Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • 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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  • Southern small businesses safest loan bets, data show

    WAIN Street has been charting Relative Credit Quality of small businesses in four U.S. regions monthly for 3 years. A value of 1 indicates that the credit quality is the same as that of the US. A value greater than 1 corresponds to the credit quality being better than the overall US.

    Thinking about investing in a small business? Do not head West; go South.

    At least that’s the takeaway from new data published by WAIN Street, a company whose monthly index predicts the likelihood of 18 million small businesses in a variety of sectors and geographic regions to default on financial obligations. The index aggregates micro-level indicators of credit performance such as bankruptcy and delinquency concerning U.S. businesses with a headcount of fewer than 20, but excludes sole proprietors and businesses with a single owner/operator.

    WAIN Street publisher and financial analyst Vidur Dhanda reports that, overall, his Business Default Index—quoted as a seasonally adjusted, annualized default rate—showed an improvement of 0.06 percent between September and October, but says the improvement was narrow with a near equal number of businesses improving and deteriorating in credit quality.

    “The improvement is remarkable considering the drama in D.C. at the start of October,” Dhanda

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  • Rainbow Loom Leads to Entrepreneurial Gold for Many

    The success of Rainbow Loom inventor Cheong-Choon Ng is every entrepreneur’s fantasy. The Michigan-based mechanical engineer-turned toymaker, who has sold 3 million of his plastic handloom kits in under three years (with revenue of over $15 million), says, “Actually, it’s mind blowing. Every day I wake up and tell myself this is for real, it’s not a dream.”

    An immigrant from Malaysia, Ng was working as a crash safety engineer for Nissan in Detroit when, inspired by his daughters’ friendship-bracelet-making hobby, he designed a small loom with hooks for weaving jewelry from colorful rubber bands. The girls and their friends liked it so much that he started a side business, Choon’s Designs, LLC, to manufacture more. He and his wife invested their entire $10,000 life savings in having a prototype and initial order made in China. (U.S. manufacturers he spoke to would have charged upwards of $20,000 just to create the mold, he says.)

    Ng ran the entire operation out of his home until seven

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  • Why a digital communications company went postal

    Alexa Hirschfeld is a something of a tech-entrepreneur celebrity for having founded Paperless Post in 2007 with her brother James when she was just a year out of college and he was still matriculating. At 29, she’s already made several “most influential women in technology lists” and she’s not even technically a technologist, just a digital native.

    Now her company has evolved to serve customers who want something other than the virtual product it offers. What sets Paperless Post apart from other electronic invitation websites such as Evite is that the Hirschfelds conceived and designed their platform to cater to the formal invitation market, which had yet to transition online. In 2007, Hirschfeld says, “pretty much everything was going online, except there were some culturally important types of communication, like wedding invitations, that just hadn’t.”

    Though many people she spoke to predicted that formal invitations would never shift from paper to electronic, she didn’t buy it. “The

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  • Sales rates are plummeting again for small business

    Small business growth is at its lowest since the recession, according to the financial information company Sageworks. An analysis of private companies with less than $5 million in annual sales reveals that these companies are seeing average sales growth of just 0.3 percent in 2013.

    Among four sectors—construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and retail trade—private small construction companies are faring best, with year-to-date growth of 1.6 percent. Private small manufacturing firms saw negative growth (-2.9 percent) as did private wholesale trade (-4.7 percent) and private retail trade (-1.9 percent).

    To be sure, 2013 rates are far healthier than they were at the recession’s depth in 2009 when small companies’ sales growth plummeted to between -6 and -14 percent. But in 2011 and 2012, businesses seemed to be recovering as the growth rates for all industries was better than 7 percent, and for those four sectors rates ranged from 5.9 percent to 12.8 percent. Sageworks Chairman Brian

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  • How to Handle the Shorter Holiday Shopping Season


    Some are suggesting this will be the Christmas that Congress stole, but a shutdown-induced cash flow problem isn’t the only shortage shopkeepers, restaurants, and online retailers are up against in the 2013 holiday season.

    Perhaps you’ve already noticed how crowded your holiday party schedule is with only four, not five, weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Black Friday is the first of only 26 shopping days until Christmas this year, making it the shortest holiday season since 2002. Last year, shoppers had 32 days to get through their lists.

    Research from Adobe Digital Index suggests the calendar will cost online retailers $1.5 billion in sales this year. And in a survey of more than 1,000 small business owners conducted by Manta only 13 percent indicated they expect to have a better sales season than last year, and half predicted that shoppers will spend less.

    To salvage the season that can make or break the year, many small business owners will be doing all they can to

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  • How to get the most out of Small Business Saturday

    Are you gearing up for Small Business Saturday? November 30 will be the fourth annual celebration of the “Shop Small” event, which was conceived in 2010 to drum up support for and lure holiday shoppers to local businesses. Most businesses that take advantage of the marketing campaign say it’s a good way to attract new customers, according to a survey of 500 owners and managers of small non-franchise storefront retail shops and restaurants released this week by American Express OPEN and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

    Held between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, savvy shopkeepers and restaurants can leverage the Small Business Saturday campaign—and several free and discounted offers for small businesses—to kick off the holiday shopping and dining season. Here’s a roundup of resources your business could take advantage of.

    American Express is once again offering its Small Business Saturday Marketing Toolkit—free digital and in-store marketing materials including printable

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  • New “Internet of Things” products could make your office smarter

    A new crop of “smart home” products equipped with sensor technology and Wi-Fi connectivity include several apps for making your office, or home office, a little easier to manage. In a new partnership with GE, the innovative gadgets manufacturer Quirky is releasing a suite of products this week that let you control electronics and sensors remotely from your smart phone.

    The products all run on the Quirky/GE Wink ecosystem app. Download that from the iTunes store to your iPhone and you can control your smart office devices from wherever you take your phone.

    We’ve written here before about apps small business owners use to run their offices remotely, such as Ted Steen who controls the HVAC system in his Stamford, Conn., event space from his iPhone at home in Boulder, Colo. Steen paid around $5,000 to set up his remote system. For small offices or home offices, apps for remotely turning off electronics or sensing deliveries will be far less costly.

    The Nimbus from Quirky-GE is a personal

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