Tuesday, July 08, 2008

July 28 SSEA meeting, 6 - 8 p.m.

The South Side Entrepreneurs Association


Syracuse Chamber of Commerce

Invite you to an exciting seminar!

“Family Businesses in Syracuse:

New Business Models for the 21st Century”

Introducing the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce‘s new Family Business Center

Networking, Hors d'oeuvres, Panel Discussion

Join us for this special event at

The South Side Innovation Center

2610 South Salina Street

Syracuse New York 13205

Monday, July 28, 2008

5:15 p.m. - 6 p.m. Registration /Reception

6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Program

RSVP by phone: 315.443.8600 / via e-mail: intheeventof@yahoo.com

Free & Open To The Public

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Talking Business: A Conversation With...Wendy Cobrda

On June 25, 2008 Wendy Cobrda, of Earthsense, was interviewed by Jill Hurst-Wahl as part of the Talking Business: A Conversation With...series. Wendy's business moved from a home-based enterprise to a full-fledged business in the Syracuse Tech Garden's incubator office space.

Wendy's entrepreneurial spirit was fueled by her experiences working in the corporate sector. She graduated from SUNY Oswego with a degree in broadcasting, and then did traffic reporting in Manhattan for some years. Radio broadcasting was a more rigid form of employment than she liked, and she eventually got involved in research and presenting statistics for market research. She held a series of jobs with five different companies that involved different kinds of marketing data collection and analysis; over 10 years, she gained experience working with ratings data, panels, and GIS (geographic information systems) data among other types. Her final corporate position was with a company that made software for mailing list cleanup and maintenance; while working with their clients, she realized that most of these companies were not using their available data for marketing as well as they could.

On the last day of her corporate career, she got an unexpected contracting job from a client contact, and saved that client millions of dollars with her services. She spent the $20K of contract funds on start-up expenses, beginning with hiring an accountant and filing business incorporation paperwork. She also made an effort from the very start to appear as professional as possible, acquiring her own web domain and email addresses, a separate phone line for her consulting business, and eventually an answering service that met her needs as her employee base started to grow.

Her best projects as a home-based business were with HP; counter-intuitively, her HP contacts liked meeting at her house, and her excellent services continued to beat out the large consulting firms that competed for the contracts. But at the end of 2006, Wendy had decided that she wanted to grow her business out of her house, and that it was time to separate her work and personal life. She was tired of having people at her home each day, among other things - and her electricity bills were outrageous from powering all the business electronics!

What were the mental and physical hurdles to moving your business to the Tech Garden?

Wendy has two young kids, and family and friends are very important to her. It was mentally difficult to adjust to not being at home and available to her family and friends at all times. However, she no longer works all hours as she did when her office was in her home, which doesn't mean she works less - just smarter, not harder.

Do you still have a home office?

No. Wendy's husband now uses the home office space; they had an interesting sort of role reversal in this respect. She now travels quite frequently and her husband has taken on more of the homemaking roles. She really values his support for her ventures, and they clearly have a very functional team approach to handling a busy household.

So you have employees here in your Tech Garden office?

Yes, there are two or three based here in Syracuse, and she has 8 employees around the country. She has always run a virtual organization and would like to do more collocated work; she is looking to expand the local presence with more Syracuse-based employees in the future.

What is your vision for the new workplace?

There is a sense of purpose and camaraderie in the office, plus the opportunity for serendipitous meetings with contacts and colleagues that she wouldn't experience if she was working out of her home. Even if you're very social (as she is!) the opportunities to make those contacts is limited when you're physically isolated; she has observed a huge shift in her ability to network. In addition, she feels a sense of being "more professional" by being in the office and surrounded by other businesspeople. She has mentors across the hallway and feels there is nothing like face to face meetings for getting business moving.

What do you have in the office here that you couldn't fit in your office at home?

Wendy has always had enough room for what she needed, although her home office space shrank over time. Now that she has more space, she has room for the things that she has wanted in order to make the workplace more comfortable. At home, her electric bills were "insane" from running the business machines, but she no longer has to pay a separate utility cost from her office rent. In her new office, she was able to personalize the space and make it an inviting environment.

You've owned just two businesses, so maybe you're also a "serial entrepreneur", but you also work in marketing...

The business names were the same, but Wendy evolves the products and services as new ideas and demand arise. She feels this is a particularly helpful aspect of being located with other businesses, as others can help you with a sanity check on your latest, greatest ideas, which may or may not be all that great in practice.

What is the difference between marketing and market research?

Wendy sees marketing and selling as the same thing; the difference is the spin you put on it. "I'm a gambler. You have to bet on yourself." She wanted to break through the traditional barriers of what market research has meant in the past, helping her clients with positioning and understanding the market, and trying to go above and beyond. In her 10 years of corporate experience, she learned a lot about what was already being offered, which helped her understand what she could offer that was novel and would add value for clients.

Question (Sean Branagan): One of the most impressive things about Wendy's approach to business is her fearlessness about the size of the companies she pitches. Most small businesses think local and don't try to get big clients. Who have your big clients been?

Wendy said that HP, Turner Broadcasting, and John Hancock were big clients for Catenate. Her current business, Earthsense, has signed Dannon and General Mills, and is pitching companies like Coca-Cola. "You're right; we're fearless." She has met many young people who want to be consultants, and her general advice to them is to work in industry. Her key experience was working at 5 different companies, which gave her knowledge of the norms in the area where she now competes, and ideas about what else might work. Working in broadcasting meant that she met many celebrities, so she is not impressed by big names and takes a direct, straightforward approach with everyone. "Life is a game of poker" and you must have the attitude that you have the best hand; until someone else can show that she doesn't have the best marketing research data, she will feel certain that her data is good and worth a premium. It's all about attitude; entrepreneurs are crazy. Growing a business is really hard, but once you get to a certain point, "you're halfway in and you might as well keep going."

Audience Question: What have some of your business challenges been?
Wendy: It took 10 years to find a business partner; it's really difficult to find someone you can trust, who is just different enough from you to balance your efforts without driving you crazy.

Jill said that we tend to try to do business with our buddies, and that's not always a good decision. To that, Wendy responded that she has been fortunate that she can be honest with her coworkers, though the efforts required for growing and adjusting to changes in staffing are always challenging.

Jill said she works from a home office and has learned to tell telemarketers, "The landlord takes care of that" because they don't know that she's the landlord. Wendy has gone to actually having a landlord - how has that been?

It's nice not to worry about the electricity, and in the future she's hoping to have others take care of the IT infrastructure (computer networking, etc.) She feels lucky to have a good relationship with her landlord, who doesn't allow issues to escalate. The Syracuse Tech Garden has been a good business space for her. She has been told for years that she needed an assistant; she's not good at administration, but rather at inventing. Now that she has the office space, she has hired a person who helps take care of the day-to-day pressures and tasks that she's not so good at.

When you were working in your home office, how did you make infrastructure decisions?

She's a self-admitted techno geek; she adopts technologies that are fresh and new, particularly anything that she feels can save her time. She has learned that there are tricks to making her business look better through use of infrastructure technologies; for example, she used an IP-driven phone number with extensions that can be assigned to employees around the company. Small businesses need to look professional to compete effectively; dedicated phone lines, a web domain for your email addresses, legitimate licensed software, and business insurance (which was required for big contracts) are all investments in professionalism. Her first moves with her first consulting fees involved making her business look professional, including accounting services and banking as well as incorporating. She's now trying to get financing and is meeting with potential investors. She finds it useful to dress the part for the people she's meeting; this gives her credibility when meeting with clients, and having the latest tech gadgets is good for addressing a tech-savvy audience.

How do you stay focused on what's important?

Wendy laughs. She is currently focused on getting clients and delivering services; she's getting better at delegating to her employees and some days she even leaves work without her work laptop. While she still has her phone on and has 3 computers at home to check email, leaving the work computer at the office is a psychologically important break between work and personal life that helps her feel more balanced.

This project was made possible, in part, through an Enitiative award. Enitiative is funded by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, focusing on entrepreneurship in the arts, technology, and our neighborhoods. To learn more about Enitiative, please visit www.enitiative.syr.edu.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The local businesses on the economy

According to the 2004 Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, where the "economic impact of ten Andersonville businesses and their chain competitors, it was found that": (From the report's highlights)
Locally-owned businesses generate a substantial Local Premium in enhanced economic impact.
  • For every $100 in consumer spending with a local firm,$68 remains in the Chicago economy.
  • For every $100 in consumer spending with a chain firm, $43 remains in the Chicago economy.
  • For every square foot occupied by a local firm, local economic impact is $179.
  • For every square foot occupied by a chain firm, local economic impact is $105.
Consumers surveyed on the streets of Andersonville strongly prefer the neighborhood over agglomerations of common chain stores.
  • Over 70% prefer to patronize locally-owned businesses.
  • Over 80% prefer traditional urban business districts.
The study points to clear policy implications.
  • Local merchants generate substantially greater economic impact than chain firms.
  • Replacement of local businesses with chains will reduce the overall vigor of the local economy.
  • Changes in consumer spending habits can generate substantial local economic impact.
  • Great care must be taken to ensure that public policy decisions do not inadvertently disadvantage locally owned businesses. Indeed, it may be in the best interests of communities to institute policies that directly protect them.
We can assume that what is true for Andersonville would be true for other areas also. Therefore, supporting locally owned businesses is good for the local economy.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Talking Business: A Conversation With...J. Sean Branagan

Sean Branagan speaking at Talking Business: A Conversation With eventThanks to Andrea Wiggins for these notes of the event. Sean was interviewed by Jill Hurst-Wahl.

This Talking Business: A Conversation With... event was sponsored by Enitiative and the WISE Center, whose board members are in attendance and sponsor, Key Bank, has a table in the back. Sean Branagan is the speaker; he currently runs two businesses and is described as a "serial entrepreneur" since he has started 5 businesses. His current businesses include Communigration and C3 Strategic. Communigration is a technology and interactive agency that works with complex business technical services. C3 Strategic is a management consulting firm for early-stage IT firms; Sean points out that management helps you get funding, and they work with other strategic activities like mergers and acquisitions.

Question 1: How did you get started with marketing?

Sean went to Newhouse (at Syracuse University) but in the process of studying journalism, he discovered that he didn't want to write about others doing cool stuff, but would rather do the cool stuff himself. He started a business right out of school doing typesetting, which ended up providing marketing services.

Question 2: Have all of your companies been marketing-related?

The first three companies were marketing companies, but C3 Strategic doesn't seem to be quite as marketing focused, although marketing expertise plays into success. Sean worked for the Syracuse Supply Company at one time, a "mini-conglomerate", as their corporate communication manager, which he characterized as a learning experience that got him further involved in marketing.

Question 3: How have you built emotion into your marketing?

Sean explains his work to children by saying, "I help nerds sell their stuff. Nerds grow up and create really cool and complicated stuff, but people don't buy complicated stuff. They buy stuff they understand." He makes the point that marketing requires writing, through which we make something understandable and add meaning to it. Marketing is a methodical way of adding meaning to a product.

Question 4: How did you add meaning to Communigration?

Well, the name of the company is a "90's name" made up from merging the words communication and integration. In a way, the name itself requires people to add meaning themselves as they realize that the nonsense word is made up from two other words that have meaning to them. It is likely that most of the people in the room hadn't heard of the company because they market to a very specific target audience, "high on the tech stack" as they like to say, and dealing with small-to-large B2B services.

Question 5: When Jill goes to tech conferences, she sees Communigration often listed as a sponsor. How does the company achieve such regular notable presence?

There are three ways that they have a presence at conferences: official (usually paid) sponsorship that gets your name on a banner, a trade (presumably in-kind services or the like), or unofficially, such as attending in a way that gets attention. Sean sees some seminars and conferences presented by out-of-towners as an opportunity rather than a threat, because they provide a gathering of the target audience. By attending these talks and strategically asking questions, he can get new business. His strategy is to compliment the presenter, saying something like "I love that you brought this up because we're web designers too, and here's a resource for that." This puts him closer to the audience than the speaker who will leave at the end of the day. He recommends underselling yourself, making just enough noise to raise interest, and attending these conferences for the opportunity to make contacts more than for the learning experience.

Question 6: Your business involves communication for high-tech companies; why do you have low-tech imagery on your site?

Sean wants to attract clients who see that the company understands the broader context of marketing, not just Internet-based marketing.

Question 7: What nugget of advice would you give, especially for small business owners?

You should never stop working on your elevator speech. Starts with a 50 word, then 25 word, then 10 word description; ideally, reduce it down to the essence in just 3 words. Do this for your business as a whole and for each project, for each market - so if you have 10 products with 5 distinct markets apiece, you need 50 elevator speeches! Start with something like a mission statement, and take out everything extra, everything that is potentially misleading (like claims of being the "best" or other subjective claims), and make it simple and understandable. Keep shrinking your elevator speech in case you're in a very short building; one example is a plumbing truck with the slogan, "We show up." If they stand by what they say, then that plumbing service really meets a target market need, and they communicate it clearly.

A second piece of advice is to stay focused on your core purpose; can you pass the restaurant test? (What kind of restaurant did you eat at?) Declare what kind of business you are; advertise your primary service/product as that's what will bring people in. Define yourself very specifically, but offer more, and err on the side of brevity in your definitions. Jill makes an example of a rug-cleaning business specializing in catastrophe recovery, whose yellow pages ad starts out by instructing potential customers on how to start dealing with their rug catastrophe, and only provides the business name and contact information after having demonstrated that they understand the needs of their target clients.

Audience question: When marketing an online business with many competitors selling identical items, what can you do to bring your storefront to the forefront?

Sean suggests doing search engine work, which his business got into early. People who go to Google to find products or services are active buyers, looking for something specific. Start by making your site friendly to Google; install the Google toolbar and use the PageRank meter to check the relevance rankings on your web pages. PageRank (named after Larry Page, a Google founder) is an algorithm that requires the pages to be machine-readable, so images need to have descriptive tags and so on. There are many resources out there to help you get started on doing site optimization yourself. You can start by checking how often your target keyword phrases - the ones that you would like potential customers to use to find your site - appear on your site pages by highlighting the phrases on the pages. Well-written pages that mention keyword phrases regularly (but not too much!) will get better PageRank. Another good tool is Google AdWords; people who look to buy are more likely to click sponsored links than people who are doing research on products. You can get started with a very small budget and try it out to learn how it works before scaling up. An ad spend of even $100 a month could make a great start.

Audience question: How are Google Toolbar and Google Analytics different?
They are different kinds of tools. Google Toolbar helps you check the PageRank of your site pages - how they are ranked by the search engines. Google Analytics is used to see what people do once they have arrived on the site, and can be used in combination with Google AdWords to track how well AdWords keyword purchases generate sales.

Audience question: I have a cardiac technology business for sale; how do I find a buyer?

Would need more specifics to make a strategic recommendation, but in general you market to both active and passive buyers. Marketing to passive buyers would take the form of one-to-one emails or letters to prospective buyers to try to generate interest.

Audience question: How do you market to people who don't yet know what they need? I.e., how do you educate your market?

Two big business examples are provided: AFLAC is one that everyone has heard about; no one knew what supplemental insurance was until they started their advertising campaign. Their competitor, Colonial, has doubtless benefited from AFLAC's consumer education efforts. Second example is Welch-Allyn; outside of CNY, only healthcare providers are familiar with their products, but this is because Welch-Allyn spends their marketing budget on the target audience, which is healthcare providers. When you have a very large group of possible customers, reduce it down to the best possible candidate customers by applying the MAD concept - those who have the Money, Authority, and Desire to make a purchase.

Thanks to Sean for sharing his knowledge with the group. The next Talking Business event will be June 25 at the Syracuse Technology Garden, 235 Harrison St., from 5 - 6 p.m. Networking and light refreshments will be available before and after the event. A $5.00 donation per person is requested with proceeds used to support the series. (Donations should be in cash or a check payable to Hurst Associates, which in charge of the series.)

This project was made possible, in part, through an Enitiative award. Enitiative is funded by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, focusing on entrepreneurship in the arts, technology, and our neighborhoods. To learn more about Enitiative, please visit www.enitiative.syr.edu.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Talking Business: A Conversation With...Art Zimmer

A new series of monthly began last month called Talking Business: A Conversation With... Every month, a local business owner will talk about the lessons her or she has learned while in business; lessons that others can learn from. Tips and other information will also be shared.

The April event featured Art Zimmer, who has owned 12 businesses -- in two different states -- over the course of his life. Those businesses included candy manufacturer, ski resort, newspaper, print shop, hotels and restaurants. At one time, he owned seven at once! He now owns 3 - 4 (depending on how you count them). Art is the consummate serial entrepreneur, who understands business intuitively. He is proud to note that he graduated from high grade #43 out of 43 students and that he never went to college, yet he has accomplished things that others have only dreamed of.

Art Zimmer's two-sided, eight-panel business cardArt's biggest lesson to the group was about marketing. Art believes in marketing all the time and everywhere. While most of us have been taught to carefully give business cards to those with whom we want to make a connection, Art believes in giving business cards to everyone and leaving them everywhere. And his business cards are quite unique with eight different panels. He said that he gives out 500 business cards per month! (That's nearly 17 per day, including weekends.) That is a number that amazed everyone and made us realize how stingy we are with our cards.

Art gave us other examples of how he has marketed his businesses, especially his newspaper, The Syracuse New Times. In one case, the New Times sponsors one of the theaters at the New York State Fairgrounds, which means that every event held there is held in the New Times Theater and is announced as such!

The next event will be May 29 and will feature Michele Bellso and Sean Branagan, two marketers professionals. Every business needs to market itself, including marketing businesses. Whether it is developing a marketing plan, creating an online presence, using print media, or thinking out-of-the-box, Bellso and Branagan have done it for their businesses. During the event, they will discuss how they have approached marketing their own businesses and the lessons we can learn from their efforts.

It is likely people will recognize Michele Bellso's name from her most recent venture; however, her first company was Designworks Advertising and she's still involved in it. Designworks is a local company that works on a national scale. I can't wait to ask about company's logo, which is a pair of denim jeans!

Sean Branagan's company has worked with companies in many different industries, including high-tech companies. Personally, I am impressed at the places I see Communigration mentioned. How does Sean get his company associated with so many area events?

I'll be moderating this event (which is more like an interview than two people doing presentations), which means I'll ask both Michele and Sean questions about marketing and get them to tell us lessons they've learned from developing marketing strategies for their businesses. It should be an exciting event!

Co-sponsored by the WISE Center, the event -- Talking Business: A Conversation With... -- will be held at the South Side Innovation Center, 2610 S. Salina St. on May 29, from 5 – 6 p.m. Networking and light refreshments will be available before and after the event. A $5.00 donation per person is requested with proceeds used to support the series.

This project was made possible, in part, through an Enitiative award. Enitiative is funded by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, focusing on entrepreneurship in the arts, technology, and our neighborhoods. To learn more about Enitiative, please visit www.enitiative.syr.edu.

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Upcoming South Side Entrepreneurs Association (SSEA) meetings

Our South Side Entrepreneurs Association (SSEA) meetings this year have been informative and lively:
In January, the presentation was on the ClearChannel Media Initiative and everyone was all ears. That meeting jump-started a series of focus group meetings and other events that will culminate in advertising for SSEA members.

In February, the SSEA held a belated annual meeting and heard from Bruce Kingma and Stacey Keefe about the Enitiative grants that are available to businesses.

Steve Borek and Jill Hurst-Wahl led an exercise in March to help everyone find the help they needed for their business. It was a very noisy and enthusiastic event.

Craig Watters talked to the group in April about "Growing to Meet Your Customers' Needs: Do You Have the Staff to Handle What You Just Promised?" The group did a networking exercise and more business cards were exchanged.
Here is a list of our meetings for the remainder of 2008:
  • May 19 Bud Haylor (SCORE), Business Insurance: What Is It & What Might You Need?
  • June 23 Paul Muoio & Jeannette Jones (Benefit Specialists of NY, Inc.) on health/medical insurance for small/micro businesses
  • July 28 Charles Anderson (City of Syracuse) on being MWBE certified
  • August – No meeting
  • September 22 – Tobe determined
  • October 27 – Personal finance (tentative)
  • November17 – Annual Meeting
  • December 8 – Holiday Breakfast
Event details are the same for each meeting:
Time: 7:45 a.m. - 8:45 a.m., with a continental breakfast beginning at 7:30 a.m.
Location: South Side Innovation Center, 2610 S. Salina St., Syracuse, NY (next to Dunk & Bright Furniture). Parking is free.
Cost: $2.00/member ; $4.00/guest
All SSEA meetings are open to the public. We encourage business owners, as well as those who are thinking about starting a business, to attend. Our members and guests come from throughout the Central New York region and from a wide variety of industries including web development, photography, construction, retail, personal service and consulting.

We look forward to seeing you at an SSEA meeting in the near future!

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Tips for Negotiating

Are you a good negotiator? Here are 18 tips for doing it better:
  1. Understand the other person's needs.
  2. Negotiation is not an "I-win-you-lose" affair.
  3. Be prepared by having all the information you need.
  4. Write down your goals.
  5. Know what you can give up.
  6. Plan your negotiations.
  7. Know the other party.
  8. Listen carefully and actively.
  9. Ask proactive questions.
  10. Never assume anything.
  11. Be assertive - not aggressive.
  12. Communicate clearly and neutrally.
  13. Take notes.
  14. Be on track with your needs.
  15. Watch body language.
  16. Clear up any misunderstandings promptly.
  17. Know when to take break.
  18. Know when to walk away.
From "When the Negotiations Begin, Listen Carefully, Stay on Point." Information Outlook, March 2007.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Question: If someone was willing to give you acces to free media exposure...

If someone was willing to give you access to free, high-powered media exposure (worth thousands of dollars), would you take advantage of it?

What if it required you attending three 1.5 hour focus group sessions and answering some survey questions (which might also help you learn more about how you really do business)?

And what if there was no down-side to the deal?

Now that you've answered those questions for yourself...

If you are an South Side Entrepreneurs Association member, what is stopping you from taking advantage of this benefit? And if you are not an SSEA member, why haven't you joined so you can take advantage of this benefit?


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Giving referrals

Last week, I had the chance to refer people, who needed help, to three businesses that I have gotten to know through the South Side Entrepreneur Association (SSEA). While that was wonderful, it only occurred because I had gotten to know the three businesses over the course of many meetings.

When you attend an organization's meetings on a regular basis, you give people there an opportunity to know you, to learn about your business and your skills, and to build a level of trust with you. A powerful referral occurs when a person can say, "I know this person and what they can do, and I trust them." However, knowledge and trust doesn't occur after one meeting...it occurs over the course of weeks and months.

The next time you wonder why you're heading off to a networking event, think of it as investing in your future. Yes, you've been to that event before, but each time you go, you have a chance to educate other attendees about your services and build trust with them. And that will help you gain the referrals that you so desire.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

One-page marketing plan

Jennifer Mattern has written a "One Page Marketing Plan Guide" (2+ pages) that links to a real one-page marketing plan template! If you have never done a marketing plan, you will be surprised that it can be boiled down to one page. Yes, you will need to give it some thought -- for example, what product or service are you marketing, and what marketing activities do you want to undertake -- but this template will guide you though that thought process.

If you are going to embark on a marketing campaign this year, take time to look at this guide and template, then put some thought into your marketing activities.