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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

“Putting Your Money baQ Where it Belongs”: A SmallBiz Interview with the CEO and CTO of paybaQ

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Today’s small business interview is with the founder and CEO of paybaQ, Brian J. Esposito, and the CTO, Peter Hermsen. You may remember Brian from his last interview with us when we talked about his Inc. 5000 company, AVEYOU Beauty Boutique . However, his enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirit inspired him to launch a new business, paybaQ, which focuses on helping people deal with their microloans online. Brian and Peter proudly gave us their business story and shared many tips that contribute towards the success and prosperity of small businesses.

Tell us about paybaQ and who you focus on serving?

BRIAN J. ESPOSITO: paybaQ was established in 2010 to fulfill a need: to address and solve the age old problem of personal undocumented microloans. The paybaQ platform allows users to document, arrange payment between two or more parties, and establish a positive personal Generosity Rating (Giver) & Responsibility Rating (Receiver). paybaQ’s purpose is to eliminate the awkwardness of borrowing or collecting personal microloans. Through our secure and simple system you will not only become more responsible, but possibly save a relationship from becoming spoiled.

“Money doesn’t have to be the root of all evil, it could grow into something good”.

Your paybaQ hub has everything you need to organize and monitor any transactions you perform with paybaQ.com.  Here, you can easily review account details and history, as well as view detailed reports on your transactions. You also have access to any reminders for transactions that have not yet been completed, and you can integrate your account with social network profiles to easily add contacts you may be lending or borrowing money from. No more wondering when you are going to be paid back; with paybaQ, you can set the terms of the microloan and easily remind the borrower(s) through email, text message, and/or through private messaging that monies are due. Lending and borrowing money has never been so hassle free. Although our top priority is creating more responsible individuals, privacy and security of our site and system is of the utmost importance.

Now you can do that all on the go with our iTunes app: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/paybaq-mobile/id454232420?mt=8.

How did you get started dealing with microloans online?

BE: This was an idea that I have had for a few years.  Especially when the financial crisis hit in 2008, I realized the timing was perfect to launch.  Money, family, friendship, and responsibilities are at rocky paths when it comes to lending or borrowing money for any reason.  Even when times are good these transactions could always have the tendency of going bad.  paybaQ’s system has all the necessary pieces in place to try and avoid those situations from happening.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced and overcame in launching paybaQ?

BE: The biggest challenge was where to begin.  The paybaQ model has so many different pieces that it can branch off to.  During our initial meetings, brainstorming’s lead to hours of great ideas, but no real progress.  We finally figured out that we had to scale back all those additional concepts and get paybaQ off the ground and running on its core principles.

What tools would you recommend for small businesses in the online world?

BE: Small business should be required a specific set of tools to protect themselves, their families, and more importantly their employees and customers.  In the online world these tools should include SSL Security, Privacy Policies, Hacker Proof Services Monitors, PCI Compliance, Review/Feedback Services, and additional items that can be added to your site to increase trust and credibility.  There are only a handful of companies that have earned instant trust in the consumer world; for the rest of us, it will be a constant uphill battle to convert potential customers into actual customers.  That all begins with how you treat your current customer base and how your image and brand are perceived in the consumers eyes.

Security is of growing importance to all small businesses for a number of reasons. What are the most challenging issues at your company with respect to security?

PETER HERMSEN: Providing timely access to data by members while deterring unauthorized access.  We recognize the challenges faced by the commerce community with respect to security and privacy.  No matter what you do to secure your data, someone will try to figure out a way to crack it.  That’s why we partner with Authorize.net.  With them as a partner, we don’t have to worry about keeping any credit card information on our site.  We only maintain a balance of loan tokens, which have no value to anyone with the exception that they allow users to register loans.  In fact, we give the first 5 credits for free.

Based on your expertise, what two or three things do you think small businesses should be doing concerning online marketing?

BE: It’s very important to stay fresh and relevant.  I always say the minute you stop doing something, your competitor hasn’t.  Keeping this in your mind at all times will fuel you to keep striving for greatness.  Being the biggest is not important, but being the best is.  It is also important to understand marketing and its results.  Very few things are an instant success.  You have to keep with it.  Of course this is within reason.  You can’t keep pouring good money after bad.  Every business has different expectations and needs.  With ours, due to our position we are happy gaining a customer a day, but of course that does not apply to everyone.

If you had to pick two lessons that you’ve learned from launching and maintaining your business, what would they be?

PH: Launching a business and developing the software are definitely different things.  From the development side, the business waits (patiently) while development carries on.  Now that we’ve launched, we’re just learning about maintaining.  There are hurdles which must be crossed as you transition to a production site.  We made it past them, but have definitely learned that no matter what, you always have to plan on software taking longer than anticipated.  Also, when working in a new financial venture, you find that potential financial partners enter with good intentions; then, when they don’t fully understand your premise, withdraw gracefully.  Unfortunately, the development team engages with creating software to support partners, and have to start over when a new partner is introduced.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any standards. Google Checkout, PayPal, Yahoo, private payment gateways; all of them are different.

BE: I’ve learned to not give up on a vision or dream.  I’ve learned even your closest friends and even sometimes family members will try to deflate you. I haven’t figured out if these are malice words or if they are just trying to protect you from failure.  Failure is great, failure is better than anything you can learn in school or from a book.  Some of the greatest lessons and creations were born from failure at some point.

How do the folks at paybaQ let loose after a busy day working?

Due to our partnership with The Hearst Corporation for the rights to use Wimpy from Popeye, we like to let loose on Tuesdays for Hamburger night.  We will travel around our area in search for the greatest hamburger.  When paybaQ really takes off we may increase our distance a bit.  “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburger Today:” © King Features Syndicate, Inc.  Hearst Holdings Inc.

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

The small business community is an elite group.  We are made up of people who took a risk and went after our passions.  Everything in life has ups and downs.  It is important to find a balance so you can save on the ups to get you through the downs.  Unless you are a 1-person operation your actions and decisions can have great affects.  Remember you have employees, vendors, suppliers, and customers that may depend on you.  This is a great amount of responsibility you have taken on, and you should be proud.  Our group will continue to be the backbone of our economy and we must prove to the world that we deserve that role.

Thanks to both Brian Esposito and Peter Hermsen from paybaQ for a great interview! If you have any questions or comments for them, feel free to write them below.

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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Small Business Lessons from Tamara Gozan of Designer Purse Depot

Monday, August 29th, 2011

This week I had the pleasure of talking with Tamara Gozan, the founder of http://www.designerpursedepot.com/, an online store that sells a variety of designer handbags and apparel. However, due to customer demand, Tamara shared that she will be expanding her business and focusing more on designer clothing, shoes, and accessories. We had a great conversation during our interview, touching on topics such as small business, social media outlets, and The Devil Wears Prada (of course!).

Tell us a little about Designer Purse Depot and who you focus on serving?

Designer Purse Depot services a lot of people who like designer items, mostly handbags and clothing but also including shoes and other accessories. Because my customers love designer goods and they are really expensive, I spend a lot of time trying to find companies where I can find these items on sale or at a discounted price. I then resell them to my customers, who often use these items themselves or turnaround and sell them on eBay.

How did you get your started selling online?

I started over a decade ago when I had an eBay account and sold a few things online there. Then recently, I saw the success of many people that were making their money online and heard a lot of people who considered themselves experts, explain the importance of having an online store. I started looking around to find a format or platform where I could open an online store and found Shopster. I decided to open a free account using their free trial offered at the time and put some items on the account, just to see what they would look like on the website, and within 8 days I had my first sale. After recognizing the potential, I decided to get more serious and built a complete website. In my first month on Shopster, I had 20 sales!

Where has Designer Purse Depot focused most of its energy on in the past year?

My main focus has been on designer handbags, though I’m planning to focus more on designer clothing, shoes, and accessories in this upcoming year. I have received many requests from my frequent customers that are asking for those items, so I plan to focus on expanding my collection.

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

For one, having detailed photos of the items that you are selling is essential because people can’t touch or feel the product like they normally could. Instead, they would like to get a really good look at the items. Also important is having an accurate and detailed description of the items. Both of these are extremely valuable factors to focus on, and the third item is the pricing of your products. You have to know what is currently going on in the market because if you price an item too high, you won’t get enough customers, and if you price an item too low, the customers won’t recognize the value.

What do you see as 2 new trends in your industry this year?

Surprisingly, some of the most expensive handbags are the hottest items right now. Although everyone is talking about how bad the economy is, some of the most expensive handbags are selling very well. Another trend is the emerging popularity of fashion forward attire. Lots of women are looking for really nice office wear and bright colors.

From your experience, what are the best ways to advertise yourself?  Do you make use of tools like social media?

Yes, I definitely think that you should be on Facebook and Twitter, as well as have an eBay outlet and possibly an Amazon account also. You can introduce new items there and send customers back to your store. I really think you should have a strong presence in the market and definitely a blog.

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

It would probably be the intern from The Devil Wears Prada, played by Anne Hathaway. I don’t necessarily wear a lot of high fashion items and I’m more of an admirer, so I’ve had to really become acclimated with women who wear these high value, designer products. Similarly, the intern went into an industry that she wasn’t familiar with and had to adapt to the environment and learn the market.

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

I just read an article about the woman who wrote the novel, The Help, and learned that she was rejected 60 different times by 60 different literary agents and the 61st agent was the first to give her a chance. Now, her novel has become a major motion picture. You may not get it right the first time, or even the second or third times, but if you are passionate about what you want to do and keep trying to tweak it and make it right, you will find success. Even though it started out almost effortless with Shopster, having an online store isn’t always easy; it has been challenging to grow and I’m still seeking to go to the next level. I have to keep myself focused and motivated every day, though that’s how you will eventually find success.

We at KikScore would like to thank Tamara for giving the community his thoughts on the small business experience.  If you have questions for Tamara, please leave them in the comments below.

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Making Businesses Bigger, Better, Faster: An Interview with Ed Carrick

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Today’s small business interview is with Ed Carrick, the founder of Performance Analysis. Carrick works as a consultant for small businesses, mainly manufacturing companies, helping them maximize their business productivity through lean management techniques. He stimulates efficiency among these companies and drives their success. We had the privilege of speaking to Ed and he talked about both his company and the small business community.

Tell us about Performance Analysis and who you focus on serving?

Performance Analysis is a very small consulting firm. Our main focus is on small manufacturers, many being local but we also have nationwide services that we reach out through the internet. The nature of our business is to help other businesses learn and implement various techniques for process improvement and increased productivity.  One of the major concepts we follow is lean management; the outcome is typically lower cost, greater output, and a greater quality product.

What prompted the launch of Performance Analysis?

Performance Analysis is an offspring from my past job at one of the universities here. I loved the consulting work, really saw the value in it, and saw what it can do for manufacturers in this country. The situation I was in did not work very well and I knew I had the ability of making it on my own, so it was just all about timing and gaining the confidence to eventually launch my own business.

What is a recent trend that you have been focusing on to increase your sales and business?

One of the big things that we have been focusing on quite a lot over the last 6 months is trying to develop and improve upon inbound marketing techniques. Sites such as HARO, Twitter, and Facebook are effective for getting your name out there to the public. I have also been posting a lot of articles on my website’s blog. We’re trying to drive people to our site and build our company as industry experts.

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?

Our business is not 100% online and in fact, many of my services include in-person consulting and engineering efforts. Our online courses are the part of the business that is bought and sold online, but I think that inbound marketing is a very important tool to look at and to bring to one’s business. It’s a relatively new term, but it’s the way online businesses are going these days. I would suggest that people trying to increase their internet sales should get involved with HubSpot, possibly the worldwide expert in inbound marketing and software techniques.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for small businesses in today’s society and economy and how do you focus on overcoming them?
One of the biggest challenges, as it was for us, is not appearing as a small mom-and-pop company that clients may not want to work with. It’s very important to portray your business as a professional, growing company in your field. A lot of people start off as solopreneurs like myself, but it is important to build onto that and grow as a company.

From your experience, what are the best ways to advertise yourself?

I haven’t really figured that one out yet, though I have found that blogging and participating in social media has been the most successful for us so far. We’ve also listed Performance Analysis with online business listing services, and some of the better ones have increased our SEO and brought our URLs higher up on Google searches. In general, it all boils down to using a combination of inbound marketing techniques.

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

The Fighter. The main character is actually representative of some of our clients. Like Mark Wahlberg’s character in the movie being a boxer who has sort of plateaued, many of our clients are manufacturers that have peaked and are not sure what to do to get better. They find inspiration on how to increase their sales and business by using our service and working with knowledgeable people.

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

One of the main things about start-ups is that if you are thinking about doing it and it’s really in your heart to do it, you can do it and you can’t doubt yourself. You must realize that once you get out there and jump into your own business, there are going to be some struggles but it is all going to be worth it and it’s not going to be as scary and difficult as you think it might be. Don’t keep waiting like I did and just follow your heart.

Thanks to Ed Carrick for a great interview and taking time out of his busy schedule. If anyone has any questions or comments for Ed, please leave them in the comments.

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Turning Sites into Gold: An Interview with Marketade’s John Nicholson

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

I recently had the privilege of speaking with John Nicholson, co-founder of the consulting company Marketade. A savvy businessman and all-around great guy, John uses his experiences to help others with some of the most important problems that online businesses face. My interview with John has taught me a lot and I want you all to be able to benefit from what he has to say.

Tell me a little about Marketade?

Marketade is basically a boutique web consulting company that I started with my partner and co-founder, Karan Gill. While Karan works on web development and design, I focus on search marketing, web analytics and conversion optimizations. Both of us used to work at GEICO; I was in marketing and Karan was in IT. GEICO is very metrics focused and innovative with its brand and web presence. We’re able to take the skills and processes we learned there and use them to help small to mid-sized businesses.

When and why did you decide to create Marketade?

Karan and I started Marketade two years ago. We had each come up with the idea of creating a consulting company and after talking decided it would be best for us to work as a team. We felt that our Fortune 100 skills could help small and mid-sized businesses compete with much bigger competitors – which was an exciting idea for us.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced and overcame in launching Marketade?

Business development and finding new clients. As an entrepreneur, you’re always running around with too much to do. This makes it really difficult to not get completely wrapped up in client’s requests. You have to be disciplined with your time and reserve some of it to develop your business. One thing that we did in this area was create a newsletter. Since we use this to write in-depth articles, our newsletter is a great way to show off some of our expertise. In fact, we got our biggest deal to date through a reader of our newsletter.

How do you advertise yourself to get more clients?

We don’t really advertise in a traditional sense. We think the best way to grow your business is through word-of-mouth from happy customers and that’s where we’ve focused. As I mentioned earlier, we do have a newsletter. We also use Twitter a little bit.

We’ve also gotten a few clients just from working at Affinity Lab, the co-working space in D.C. where we are based.

Have you had any trouble proving your business’ credibility and legitimacy to potential customers and website visitors?

Yes. We know that a lot of people come to our website and leave quickly, even though they’ve come from highly relevant search phrases. We attribute this at least in part to not providing our credibility. Our GEICO experience helps, but is not enough.

Lately, this issue has been on our minds as we redesign our site. People want to know who is behind the organization, so we’re planning on playing up our bios more. We’ve also recently become a Google Certified Partner and plan to promote that. And working out of Affinity Lab also has credibility, so we’ll play that up more too. One of our clients recently told us that it made a big difference just knowing that we had an actual address in D.C.

When you’re not working on Marketade, what do you do to relax?

I’m a pretty big sports guy. I enjoy soccer, tennis, yoga, and I recently got into surfing. I enjoy eating at ethnic restaurants. I also read a fair amount. Most of what I read is nonfiction and contemporary.

Based on your expertise, what two or three things do you think small businesses should be doing concerning online marketing?

One thing, which I’ve written an article on, is that small businesses need to optimize their website title tags. The title tag that appears on the top of your browser is a huge factor in Google’s organic search scoring method. Most people just put the name of their business. What they don’t realize is that they need keyword-rich title tags that include their profession service areas and/or location. Although it isn’t a particularly exciting form of marketing, it is drastically underutilized.

Another important thing is for businesses to take the time to understand what words people use when talking about their business. There is a Google Keyword Tool that allows you to see how often people search using a certain term. I often spend hours on this when working with a new client. It helps immensely not just with SEO, but with how visitors will interact with your site’s content. You have to know how to speak the language of your visitors. Business and technical jargon just doesn’t resonate.

Related to this, most businesses need better writing on their sites. There is too much focus on the next big thing – whether it’s video or social media – and not enough focus on good writing. Always remember that people on the web are in a rush and want to be able to skim content easily.

What tools would you recommend for small businesses in the online world?

The Google Keyword Tool I mentioned earlier is a great one. Google Analytics can also be really helpful. Don’t worry if you’re a non-technical kind of person; it’s pretty intuitive. Even if you only use it to get a better idea of where people are coming from, it can make a big difference. Both of these tools are free and they are great for helping businesses figure out how to increase conversions.

If you had to pick two lessons that you’ve learned from launching and maintaining your business, what would they be?

One lesson would be thinking in the long-term concerning business development. I know I mentioned this earlier so I won’t go into it, but it is essential for businesses. You need to make sure you set time aside for this instead of just focusing on what is immediately in front of you. That’s the only way to grow.

Another lesson is to realize the importance of time management and project management. These are especially important when starting up because you have to wear so many different hats as a small business owner. I make an effort to track almost every moment of my day. I always ask myself “Where is my time going and is it in line with what I’m trying to do with my business?” Unfocused time is a killer. Tools aren’t the key here, but they can help. We use Harvest and Basecamp to track our time and manage projects.

Do you have any final thoughts or words of wisdom to share with our readers and the business community?

Don’t be afraid to take the “old school” route when doing your research and learning new techniques. Go to the library and get a book instead of just looking online for articles. The problem with the rise of social media and SEO is that it also gives rise to a lot of useless information. A lot of “top 10″ type articles are not saying anything particularly new. They’re just regurgitating old information. If you’re passionate about something, go out and get a book written by a professional in the field. Don’t just rush over to blogs or to Twitter. After all, it’s also nice to disconnect after a long day of being in front of the computer.

Thanks to John for a great interview and a lot of great information! If you have any questions or comments for John, feel free to write them below.

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Putting the “Social” in Social Media: A KikScore Interview with Chris Visco

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Visco, the owner of both TheBestOfFood.com and PJ’s and Coffee Social Media Marketing. With PJ’s and Coffee, her team doesn’t only market your business on the internet; they build and maintain client relationships for your business. According to a recent HubSpot study, nearly 2/3 of US internet users regularly use a social network and that number isn’t falling anytime soon. This makes Visco’s business ever more important and beneficial to the small business community. She discusses her business and gives tips for the future of small businesses in our KikScore interview of her.

1. Tell us about PJ’s and Coffee and who you focus on serving?

PJ’s and Coffee is a full service social media marketing agency. We manage the social media accounts for all sorts of businesses. PJ’s and Coffee is the blog for and social media management branch of our main website, TheBestofFood.com. We used to focus mainly on restaurants in the Philly area, but as more businesses sought our service, we expanded into helping small and medium businesses in a variety of different industries.

2. How did you get the idea for PJ’s and Coffee?

Essentially, we promote local restaurants by providing them with reliable and candid reviews on our site. This assists locals and travelers visiting the Philadelphia area with dining recommendations. This was the idea behind TheBestOfFood.com.

After using social media to promote these restaurants, we realized the value of social media and the cost savings involved with it. With the emergence of Twitter, we talked to restaurants, explaining our desire to promote them. They also saw the benefit of using social media outlets and asked us to manage their Facebook and other accounts. We started out by operating Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare accounts. After engaging many clients using these sites, others approached us about our service, including mortgage companies, dispatch providers, dentists, and others, expanding well beyond the food industry.

Being the food blog for TheBestOfFood.com, the name behind PJ’s and Coffee came from the idea that people want to sit and relax at home in their pajamas with their coffee in hand, and have the intimate feeling of reading and talking about food. We then took the name and rebranded it to the social media division, envisioning people sitting at home in the PJ’s and interacting with others through social media outlets on their computers and phones. Thirty-one percent of people between the ages of 18-35 check social media sites before getting out of bed in the morning so PJ’s and Coffee seemed like a fitting, more casual name. We put the “social” in social media. Many businesses fail because they don’t understand that it’s about people, not products. We engage their target audience and promote them using our research media. Companies that engage their target audience have a higher success than those who “talk AT” people online.

3. What is PJ’s and Coffee focusing most of its energy on this year?

Obviously with the recent release of Google+, we are going to see how successful it is and how to best use it from a marketing standpoint. We will continue focusing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. though it depends on the business model and which company represents the brand the best. We look for where we can reach the most people and make the most valuable connections. For example, we represent a collision repair company that is equally successful on both Facebook and Twitter, though not as much on LinkedIn and Foursquare. For B2Bs, Twitter and LinkedIn are most successful, while Facebook and Twitter are best for C2Bs. Also, for companies that are targeting women and mothers, mommy bloggers are really influential and we try to engage with them.

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

First, engagement is critical. Businesses that don’t engage with their target audience become white noise. Secondly, practice makes perfect and not all strategies work for all business so you have to be ready to adapt and change. When we first started, we were very Facebook driven but then we started expanding when we saw other outlets were more beneficial. Some strategies aren’t as successful so you should learn and read as much as you can and if one doesn’t work, move onto the next.

5. Based on your experience as social media strategist, what do you see as 2 new trends for small business?

One new trend is the increased use of video marketing. Fifty six percent of online users are likely to view videos through social media websites, and we’ve seen the success of Youtube videos over the years. Talk Fusion is a new service for email media marketing and allows you to send video emails directly to your client’s inbox.

Another trend will be the redevelopment of websites for social media use. Many websites get more hits and visitors through social media outlets than web searches so because social media sites are driving web traffic, websites are becoming more social media friendly. It’s not easy to facilitate with many current websites and they will be redeveloped, allowing you to login through Facebook and Twitter accounts and shooting out business-related alerts, similar to the news feed of Facebook. In addition, they must become more photo rich to draw attention to their sites on social media outlets.

6. What is the biggest challenge that PJ’s and Coffee faces as a small business and how do you work to overcome that challenge??

Quite honestly, the number one challenge is finding people that are able to engage others online. It seems easy to just go on social media sites and chat, but finding quality marketing professionals to actually engage people is difficult. The instinct to promote online is to just shout out your business promotions. For example, by just shooting out listings and links to your website, businesses and their posts become white noise which consumers will tune out quickly. The key is taking your ego out and making it less about you and more about the customer, which takes a lot of discipline and training. I’ve engaged in a business (social media marketing) that requires a lot of time. It takes 20-30 hours per month per social media outlet, so my challenge is balancing profitability while also bringing in people who take a lot of time to train and learn.

Also, another challenge is dealing with businesses that need to adapt their methods for the long term. While there will be no immediate result, those companies need to realize that they have to be in it now to be profitable in the longer run.

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

The Social Network for obvious reasons.

8. How do the folks at PJ’s and Coffee let loose after a busy day working?

With a glass of wine at a favorite local restaurant. The thing about what we do is that anything can happen at any point during the day. It is 24/7 work because consumers are online at all times, whether it be 1am, 6am, or 11pm, and there are no afterhours, social media sites are being visited every second.

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

I believe all businesses should have a social media presence. Businesses need to learn that it’s not just about promotion, but it’s also a customer service tool. If someone has a complaint or a raving review about your business, they’re most likely to go online and post about it somewhere on the internet. You need to be on these sites to immediately address your customers and their issues regarding your business.

I’d like to thank Chris Visco again for a great interview! If anyone has any questions or comments for Chris, please leave them in the comments.

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A Conversation with Candice Cabe of “Day2Night Convertible Heels”: Venturing Into the World of Start-Ups

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

I had the pleasure of talking to Candice Cabe, who is the CEO of an innovative startup called “Day2Night Convertible Heels.”  Her company focuses on simplifying life for women who want to be both practical and stylish.  Her business targeting women-on-the-go, and is quickly plunging into the entrepreneurial world.  We spoke briefly about her ventures, as well as what it’s like to be a small-business owner in today’s quickly-changing world of business.  Thank you, Candice for speaking to me and sharing your experiences with our readers.  We wish you the best of luck in the future!

Tell us a little bit about your business and what makes it unique.

We invented a high heel shoe that converts from high heels down to lower heels.  It is a new kind of technology.  The shoes have interchangeable heels so that women can wear the same pair of shoes but adjust the heel height.  It’ll be the first time that women can wear fashionable and much more comfortable shoes at the same time.

What prompted you to start this business?  Was there a problem you aimed on solving?

The main problem is that women love to wear high heels, but usually after a few hours of wearing them, their feet really start to hurt. They’re usually forced to carry extra shoes with them in their bag to wear to work in the morning or to go out at night.

One of the stories that I tell a lot is that I was packing for a trip – I had to go on a corporate trip down to Miami for a few days and I was told to pack lightly and not check baggage.  I was trying to fit all of these shoes into my little tiny suitcase and I noticed that I ended having three pairs of shoes that looked similar but all had different heel heights, depending on what I was going to be doing.  I knew that immediately when I was getting off the plane, we were going to be chartering a boat and going on that for a few hours, so I was going to need small heels.  Later, we were going to be walking around the tradeshow for a few hours.  I needed to look appropriate in my suit and wear medium-height heels.  Then we were going to go out for a fancier dinner at night so I needed to have high stiletto shoes.  All my shoes looked the same but had different heel heights.  Also, they were taking up so much room in my suitcase.  I thought that it would be so nice to have a travel shoe – one shoe that you can wear to multiple occasions.

What are your short-term goals for the next year?  What kind of things is your business focusing on?

Right now we’re working on refunding and financing.  We’re trying to get some money in the door to finish prototyping.  We are also going to have to invest in getting a mold made.  Once we have a mold, we’ll be able to mass-produce the shoes in China.  We’re also looking for a shoe designer and a shoe manufacturer.  We already have one, but we’re looking for an alternative one.  We’re also trying to close some deals – we’re hoping to do a licensing deal with an existing shoe company.  We’re talking to companies like Steve Madden and zappos.com.  It would be great to get a licensing deal with a larger shoe company.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for small businesses in today’s society and economy?  What do you see as the best solutions to these challenges?

Funding, for sure, is number one.  Another one is building a team and getting people to work for straight equity instead of money is difficult – so getting people to either quit their jobs or to work for you full time.

The biggest thing that I’ve done is just talk to everybody I know or everybody I can think of.  I go to a lot of networking events and tell people what I’m trying to do and what I’m struggling with.  People always want to help, especially if you specifically tell them what you’re struggling with, which makes it easy for people to introduce you to other people.

From your experience, what are the best ways to advertise yourself?  Do you make use of tools like social media?

We have been using a lot of social media tools.  We use Facebook and Twitter and we have our own website.  We’re working on search engine optimization, for example Google keywords.

Where do you go to find advice or to get information that is relevant to your business?  Where would you recommend that other small businesses in the community go?  How do you connect with other businesses?

There’s a book that I’d like to recommend to people.  It’s called The Four Steps to the Epiphany.  That’s a book that is helpful for this kind of business that can help business owners get some customers and prove that people want things in the way that you’re doing them.  It’s a good way to get information to people.

Have you had any problems with demonstrating trust to your potential clients or customers?

People seem to be pretty good with trust.  Sometimes people have issues with our particular product.  They are reluctant to believe that the product will hold up well and be sturdy enough and strong enough.  What we’ve done to reassure customers is have a couple of videos on our website demonstrating the shoes, how they’re worn, and how they work.  In the future, we’re hoping to get a lot of customer reviews, feedback, and testimonials from people.  Communication is very important.  We’re trying to put ourselves out there so that people can better understand what we’re doing.

If you could choose a dream spokesperson to represent your business, who would it be?

My dream spokesperson would be Carrie Underwood because we would love to have a celebrity that would be able to wear our shoes.  I think that a lot of people would follow suit.  She’s a rising star and an American Idol and holds a lot of credibility for young women in America.

What do you see as the future for small businesses like yours?  Are you seeing any trends or changes developing?

I’m in the startup world of Boston, which is a really big startup community and city.  It seems that more and more young folks are starting businesses right out of college.  Instead of graduating college and immediately trying to find a job, people are thinking creatively and taking entrepreneurial courses or looking up to other young startups.

Do you have any parting comments or words of advice to our readers and the small business community?

If you have an idea, you should act on it.  Ideas can be a dime in a dozen, but it’s really about execution.  I think that if people put all of their effort into starting a business…if they’re passionate about it and tell everybody they know about it, then almost anyone can start their own business.  I encourage people to start their own businesses and try to ground themselves with people who have done so and been successful.  It’s good to have mentorship from people who know how things work.

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview and I hope you gained something from Candice’s words of wisdom and many insights into what it’s like to own a start-up.  What do you think of her ideas?

Feel free to leave feedback here or contact Candice through her site: http://www.convertible-heels.com/Day2Night.html

Support her business here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2072356942/day2night-convertible-high-heel-shoes

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KikScore SmallBiz Interviews’ Greatest Hits & Top Strategy Tips for Entrepreneurs: Part II

Friday, June 17th, 2011

KikScore has had the pleasure of interviewing many small business owners over the past few years, asking these entrepreneurs about all areas of their businesses and what has spurred their growth, while also throwing in light-hearted pop-culture related questions.

In Part I of this two-part Greatest Hits series, I highlighted the top five lessons learned from these interviews with regards to establishing a successful small business. If you missed Part I, click here.

In Part II, I will present five of the most important challenges faced by these small businesses that our interviewees shared with us. These issues are extremely pertinent to all small businesses and it is vital for small businesses to overcome these challenges in order to succeed.

Here we go, the five most common challenges faced by entrepreneurs and their small businesses:

5. Keeping Up with New Technologies

“As the cost of running business with a physical store or office is comparatively high due to the monthly rental fee as well as the consumption of electricity and the hiring of manpower, more and more businesses like us tend to create their presence on the Internet. Without a significant competitive advantage, a retailer will be forced to raise a white flag in this cruel and heartless battlefield.” – Margaret Chan, founder of Cherry’s Brandname Gallery

In today’s world, technology is rapidly changing and businesses must keep up with latest innovations in order to stay modern and be successful. Companies have to start utilizing the internet, for both its e-commerce capability as well as a marketing and advertising tool. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are essential to small businesses, as millions of users check and use their personal accounts on those websites multiple times each day.

4. Lacking Adaptability

“While it is important to hold on to your vision, it should never be at the expense of building a sustainable business model. Your business plan whether it is one page or fifty, should be an evolving document that scales to put you in the best possible position to serve your clients and generate revenue.” – Tai Goodwin, founder of Launch While Working

Another challenge entrepreneurs also face is the ineptitude to alter or adjust your business plan. The business world is full of surprises and unexpected circumstances.  In order to run a successful company, businesses must be flexible and able to adapt to the changing environment around them.

3. Fear of Failure

“Another challenge I had was more of a mental one, which was the fear of ‘Can I start my own business?’ There are so many company decisions that we take for granted until we have to make them ourselves.” – Gregg Hand, founder and owner of Hand Law Offices

Two weeks ago I mentioned how the number one piece of advice for having success as a small business is keeping the long-term goal in perspective and never giving up or losing hope. Therefore, one of the challenges faced with starting a small business is dealing with the fear of failure. You cannot be afraid that you’re going to fail and act hesitantly because then you will fail; you must be confident with all of your decisions and maintain the passion with which you started your business. Owen Wilson’s character in Wedding Crashers puts it best when talking to his partner, “Your goddamn negativity! I don’t need it! I’m an idea man. I thrive on enthusiasm. Don’t take the wind out of my sails. I need you.”

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2. Finding Customers

1. … and then Gaining their Trust

As a small business I believe our biggest challenge is gaining trust in a potential new customer.  If a shopper sees a Macys logo or a Best Buy logo they are not going to question is this a secure company/site.  As a brand that is growing, we are not mainstream and are years away from becoming a staple in the beauty industry.  We overcome that challenge by gaining one new customer at a time.  Proving to that customer we are legitimate business, that is not going to sell their name to any third parties, is going to ship their order, their most private and intimate information is in a very secure area, and if there is any problems whatsoever with their order we will do everything we can to correct it and make it right.” – Brian Esposito, CEO of Avenue You Beauty Store

In order to be successful, you must generate revenue from customers and unless you develop a brand-new product or have a revolutionary idea, you are most likely going to enter into an industry that already has a fair share of other competitors. There lies the biggest challenge of small businesses: finding customers and then keeping them. Finding customers as a small business relies on effective networking and marketing, and especially positive word of mouth. Whether it is online or in newspapers, spreading your name and attracting publicity is a must for businesses to find customers. In addition, promoting your credibility and trustworthiness is a necessity to ensure that once you land a customer, he or she will return.

This is the service that we here at Kikscore provide for online businesses. We show your potential customers that you can be trusted, allowing shoppers to review your record of reliability and creditworthiness through the Kikscore Trust Seal and the KikReport. After overcoming all these obstacles, you’ll be “so money”. More information regarding Kikscore and its trust seal can be found at http://www.kikscore.com/more.html and http://www.kikscore.com/confidence_badge.html respectively.

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The Right Side of the Law: An Interview With Gregg Hand

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Gregg Hand, founder and owner of the exciting new law firm Hand Law Offices. Friendly and embodying the entrepreneurial spirit, Gregg is a great guy who has much to say and just as much to teach. After our interview, I feel that it is a privilege to share his wisdom with both the potential and current small business owners out there. I hope that you all get as much out of Gregg’s words as I have.

What areas of the law do you focus in?

I focus on small business counseling and litigation. This mainly involves small businesses that don’t have their own inside counseling centers and need help with issues such as how to handle certain customers and deal with lawsuits. You can think of me as an adviser who is there to come up with answers to these types of problems.

When and why did you start Hand Law Offices?

I started Hand Law a little over one year ago in January 2010. In the past years, I have worked in many large D.C. law offices and I’d finally had enough of them. I don’t mean to say that I disliked what I was doing. My problem was more a matter of how these big businesses are run. I didn’t like being told what to do, being constantly monitored, and having to report up the corporate chain even when they didn’t care what I was reporting. I really wanted to do things on my own.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced and overcame in launching your law firm?

Actually, there were a few challenges I had to go through. Although I am a member of the D.C. bar, I wanted to do my work in Maryland, where I live. But since there are different licensing requirements for every state, I had to take a whole new bar exam to practice here.

Another challenge I had was more of a mental one, which was the fear of ‘Can I start my own business?’ There are so many company decisions that we take for granted until we have to make them ourselves. What computer should I use? What internet should I use? How should my business cards look? In the end, though, you just need to stir up your courage and take a leap of faith.

Probably the main hurdle I had to get over was figuring out how to find customers. With so many options out there, I needed to figure out how to do my website. I also had to figure out if I was going to just do a website or also create a blog for it. I had to decide how I was going to stand out and market myself. These are just of few choices I had to make. That being said, it’s kind of fun. After all, by being your own boss, you get what you want.

How do you advertise yourself to get your clients?

Other than my website and blog, I have Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin accounts. Of course, most people are more likely to Google you than anything else. However, I think it’s most important to keep in touch with my contact groups. I prefer to get the bulk of my customers through referrals from past and present customers. After that, it’s more a matter of figuring out how to supplement word of mouth through social media.

Have you found that demonstrating your law firm’s trustworthiness to potential clients and website visitors has been a challenge?

Actually, the trumping card for me is just the opposite. Sometimes the referrals I get can be duds. My website is not really for online service so much as it is to allow potential customers to find my contact information and let them know a little bit about me. I like to try a more trustworthy and conservative approach. I mainly want the customer to feel comfortable talking to me over the phone or in person.

What do you do in your down time to relax that allows you to recharge your batteries?

I have three kids, so that keeps me kind of busy. I also like to play the guitar and am taking lessons. The thing is that, with a startup, you’re usually going to be doing more than a nine-to-five workday. The fear of failure to succeed in a startup is definitely a good motivator that keeps me going. However, my schedule is more flexible than if I were still at a big company, so I can take the time that I need to get other things done like if I need to pick up one of my kids from school. Other than that, I enjoy doing what I do.

What trends do you see in the business world that you think are important for small businesses to take note of?

Lately, there has been a shift in the business world. With the internet, things have become a lot more favorable for small businesses. Since people now have the ability to compare businesses with one another, startups have been given a fair chance to compete against large companies because they can operate from around the world just like everyone else.

If you had two lessons that you’ve learned from your business that you could pass on to others about opening their own service businesses, what would those be?

My first lesson is that good enough is fine. Sometimes you simply don’t have the resources to be perfect. You’re better off taking a leap of faith and seeing how it turns out rather than spending forever agonizing about it. Don’t spend too much time over-analyzing everything. After all, it’s not like you’ll make some sort of intractable mistake. What does your gut say? Go for it!

My second lesson is that, in general, people have good intentions. Sometimes people need help and propping up along the way. For example, if a customer has not payed your bill for a while, it doesn’t mean they are trying to stiff you. You need to realize that, even if this is your most important bill, it isn’t necessarily theirs. You should take the time to remind them of it, but understand that everyone has their own priorities.

Just before we wrap up, do you have any parting thoughts or guidance for our readers and the small business community?

The most important thing is to let everyone know that you’re starting out. Don’t be afraid to tell people about your new business. If people can help you out, they will! In fact, I’d say that this should be put even before the hard stuff like setting up a website. Plant your seeds early.

Thanks to Gregg Hand for a great interview! If you have any questions for Gregg, feel free to leave a comment below.

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KikScore SmallBiz Interviews’ Greatest Hits & Top Strategy Tips for Entrepreneurs: Part I

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

KikScore has had the pleasure of interviewing many small business owners over the past few years, asking these entrepreneurs about all areas of their businesses and what has spurred their growth, while also throwing in light-hearted pop-culture related questions.

In Part I of this two-part Greatest Hits series, I will highlight the top five lessons learned from these interviews with regards to establishing a successful small business. Many of these innovative and impressive business owners shared related advice and acknowledged similar trends in the e-commerce field. So without further ado, here are the Top 5 Things You Should Do When Starting a Small Business:

5. Keep your website simple and easy to navigate

- “My advice to people about an online presence is to keep it simple and clean and VERY easy to navigate AND to have a Content Management System (CMS) so you can update your site yourself.” (Whitney Zimet, owner of I Am The Maven)

- “Spend the money to get a good website.  We went with a woman who did “websites for small businesses” but she really wasn’t experienced in sites with a retail/shopping cart component.  So, the site looked okay on the surface, but I later learned that she had used very amateur programming on the back end, making it enormously difficult for another web programmer to make changes.  This also limited our SEO.” (Kimberley Stewart from OnBoard Outfitters)

4. Have a flexible business model, being able to adjust quickly to a changing environment

- “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.” (Michael Alter, President of SurePayroll)

- ”Be willing to change.  Always look at your business in a new way.” (Rick Shoop, owner of Oregon Seafoods)

3. Utilize social media outlets

-”Another trend is tapping into more social media platforms and applications.  Combining sites such as Facebook with applications developed by Wildfire you are very quickly able to promote coupons, contests, and/or sweepstakes.” (Brian Esposito, CEO of Avenue You Beauty Store)

- “Take full advantage of all social network and free Internet advertising. 50% of our sales come from social networking sites, the chain reaction you can achieve from them is priceless.” (S.J. Trotter, owner of www.exclusiveclothingretail.com)

2. Establish a safe and secure online presence

- “Apart from that, customer’s satisfaction is also of utmost importance to online business. Exceptional customer service results in greater customer retention, which in turn results in higher profitability. We therefore strongly believe that customer loyalty is one of the most crucial and major contributors to sustainable profit growth. Over 60% of our profits are from customers who came back and made their purchases more than once within the 3-month period.” (Margaret Chan, owner of Cherry’s Brandname Gallery)

- “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.” (Madalyn Duerr, owner of Tufted Topper)

1. Keep the long-term goal in perspective and never give up

- “Most importantly: Don’t let anyone tell you no. You are your own best advocate and no one is going to do the work for you. Don’t let obstacles prevent your idea from ever being tested – you have to go out and do it.” (Andrew Shelton from Trackpack Coolers)

- ”In my opinion the most important ingredient in a business’s success is the passion of the person or people running it.” (Mark Sarpa, CEO of Frecklebox)

- “Stay far from timid, Only make moves when your heart’s in it, And live the phrase ‘sky’s the limit’” (The Notorious B.I.G.)

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Talking Employedpreneurs & Steps to Success for Businesses with Tai Goodwin – A KikScore SmallBiz Interview

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Earlier this year I have the pleasure to meet the fabulous Tai Goodwin on Twitter.  Tai is the founder of the site Launch While Working.  We “met” each other when we were both participating in the fantastic Wednesday #smallbizchat that is organized by Melinda Emerson (@smallbizlady).  Tai and I really bonded over a unique trait that we share and that is we are launching businesses while we work full-time jobs.  Tai has an awesome and super descriptive term for this growing phenomenon and she discusses it in detail during our KikScore interview of her.

1. Tell us about Launch While Working and who you focus on serving?

Launch While Working is a resource site specifically built to service the needs of “Employedpreneurs” like myself.  Employedpreneurs are full-time employees who are also part-time entrepreneurs.

2. What prompted you to launch Launch While Working?

In my first side business, I worked as a career coach. The majority of the clients I attracted sought me out because they wanted to pursue something they were passionate about. In most cases their passion led them to starting their own business. I began helping them use on line marketing and social networking strategies to launch and grow their business. I began to see a need for a community of people who were launching while working. Many of the business coaches I worked with seem to be under the impression that “serious” entrepreneurs were those that quit their job to work full-time in their business. But there’s a huge trend of people that need to keep their day job (for benefits or as a funding source), and are still committed to the vision of launching their own business. The idea was born from there.

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

Systemize and invest in professional development. Having systems in place will help keep you sane when you are running a business on half of the time that full-time business owners have. Having systems in place for follow-up, client intake, customer service, data retention, bookkeeping, etc…are key to maintaining a professional image and high quality service.

Investing in professional development like conferences, high quality mastermind groups, and coaching is one of the best ways to meet people who are on the same journey as you. In addition to the learning from these experiences, I’ve come away with some amazing connections which have led to incredible opportunities.

4. What is Launch While Working focusing most of its energy on this year?

I work from a three-legged stool approach: The first leg is launching the site, so I’ll be doing lots of promotion to create awareness of the community. The second leg is self-publishing the Employedpreneur book. And the third leg of the stool this year is running the first Launch Circle – it’s a mix between a mastermind group and group coaching for employedpreneurs.

5. Based on your experience as social media strategist, what do you see as 2 new trends for small business?

Blogging for business is becoming important as small business owners and solopreneurs realize the value of building an online customer base. Being visible on social networking platforms is important but once people find you, you need to have a content rich home base (your blog) that can establish your credibility and give prospects a chance to uncover the value you provide.

Another trend, specifically for service based businesses is creating opportunities for passive income through infoproducts. Infoproducts are basically a way to package your expertise and sell it to clients via ebooks, video, audio, etc…It’s a must have for solopreneurs who want to break free from the limitations of one-to-one business models. The one-to-many (one infoproduct many customers) model means that you can generate revenue without adding more hours to your work week.

6. If you could describe the nature or spirit of your business as any movie or movie character, what movie/movie character would it be and why?

Ultimately, Launch While Working is about ambitious professionals who believe that a) work has to be about more than money or titles, and b) working for someone else in corporate America limits their ability to live their vision. It’s about those of us who are willing to take a risk and make an investment of time, money and energy top pursue our passion on our terms. I think the movie that best captures that spirit is Jerry McGuire.

7. If the small business community could have one evangelist, advocate or spokesperson that could make a massive impact for small business, who would you pick and why?

Just one – that’s tough. I think Anita Campbell, founder of Small Biz Trends. She’s a role model for me in that I hope the Launch While Working site evolves into a resource for employedpreneurs, like her sites are a resource for small business owners. Small Biz Trends and its affiliated sites like BizSugar, offer a wealth of information for entrepreneurs. She has assembled the best and brightest small business experts as contributors who consistently provide high quality content for entrepreneurs.

8. What are the two biggest challenges that you think small business are facing today and how do you suggest that they work to overcome those challenges?

One main challenge that small businesses face is being unwilling to go beyond traditional marketing strategies when it comes to promoting their business. It’s something I call “egocentric” marketing and it sounds like this, “I don’t like Facebook (or another social media marketing tool) so I don’t see the value in having my business there.” This is the starting point for many of my customers. However, the reality is that it doesn’t matter what “they” like, if their customers are on Facebook, or Twitter, they need to find a way to engage them there proactively – or someone else will.

Another challenge that many small businesses face is not being flexible enough to adapt to the changing demands of their customers and needs of the market. While it is important to hold on to your vision, it should never be at the expense of building a sustainable business model. Your business plan whether it is one page or fifty, should be an evolving document that scales to put you in the best possible position to serve your clients and generate revenue.

9. Small businesses are always looking for good sources of information to learn from or share information to help their business. What are some good information sources that you often use?

My favorite sources are Small Biz Trends, Entrepreneur Magazine (online), Social Media Today, Social Media Examiner. In addition I use Twitter filters and Google Alerts to stay tuned into specific key words related to my niche.

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

I’m learning that one of the key factors to building a successful enterprise is having strategic partners. Having a solid core of online and offline partnerships opens the door for learning, growth and opportunities to reach new audiences. No business (or business owner) is an island.

____________________________________

Thanks Tai for the great interview and fantastic tips.  If anyone in our small business community has any questions or comments for Tai, please leave them in the comments.

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