sure if I mentioned this, but this is my DAD.  So if the hat doesn’t engender any positive mojo with him, what are my chances with a complete stranger?

That all being said, I’ve now run out of the second batch of hats and bumper stickers — as friends and family keep asking for the free gear.  So I’m probably going to order more, but is it just an ego thing or is it good business? 

What are your thoughts about the effects of branded SWAG for your small business?  Does your Dad at least wear your gear?

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Archive for March, 2010

Internet Crime Report Finds 22% Increase in CyberCrime Complaints

Monday, March 29th, 2010

The Internet Crime Complaint Center is a partnership between the National White Collar Crime Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and is set up to receive complaints of crime on the internet. The Complaint Center is known as IC3 and annual issues a report notifying the public of trends that they see in complaints that they have received from the public about cybercrime.  IC3 received complaints across a wide spectrum of cybercrimes including online fraud, computer intrusions and hacking, theft of trade secrets, identity theft and international money laundering.  The 2009 Internet Crime Report was just published in mid-March 2010 and  here are some of the key findings:

1) There was a 22% increase in cybercrime complaints in 2009 compared to 2008 (336, 655 total complaints)

2) More than a half billion dollars in monetary losses were reported in 2009 – $559.7 million – from cybercrime

3) The top 5 categories of reported offenses from victims were: a) non-delivered merchandise(19.9%); identity theft (14.1%), credit card fraud (10.4%), auction fraud (10.3%) and computer fraud (7.95%).

4) Of those victims that reported monetary losses from the cybercrime, the mean dollar loss was $5,580 and the median was $575.

5) The vast majority of the complaints were made from the United States, but IC3 received complaints from victims in Canada, the UK, Australia and India.

6) The perpetrators in the United States tended to reside in the followings states: California, Florida, New York, the District of Columbia, Texas and Washington.  A number of perpetrators were also alleged to have been in the UK, Nigeria, Canada, Malaysia and Ghana.

What does all of this mean?  All of this reinforces that online shoppers must remain vigilant when they shop online.  Cybercrime is only increasing.  We have covered in previous posts 5 Steps for a Safe Online Shopping Experience.  Shoppers should familiarize yourself with these and other steps to keep you safe online.  The Ic3 also listed a good resource at www.lookstoogoodtobetrue.com that consumers can look to for consumer alerts, tips and fraud trends.  Separately, we have also given online sellers guidance as well on ways that merchants can build, demonstrate and increase trust for their website visitors so they can sell more.

We imagine cybercrime will only continue to grow and so we must be prepared to combat it by demanding transparency online and arming ourselves with information and safe shopping tactics so we do not become another victim.

Please tell us what you think of the 2009  Internet Crime Report and these statistics.

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Archive for March, 2010

10 Leadership Traits and Skills Needed at a Startup & Small Business: Part 1

Friday, March 26th, 2010

This is the first in a two part series on leadership traits and skills that can help increase the chances of startup and small business success.  There are literally thousands of books and probably many more blog posts on how to succeed in a start up or small business.  There are some great sites solely devoted to these topics like the Small Company Blog and StartupNation. Books on leadership in business are also everywhere including ones by like Jack Welch’s Straight from the Gut and Jim Collins who wrote Good to Great and Built to Last. This posts, however, actually tries to bridge these two areas and discuss leadership traits and skills that can help a startup or small business succeed.

In my time at Kikscore and also in conversations with friends, contacts and folks I have met at conferences like SXSW, there seems to be a consensus that the following traits really can help bolster your company:

1. Embrace Wearing Multiple Hats: Small businesses and startups have in their fabric that they are resource constrained. As a result startups and small businesses that often succeed are the ones where the owners are comfortable juggling multiple tasks that may straddle finance, marketing, technology, customer service, operations and business development. But even more importantly the owners need not just embrace the multiple hats, but also at the very same time constantly be thinking two to three steps ahead to determine when is the best time:  a) that you need to switch hats and put on another operational hat or b) when you need to put on a brand new hat in order to ensure success in a certain area of your business.  At early stages of startups and small businesses, the ability for owners to successfully wear these different hats can even determine whether a company survives or fails.  This trait also dovetails with the fourth trait below because it is also important to know when to put down the hat and instead hire an expert.

2. Take & Give Feedback: Owners and leaders in startups and small business need to embrace literally 360 degree feedback.  This is feedback from customers, from vendors, partners, investors, fellow employees, their management team and even their own families!  A continuous feedback loop from all of these parties ensures that you, your business, your product, your team and your partners are having an open and transparent conversation to put your business in the best position for success.  Instead of shying away from feedback, encourage and embrace it especially from your team and your customers.  At first it may be uncomfortable but in the end if you have some level of detachment and a lack of sensitivity/insecurity to others’ comments you can really grow yourself and become a better leader.  Continual feedback from your customers is also critical for building a great product that customers cant get enough of and keep buying!

3. Focus and Refocus: A startup and small business pulls owners and management in many directions.  As a result, it is very easy to lose the focus of your company and your plans for growth because you let other external factors drive your focus.  It is imperative to have a focused set of objectives/goals for the company.  But as a company you need to do more than just have these objectives/goals.  The best startups and small business keep these objectives/goals in the back of their mind in every action they take.  Even more importantly, they measure what they did yesterday, are doing today and will do tomorrow against these objectives/goals.  That is why it is critical that on a regular basis that startup and small business management track progress of the company and day to day tasks against these objectives/goals. Only by doing this will you be able to have a core focus and also continually make sure you refocus on the most important objectives for the business.  We outlined the importance of keeping your startup focused in a previous post here as well as methods to maintain that focus here.

4. Hire and manage outsourced resources: While your role in the startup or small business may be to wear many hats, a critical job is to know when its time to call in an expert in a certain operational area.  When it is clear that you need assistance for product development, marketing, strategy, customer service or even back office operations, its time to outsource.  Outsourcing can save you valuable time, money and help you focus on your core operations and goals of growing your business.  While you focus, your outsourced vendors can step in and help you. But too many outsourcing arrangements fail.  It is not enough just to hire a vendor to perform an operational function for you.  It is critical to the success of your business that you set expectations, train, and create defined deliverables that your outsourced vendor can understand and meet.  It is imperative to set clear expectations, actively manage the outsourced resources and continually measure the value the vendor brings to your company.  In the hiring and managing of these resources, you have to be comfortable with quickly and decisively terminating outsourced vendor relationships that are not working.  Here are a few tools you can use to help manage outsourced technology developers.

5. Be a Great Teammate: Startups and small businesses are only as good as their respective teams.  Therefore the team dynamic is instrumental in business success.  As a result for your company, it is imperative that you support your teammates and you continually deliver great results in your role on the team.  But that is not enough.  Great teammates are the ones that go far beyond what is expected and are relentless in their pursuit of a great product and phenomenal customer experience.  They step in and fill voids when they may exist but the void is actually not readily apparent.  These teammates think two, three and sometimes four steps ahead and take on the responsibility to address the issues that will come up down the road.  The best startups and small businesses are the ones where the teammates continually push each other so that they can each grow to make each other better.  That in turn makes the company and the product better.  Great teammates also mean your fans and customers are happy!  For tips on building the right team check out this excellent post on that topic.

Look out for Part 2 in this series that will be published next week.  Until then, please tell us what you think about the traits and skills you have seen in successful startups and small business.

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Archive for March, 2010

How Would You Use A Hot Tub Time Machine?

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Every generation has a movie that defines it.  It seems pretty obvious that this generation will be defined by Hot Tub Time Machine.  There have been plenty of movies about time travel, but what other combines time travel with hot tubbing and the 80s?  The fact that John Cusak is poking fun of the decade that established him will establish this movie as a all-time classic. 

In gearing up for this movie, I started thinking, what would I do for KikScore if I had access to at HTTM (yes, we need to create an acronym for it…it’s too long to keep typing).  Here’s some thoughts:

1.  Funding:  I would have purchased as many credit default swaps on subprime loans as possible.  That would have taken care of funding.

2.  Avoid Certain Vendors:  The biggest challange we have faced as a company was initially working with the wrong third-party developers.  We soon corrected, but we essentially flushed money down the drain.

3.  Started Blog Earlier:  We’ve only been writing for a few months, and readership keeps growing.  If we had only started a year ago.

4.  Transportation:  Not really related to KikScore, but I never would have bough that Toyota Prius.  It’s not because of safety either.  In fact, the last thing I worry about with my Prius is sudden acceleration.  If my Prius started going 85 miles/hour, I wouldn’t just call the police, I’d call everybody.

That’s what I would do with a HTTM.  How about you?

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Archive for March, 2010

How Are These New Fangled Two-Way Walkie Talkies Going to Effect My Small Business OR…Holy Cow Mr. Spacely, These New Smart Phones Belong on The Jetsons!

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Yesterday at the International CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas, Sprint announced that they are releasing the first 4G-powered cell phone, the HTC EVO 4G, in the United States this Summer.  4G is the next generation of cell phones that all the major wireless carriers will be releasing in the 1-2 years and they are called 4G because they are supposed to be the next generation of phones able to transmit data 10 times as fast as the currently available 3G phones.

I know what you are thinking, “Big deal, sounds like another iPhone techy thing that won’t impact my business for a few years down the road.”  Well, maybe…but maybe not. Up until now a lot of the really data intensive applications for cell phones have not been able to efficiently run on the existing cell phone networks so many people have only been able to use them while they are at a wi-fi hot spot or at home on their own wireless network.  This 4G technology may very well change all of that.  Here are a few game changing technologies and applications that these 4G phones are going to make possible in the next 3-4 months:

Video Cell Phone Calls – Not only is there an HD quality 8 mega-pixel camera on the back of the phone but there is also a 1.3 mega-pixel camera on the front of the phone so users can speak into the phone and view video while also transmitting a video of themselves to others.  Video phone calls from home still haven’t really gone mainstream and video calls from current 3G phones isn’t really possibly because of data latency but this could very well bring video phone calling to the mainstream public.  How would this change your business if consumers started expecting you to answer with a video phone in your store?

Google’s Goggles (Picture) Search – Google just introduced their new Google Goggles search with the new HTC EVO 4G smart phone.  This new search technology for the Android operating system allows users to take pictures of objects and then the web browser on the phone automatically searches for information about the object in the picture.  If you are drinking a bottle of wine and wonder what part of California the grapes are from…take a picture of the label and Google will automatically search for that information for you.  This could be an extremely useful technology for small businesses to take advantage of while also driving additional traffic to their site when consumers search for their products using this new search technique.

4G Mobile Hot Spot – Another game changing technology that this new Sprint smart phone is bringing to market is the ability for up to 8 other devices to use the HTC EVO 4G phone as a wi-fi hot spot to connect to the Internet.  In your car with your laptop and need to get online to check your email or the latest football scores?  What would normally be impossible without a wireless modem or other device is now possible with your smart phone in your pocket!

Finally, as a follow-up to a post I made here a few months ago, I have finally decided which smart phone to purchase as my first step into this market…can you guess what it is going to be?

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Archive for March, 2010

The New Health Care Plan: Does Anyone Know How This Really Impacts Small Business?

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Whether you’re for it or against it, the new health care law that was just passed is a big deal.  What was a patch-work of state and federal laws focused on certain groups has been replaced with an entirely new system (unless you’re from Massachusetts, and then it’s pretty much the same as what you’ve been experiencing for the past several years). 

As any American does, regardless of my ideology, I started to wonder how does this new bill impact me (and KikScore).  Now KikScore is unique in that each team member is an owner (meaning we don’t have any actual employees), and most of us have day jobs that cover our health insurance.  But as we grow (in terms of hiring employees or having team members work full time on the company), that’s when this new law will be relevant.  In trying to understand the actual impact of the laws, I’m really left with two choices: (a) read the actual bill (which is unbelievably long); or (b) rely on a summary from a group or groups that have a vested interest in pushing me one way or an another in how to view the bill.  In other words, I haven’t a clue how this will actually impact small businesses.  According the White House, it will allow small businesses a $3500 tax credit for each employee.  According to those opposed to the law, it will act as a large drain and penalizes small business owners (who can’t afford to cover the employee insurance cost). 

I found a good articleon the new law in the USA Today…you’ll note that it’s a question/answer type of article and the small business owner starts off with “I think the new health care law stinks”.  Ok, so he’s definitely taken a position.  I won’t summarize the whole article, but it does point out: (a) health care for small businesses will become more affordable (as the new system creates bigger buyer pools for the insurance; and (b) the penalty for not buying insurance doesn’t affect those businesses with less than 50 employees. 

I’m still fuzzy on what this new law means to Small Business owners, but if you have any better understanding (or just plain feelings on the topic), please feel free to share.

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Archive for March, 2010

KikScore Interviews Name.com – Local Denver Domain Registration Company

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I stumbled upon Name.com about a month ago while researching local small businesses.  They are a close knit team that is very active in the Denver community and show a strong passion for small business and teamwork.  Lesley Yarbrough, the Community Manager of Name.com shares with us their exciting story.

1. Tell us about Name.com and who you focus on serving?

Name.com was founded in 2003 by Bill Mushkin, who previously founded Mushkin Enhanced. Our office is located in gorgeous Denver, CO in an old building that was part of Lowry Air Force Base.   Name.comis comprised of an awesome  and diverse group of people working hard to create innovative tools and provide our customers with the best service possible.

Really we focus on serving three different groups:

  • Retail customers
  • Small to medium sized business and startups
  • Domain investors or “domainers”

2. There are a lot of domain sites out there.  How does Name.com differentiate from the competition?

We try to provide the best search tools we can to help our customers find the right name for their needs. For instance, our Domain Suggestion tool  is very unique in that it not only provides our keyword suggestions, but also Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) translations and Google Keyword suggestions. We also offer over 50 extensions for registration and awesome, personal support for all of our customers.

3. Where will Name.com focus most of its energy in 2010?

A lot of our energy in 2010 is going to be focused on reaching out to our community and establishing more of a local/regional presence here in Colorado. We’ve recently hired a Community Manager to help us with this effort. We also want to focus on improving our search capabilities and providing more value-added products to our customers.

4. If you had 2 lessons learned from your business that you could pass on to others about having an online business, what are those?

Try new ideas and act on them quickly, because if you don’t someone will beat you to the punch. Also we’re working to create more strategic partnerships and “acting quickly” can be applied to that as well.

5. As 2010 begins, what do you see as 2 new trends in your business this year?

IDNs are pretty popular in the investor community and we see those becoming more mainstream this year. We think we’ll also start to see a higher adoption rate of alternative extensions (.TV, .MOBI, .IM, .TEL, etc.) as fewer .COM and .NET domains are available.

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

Honestly, the first thing that came to mind was The Big Lebowski .  We’re genuine, laid back, and we can get the job done. The Dude abides.

7. If Name.com could have a dream spokesperson for your company who would it be and why?

Why Gary Vaynerchuk of course! We’re huge fans of Gary in our office, we love his passion, his hard work, and his honesty.  We take what he has to say to heart and try to crush it every day. He actually did a personalized video for us recently when we ordered a bunch of his books for a promotion.

8. How do the folks at Name.com let loose after a busy day working?

We’re a diverse bunch, so we let loose a few different ways. Being located in Colorado we have access to great biking, hiking, skiing, and all that fun stuff. We have a ping pong table in our office and sometimes we’ll have tournaments, so there’s a bit of friendly competition going on. We also do a weekly web show called Beer Fridays.

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

Work hard, show your customers you care, and keep on rockin’!

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Archive for March, 2010

Small Business Marketing 101 Video: "I Hate Saying No to Customers"

Friday, March 19th, 2010

This is an excellent 12 minute video that was put together by the Small Business Administration that covers small business marketing. If you do not know, the SBA has a ton of great resources for startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses that every business should take advantage of and use.  In addition to the SBA,  SCORE is another fabulous resource for small businesses as they are literally “Counselors to America’s Small Business.”  SCORE provides free counseling, mentoring and guidance to small businesses around the country.  SCORE and the SBA often partner up on small business initiatives.  If you have not checked out either of these great resources, KikScore highly recommends both.

The Small Business Marketing 101 video is full of practical tips and features successful entrepreneurs offering techniques for marketing your small business.  The short video also includes an interview with Warren Brown, host of Food Network’s Sugar Rush, and owner of Cake Love bakery in Washington, DC.  We like Warren even more because, like a couple of us at KikScore, he is a recovering lawyer who is an entrepreneur.  He is also the one in the video that says: “I hate saying no to customers.”  Warren has some great guidance on how to overcome saying “No!”

Check out the video and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Archive for March, 2010

Is March Madness Good for the Office?

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Every year corporate efficiency wonks (or as I like to call them, the Fun Police) estimate the many billions lost by employees following the NCAA basketball tourney.  People take off work to watch the games, they talk about upsets (likeNotre Dame’s stunning loss to Old Dominion), and I’ve heard that people even participate in office betting pools.  Those sound fun…I should that out some time.   

Admittedly, focusing on college basketball isn’t business focused, but I think March Madness is good for business for a few reasons:

1.  Office morale: Betting on basketball games is an office equalizer.  The CEO is no smarter than a sales rep on who is going to win the tourney — and taking money from the bosses, if you do win, is a sweet thing.

2.  Enhance your ability to make small talk:  often when talking with customers (or potential customers), you don’t have anything in terms of small talk.  For the next several weeks, you have endless amounts of small talk (how you’re doing in the office pool, your favorite team getting beat by Old Dominion etc…etc..).  It’s the same reason why I like People Magazine, it gives me material so I can talk with anyone.

3.  Improves your project management ability:  anyone who has ever run an office betting pool will tell you that it is a nightmare unless you’re organized.  What better way to break in your new project manager than by throwing him an illegal office pool.

What’s your thoughts on the NCAA tourney?

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