• So you've been through a few job interviews and now you're down to brass tacks -- you're negotiating the offer. This can be complex, tricky business, and costly, too, if you don't do it well. But complexity also creates opportunities, at least for people who have done some homework. Deepak Malhotra is a professor at Harvard Business School who teaches negotiation skills. He's put together a pretty thorough list of 15 rules to follow when you're negotiating a job offer, which I highly recommend.

    "Every situation is unique, but some strategies, tactics, and principles can help you address many of the issues people face in negotiating with employers," Malhotra writes in a must-read article in the Harvard Business Review.

    After reading the article you might also want to watch a one-hour video where Malhotra gives a presentation about how to negotiate a job offer. I'll also embed the video below.

    Malhotra's first rule, "Don't underestimate the importance of likability," may not come as a

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  • The Grommet Seals Future for Two Innovative Inventions

    O-rings from Increment Studios will be crowdfunded

    Opening Day at Fenway Park is still more than a week away, but two teams had big wins there on Thursday.

    The Boston-based product launch and e-commerce site for makers, The Grommet, known for bringing brands including GoldieBlox, SodaStream, FitBit, and Bananagrams to market, held its Second Annual Product Pitch and Game Day at the famous field last week, in search of the “next big thing.”

    In a competition to win a free crowdfunding campaign or the chance to bring an invention to market, The Grommet invited eight finalists to pitch their problem-solving consumer products to a panel of tech, design, and business experts including leaders of Indiegogo, TechStars, and the Boston Design Museum. Products had to be “ready for crowdfunding” or “ready for market” to qualify.

    Jules Pieri and Joanne Domeniconi co-founded The Grommet in 2008 to promote what they call “Citizen Commerce,” a movement to enable “product purchases that express powerful contemporary values around sustainability,

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  • Credit Card Transaction Fees Killing Your Margins? Dwolla to the Rescue

    A soccer fan club saved more than $30,000 in PayPal fees with Dwolla

    The 18,000-member soccer fan club American Outlaws is offering $150 discounts on a package trip to the World Cup in Brazil this summer to members who pay online via Dwolla instead of PayPal. So far, the club has paid $58 in Dwolla transaction fees instead of $32,527 to PayPal.

    The Dwolla platform, which charges $0.25 per transaction, no matter the transaction size, has the potential to disrupt the credit card industry and save business owners a bundle of money.

    Credit card swipe fees are the bane of many a small business. Every transaction can cost 3 percent or more in interchange fees. For online retailers the fees are virtually unavoidable; even PayPal transactions cost a seller 2.9 percent.

    Large retailers operating on bigger margins can pass those costs along to the customer. But small businesses can’t compete that way. Swipe fees can reduce their profit margins by half—costing as much as a part-time worker, or a new piece of equipment would. What’s more, merchants don’t see the

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  • Countdown to Tax Day: Get Your Deductions in a Row

    In case you are clueless, with 25 days till tax day, accountants would like you to know that writing off facelifts, bail bonds, and pets as business expenses are surefire ways to invite an IRS audit. Those were among the more entertaining deductions reported by more than 400 small business accountants in a recent survey commissioned by the online accounting software provider Xero and conducted by Zogby Analytics.

    But even less outrageous missteps—such as taking a large number of deductions, deducting as business expenses those that could appear to be personal, mistaking or misstating the status of your workers, or writing off a home office—could trigger an audit, accountants say.

    How to avoid that? Accountants, no surprise, suggest seeing your accountant. Others say don't shortchange yourself. If a deduction is legitimate, take it, but be ready to back it up with documentation in case you are flagged for an audit.

    Though they warn against mixing your business and personal expenses,

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  • Open Door

    In interviewing a client at the end of our project I learned how ineffective “open door policies” are by organizational leaders. My client said, “Before we started our work together I couldn’t understand why employees who knew I had an open door policy, didn’t come to me when they knew another employee was doing things that could put our company in danger.”

    I told him, “that’s not unusual.”

    When there is low trust in a work environment, employees have uncertainty as to how a boss will react when they bring issues to them. So they don’t.

    Additionally, in low trust work environments, employees go into survival mode. Typically, employees will band together creating an “us” against “them” culture. When this occurs it renders an “open door policy” worthless. It also shows the organizational leader, who continues to remind everyone about their open door and ask for it to be used, to be clueless and out of touch.

    In these environments, even if employees know about and use the “open door

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  • Leveraging the Cloud to Boost Your Bottom Line

    Looking for ways to whittle away some of your fixed costs of doing business? Leave it to a tech company to tell you there’s an app for that.

    Mike Pugh, VP of marketing at J2 Global, is helping his customers bring down their expenses now to prepare themselves for the day minimum wages rise. And he says small businesses can really simplify and streamline their operations by getting rid of the hardware and software that impose fixed costs. He recommends moving any front- or back-office function that is not adding value onto the cloud where companies [like J2] provide services to manage them professionally.

    Here’s his advice for engaging the latest cloud-based apps to save dollars.

    Ditch your fax. “Faxes are key to commerce,” Pugh says. “Accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, and loan officers love them.” But cloud-based fax services mean that no startup company ever need invest in a fax machine again.

    Do a Yahoo search for “cloud based fax services” to find the plethora of

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  • A Texas Startup Exports Consumer Electronics to China

    Oransi air purifiers in a shipping container in China

    There are two remarkable facts about a consumer electronics product designed and manufactured by a 16-person startup called Oransi: it's American made, and it's selling like hotcakes in China. Oransi CEO Peter Mann expects to do $10 million in sales of his high-end air purifiers this year. Half of that revenue will come from filling up empty shipping containers going out of New York harbor. Oransi's Chinese distributors are trying to keep up with demand from homeowners there who are desperate to combat severe air pollution. Mann says the first 500 units he shipped to China sold out in 3 days.

    Mann, 47, is a former Naval officer who held executive positions at Tech Data and Dell before starting, and selling, his own high-end appliance e-commerce company in Austin, Texas, and then investing $200,000 in 2010 to make a business of building hospital-grade residential air filtration systems. He conceived the idea when his infant son was battling life-threatening asthma and every system he

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  • There’s a (Big Data) Science to Keeping Your Customers

    Retention Science Uses Data to Keep E-Commerce Customers ComingIt costs significantly more to win new customers than it does to retain the ones you have, and it’s easier to get existing customers to spend more money than it is to sell to those who don’t know your brand. So why do so many businesses work harder on getting new customers than they do on retaining the ones they already have?

    E-commerce entrepreneur-turned-marketing pro Jerry Jao confesses he was guilty of the same. “I was constantly getting new customers, but I didn’t have any plan for retaining them. I spent a lot of time and 100 percent of my marketing budget on acquiring new customers through new channels,” Jao says.

    He cites Advertising Age data that indicates that repeat customers spend 33 percent more on brands than new customers do, and that 80 percent of a brand’s future profits will come from 20 percent of its existing customers. “Small businesses start off with a smaller customer base and are always thinking about how to grow, but they forget they have a gold mine to dig

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  • Sales Planning

    If you want to set yourself up for sales success, your best strategy lies in being fully prepared for the all-important sales call. It’s critical to think through every aspect of the call ahead of time. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can just wing it – you’ll get much better results if you clearly define your goals and create a strategy you can follow to achieve them.

    With careful planning, you’ll have a much clearer vision of what you need to accomplish and a roadmap for how to get there. Unfortunately, many sales professionals have never been taught to create a comprehensive sales plan. The good news is that the process is relatively simple. Here are seven steps you can take to create an effective sales plan:

    1. Define your objective. Clearly outlining your goal should always be your first step in planning a sales call – or any other business endeavor. Is your purpose to establish yourself as a trusted advisor? Close a specific deal? When you define your key objective, you

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  • March Madness

    By now you’ve probably heard that completing a perfect March Madness bracket this year could net you $1 billion, courtesy of Yahoo Sports, Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans. What small business owner couldn’t use that kind of cash? The odds of winning (1 in 9.2 quintillion, per USA Today) might be against you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t win big from studying the game. In fact, basketball and branding have more in common than you might think, and those commonalities can help your company look like a billion-dollar brand. Below are 7 profitable pointers on branding taken straight from basketball’s playbook:

    1. Master the fundamentals.
    Michael Jordan once said, “ You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way.” Similarly, if you don’t get the basics of branding right, your brand can’t win. It’s that simple. What are the fundamentals, you ask? Read on for the biggies.

    2. It’s all about teamwork.

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