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Archive for May, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend: Check That BBQ & Also Your Company's 2010 Goals

Friday, May 28th, 2010

So Memorial Day weekend 2010 is here!  First, we all know Memorial Day is a weekend that we use to reflect on all of those that have given their lives in service to the country.  Beyond this very important commemorative part of the weekend, it also marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season.  Many people take this weekend as the first time of the year to roll out the grills, take out the lawn furniture and throw a little barbecue for family, friends and neighbors.

For businesses, the Memorial Day time of the year can serve as a great initial milestone to gauge where your company stands in regards to your goals, priorities and key initiatives that need to be accomplished for the year.  So take this time to  objectively look at some of the following areas of your business to make sure you are on the right track to achieve your goals for 2010 and beyond:

1. Focus. Is your business focused on the rights things to meet your goals?  If not, take the time to refocus and eliminate the clutter that is distracting your company.

2. Goal Review. Take the time to review in detail each goal you have for 2010.  Also take a close look at every activity that relates to that goal.  That will allow you to take a status check of how far along your business is toward meeting each goal for 2010.  If you do not have a list of goals and activities, here is a post that describes the importance to putting together annual goals and critical activities.

3. Team Review. Look at your team and make sure all of the team members are in the right place and that every team member is working toward the company’s goals.  Also this is a good time to make sure you are building the right team.  If you have a gap, make sure your team can fill that gap or hire the right person to fill the need so you ensure you meet your goals.

4. Customer & Product Review. Ask yourself these two questions we have discussed previously: A) Are you supporting your customers manically so they have a great customer experience and B) Are you improving your product on a daily basis?  These questions go to the fundamental core of your business so they are of critical importance for you to keep asking yourself and your team.  Once you take stock and get your answers, make sure you act on the feedback you give yourself for these two questions.

5. Flexibility. Now is also a good time to look at your goals, team, activities, tasks and plans and take the time to re-prioritize based on what you are seeing in your business.  The key is to stay nimble and do not get in your own way.  Reacting quickly to a market opportunity that has arisen or to a new customer demand that you can meet will put yourself in a position for even greater growth for your business.  But be careful, do not fall into the trap of lurching from one project or task to another and not fully completing items that your business and team have already started.

So during this Memorial Day weekend, take a little time to also do a status check on your business.  If you do this review, your business may be in a better position to achieve those 2010 goals.

So how are you going to spend Memorial Day weekend?

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Archive for May, 2010

Just Say No, But Say It Nicely

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

One of our main distribution strategies for KikScore is working with partners.  Our ideal partner is one with that has a lot of interaction with small online businesses, or small businesses that want an online presence.

In my day job, I work with with partners quite a bit (or as Corporate America calls them…Channels).  As with any type of sales, reaching out to partners involves a lot of rejections.  Either they don’t have time or the proposed relationship doesn’t fit into the partner’s strategic vision.

What has surprised us at KikScore is the overall interest that our product has received from a partnership standpoint.  We’ve approached 10 different channels and we are in deep discussions with 6 of them.  That type of success rate would get you in the baseball hall of fame (as a hitter, manager or pitcher).

This type of positive reaction has likely twisted my perception.  So when I reached out to a larger company today — with a contact from a mutual friend — I thought it would be a warm reception.  Uh, wrong.  The person I contacted not only said no, but almost chastised me for bothering her.  Sorry, delicate genius.  Let’s hope you never lose that corporate job and have to start approaching people on your own.

Also, I’ll never be a customer of this company.  It’s not because she said no, it was how she said it.

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Archive for May, 2010

Ahoy, Matey! Pirates and Business

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

If you open your eyes and mind, it’s amazing where you can find business lessons in everyday life.  The book I am reading, Michael Crichton’s final novel: Pirate Latitudes takes the concept of war from the pirate’s view.  There are a good number of similarities to small business and overtaking your competition to be learned from it.  To come up with a new business idea, it doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘new’ but ‘better’ is critical to success.

Here’s some lessons that the privateers (often mistaken for pirates) of long ago still apply…

Build a good team – When Captain Hunter came up with his risky idea of attempting capture of a Spanish treasure ship in a far off, dangerous and assumed well protected island, he needed a strong team to accomplish the quest. Building the right team for business success can be tricky, but you can’t do it alone.   Delegate responsibilities that foster team member’s strengths.

Create a more comprehensive solution – After overtaking the treasure ship, the privateers are stalked by a Spanish warship that is more heavily armed with both men and weaponry. The weakened privateers come up with a risky yet tactical solution to attempt to take down the larger ship. Creativity and doing something different with your current resources is a strong business sense. KikScore wasn’t the first trust seal out there, but it is different and more comprehensive than the competition

Overtake the competition – I’m not finished reading Pirate Latitudes yet, so I’m only theorizing here… but based upon the creativity noted above and their zeal to secure the stolen treasure, I have confidence the privateers will conquer the larger warship and bring home the gold.  Obviously in business, war is not the best option, yet clever advertising and getting your business message out there can overtake the competition.   A strong and consistent approach helps.

Pirates and privateers are mysterious, resourceful and have a rather catchy form of conversation.

How is your business pirating through the marketplace?

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Archive for May, 2010

Business Roadblocks — Is Growth Our Own Worst Enemy?

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

One of the reasons I enjoy being part of the KikScore is the fact that it is our own business.  Sure we have meetings and on big decisions we need to get a majority vote, but generally I can do whatever is in the best interest of the company. 

The flip is true for my day job.  No decision can simply be made.  I must first draft a compelling email, then create an attractive power-point presentation, and finally convince our legal/compliance department that I’m not the anti-christ (which is harder than you may think).  I would say that despite having a full-time job dedicated to creating new opportunities,  I spend less than 50% of time actually doing it.  The rest is overcoming internal process.

So is that what is really meant when we say that small businesses are “nimble”?  Is it that they don’t have internal machinations dedicated solely to preventing risk or is it because entrepreneurs are able to make quick decisions (and why they are their own bosses in the first place)? 

A better question is: can you ever avoid creating your own business roadblocks?  Every small company that is successful eventually becomes a larger one.  At that point, the larger company has a business to actually protect and risk takes on new meaning.  Certainly a small business doesn’t fret about risk as much, because they are “judgment proof” — meaning that if they are ever sued, the business simply packs it up and the owners move onto something else.  With a larger business, it can actually pay a judgment and risk means something (at least to the shareholders).  Perfect example is my day job.  10 years ago, it was a start-up with 3 employees.  Decisions were fast and the business grew faster.  Now we are part of a larger organization and our growth is a fraction of what it used to be.  On the other hand, we’re very profitable now (and were not in the beginning).  So risk means something to us.

What do you think…is there a way to avoid this?

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Archive for May, 2010

KikScore & the Pittsburgh Steelers Promoted on the Same Pickup Truck? – My Worst Nightmare

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Disclaimer, this is a vacation post (yes, I am out on vacation from my day job but KikScore never stops!) but I had to discuss what happened this weekend. This post is really about branding your business and how you sometimes have no control over how your customers will sing your praises.

My 5 month old daughter, Asha, made her first trip this weekend to see her grandma, uncle, aunt and cousins in my wife’s hometown just outside of Pittsburgh, PA.  Great idea, seeing the family, getting out of DC for a weekend and spending some time on my mother-in-law’s beautiful farm.  It actually was a lot of fun, even having my brother-in-law make fun of me when I made the crazy comment asking why does the backyard have so many rattlesnakes – are they attracted to the the vegetable garden back there.  Uh…..how many snakes do you know are attracted to vegetables over perhaps some chipmunks, small rodents etc that usually populate most farms?

So where does KikScore  and branding come in?  We had just arrived Friday afternoon on the farm.  I was pulling our car into the farm when my saw my wife’s family pick-up truck.  The truck was parked there outside the farm house and I had to snap the above picture.  So on the right hand side of the bumper is everything I have grown up to detest in an important part of my life – football – that would be the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Yes, when you grow up outside Cleveland, Ohio you are indeed taught that at a young age.  Then on the left side of the bumper is the gorgeous bumper sticker, of a company that I passionately give my blood, sweat and tears to every day – KikScore.

So on that one side of the bumper I see something I enjoy mocking and on the other side is my pride and joy.  So there I was – what do I say or feel?  I just had to laugh and be super proud that my family has so unconditionally adopted KikScore to the point that my mother-in law greeted us when we arrived in her KikScore baseball cap.

So what is the point of this post.  That sometimes your small business or your startup can not decide/control how your customers decide to evangalize your brand.  When you see your brand out there be promoted like this, just smile, laugh and be proud.  And also be sure to say thanks as I did when we pulled away from the driveway late yesterday right before we started our 4 hour ride home.

Have you seen your business being promoted in a similar way?

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Archive for May, 2010

Quick Tips on Pitching the Media for Small Business

Friday, May 21st, 2010

All of us small businesses and startup owners wonder how can we get more publicity and buzz about our product and business. Many of us also wonder what do we have to do to become a thought leader where the media actually comes to us for comment on industry matters.  Well I came across this excellent short video by one of the best small business evangelists that is out there, Anita Campbell, the owner of Small Business Trends and BizSugar.  Anita gives us some very common sense and practical tips for every small business and startup to use when they are pitching their business and product to the  media to try to get covered.  She also touches on how to build up your credibility with the media so you can be considered a thought leader.

Here is the video and its only a few minutes long, but it is packed with great tips from Anita Campbell.

Some of the tips Anita mentions in the video are:

1) To help get the attention of journalists and writers, blog about their stories.

2) When you blog about their stories, use the writer’s name and also link to their article. That will help get their attention.

3) When your product or company finally gets covered by a journalist, make sure you blog about the story and again include the name of the writer! We actually did this in a recent post when KikScore was covered by PressTV on issues of cybersecurity and safe online shopping.

4) When you are pitching journalists, give them useful information that will help them write a story.

5) During your pitch, give them other information besides about your business, including data about the industry, trends and even other influencers that the writer should interview.

6) Help the writer by giving them the names, contact information and as much information about those other people for their story.

7) Your pitching should not stop when you finally get some media coverage. Keep trying to build goodwill with the journalists and writers and that will increase the chances that they will come back to you for future stories.

These are excellent tips that we should all follow.  Anita really is a great source that we previously named one of her sites as one of our top small business blogs that we like.   I have met Anita on a couple of occasions including my day job out in Herndon, Virgina and at last year’s Grow Smart Business Conference in Washington DC.  If you own a small business or run a startup, we at KikScore highly recommend following Anita on Twitter and also checking out her sites.  Also she is from my hometown of Akron, Ohio – so I am sure she (and many others) may identify with my recent post about Lebron James and Small Business.

Please tell us how you pitch the media? Any tips would be appreciated!

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Archive for May, 2010

Business Lessons from the Human Centipede

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

There is a ground-breaking film that was just released — one that deals with issues of innovation and collaboration.  You guessed it (or at least you read it in the title), it’s the new IFC film “Human Centipede“. 

My good friend Steve first alerted me to the movie trailer last week.  The trailer was being sent around the normal circles.  The premise of the film is that two young ladies on European vacation stumble across an unorthodox surgeon (in a really nice, secluded home).  After being drugged, the ladies find out that they will be part of his project — creating a human centipede.  That is, creating a unified GI tract through three people.  Not sure what I mean, watch the trailer (and make sure you pay close attention to the end).

What in the hell does this have to do with business?  I know it’s a stretch, but since I wanted to alert our readers about this film, and I need to find a legitmate reason to do so, here goes:

1.  Trust is Important — I’m not saying these ladies deserve their fate, but why did they automatically trust this surgeon?  Because he had a nice house?  Well, you need to go by more than appearance (if they only had KikScore, maybe they wouldn’t have fallen victim to this guy).

2.  Innovation isn’t always good — just like the ability to get emails on flights, not all innovations are for the better.  Ok, you could tie three GI tracts together, but does that mean you should?

3.  Viral Marketing is powerful stuff — I’ve been talking about this movie concept to everyone I know.  There was no need for marketing spend, as the shocking concept sold itself.  I still haven’t seen the movie, but that’s only because my wife is not on board to see it.  But I’m sure she’s going to change her mind soon.

Please share you thoughts on this…and if you’ve seen the Human Centipede, let us know if you think it was a good movie.

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Archive for May, 2010

Are You Smarter Than a Smart Grid?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I was reading this article in the Denver Post today when I realized that the next large source of consumer behavior-related data may not be Facebook or any other social networking site…heck, it might not even be sourced directly from the Internet!  Judging from the fact that the “smart grid” is supposed to be rolled out to 52 million people by 2015, the next source of data that marketers may very well be trying to get about you and I may be obtained by determining the patterns and type of electricity we use on a daily basis.

If companies were able to get their hands on this data they could apparently not only determine how many loads of laundry you do each week, but they could also figure out what kind of TV you own, how many times you shower and how many people are in your household!  I never really thought about it this way, but the way we use electricity can tell a lot about a person and an entire family.  Just think how powerful this data would be to consumer goods companies that could market certain products to people based on this information!

Another use for this data is law enforcement…this electrical data could point police to homes that are using certain lights to grow marijuana in their basements or to other criminals who use certain power-consuming equipment to make methamphetamine.

To nobody’s surprise Microsoft and Google are already all over the management of this smart grid data.  Microsoft’s Hohmproduct and Google’s PowerMeter application are already being used by the 200,000 early adopters of the smart grid being tested in Boulder, Colorado, that now monitor their electrical consumption online using these tools.

What could your business do if you had access to this data?

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Archive for May, 2010

Organic or PPC — Which is Your Flavor?

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

The debate currently rages — where should you spend your time on marketing — cultivating organic traffic or spend the money on pay-per-click?  We here at KikScore are trying to find the right mix for our small business. 

If you research the topic, most of the arguments go as follows: organic is free, it is long-term and builds on itself; PPC is tailored, expensive and, in the short-term, effective in driving traffic.  A funny thing also occurs if you research this topic — you definitely see the battle-lines drawn by self-interest.  The SEO experts all push organic search while the sellers of PPC keywords all push…well PPC keywords.  Even funnier, the SEO folks often purchase PPC keywords on the topic “organic versus PPC”.  What?

I’m not taking sides (I think both approaches have their merits), but I do think the argument that organic search is “free” is a bit misleading (or woefully undervalues your time).  To take advantage of organic search, you’ll have to create content on a regular basis, spend time on social media networks, and monitor the your competitors’ activities.  This is not a “free” avenue to traffic. 

Oddly enough, I equate the debate to grocery shopping.  If you want to do the things that are good for you long term, shop exclusively at Vitamin Cottage or farmers markets.  On the other hand, if you want to eat now, go to Chipotle.  Fast food is not a viable substitute for having a well-stocked kitchen (though its probably cheaper to go to Chipotle every day).  Of course, if your business needs customers sooner rather than later, you probably can’t wait on the garden.  So the balanced approach is probably where I shake out — in other words, do both.

What’s your position on this?

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Archive for May, 2010

SurePayroll's Michael Alter Talks Small Business & Online Payroll Services

Monday, May 17th, 2010

In today’s KikScore blog interview, for the first time we are not profiling an actual small business.  Instead, to change up the pace for the community, we are profiling a company that small businesses rely on every day to perform a critical function – payroll.  As we do with many of our interviewees, we came across SurePayroll on Twitter and they graciously agreed to give us some insight into who they are, what makes them tick and also provide some fabulous guidance to the small business community.  Today’s interview is with Michael Alter, President of  SurePayroll.

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

As the online alternative to ADP® and Paychex®, we’re dedicated to providing a simple, convenient and accurate online payroll service at a price small business owners can afford. Tens of thousands of small business owners across the U.S. rely on us to process payroll on demand, in as few as 2 minutes. We also offer efficient small business solutions for managing 401(k) plans, health insurance, workers’ compensation, HR compliance and employee screening. Our combination of online payroll service teamed with a small business focus has garnered recognition from PC Magazine, Inc. 500, Accounting Today, the American Business Awards and many others.

2. How did you get the idea for SurePayroll?

In the late 1990s, Chicagoland entrepreneur Scott Wald was running one of many successful small businesses and hated all the time he wasted faxing in payroll then rectifying the inevitable payroll goofs. He thought, “I should be able to do this online — and I bet I’m not the only small business owner thinking the same thing.” Because Scott’s the type of person who turns such thoughts into realities, he assembled a small team to make his idea a thriving business. He asked me to join him in this new venture, and I left my position with McKinsey & Co. We hit the scene in early 2000 with a staff of 10 in a small office in Highland Park, IL.

3. If you had 2 lessons learned from starting SurePayroll that you could pass on to others, what are those?

First Lesson: The last thing a small business owner needs is something that takes time. If you’re in business to help small business, your product is probably designed to save your clients money, but so does every other product like yours. Ensuring it also saves small business owners time is the emotional jolt that pushes them to buy — most sales aren’t closed on a logical rationale alone. Once you’ve saved them time, you need to own their worries. For example, SurePayroll tackles the most time-consuming aspect of payroll: paying and filing all federal, state and local payroll taxes. But this aspect is also the most difficult for most small businesses, and many who run payroll themselves incur frequent penalties from the IRS and other agencies. So we handle everything related to payroll taxes. If our clients receive notices from the IRS or other tax agencies, we’ll work directly with the agency on the client’s behalf. And if we make an error, we pay the fine.

Second Lesson: Never think what you’re doing today is what you’ll be doing 10 years from today. Markets change and products evolve. Learn to adapt quickly. While we’re still an online payroll company, we see the office moving from the computer to the smart phone. We’ve created a Mobile Payroll app for the iPhone® to keep up with our customers — and attract new ones.

4. Where will SurePayroll focus most of its energy in 2010?

The end of the twentieth century saw a massive expansion of the home office, and twenty-first century is greeting us with the burgeoning mobile office. When small business owners can keep their businesses running anywhere, anytime without computer access, they can spend more time closing deals and keeping clients happy. We started planning for 2010 a bit early with the launch of our Mobile Payroll app for the iPhone® in late 2009.

As the only company with a payroll app, we’re here to blaze the mobile payroll trail. This year we’re developing and launching an iPhone app for our customers’ employees to access their pay stubs and records. Later this year we’ll launch a payroll app for the Droid®, providing customers on two of America’s most popular wireless networks access to payroll from their smart phones. And, of course, all of our mobile apps are free to customers.

5. What do you see as 2 new trends in small business for 2010?

We are quickly reaching the tipping point when it comes to expectations that all things capable on a PC should also be capable on a mobile device.  More and more business applications continue to be built for smartphones, and more and more business owners consider the smart phones an essential business tool. Whereas most people rely on their iPhone, Blackberry or Droid to check and respond to email, smartphones will soon be a standard business tool for business owners and employees to conduct nearly all business functions.

Additionally, business owners will continue to see the value of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions to enhance productivity. More business owners will turn to hosted software solutions that free them from the responsibility and the cost of updating, maintaining and securing and traditional software solutions — and most importantly — free them from having to be in the office, at a PC to use the software.

6. If SurePayroll could put together a top 5 list related to your business, your industry, your customers or anything else what would that top five list be and what would be on it?

If we could create a top-five list for our industry, it would be the top five benefits of outsourcing payroll.

The list would go a little something like this:

A. Avoiding IRS Penalties. It is estimated that 40% of small businesses pay an average penalty of $845 per year for late or incorrect filings. We take responsibility for all IRS penalties that are the result of our error.

B. Reducing Costs. Our research indicates that a small business of 10 employees will typically spend $2,600 per year in direct labor costs associated with payroll. We’re usually well less than half the cost of doing payroll yourself.

C. Offering Direct Deposit. Employees want direct deposit. More importantly for business owners, direct deposit eliminates time-consuming and error-prone paper handling and the need to reconcile individual payroll checks every month. Direct deposit is included with SurePayroll.

D. Leaving Technology to the Pros. Using the wrong tax tables in outdated software can result in stiff penalties. Our constantly updated technology removes those risks and keeps payroll running smoothly.

E. Ensuring Payroll Knowledge Doesn’t Walk Out the Door. If your bookkeeper or controller gets a new job, they will walk out the door with their knowledge of the payroll process and how you do it. We eliminate that business risk.

7. What guidance can you give based on your experience to help small businesses out there that are facing difficult times?

First, take some solace knowing you’re not alone. From Main Street to Wall Street, nearly everyone’s business plan required major readjustments starting as early as 2007.

Entrepreneurs are the most practical and simultaneously innovative group out there. If there is a less expensive, more efficient way to get business done, they’ll find it – and a lot faster than the big businesses that are weighed down by red tape and processes. This is true about staying in business in tough times, too.

As their workloads increased and it become evident they required more employees, many small business owners turned to contractors instead of new full-time employees. While certain stipulations apply to contract workers, if it’s a viable option, it’s worth looking into. You’ll save money on matching FICA contributions as well as other employee-paid taxes, while providing employment during tough economic times. While you’re operating on a project-by-project basis, using a contractor labor force enables you to hire on a project-by-project basis.

Now’s also a great time to save money by review your existing contracts. For example, if your workers’ compensation insurance, health insurance and 401(k) plans come from different providers, see if one company offers everything and can give you better rates. And it never hurts to call your phone company, Internet provider and consulting services to see if you can create a package deal or negotiate cheaper rates. Some of the services we’re convinced we’ll use when signing up turn out to be an expendable luxury.

8. Tell us one thing that is unique about the SurePayroll culture that you want small businesses to know?

We’re like a lot of Internet companies: casual work environment, foosball table in the break area and a relatively flat organizational structure so employees aren’t confined by an insurmountable chain of command. But unlike many of our peers, we embrace and encourage length of service. To show our appreciation for the number of years an employee invests in us, we offer an all-expenses paid trip to an exotic locale (like Mexico) for our employees after every five years of service — we even let each qualifying employee bring a guest. A good number of our employees will soon be eligible for their second “5-year trip.” Quite a statement for a company that opened just 10 years ago.

9. If SurePayroll had a theme song, what would it be and why?

Perhaps No Doubt’s “Simple Kind of Life” because that’s exactly what we provide our customers — at least as far as payroll is concerned.

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

Kudos to you for your resiliency during this tough economy. You’ve probably had to adapt your business to survive. The upside of doing this is that you’re learning adaptability, like I mentioned earlier. Once the economy hits and upswing, the adaptability you’ve learned will prove invaluable in the new economy.

If you have questions for SurePayroll, please leave them in our comments section.

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