Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • 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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  • Before “Lean In” for women came “Soccer Sisters” for girls

    In This Together Media founders Albertine and Rao

    One year before Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book pointed out to the world that girls who demonstrate leadership skills on the playground get labeled “bossy,” Carey Albertine and Saira Rao started a company to tackle that problem at its root.

    The two women had plenty of leadership skills of their own. Albertine holds an MBA and worked as an executive recruiter, and Rao was an attorney and published author. But as new mothers, they lamented the dearth of media that didn’t present girls as “tomboys, princesses, super-chicks, sex objects, or vampires,” Rao says.

    Friends since their University of Virginia undergraduate days, the duo thought of parlaying early-career broadcast experience into producing a children’s TV show about “real, bold, complex, and interesting” girl characters. But market research convinced them that book publishing was where they could have a greater impact. Disruptive technologies were opening the industry to new entrants, the e-book market was booming, and their

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  • How Mixbook’s founders translated engineering smarts to entrepreneurial success

    Mixbook founders Aryk Grosz, left, and Andrew Laffoon

    To “fail fast” is a maxim of the social media startup world: If you’re not going to hit it big, get out before losing too much money. But Andrew Laffoon and Aryk Grosz were in no rush when they started Mixbook. Grosz was still in college, and Laffoon had just graduated.

    The two University of California, Berkeley, engineering students had gotten interested in entrepreneurship while taking a course with professor Jon Burgstone, who sold his own internet software company for $1.1 billion in 2000. When Laffoon and Grosz met him, Burgstone was hatching plans to create the Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. They joined the first class of the new program.

    Five years later, their web-based custom photobook business is also its first success story. Mixbook employs 60 people and generates $25 million in annual revenues, its founders say. It is headquartered in Palo Alto offices that were once home to Groupon and Box.com.

    But Grosz, now 28, and Laffoon, 30, say that if they had

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  • 7 Steps to Surviving a Bad Boss

    When we defined the 5 traits of the worst bosses here last month, we hit a nerve. Among the more than 3,000 readers who commented, many said things like, “This describes my boss, but what can I do about it?” After all, as tempting as it is some days, it’s just not practical for most of us to up and quit when a boss is making us miserable.

    For answers on how to handle a less-than-stellar supervisor, we went back to Michelle Benjamin, CEO and founder of Benjamin Enterprises and an expert in helping companies improve their management cultures. Benjamin’s spinoff TalentReady grooms middle managers for leadership positions as they climb the ranks, so her forté is to help rising stars get beyond bad bosses, as well as to avoid becoming them.

    Here are 7 steps to survival with a bad boss—some of them a bit of tough love for employees—derived from our conversation with Michelle Benjamin.

    1. Look in the mirror. It might not be what you want to hear, but Benjamin suggests any employee facing bad

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  • What’s good and bad for small business in the President’s budget

    On the White House’s list of “the top 10 things you need to know about President Obama’s 2014 budget” that was released yesterday, numbers 1, 2, and 3 are all designed to please small business. The White House says that the $3.78 trillion budget, proposed for the fiscal year starting in October:

    • Ends tax breaks for companies who ship jobs overseas and rewards businesses that hire here at home;
    • Creates jobs and builds the communications and transportation network that businesses need to succeed by fixing roads, bridges, and other infrastructure most in need of repair first; and,
    • Gives small businesses a 10 percent tax credit to hire new workers or increase wages.

    In fact, the President’s 179-page budget proposal invokes the term “small business” 93 times, including proposals to extend increased expensing for small business, eliminate capital gains taxation on investments in small business stock, double the amount of expensed start-up expenditures, and expand and simplify the tax credit

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  • Who would win the Small Business Bracket?

    Infographic: Radius. Click on image to enlarge.

    What if there were March Madness playoffs for small businesses? We asked Darren Waddell, VP of Marketing at Radius, to show us what his bracket would look like. Waddell dove into the massive Radius databank, which indexes information about small businesses all over the country. Based on aggregated customer ratings available from sources such as Yelp, Citysearch, Open Table, and others, Waddell ranked the performance of small businesses in each of the college towns that host teams that made it into the NCAA Sweet 16. Since some rating systems use 4 stars and others 5, Waddell normalized for that.

    The scores aren’t necessarily predictors of profitability, Waddell points out. “They’re more about performance—the business patrons’ satisfaction with customer service, the quality of the product or craftsmanship, and the trustworthiness of the business,” he says.

    With 6 percent of its businesses getting 4 and 5 star ratings, Michigan’s Ann Arbor is top-ranked for happy customers—making it the

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  • Health care reform delay extends uncertainty for business

    A key small-business friendly component of the Affordable Care Act won’t go into effect as soon as planned. The Act, passed in 2010, stipulated that Small Business Health Options Programs would establish group health insurance exchanges for small employers in each state. The so-called SHOPs would, beginning in January 2014, offer employees of those businesses a choice of coverage options.

    The idea was to streamline the administrative process for small employers, enable groups of them to access the rates that large employers enjoy, and let employees shop around, presumably driving down costs by forcing greater competition among insurance providers.

    But on March 11, the Health and Human Services Department proposed an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that delays by a year the offer of a choice of health insurance providers to employees:

    “The effective date of the employer choice requirements ... and the premium aggregation requirements ... for both State-based SHOPs and FF-SHOPs will

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  • What most small business owners still don’t get about blogging

    An organic farmer and sustainable agriculture expert told me recently that the proprietor of a farm-to-table restaurant in her community had asked if she would be willing to write a blog about farming for the restaurant’s website. He told her the blog need not make any mention of his restaurant or its menu at all—just write about farming, he said.

    She was delighted, but also befuddled. Why would the restaurant want a blog that didn’t market the restaurant?

    This savvy restaurateur understands something many small business owners have yet to grasp. The trick to reeling in new customers in the age of online search is to provide content—useful, informative, engaging content that answers the questions your potential customers enter in their browser’s search field.

    If you’re unfamiliar with it, the increasingly popular tactic is called “content marketing.” Search the term itself to find reams of information about how it’s done.

    I pointed my farmer friend to the most concise and brilliant

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  • Five signs you are in a toxic office

    Bad Office Culture

    If you’ve been a cubicle-dweller any length of time, chances are you’ve experienced an office culture that stinks: Unhappy workers, cheerless managers, and a generally dismal vibe. And what is toxic for the office is toxic for you if you work in the environment.

    Kevin Kuske, Chief Anthropologist and General Manager for office furniture company turnstone, tours the country studying small businesses that boast highly productive, well functioning workspaces. They’re inspiring, he says, “but the minute you leave them you start to see the inverse in others. Unfortunately, you don’t have to look too hard to find a bad work culture.”

    Turnstone helps well-intentioned business leaders who’ve inadvertently established dysfunctional workplaces to transform their office environments. Based on his experience, Kuske says, “Culture is something you shape, not change. You can coax it, you can enable it. But you can’t flip a switch.”

    If you’re a worker in a bad office culture, the good news is

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  • Initiative will support “the entrepreneurial revolution”

    Think the government is not crucial to fostering entrepreneurial success? Some experts would beg to differ.

    A national American Express OPEN initiative that launched today in Milwaukee is based on the idea, conceived by renowned entrepreneurship thinker Daniel Isenberg, that public sector leaders, including government officials, are key to boosting the development of entrepreneurship ecosystems. Milwaukee is the first of several select U.S. urban areas where the new program, called OPEN for Enterprise: Coalitions for High-Growth Entrepreneurship, will attempt to channel government power to supporting entrepreneurship and existing businesses with great growth potential.

    OPEN for Enterprise uses a model developed by Isenberg, professor of entrepreneurship practice at Babson College and founding executive director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project, also known as BEEP. BEEP is dedicated to promoting high-growth entrepreneurship by “pioneering a new way of thinking and acting

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