Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • How a billionaire is changing small business owners’ lives

    Aileron founder Clay Mathile

    Clay Mathile says he feels deep gratitude for two groups of people: those who risk their own capital to create jobs, and the mentors who helped him do the same as owner and CEO of the IAMS Company.

    So, since selling that dog and cat nutrition business to Procter & Gamble for $2.3 billion in 1999, Mathile has gone to great lengths to show his appreciation by helping other business owners be successful. He invested more than $150 million to transform the former “Iams University” employee-training program into Aileron, a nonprofit organization with a mission to ”unleash the potential of private businesses through professional management.” Today, more than 10,000 people a year visit the 70,000-square foot Aileron facility on a 114-acre campus in Tipp City, Ohio, for a variety of management training courses delivered by consultants who have all run their own businesses.

    Business owners who have taken the two-day President’s Course say the experience has been transformative. “Life changing

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  • How to turn social values into a valuable business

    It’s been several decades since big companies started proving that earning profits and being socially responsible are not mutually exclusive. Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Whole Foods come to mind. And IBM, HP, and Sprint topped the Daily Beast’s 2012 list of American green companies.

    But is it affordable for even the smallest businesses to earn a living while being socially and environmentally conscious? Susan Chambers says yes. Her new book, Small Business, Big Change: A Microentrepeneur's Guide to Social Responsibility, offers steps that owners of business with fewer than 10 employees can take to align their life's work with their spiritual and social values.

    Chambers, a writer and editor who is passionate about helping businesses to become agents of social change, provides case studies of numerous microbusinesses that adopted sustainable values. In their choices of vendors, clients, product materials, packaging, employee policies, community service, and more, each company is making

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  • Small business owners who save better prepared for retirement than most

    Small business owners with retirement plans are saving more for retirement than average American workers, a Fidelity analysis indicates

    So many Americans are unprepared for the costs of retirement that some predict a looming crisis. But small business owners and their employees who put money into retirement accounts might be in better shape than most.

    In an analysis of the balances of 200,000 small business accounts that utilized its SEP-IRA, Self-Employed 401(k), or SIMPLE-IRA plans, Fidelity Investments found that the plans saw an average balance increase of 20 percent between January 2007 and December 2012. Since a 2008 low point, balances have jumped an average of 64 percent, the brokerage reports.

    The Employee Benefit Research Institute reported last month that less than half of American workers “appear to be taking the basic steps needed to prepare for retirement.” While only 13 percent of American workers are “very confident” they will have enough savings to live comfortably after stopping work, only 66 percent report that they or their spouses have saved for retirement at all, according to EBRI’s 2013

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  • What to do while waiting for equity crowdfunding to come

    This time last year, the business press was abuzz with equity-based crowdfunding fanfare. Yahoo! Small Business was no exception. According to the JOBS Act, the SEC was to have established rules by January of this year to make it possible for small businesses and startups to use social media and friends-and-family networks to raise investment or debt-based capital through "crowdfunding."

    Equity based-crowdfunding platforms sprouted up, and members of the sector aligned within new industry-standards organizations, ready to serve cash-strapped small businesses as soon as Washington gave the go-ahead. But the rules have yet to come.

    Elizabeth Smith Kulik, founder and CEO of the crowdfunding platform ProHatch, says she’s not surprised. “A lot of the delay is just the regulatory process, review periods, and comment periods.” Sure, Congress gave the SEC 270 days for rulemaking. “But that was if everything was running on all cylinders. We’ve had an election year and a new SEC chair appointed

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  • How a business can succeed without a boss

    Your business without a boss? If you’re in management, you might not find the idea as thrilling as many beleaguered workers would. But, believe it or not, there are companies that run quite well without anyone in charge. (Some of these have been described recently in articles including Inc’s A Billion Dollar Company with No Bosses?, the Wall Street Journal’s Who’s the Boss? There Isn’t One, and management guru Gary Hamel’s Harvard Business Review essay, First, Let’s Fire All the Managers.)

    To imagine a bossless workplace, and understand why and how to create one, Michelle Benjamin, CEO of Benjamin Enterprises and TalentReady, a company that offers strategic talent management solutions, suggests first defining what a boss is. According to, it’s “a person who employs or superintends workers.” But that definition falls short. “It lacks purpose. It doesn’t say what are we trying to achieve,” Benjamin says.

    She believes “the true role of the boss is to communicate the

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  • Initiative to help women business owners get government contracts

    The Small Business Administration has teamed with American Express OPEN and Women Impacting Public Policy to launch a national initiative aimed at boosting government contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses. Representatives of the three participating organizations unveiled the program, dubbed ChallengeHER, at a luncheon for women business owners in Washington this week.

    ChallengeHER will help women business owners compete in the government contracting marketplace by providing  online curriculum and resources, mentoring with experienced women contractors, and access to government buyers and prime contractors. A series of 9 free events and workshops to take place around the country will kick off on May 23 with a Department of Energy event.

    SBA Administrator Karen Mills said one of the agency’s top priorities is making sure that more qualified women-owned, veteran-owned, and minority-owned small businesses have access to government and commercial supply chain

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  • Entrepreneurship? “Not for me,” most college students say

    Mark Zuckerberg might have been cast by the media as a Gen Y hero, but it turns out that not too many twenty-somethings want to emulate him. Most college students say they do not aspire to entrepreneurship. Asked in a recent survey if they are interested in starting a company in the next few years, more than 60 percent said “no” and only 8 percent said they are “very” interested. Only about one in five students wish their school offered entrepreneurship courses.

    AfterCollege, an online career network for college students and recent graduates, surveyed 600 of its registered college students from a variety of U.S. colleges and universities. The resulting report, issued jointly today with Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm run by 29-year-old Dan Schawbel, reveals how students are developing their careers while in college. The outlook is rather grim.

    According to "The Student Employment Study," most students do take internships, but most don’t get paid for them, and

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  • Office culture as important as salary? Many say yes

    If you think your dismal office culture isn’t costing you talented workers, think again. Ninety-five percent of respondents to a recent survey said they consider a positive office culture to be important, and 75 percent said it’s “very important” to them. More than 60 percent said office culture plays an important role in their decision to take a job, and 30 percent said the culture is as important a consideration as salary when considering a job offer.

    uSamp, an online and mobile market research technology company, gathered the data from 1,000 business professionals in more than 40 industries who are part of its exclusive B2B Whiteboard panel.

    Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that the definition of office culture is “an environment that promotes collaboration.” Few were unfamiliar with the term and a majority agreed that their own office culture promoted a good work/life balance. And a good culture is more important than foosball tables, Nerf guns, and bean bag chairs: only 28

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  • Creating an office culture when there is no office

    More and more small businesses are leveraging communications and data sharing technologies to get work done among a remotely distributed workforce. And some are using it to do away altogether with the office.

    Kevin Kuske, chief anthropologist and general manager for the business furniture company turnstone, says it’s not necessary for every startup to invest precious capital to buy furniture and sign a lease. “Join an incubator or shared workspace or work in a network of spaces,” Kuske recommends. “You don’t have to own the space. Work in coffee shops, a public park, or libraries,” he suggests.

    What’s more, he says, “that movement across different locations is good for your health and mental state; no type of work is ideally done in the same space.”

    When Carey Albertine and Saira Rao started In This Together Media, a children’s book publisher, both wanted the flexibility that working from home offered for their young families in Hoboken, NJ, and suburban Connecticut. As the company has

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  • Some small businesses show returns on social media investment

    Showing how advertising and marketing dollars translate directly to revenues is a challenge for any business, so it’s no surprise that 60 percent of small business owners reported in a recent survey that they cannot prove a return on investment from their social media efforts. What is notable is that nearly 40 percent say they can, and of those, nearly a third reported returns of $2,000 or more.

    The small business community Manta, which conducted the online survey of more than 1,200 small business owners during the last week of March, reports that “with the potential to generate a compelling return on investment, social media involvement is trending upward in the small business community.”

    More than one-third of business owners surveyed indicated that their primary goal in using social media is to acquire and engage with new customers, and most dedicate just one employee to the effort.

    Still, asked where they would spend the majority of their business dollars in Q2 2013, more than a

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