Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • How Proto Labs makes manufacturing in the USA possible for more inventors


    You’re an independent, would-be inventor with an idea for a new product. You’ve even designed it with computer automated design software or printed out a model on a MakerBot. Next step: Manufacture an industrial grade prototype.

    Our recent article about Rainbow Loom inventor Cheong-Choon Ng explains his decision to go to China for an injection mold of his small, plastic handloom toy: U.S. manufacturers quoted him $20,000 just to make the mold. In China he could get the mold and his first batch of products for half that. And half was all that the first-time entrepreneur had to his name.

    But, as our story explained, he paid for that decision when his first shipment of 10,000 plastic loom hooks arrived mis-sized. It took him a year to file each one down by hand at home.

    Had Ng known about a company called Proto Labs, he might have had an easier time.

    Brad Cleveland, CEO of the Maple Plain, Minn., company, says his ideal customer is “anybody who needs a protoype or low volume production and

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  • How a 15-year-old entrepreneur got her product into Nordstrom

    Fish Flops founder Madison Robinson meets one of her Nordstrom customers

    Yahoo editors have selected this article as a favorite of 2013. It first ran on Yahoo Small Business on May 31 and was one of the most popular stories of the year. The article describes how teenager Madison Robinson won big success for her line of colorful flip flops for kids.

    She launched her business two years ago, but Houston teenager Madison Robinson has yet to face something most new entrepreneurs do: rejection. Every store buyer she has approached has placed an order for her Fish Flops for Kids shoe brand.

    Robinson came up with the idea for her sea-creature-adorned flip-flops with battery-operated lights when she was just 8, living at the beach in Galveston Island, Tex. Her dad Dan, a former banker turned t-shirt designer, helped her turn her drawings into a product and get samples made. More than 30 stores placed orders the first time they exhibited at a trade show, so he hired an overseas manufacturer and started shipping in May 2011.

    Launched with “friends and family” financing,

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  • Survey: Projecting growth, most small businesses optimistic about 2014

    In spite of everything—limited loans, cash-strapped customers, healthcare woes, and a government shutdown—it’s been a half decent year for many small businesses. At least that’s what the Rocket Lawyer Semi-Annual Small Business Survey shows. The online legal services provider surveyed 1,000 of its customers who own U.S. small businesses and found that more than half experienced growth that met or exceeded their expectations in 2013, and 80 percent expect 2014 to be even better.

    Business owners aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses, though. Economic recovery is still a top concern: 50 percent say economic uncertainty is the primary impediment to their growth and 30 percent are still significantly worried about overall economic growth and health.

    Priorities for the New Year? Business owners surveyed put marketing and brand initiatives ahead of raising funds, developing new products or services, hiring, or international expansion. More than 40 percent say they’re focused on increasing their

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  • Thanksgiving weekend shoppers send retailers a message: We’re going mobile


    Americans spent $1.1 billion shopping on their mobile devices on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. Purchases made by smartphone and tablet accounted for more than 20 percent of the $5.28 billion in online sales during the three super shopping days, according to an Adobe Digital Index analysis based on nearly 900 million visits to 2,000 retail sites and 3+ billion visits since Thanksgiving.

    In total, $7.4 billion in online sales were generated over the five days from Thursday through Monday.

    It was a record-setting weekend all around, and especially for mobile device shopping, according to Adobe, which tracks online sales and says its Adobe Marketing Cloud funnels 7 out of 10 dollars spent online with the top 500 U.S. retailers. Total online sales for the 5-day opening weekend of holiday shopping season rocketed up 26 percent from 2012, while mobile sales jumped 80 percent.

    “Consumers took full advantage of their mobile devices to shop on Thanksgiving Day and ‘omnishop’ while

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  • 5 ways to attract the right new hires in 2014

    If you’ve ever made a hiring mistake—and who hasn’t?—you know the consequences can be painful. Many of them—including the estimate that a bad fit for even the lowest paid job will cost an employer $25,000—are presented in a National Business Research Institute infographic. And a widely cited statistic attributed to the U.S. Department of Labor, which has long offered employers guidance on good hiring practices, puts the cost of a bad hire at 30 percent of the employee’s potential annual salary.

    Of course, the smaller your business, the tougher those costs are to absorb. And those estimates don’t even account for damage to employee morale, community relations, and customer satisfaction.

    In a LinkedIn blog post, HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes recently offered his tips for avoiding making a bad hire. And Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh once revealed to Fast Company that one of his strategies for weeding out misfits and “people who are just there for the paycheck” is to offer a $2,000 bonus to anyone who’d

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  • Survey: 2014 tech plans may be surprising. Facebook, Twitter dominate

    When it comes to using the latest technologies to save money, increase revenues, and increase efficiency, do you know where your business stands in relation to other small operations? Results of a new survey might put things into perspective.

    Are you one of only 30 percent who are Facebook holdouts? Are you among the 40 percent who still aren’t realizing at least some annual savings from cloud services? Those figures come from Los Angeles Internet services provider j2Global, which polled more than 1,500 of its small business customers last month in order to extrapolate trends in mobile usage and 2014 business expectations.

    To be sure, customers of j2Global, which owns the Ziff Davis and IGN digital media brands, are likely more technologically astute than most. J2’s eFax, eVoice, and Campaigner products are all cloud-based services that let customers complete tasks such as sending a fax without a fax machine, receiving office voicemails via text on a mobile phone, or designing and

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  • Make a New Year’s Resolution to Improve Your Web Presence


    In 2013, as many as half of all small business still do not have a website. As more and more consumers move to searching for services and making purchases with their mobile devices, it’s time for many business to make a move toward online before they get left behind.

    If you’ve resolved to improve your web or mobile presence in 2014, congratulations. Now, do you know where to start?

    If you’re unfamiliar with the many options and the technical lingo, figuring out what you want and how to ask for it can be a major challenge, says Michael LaVista, founder and CEO of Caxy Interactive.

    LaVista’s Chicago-based company offers custom web development and expertise in content management, e-commerce, Flash development, database development, and custom web applications. He recommends starting out by asking yourself a few questions about your current online presence:

    • Do you have a clear brand strategy for executing across different platforms and media? Will customers experience your brand online in a
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  • 8 Ways to Stay Sane at Work During the Holidays

    The web is overflowing with advice for how to be more successful and productive at work these days. You’ve seen the headlines: Five Things Super Successful People Do Before 8:00 am, How to Be Productive Rather than Just Busy, Four Career Decisions That Successful People Make, Nine Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People, The Most Successful Leaders Do 15 Things Automatically Every Day, and so on.

    Forget about unbridled success and hyper productivity, let alone before 8:00 am. At this time of year, between making revenue targets, dealing with frazzled shoppers, fulfilling orders by Christmas, and balancing work hours with holiday celebrations, a lot of business owners are just hoping to make it to the New Year without having a nervous breakdown.

    Some good advice for how to do that comes from Jennifer Gauld of the Steelcase brand turnstone. As an interior designer, Gauld is no taskmaster or operational guru. Her ideas are all about creating a work environment enables you to stay focused,

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  • All Your Customers Want for Christmas? Good Service and Great Deals

    Many small businesses rely on holiday season sales to meet the year’s revenue targets. Most consumers just hope their holiday shopping experience won’t add to their stress at this busy time of year. Unfortunately, many of them are not counting on it.

    Nearly half of shoppers say customer service is worse during the holiday season, according to a recent Zogby Analytics survey commissioned by CorvisaCloud, a cloud-based call center software provider. More than 1,000 adults were surveyed. While only 8 percent of shoppers say “customer service” is the number one force that drives their choice of retailers—77 percent say “great deals” or “low prices” motivate them most—how they’re treated does not go unnoticed.

    Only 14 percent say customer service is better during the holidays. That’s based on comparisons with their experiences throughout the year: 34 percent of those surveyed claim they contact a customer service department at least twice a month; 48 percent manage to keep those interactions

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  • Groups are smarter with women, MIT research shows

    If you want to create a team that works intelligently, put more women on it than men. According to studies conducted by Thomas Malone, Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, putting a bunch of smart people together doesn’t make a smart group. But populating a group with more women than men, or even exclusively with women, does tend to result in a group that works more intelligently.

    Malone shared his findings recently at the Techonomy13 conference in Tucson, Ariz., where tech industry elites were invited to spend three days considering the most important topics in our technologically advanced society. According to Malone, “It’s becoming increasingly important to think of businesses and organizations in terms of how intelligent, not just how productive or efficient, they are.”

    There are many tests and standards for measuring individual intelligence. But, Malone says, until now there has been no way

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