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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Reach Your Best Insights! A SmallBiz Interview with Pierre DeBois

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Today’s KikScore interview features Pierre DeBois, founder of Zimana, a web analytics service. In this rapidly changing e-commerce environment, Pierre is instrumental in helping other small business reach success through his analysis of their web analytics and his assistance and advice for marketing and social media strategies. I had a pleasure talking with Pierre and learned a lot, so I hope you all share similar benefits from reading what he had to say.

Tell us about Zimana and who you focus on serving?

Zimana is a web analytics consultancy service for small businesses that are at a unique stage of operations, having launched their businesses that rely on analytics data. These businesses require marketing optimization but do not have enough time determining their marketing effectiveness and aren’t ready to reach a larger analytics firm. I analyze their analytics data, ranging from basic keyword analysis to website traffic exploration, and then I help them develop an optimizing marketing strategy with projections. My clients encompass a wide array of small businesses, from mom and pop companies to businesses that built their firm around a particular platform with numerous employees.

What prompted you to start Zimana?

It was very accidental; my original idea was that I wanted to work with small businesses that needed help with their financial data.  I found out that a lot of the time these businesses tend to seek financial help, but it’s often too late to implement the advice. Therefore, that doesn’t strike me emotionally as a way to be helpful. So back in 2007, I was working for a government contractor firm in Huntsville, Alabama. The firm was determining if potential clients were reviewing products and services at the company website. I researched and discovered the measurement solution Google Analytics. I used my own resources and vacation schedule to undertake the training on my own. I then worked with the web developer to implement site content changes. The end result was successful and identified traffic flow through the site. It helped the firm place a value on their marketing budget. That was my first taste of web analytics though it wasn’t until 2.5 years ago when I launched Zimana. It’s been great and fun, though still very challenging especially due to the economic environment we are in. But the responses have been positive.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome it?

Living in New York is a catch-22; though it is the best place to meet and network with people and find good resources, it is economically straining to live here starting out.  It is also tough to follow up with customers in the actual city, as opposed to other locations. When living and working here, you learn how resilient you have to be and it forces you to be efficient. While the fast-paced, business environment makes it hard to initially make a living, it forces you to remain focused and more diligently.

As a hub for business, being centered in New York also allows me to track clients outside of New York; one of my best clients is SmallBizTrends.  Though based in Ohio, I conduct a lot of their monthly analysis. Moreover, being in NYC has helped me to create many business book reviews for the book segment and provide up-to-date analytics ideas that will be beneficial for their future.

How do you advertise yourself to get more clients?  Do you make use of tools like social media?

Yes. Social media has helped me tremendously, especially through Twitter as I have attracted some of my followers through my tweets. In addition, though accidental, my writing has had a huge influence on gaining more clients. What started as being just for fun doing book reviews evolved into writing analytics articles.   I’ve written articles for many different business sites, including AllBusiness.com, Pitney Bowes Smart Connections series, Business Agility, and AllAnalytics.com.  The posts have helped me a lot, expanding my online exposure and clientele base. A great challenge has been balancing my time for writing and managing other business functions. I had not expected the writing to take the direction it has.  In general, client referrals and social media marketing have been the most beneficial for me, with carefully placed and timed ads as bonus exposure. I am a big believer of using analytics to figure out which marketing outlets actually work, so that has helped me tremendously of where to focus most of my attention.

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

Yes, there have been times and I think it’s in a very weird catch-22. In my business, the accountability issue is in the beginning; there are certifications that analytics practitioners must take and my qualifications definitely help. Though at the same time, there is a level of education that is required on part of the customer. The main customers believe that analytics is only for SEO and that’s not the entire case. So the challenge becomes that an analyst can be used for both online and offline marketing functions, though it depends on the organization, and therefore I must educate the customer enough and provide them with enough information that they will be comfortable doing business. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but most times people are appreciative of what you try to share with even if they don’t quite have the budget.

In terms of being legitimate, what’s helped me is dealing with the right customers and not trying to deal with those that are uninterested. Only once or twice have I had to deal with a relationship that wasn’t right, but as a business owner, you have to hold out and fight for the ideal customer. Once you find the right one, then credibility will come into play. The use of social media can be utilized to reinforce that credibility; in order to effectively use social networks, you have to focus on keeping in touch with specific people and make the most of the contacts that you have made.

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

First, there needs to be more of a coordinated effort between digital properties (websites, paid searches, social media) and how you market your business offline. There are now studies that are proving that when you gain a customer, that customer has researched your business online and then decided whether they will do business with you. Lots of small businesses do not coordinate their online and offline efforts well, but they need to think holistically about how they market themselves and then track that, which is where the analytics comes into play.

Second, based on my expertise, businesses need to begin thinking about more than search engine optimization. With the emergence of social media, there is more of a need for a combination between social media and search, plus some level of digital marketing, whether it is paid ads on Google or banner ads on Facebook. There needs to be an increased effort beyond search to touch upon the customers and engage them. Businesses are aware of Twitter and Facebook and other networking communities, though they often do not make a dedicated effort to effectively use them. Going beyond SEO, some type of paid search or ad, coupled with social media, will help businesses convert customers on the sidelines as an ongoing customer.

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

A rising trend in the small business world is the use of cloud services. I support these services whole heartedly because it makes it easier to manage a team, whether you’re an army of one or 20. They create value for the services you have and permit more efficient management. I’m finding that the businesses that struggle have not thought in terms of simplicity; For example, one business never thought of instituting PayPal on their site because they didn’t use credit in their operations.  That doesn’t mean that your customers don’t. Most businesses are too focused on their main product or service and therefore they do not think about all the underlying activities that would be essential. You don’t need to have a desktop to quickly search for information, so the challenge for small businesses is not only having access to up-to-date technology, but deploying it in the best and easiest manner for conducting your business.

Speaking from personal experience, the people who helped me the most were freelancers. One lady designed my website and also developed my hand-drawn logo into something very unique. Another was a photographer whose photos of me grabbed the right attention. I learned many different tips from many sources, ranging from billing ideas to learning to focus on the big picture as opposed to the little details. The biggest thing is to learn from others how to conduct business efficiently, so you are working to grow your business and “on” your business, not just “in” it.

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

For me, I’m a big fan of The Big Bang Theory; I love it and think Sheldon is hilarious and the best television character in years. I watch a little Big Bang Theory and football, and I’m good! I still love automobiles like I did growing up so I read up on cars quite a bit. Pretty much besides that, I just try to keep up with my close friends and family. I haven’t had as much time to relax as I’d like to and for the most part, my business is my time. In addition, I talk a lot with other small business owners, which is both informative and also energizing.

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

Stay driven and keep your faith. If you are in any struggles, keep your faith and make sure every day spent on your business is actually productive; business owners spend too much time talking about their business, as opposed to working on it and helping it grow. Using your time efficiently is necessary, as well as networking and making sure that you are learning what needs to be learned to stay current with your business and surrounding technologies. At the end of the day, you need to be driven to put all of the pieces together and keep your business moving into the future. 

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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Verisign vs. KikScore: An Overview of Online Trust Seals and How They Differ

Monday, June 27th, 2011

VS.

If you follow the KikScore blog, you are most likely well versed in the general subject of small businesses and online trust.  You most likely even have one or two pop culture references under your belt that relate to topics such as security and e-commerce.  I would go as far as to say that you probably know a good bit about trust seals.  But do you really understand the different features that are provided by different companies?  A little research could really make the difference for your small business.  Lucky for you, the research has already been done….in this blog post I’ll provide an overview comparison of the KikScore Trust Seal and the popular Verisign Trust Seal.

Let’s start with what we know.  Just to review: a trust seal is a type of validation for an online site that is provided as a service from a third-party business.  Current popular providers include: Trust Guard, BuySAFE, Verisign, Better Business Bureau, TRUSTe, and McAfee SECURE.  These companies typically provide services that range from bonding transactions to services that may aim to prevent hacking or identity theft,  scanning services for websites or display privacy policies for businesses.

For this post, I am going to use the Verisign Trust Seal in comparison with the KikScore trust seal.  The Verisign Trust Seal is the probably most wide publicized in the market today.  If you are a small business with an online presence, you probably have heard of Verisign.  So why KikScore?  Why would you need the KikScore Trust Seal if there are so many other companies out there who provide what look to be similar services?

ANSWER: KikScore provides services to small businesses that you will not find anywhere else and here is why.

  • Multi-Dimensional Approach to Demonstrating Trust for a Small Business.
    • The Verisign trust seal has its benefits.  It possesses an impressive methodology that screens sites for certain malware and enables online businesses to identify a subset of security issues, as well as provide solutions and support.  KikScore takes a different take on yje trust and information standpoint for small businesses and uses an approach to incorporate and consolidate key information about a business’ track record that a website visitor would like to know about such as: customer satisfaction, financial responsibility of the business, management information location of the business, customer service and return policies, website history and reliability.  This information is then compiled into format that is easily accessible to website visitors from the website of the small business owner.  KikScore then creates a unique trust score based on all of this information about a business and displays it on the small business website.  So while other seals scan a site, KikScore focuses on information and data about a small business and whether that small business has a record of reliability and trustworthiness.
  • Merchant Report Card.
    • All of the information compiled on a small business is then consolidated into an interactive and continually updating report card for that business.   Both the KikReport and the trust score are continually updated as more information becomes available.  This is a feature that cannot be found in companies such as Verisign and is unique to KikScore: the merchant report card evaluates and displays information about merchants and small businesses on areas such as reliability and trustworthiness so that customers can further evaluate the trustworthiness of a site.  The KikReport allows a small business to take information about itself and display it in one place to website visitors, leads and shoppers.
  • All-Inclusive and Customized Using the Small Business Brand & Reputation Not Someone Else’s.
    • Verisign heavily advertises the fact that they are an already well-established service.  In fact, the Verisign logo even shows up in search engine results, for example, Google.  While this is a nice feature, this approach relies solely on the Verisign name and reputation and ignores the small business’ reputation and their owners trackrecord and history.  KikScore provides a unique trust score to each of its clients and allows the small business to use its own reputation and track record of reliability through the KikReport to demonstrate trust to website visitors.  Also, the KikScore trust seal is not simply a trust seal – it provides actual information about the business, its history and reliability so website visitors can make their own informed decision about the trust and security of a small business.  Which brings me to my next point…
  • Transparency.
    • The KikReport includes website history, store locations, services provided, and customer testimonial.  All of this is in addition to the basic Trust Seal and Trust Score.  This creates a solution for small businesses that allows website owners to be more transparent and open about themselves to shoppers and website visitors.  There is such a wealth of information about a small business that they can use to convey a track record of reliability and trustworthiness, KikScore simply enables a small business to take this existing information about a company and makes it easily available to potential customers and website visitors at the point of purchase.
  • It’s A Dynamic 2-Way Street!
    • KikScore also helps small businesses further develop a relationship with its customers.  Merchants have the option of providing an informational  video on their own KikReport as a way to introduce themselves to website visitors.  Additionally, the trust seal facilitates  real time interactions for small businesses with their own customers through the feedback platform that is built into each small business KikReport.

Verisign as a company has a reputation for generally providing a reliable and useful service to its clients.  But, if you are a small business who already subscribes to the Verisign service, you might want to consider adding the KikScore Trust Seal and Score to your website.  Another option to consider is the KikScore Service Seal: a product that is targeted towards businesses and websites who do not sell physical products online.  People who run service businesses such as bloggers, contractors, plumbers, lawyers, and movers can use the KikScore Service Seal, which is a confidence badge tailored specifically towards these types of companies.  The Service Seal is unique to KikScore; this type of seal cannot be found anywhere else in the market.

KikScore provides online businesses with the opportunity to extend their approach to online trust and security through greater transparency which ultimately should help a small business become more accessible and successful by clearly and convincingly demonstrating their trustworthiness!  Check us out and for more information about KikScore here are some recent articles about the KikScore trust building service for small business: Dealing with Shopping Cart Abandonment, Customers Unsure They Can Trust Your Business? Consider Trust Seal Provider KikScore and this article on A New Wave of Online Trust Scores.

Disclaimer: Product names, logos, and services are the property of their respective trademark holders.

Photo Credits: http://verisign.com, http://kikscore.com

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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Championship Sports Teams… What Do They Teach Us for the Small Business & Startup Arena

Friday, June 24th, 2011

In the past month, we experienced two of the most exciting Finals’ in recent history in both the NBA and NHL. In the NBA, the Dallas Mavericks destroyed the three-headed monster called the Miami Heat in a thrilling upset, winning the series 4-2. Meanwhile in the NHL’s Stanley Cup, the Boston Bruins came back from being down 3-2 and defeated the Vancouver Canucks on the road in Game 7, concluding an electrifying series (USA!!).

Both the Mavericks and Bruins exemplified great team work which strongly contributed to their respective championships, while the Heat and Canucks both had their weaknesses and choke-artists. In retrospect, certain characteristics of these teams can translate into the business world with regards to small business teams’ and their respective success.

First and foremost, small business teams need to be dedicated to their success while not being afraid of taking risks, committed to doing whatever will benefit their team or business the most.

Before this season, 33 year old veteran Jason Terry of the Mavs had gotten a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, given to the winner of the NBA Championship, on his right bicep.  The tattoo of the trophy he yearned so deeply for but had never yet received was a huge gamble, being placed there to motivate himself and his fellow teammates. As a veteran and captain on the team, along with their star Dirk Nowitzki, Terry made the bold move prior to the season and sealing the deal at the end brands it one of the most epic tattoos in history.

However, Daniel Sedin didn’t have the same boldness and confidence in the Stanley Cup Finals, but rather destined his team for failure. Like former New York greats Joe Namath and Mark Messier have done in the past, Sedin staunchly guaranteed a Canucks Game 7 victory on their home ice. While being an extremely daring move, the guarantee demonstrated his trust in his team and motivated them all to perform better. In the business world, every associate must trust and help his/her co-workers, whether it be in group projects or in learning new strategies, in order to maintain an efficient organization. Yet hours before game-time, Sedin rescinded his guarantee, saying that it was the excitement after his team’s 5-2 loss, and the “words came wrong out of my mouth.” WHAT!? After hearing that, I knew the Bruins had the game, and therefore the series, in the bag. Successful teams have good chemistry and are adept to taking risks, doing whatever is the most beneficial. Once teams lose faith in themselves like Sedin had, they lose faith in their product and talent, and therefore I “guarantee” the business will then collapse as a whole.

Another common trait of winning teams and successful businesses is having players stepping up at opportune times and others performing well under pressure, leading to an overall positive team chemistry.

This was most evidenced by the play of the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award winner Dirk Nowitzki. Throughout the entire playoffs, Dirk had stepped up his game and nothing says clutch more than Dirk’s winning baskets in both Games 2 and 4. Down 15 in the 4th quarter in Game 2, Dirk revitalized the Mavs offense and scored his team’s final 9 points, making the game-winning layup with 3.6 seconds left. Similarly, while fighting through a 102 degree fever, he again sealed the game with 14.3 seconds remaining in Game 4. Nothing is more important to a business than its major player stepping up in times of need and doing whatever it takes to succeed. This year’s playoffs solidified Dirk’s ranking as one of the all-time greats in the league, and he finally capped it off with the championship. However, every member of the team contributed to and played a significant role in the winning effort, from aging point guard Jason Kidd, to big man Tyson Chandler, and even to The Janitor, Brian Cardinal.

At least Goldberg came through clutch at the end

On the losing front, the Lebron James collapse (for the second time, see here) is probably the most shocking and talked about story of the entire NBA Finals. We have all been witnesses to possibly the best player of our generation, yet he has continued to fail to do what matters most: WIN. After disparagingly taking his “talents to South Beach” (more info here), the best player in the world still managed to breakdown in the fourth quarters of the game. When his team needed him the most, he was inept at hitting his stride, often taking the challenging jumper as opposed to his usual forcing his way towards the basket. He was more hesitant to shoot than Goldberg at the end of D3: The Mighty Ducks, and instead of using his talent and coming through clutch like Goldberg, he often chose to pass to his wingman Wade in the shadows of defeat. Businesses should not aspire to be like Lebron, executing flawless planning and strategizing of your product, but actually failing when it matters and comes down to attracting customers and selling your product. Instead, be like Mike.

In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Bruins managed to win the Cup by relying on the stellar performance of its goaltender, Tim Thomas (we’ll get to him later), while playing physical, unselfish, fast-paced hockey and getting contributions from both their stars and young talents. The Bruins weren’t the more talented team in this series, going up against the likes of the Sedin twins and other offensive stars such as Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows. But they played with more intensity and far greater chemistry than the Canucks, bringing Boston their first Cup victory in 39 years. Their most valuable player excluding their goaltender was rookie Brad Marchand, a quick, energetic spark who always made his presence known when he was on the ice despite his 5′ 9″ stature.

In the small business world, teams with greater chemistry and positive morale are more likely to prosper. Similar to the Mavs and Bruins, businesses rely on all of its members as each employee plays an important role. Whether it is the star player like Dirk or the role specialist like Marchand, each complements one another and the entire team cannot function without all of its pieces.

Finally, small business teams must have a stronghold on its safekeeping and security. Companies need to be secure from external threats, such as thieves and online hackers, against their businesses and customers’ personal information and must demonstrate their trustworthiness to their clienteles.

Tim Thomas kissing what is rightfully his

In hockey, the goaltender is considered to be the security for the team, preventing the pucks from going into the net. And nobody has ever done that better than how Tim Thomas did in this year’s NHL Playoffs. Not only did his legendary performance earn him a spot among Boston’s all-time sports greats, but it also landed him in the record books. At age 37, he became the oldest player to win MVP and he recorded the most saves in a Finals with 238 and the most saves in a playoff run with 798, playing every minute of the postseason for the Bruins. All small business teams need their Tim Thomas’s, blankets of security to rely on, something to demonstrate their integrity and creditworthiness. The closest thing to that for online small businesses are trust seals placed on websites, providing assurance that consumer personal information is safe with the companies they are doing business with.

Now we are entering the toughest and worst months of the year… for sports that is. Small businesses come and go regularly, though aren’t as damaging to the population as the conclusion of these two sports are. Of the four major professional sports, we have the dog days of the MLB ahead, with our teams playing games that are often dull and meaningless in the end. And that’s the highlight. We also have the NASCAR Cup Race, Wimbledon for a few weeks until another Rafa-Federer showdown (which is actually very entertaining), and the PGA Tour, but honestly, what’s golf without Tiger? I’m already looking forward to the football season. Oh wait… oh no.

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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Shocking Results in Recent OTA Findings: Should YOU Feel Safe on the Internet?

Friday, May 27th, 2011

As cybercriminals become more advanced and efficient, all businesses must recognize and prepare for the imminent threats of online hackers. The issue of cyber-attacks has made its way to the Senate, debating the amount of power the president should have in dealing with cybercrimes (Full story here).

Similarly, in accordance with the looming threat of online fraud and cybercrime, the Online Trust Alliance (OTA) released their annual Online Safety Honor Roll and Scorecard two weeks ago, revealing the many insecurities of the internet. Their findings were very surprising, making me question my privacy and safety on the internet. Two of the most shocking discoveries include:

  • Only 26% of the top websites and government agencies evaluated by the OTA were recognized for their adoption of the best, most efficient technologies to help protect users’ privacy and identity. This means that 74% of the top websites used by millions of people have not implemented safe measures that protect against malicious emails and rogue websites. Organizations that made the Honor Roll enacted email authentication processes, Extended Validation SSL Certificates, and testing for malware and known site vulnerabilities. More than 500 million emails originated from the organizations lacking efficient online security measures. These facts demonstrate that we are not protected on the majority of sites we visit and are members of, and therefore we must consider reevaluating websites before giving them any of our personal information.
  • Social media, e-commerce, and financial services ranked higher in securing their sites than government agencies.  About 27% of the FDIC 100 and 24% of the Fortune 500 qualified for the Honor Roll, though only 12% of government agencies made the list. It doesn’t make me feel particularly safe that government agencies’ websites are some of the most vulnerable to cybercrime attacks. The government and its various agencies should be the ones protecting us, enacting the proper online security protocols and trying to set an example, not being most susceptible to malware.

This report is extremely important for both e-commerce shoppers and small businesses. Online shoppers must realize the dangers of registering on sites that may be unsafe and prone to cyber-attacks and abuse. Therefore, they will seek out websites that have the proper preventative online security measures, and will most likely buy from the large, reputable online websites. This will in turn hurt small businesses that lack a reputation in online safety, and are trying to flourish in e-commerce.  This makes it even more important that for small businesses to succeed that they clearly demonstrate to the public their record of trustworthiness and reliability so potential customers are ensured that the small business they’re dealing with can be trusted.

The OTA’s full 2011 Online Safety Honor Roll and Scorecard can be found here: https://otalliance.org/news/releases/2011scorecard.html.

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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Skype Hype: Are you using it for your business?

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Now that the founders have become rich (again) and sold Skype to Microsoft – a questions must be posed.  “Did Microsoft completely overpay?” Not that question, but maybe (how the hell would I know).  “Will Microsoft underfund and completely destroy this new asset?”  yes…but not right away and that’s not the question. 

No, the real question is how will this new found attention to Skype change how will you use it for your business.   Before every cable company offered a VOIP solution, Skype was the way to talk over the internet for very little cost.  That uniqueness has gone away, but it still is the best way to talk internationally without it costing a lot.

The way we’ve been using Skype is for video conferences with our team (some of us are in Denver, some in the D.C. area) – and I’m sure we’ll continue to use it that way.  But Skype has competitors in that space with video chat already offered by Apple and other web camera services. 

One of the more interesting ways could be a combination of Skype into social media.  Don’t forget that Microsoft invested in Facebook a few years ago  — so forget poking, what about video chatting with your social network.

Any other thoughts on how Skype can help your business?

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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Is this a Bubble or a Buble?

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Every day, I check TechCrunch.  It’s sort of a must-do type of thing.  First, you have to do it to see what the latest trends are for start-ups and funding.  Secondly, if you’re involved in a tech start-up and you don’t read TechCrunch, well, you’re seen as a bit of poseur.  And it’s not one of those things where by not doing it you seem even cooler….like not owning a TV.  For some reason, if you don’t own a TV. people think you’re really smart.  But is that really that smart?  T.V. and the internet are the main sources of news and critical information.  It’s like going back thousands of years and saying “I don’t fire” and expecting people to really respect you.

Ok.  Back to my original thought.  I’m reading TechCrunch and in the last 6 months, at least once a week, there is news of a small startup getting large funding or being acquired by a larger strategic player.  For those of us old enough to remember the late 90’s (and who could forget Ace of Base), it’s getting a little scary because it’s feeling like a bubble.  Irrational exuberance.  High Valuations.  People are losing their F&^%$#*!  Minds. 

But is this latest round of investment and acquisition really a bubble?  Or is it logically investing.  I mean, where else should you put your money?  Real Estate?  Corporate Debt?  Blue-Chip Stocks (with 4% growth).  Recent technology investments are based on profitable companies or scalable services that a larger player would rather buy than build.

I guess what I’m saying is this seems more like  Buble than a Bubble.  By that I mean a pitch-perfect time for technology.  Also, I just love referencing Michael Buble.

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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

We’re So Money…Or I Mean, We So Need to Figure Out the Money Issue

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Our little enterprise at KikScore is growing.  We have a long list of customers and are in process of integrating with several different channels.  That’s the good news for our business.  The bad news is that we’re just starting to charge for the service and we constantly throwing in our own cash to feed the growth.  Like it or not, we need to make a decision about funding.  And it’s looking like our choices are pretty familiar to other growing startups: Friends and Family vs. Angels vs. Venture Capital vs. Self Funding.  After talking to several capital sources and other startups, here’s my analysis of these choices:

Friends and Family:  First thing, you don’t actually be related or friendly with this investor group.  It’s a group of people you know that have money.  You may get money from this group, but it may not enough to fully fund the venture and the investors may not be completely clear on the risks of a startup investment.

Angels:  This group is certainly aware of risks of their investment and have ready access to capital.  But they are generally less willing to fully fund a venture (compared to Venture Capital), but are still in your business.  So you now have a boss, but not the free-flowing cash to stock up your office with cool gear and get a SuperBowl ad.

Venture Capital:  You get the money and the contacts.  But everyone is going after investment from the top VC outfits…and they are generally looking for a business that has a strong balance sheet, several partners and a lot of buzz.  In other words, a business that doesn’t need the money.

Self Funding:  You’re  the boss, you control your business completely.  And you’re constantly kicking in money. 

After contemplating the options, we’re sticking with option #4…unless you want to just gift us some money with no strings attached.

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The Bad Job Correlation: How Bad Companies Encourage New Business

Friday, April 15th, 2011

College is a time for learning and really bad jobs.  Some of us work at Subway, while others (me) had to participate in a parade of horrible jobs.  I worked for my father and he had a wide range of business endeavors – commercial real estate, mini-storage and estate auctions.  He also had partners that had really side businesses.  One installed cable antennas in rural North Dakota; the other built homes.

Unlike working at the pool or some awesome restaurant, I was my father’s indentured servant.  My days consisted of looking for some type of wrench or nail (I’m not very mechanical) or sitting on a steep pitched roof in Valley City, ND, with a 40 foot piece of metal, waiting to hear if the TV. inside showed any signs of life.

One extremely hot day, on some metallic roof (applying some type of glue or something), I said to myself “I cannot be an outside working guy.  I have to get an office job.”  So, I took out an outrageous amount of student debt, and got an office gig.

But all is not as it seems in corporate America.  In talking with friends and former classmates, I think 90% of people I meet don’t like their day job.  Whether it’s a manager or corporate culture (e.g. type of place where everything has to be in a CYA email), people are scratching their head for an idea.  One that gets them out of their office and into their own business.

A friend of mine recently quit his job as a general counsel for a Fortune 500 company.  His main complaint was the lack of control over his career and not a lot of exciting moments during the day.  So, what is he trying to do now? Work with some young Tech company?  Nope.  He’s scouting locations for a self-serve yogurt shop.

Another guy I know roams the sterile hallways of his corporate job, thinking of any concept that could get funding…anything from mineral rights to a new way to run match-making sites.  All of this is because he has a boss that he can’t stand.

So, in a way, America owes a lot to terrible work environments.  Otherwise, there’d be much less entrepreneurial spirit.

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7 Questions A Small Business or Startup Should Ask Themselves Every Day

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

I like to talk.  I like to talk alot, especially when I have had a few really good margaritas.  And my wife, my family and friends can all attest to that fact.  That is all except for where I may have had too much to drink and then I have an uncanny tendency to just fall asleep in mid-sentence sometimes even at a restaurant booth (reference multiple experiences in Columbus, Ohio eating a Barnyard Buster and in Washington DC eating a jumbo slice at Pizza Mart).

Anyway so what is my point?  Talking is not as good as everyone makes it seem for business.  Instead asking questions is much more important.  It really did not dawn on me, however, until I was reflecting back on conversations with mentors, business partners, and our own team that you really should be asking critical questions about your business almost on a daily basis.  Those questions can help uncover critical gaps in strategy, planning and execution for your startup or small business.  If you ask these questions, then you can increase your chances of addressing these gaps.

So here are a few questions that may help you with your business:

1. Distractions. Are you focusing your efforts on the right tasks for your business and avoiding distractions that take you away from meeting your overall goals?

We all know how bad distractions can be in business.  Distractions can be one of the biggest impediments to building momentum for your business. The trick here is to make sure your business and your team is focused on what will move the business forward by continually weeding out distractions.

2. Customer Satisfaction. Are you doing everything to make your customers’ lives easier in some way through either using your product/service or helping educate them?

If your customers are not happy, then it will be nearly impossible to grow your business.  So in everything you do you need to make sure the goal of the task is that you are helping your customers in some way.  If not, then you should seriously consider abandoning those tasks that do not relate to helping current or potential customers.

3. Customer Value. How can you give your customers more reasons to keep buying from your business and not your competition?

Your customers are likely being bombarded by your competitors with tempting offers and reasons to buy from them instead of you.  So you have to be relentless in making sure you give your customers reasons to remain loyal to you.  Without investing the time to create that customer loyalty, your business will always be at risk of churning valuable customers to your competitors.

4. Facilitating Word of Mouth Marketing. How can you get more customers to refer their friends and contacts to use your product/service?

Word of Mouth Marketing is free.  So all it costs you is the time and effort to give the customer a great experience, but also the means for that customer to spread the word about your business and the product/service that they love.  So always be thinking about how can you arm your customers with information about your business value that you can provide the market.  The best way to do that (and least selfish) is making sure the customer knows the value you have created for them.  They can then go and spread the word for you!

5. Building Trust. Are you doing everything possible to ensure that your customers have confidence in your business, product or service and believe that you are reliable.

Customers know small businesses and startups come and go.  There is a reason why buyers tend to prefer larger and more established brands.  So one way to distinguish yourself is to make sure that everything that you do for your customers and for the public is viewed through the lens that you are trustworthy, reliable and your business delivers on its promises.  That track record of delivering will help generate trust in your business.  Heck, after all that is what KikScore was based on – allowing small businesses to show the world their track record of reliability and trustworthiness!

6. Your Team. Do you have the right team to succeed and grow your business and if not, should you bring in a new employee or a freelancer?

Businesses and startups can be just like my beloved Cleveland Browns.  The Browns team has been terrible since 1999.  Bad teams means lots of losses.  So learn from the Browns and be like this year’s Packers (Collins will like this reference). The Packers built a great team, loaded it up with depth and even got people off the streets in some instances to fill in when key players were injured.  The New Orleans Saints did the same last year on their way to winning a Super Bowl.  As you evaluate your team, make sure you have depth, solid performers and cut the freeloaders as they are a drag on morale and overall team dynamics.  Once you eliminate the underperformers then decide if you need a new employee or perhaps a freelancers that can step in and augment your existing team.

7. Your Money. What are areas of your business that you can manage your costs better?

Always be reviewing where your money is going.  Even though it is sometimes easy to just say well those costs are ones that I can’t really control and I just have to suck it up and pay for them. NO!  Call up that vendor and see what discounts that they can give you.  Threaten to leave and go to their competitor. Also there may be particular functions at your small business or startup that you can get experts to help with instead of you having to spend extensive time on your own.  Time is money so the value of your time may very well be better spent on your core business of serving your customers then performing back office functions or doing things like managing a marketing campaign.

These are just some of the questions that each small business or startup should be asking themselves.  But just like too much talking, too many questions can send you down a spiral of too much analysis and confusion.  Keep your daily self-analysis of your business to certain key questions that are fundamental to your business and watch and see if your perspective and approach changes.

What questions would you ask?

Photo from Flickr user Marco Bellucci, CC 2.0.

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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Does Your Business Name Really Matter?

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Like all new businesses, when we were coming up with a name for our product, we struggled a bit.  We had to balance the availability of a “.com” domain, making sure the name is protect-able from a trademark perspective, and that the name would actually convey a sense of what we do.  This may be wrong,  but we wanted to focus on a “.com” domain, and one that spelled out our product name (not “who you gonna trust.com”). 

We looked for available domains (because we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a domain name), and then applied the next level of filter — conveying a sense of what we do.  We looked at a lot of “trust” type names, but none really seemed to work.  Then we focused on “score” and “scoring”.  There were many more options.

Finally we looked at the list in terms of what is the best from a trademark perspective.  If the name is too literal, it can’t be protected (e.g. www.transparencyseal.com”).  It has to be a bit unrelated (e.g. apple computers). 

There is no real surprise if you’re reading this blog that we wound up with KikScore.  But did all this brain damage over a name actually matter?  I mean, most of our traffic comes from other sources — like our partners, twitter or paid search clicks.  In other words, it feels like we could have named the product anything we wanted to and the traffic would come.  But is that really the case?  Maybe becaue of our name, people feel like partnering with us?  Maybe we wouldn’t have any traffic from Twitter if our name was “BreadScore” (though that just gave me a new business idea)?

What are your thoughts?  Does a name, in the beginning, really matter?

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