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PERSPECTIVES ON DIGITAL CURRENCY

Oct 23, 2013

Donna Fenn

Secrets of Small Business Success Series: Insider’s Perspective with Nikhil Arora (Video)

In our last video blog by Donna Fenn, she sits down with one entrepreneur who tells her when he starts thinking of holiday planning for his business, and also a campaign that gives back just as much as it gets during the holiday season.

~Enjoy!

Janet – @jzablock

@VisaSmallBiz

Secrets of Small Business Success Series: Insider’s Perspective with Nikhil Arora (Video)

We sat down with Nikhil Arora, the co-founder of Back to the Roots, to talk about how his company, which makes grow your own mushroom kits and aqua farms, prepares for the holidays. Hint: you can’t start too soon!

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on October 23, 2013 at 9:31 am

Oct 22, 2013

Secrets of Small Business Success: The Price is Right: Use Pricing to Maximize Holiday Cash Flow

All good things must come to an end. We hope you have enjoyed the Small Business Success Summer Series with Donna Fenn. This will be her final blog post, but stay tuned tomorrow for her interview with Nikhil Arora, the co-founder of Back to the Roots.

For her final tip on making the holiday season a smashing success, Donna had the chance to sit down with three small business owners and chat about how to maximize holiday cash flow, which can be overwhelming with all the holiday hustle and bustle.

~Enjoy!

Janet – @jzablock

@VisaSmallBiz

The Price is Right: Use Pricing to Maximize Holiday Cash Flow

By Donna Fenn, Small Business Author and Expert

Many entrepreneurs have love/hate relationships with the holiday season.  At this time of year your business may be firing on all cylinders and the cash may be rolling in, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed unless you have a solid strategy for keeping the flow of business on track.  One great way to do this is by using pricing to your advantage.

Use discounting strategically. At ScanDigital, a company that digitizes photos, slides, and film, CEO Anderson Schoenrock, says he typically sees a 40% increase in sales over the holidays. While the company offers discounts throughout the year, “we offer our final discount of the year on Black Friday,” says Schoenrock.  “From that point forward, all orders are processed at full price.  Between better efficiency due to the sheer volume, as well as more full-priced orders coming through the door, we see profitability increase by 10-15% during the fourth quarter.” Last year, the company offered 20% off plus free shipping (which essentially amounted to 30% off).  This year, Schoenrock says he’ll offer a straight 30-35% off to drive larger volume, and he’s considering a tiered discount structure to incentivize larger orders.

Connect your price break to a cause.  “When you’re buying a gift for someone, it’s nice to feel that you’re giving back,” says Joy Chopak the founder of Gunamuna, a startup that makes wearable sleep sacks for infants, which can help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Chopak offers a 20% holiday discount on select products to retailers and directly to consumers in October, which is also SIDS Awareness Month. “We donate to the Safe Sleep Campaign and we also ask retailers and consumers to pass some of their savings on to the charity as well, “says Chopak. The price break also encourages retailers to stock up early for the holidays, which gives Chopak’s cash flow a boost and makes her own holiday schedule a bit more predictable.

Stand firm on pricing. “We don’t get into a race to the bottom on pricing,” says Chris Zane, the owner of Zane’s Cycles in Branford and Fairfield, Conn. “So we don’t ever have a holiday sale.” What he does instead is make post-holiday returns very easy for his customers. “All year, we have an unconditional return policy,” he says. If customers know they won’t have a hard time returning an unwanted gift, they’re more likely to spend, even at full price. After the holidays, Zane typically gets $15,000 to $20,000 in returns, which can wreak havoc on cash flow. So he offers every customer the choice of a full refund or a store gift card with an additional 10%. “90% of people will take the gift card,” says Zane. “So we don’t lose cash in the drawer at a time when we really need it.”

 

Remember that your primary goal should be to make your customers feel comfortable buying your product or service sooner rather than later.  Offer early discounts, promotions, or other incentives for them to pull the trigger before the rush. And when your promotion ends, stand firm on your pricing; an eleventh hour discount will only encourage the procrastinators.

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on October 22, 2013 at 8:54 am

Oct 1, 2013

Secrets of Small Business Success: Holiday Marketing: Be Memorable and Meaningful

Donna Fenn has shared expertise and insights from entrepreneurs who’ve seen it and been through it all. From innovation heroes to customer service champions, in her last installment of the Small Business Success Summer Series, she explores holiday planning for the fast-approaching season. In this blog, Donna spoke with entrepreneurs who learned the hard way that it’s never too early to prepare your business for the  busy holiday season.

~Enjoy!

Janet – @jzablock

@VisaSmallBiz

Holiday Marketing: Be Memorable and Meaningful

By Donna Fenn, Small Business Author and Expert

For many small business owners, the upcoming holiday season is the most important time of year, as it represents a huge percentage of annual revenue. While consumers are in the mood to buy, they can be overwhelmed with marketing messages and confused by a huge number of choices.  So how do you rise above the noise? At this time of year especially, customers are more likely to do business with companies they like. Don’t wait until the crowded holiday season to start your holiday outreach. Instead, take the opportunity to meaningfully connect with them over the coming weeks and you’ll reap the rewards in the coming months.  Here are a few ways you can show your customers that you’re a cut above your competitors:

Be generous on social mediaZady.com is a new, multi-brand online retailer for people who want to be both stylish and socially conscious, says co-founder Soraya Darabi. “We don’t have a big marketing budget, so community is our first priority,” she says. Yes, she wants to drive consumers to Zady, but part of the company’s social media strategy is to be a trusted resource to people, even if it means sending them elsewhere. A woman recently asked Darabi where to find a great pair of boots. Her response: check out the used Ferragamos on eBay. “We want to position ourselves as experts,” says Darabi.

Host a party. At Zane’s Cycles, which has two bicycle shops in Fairfield County, Conn., holiday sales are just between 9- 10% of total revenue. Still, owner Chris Zane leverages the holiday season to thank and connect with a select group of important customers.  He hosts a VIP cocktail party with tenderloin, shrimp, and gift bags filled with Zane swag and a bottle of wine for 200 of “the customers who are most intimately involved in our business,” says Zane. “They’re the people who help us clean up after our big spring sale, or who wave the flags at the charity rides that we support. It’s about building community around our space and sending the message that we’re here for them.” He knows that message will pay off when it’s time to shop for bicycles in the spring.

Leverage cause marketing. At Back to the Roots (BTTR), an Oakland, Cal., company that sells mushroom growing kits and aquafarms, founders Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez forged a holiday partnership with Revolution Foods, which provides healthy meals to school children.  “For every Aquafarm that we sell at Whole Foods, Petco, and Nordstrom, we’ll donate a healthy school meal through Revolution Foods,” says Arora. The program, which starts this month, is part of BTTR’s philosophy to “partner with cool companies to do good things,” says Arora.

Of course, your holiday marketing should also include more traditional elements, such as email marketing to your most loyal customers and a holiday card. For a spin on that, check out OpenMe.com, a new social greeting card company that allows you to custom create e-cards (free) or physical cards ($4), with multiple pages and signatures, all managed online. Remember, it’s all about differentiating your company to customers in a memorable and meaningful way so that they fall in love with your company, not just what you happen to be selling.

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on October 1, 2013 at 10:05 am

Sep 25, 2013

Secrets of Small Business Success Series: Insider’s Perspective with Ben Kaufman

We hope you’ve been enjoying Donna Fenn’s monthly video blogs. She recently chatted with Quirky’s CEO and founder, Ben Kaufman, on thriving in a culture of innovation where he offered his perspective and advice for striving entrepreneurs.

~Enjoy!
Janet – @jzablock
@VisaSmallBiz

 

Quirky makes three new brand new consumer products every week so its founder, Ben Kaufman, knows a thing or two about innovation. Here, he chats with us about how to create a culture of innovation, how anyone can be innovative, and the single biggest threat to innovation.

Enjoy!

 

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Visa Corporate Relations Team on September 25, 2013 at 10:42 am

Sep 24, 2013

Secrets of Small Business Success: Failure Stinks, Long Live Failure!

Failure is never a fun feeling, especially when it’s your business. In our final post on ‘Nurturing your Entrepreneurial Spirit’,  Donna Fenn talks with the co-founder of Techstars, David Cohen, on failure and tips to help you navigate the waters.

~Enjoy!

Janet – @jzablock

@VisaSmallBiz

Failure Stinks, Long Live Failure!

By Donna Fenn, Small Business Author and Expert

 

It took Thomas Edison 10,000 attempts to make the light bulb, each one bringing him another step closer to success.  “I have not failed,” he said, “I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” You may not have the stomach to fail 10,000 times, but you’d better get comfortable with the possibility of failure. I had a recent conversation on the topic with David Cohen, co-founder of the national incubator/accelerator program, Techstars. He’s seen plenty of failures in Techstars and experienced a couple of his own. Here are some highlights from our talk:

  1. Make sure there’s a market for your product. One of the biggest causes of failure is lack of market, says Cohen. “You build something that no one wants to pay for or use, and that comes from tunnel vision,” he says. Often, founders fall in love with their ideas and neglect to do the proper market research to ensure that potential customers will feel the same way. To avoid epic fail, do research, collect data, and force yourself to clear specific hurdles, such as number of  customers or users.
  2. Get the right team in place. The second big cause of failure is not having the right team to execute on your idea.  “So much failure happens because someone does not have the right skill set,” says Cohen.  Or you may start a business with your best friend, only to find that he or she makes a terrible business partner.  At Techstars, co-founders are asked a series of questions about their product, market, competitors, and pricing. “It forces arguments between founders,” says Cohen. “Techstars is an accelerator, and it can accelerate failure, too.” You’ve heard it before: if you’re going to fail, fail fast.
  3. There’s failure, and there’s failure. “If you get up in the morning and you’re frustrated and nothing is working and you want to hit the wall with your fist, that’s called building a startup,” says Cohen.  Short-term frustration is perfectly normal, he says, so don’t mistake a few bad days for a sign from the universe that you should give up. On the other hand, if you wake up feeling that way for weeks and you’re just not having fun anymore, then maybe it’s time to move on.
  4. Fail or pivot? Maybe industry or market shifts have changed the playing field, or perhaps your product or service just isn’t making the traction you need. Before you throw in the towel, take a deep breath.  “Entrepreneurs think about sunk costs too much,” says Cohen. Instead, he  says, ask yourself  “is there something more powerful we can do with the assets we have today?” Take a look at your physical assets, such as equipment and inventory, but also consider your intellectual property and the talent you have on staff, and ask yourself how they can be repurposed.

No one enjoys failing, but the good news is that failure often begets success. “My favorite entrepreneur to back is one that has succeeded and failed, in that order,” says Cohen. “You learn that you’re human and to play to your strengths. You learn from failure than from success.”

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on September 24, 2013 at 7:01 am

Sep 16, 2013

Secrets of Small Business Success: Forging Great Strategic Partnerships

This month in our Secrets of Small Business Success series with Donna Fenn, we have been diving into the topic: ‘Nurturing Your Entrepreneurial Spirit’.  Part of keeping that spirit alive, means evaluating your partners. How do you know if they are going to add value as your business grows? This week, Donna looks at how to form tactical partnerships from the very beginning.

~Enjoy!

Janet – @jzablock

@VisaSmallBiz

Secrets of Small Business Success: Forging Great Strategic Partnerships

By Donna Fenn, Small Business Author and Expert

 

 

A great partnership can save you time, make you money, and open doors that might otherwise remain closed. But strategic relationships can also be tricky, so it’s important for you to ask the right questions before entering into any agreement.

1.  Will the partnership provide comparable value to both parties?  “You have to strike a balance,” says Morgan First, co-founder of Second Glass, which creates “Wine Riot,” wine-tasting events geared toward twenty-somethings. “We find out what potential partners are looking for and what we can do for them for very little or for free.” One of Second Glass’s key strategic partners is Yelp. In exchange for 20 pairs of tickets to a daytime Wine Riot event (a time slot that rarely sells out), Yelp promotes the event via its newsletter and directly on the Yelp website and mobile app. First forged the partnership in Boston, when her company launched in 2006. “We now partner with them in all the cities where we do Wine Riot events,” says First.

2.  Are you legally protected? “My general rule is that there should be a written agreement for everyone who your company does business with,” says Rachel Rodgers, an attorney who provides legal counsel for entrepreneurs.  “One of the biggest things I’m always concerned about is intellectual property (IP). If IP is exchanged or created, who owns it?” You’ll also want to specify the exact terms and expectations of your agreement, including a start and end date, and any restrictions you or your partner feel compelled to place on the relationship.

3.  Is there synergy between your companies? When David Adelman launched ReelGenie, a company that helps families collaboratively transform online content and photos into videos, his plan was to entice users to come to his site to produce their custom videos. But then he discovered that partnerships were a more efficient path to growth. He’s now inking strategic agreements with social networking, photo sharing and family history sites that will offer ReelGenie’s video creation services to their own users. “We positioned ourselves at the end of the funnel to reach people who are already looking to create something,” he says.  “We give up some of the economics to our partners, but we get our name and our technology out there without spending money on user acquisition.”

4.  Are you getting the “halo effect?” Especially if you’re a  very small company or a startup, your customers will judge you by the      company you keep. A prestigious strategic partner will cast the glow of legitimacy on your own company and can open doors to new      opportunities.  Take Jordan Goldman’s Unigo,  a highly popular website that offers student-generated content on more than 6,500 colleges and universities. Goldman negotiated partnerships with  U.S. News & World Report to power the publication’s college reviews; The Wall Street Journal to produce custom content for students; and with McGraw-Hill to create college readiness curriculum for high school students. Those partnerships have helped make Unigo one of the largest resources for college information in the country.

So where do you find high-value strategic partners? Start by looking for companies that are in related industries whose CEOs have the same values as yours. And look to those who want something you have and who have something that you want.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like these previous posts, Smells Like Team Spirit and Put on Your Innovator’s Hat.

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on September 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Aug 27, 2013

Small Business Secret of Success: Nurturing Your Culture as Your Company Grows

In this week’s Secret to Small Business Success series, Donna Fenn shares insights on how to take care of your culture why your company grows. Next week, we’ll kick off a new month of blog posts centered on the theme of embracing your entrepreneurial spirit.

~Enjoy

@Jzablock

Nurturing Your Culture as Your Company Grows

When your company is young, the heady startup vibe defines your culture. But what happens when your company becomes bigger and more mature? You’ll lose part of that vibe, of course, but you don’t have to lose your culture. You will, however, need to put some effort into systemizing and articulating everything you simply took for granted when you first launched your company.

Alexa von Tobel, the founder and CEO of LearnVest, an online financial planning platform with $24 million in venture capital funding, has taken her company from a startup to 80 employees in just three and half years. In that rapid-growth environment, she has had to work hard to maintain and evolve the LearnVest culture. Here’s how she did it:

Remain true to your values. “Our culture as a startup was to move quickly and to be comfortable making an 85% informed decision,” says von Tobel. “Decisions are progress, so if you have a great idea, you need to start implementing it.” While it’s tempting to be more conservative as your company grows, it’s also risky to avoid risk-taking. LearnVest’s employees know that “it’s okay to fail,” says von Tobel.

Hire smart. Do you hire for skills and talent or cultural fit? Both, says von Tobel. “You have to choose the people who are 100% a cultural fit and 100% a talent fit,” she says. Every prospective employee’s last interview is with her so that she can spend time getting to know each new potential team member. There’s also a generous referral program that rewards employees for recommending new hires – a great way to ensure a staff of like-minded, compatible people.

Keep everyone on the same page.  Each quarter, von Tobel calls an all-hands meeting where she delivers a “state of the union” message that lays out the company’s successes, its shortcomings, and what everyone needs to learn. And twice a year, she and her staff leave the office for a full day retreat that includes a good bit of fun (i.e. whisky tasting at a Manhattan restaurant, or a jaunt to an investor’s beach house), team building exercises, and company updates.

Emulate the experts. At LearnVest, everyone reads Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, which lays out the Zappos’ customer service philosophy – a model for LearnVest. From Google’s playbook, von Tobel got the idea to allow her tech team to take a day off every few weeks “to build stuff that they’re excited about, whether or not it has something to do with work.” And like Jet Blue, LearnVest has a work at home policy for its financial planners. “They’re the heartbeat of our brand and we want them to be happy every day,” says von Tobel.

LearnVest has evolved beyond the scrappy startup stage, but von Tobel thinks that the company’s culture has remained intact. “Your culture needs to be authentic to the company,” she says. “As you grow, you don’t change the culture, you let it evolve.”

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on August 27, 2013 at 7:02 am

Jul 16, 2013

Your Best Customers: Know Who They Are and What They Want

 

Last week, Donna interviewed founder and CEO of an award-winning company, Marketing Zen Group, Shama Kabani, on how small business owners should communicate with customers via social media. This week, Donna chatted with successful entrepreneurs on how they find and reward their best customers.

~Enjoy!

Janet – @jzablock

All customers are not created equal. A handful of them are exponentially more valuable to your business than the rest. So it’s to your advantage to know who those customers are and to reward them accordingly. But it’s not as simple as just tallying up who spends how much and then writing a nice note, although that’s not a bad idea. You need to do some deep thinking about the definition of “best,” and the most effective reward for the customers on that love list. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to loyalty programs, but here are a few thoughts from successful entrepreneurs to get you started:

Reward frequency. Brian Adams, CEO of Rumber Materials in Muenster, TX, sells lumber products made from recycled rubber and plastic to some of the largest companies in the world. But he values frequency far more than volume. “We’re constantly in touch with our top ten customers,” he says. He sends them pecan pies from Goode Company in boxes with Rumber’s logo. But even more important than a sweet surprise, he visits them annually. “We go to their offices, sit down and listen to them, take them out to lunch or dinner and a ball game,” he says. Last year, he made twenty visits, many of them to small manufacturers. “For every dollar I spend, I get back ten in additional business,” he says.

Measure Satisfaction. For Brian Scudamore, the CEO of three Vancouver-based companies, 1-800-GOT-JUNK, WOW 1 DAY! Painting, and You Move Me, the best customer is one who will recommend his business to others. “With all of our brands, the most important question we can ask is ‘would you refer us to friends?’” he says. So every customer is contacted within three days asking, on a scale of one to 10, how willing he or she is to recommend the company. People who answer 9 or 10 are “promoters” and frequently receive discount cards. 

Offer a Loyalty Card.  Armadillo Willy’s, a chain of eight barbeque restaurants in Northern California, offers customers a loyalty card with a non-traditional spin. The company partners with FiveStars, a platform that ties a restaurant’s loyalty card into its POS system and enables it to track spending and reward customers accordingly. “Customers get rewarded according to how much they spend,” says Armadillo Willy’s CEO Bob Deagen.  “They can then redeem points for free food.” The platform also offers social media tools and allows the restaurant to segment customer data in order to target VIP customers via email campaigns. Armadillo Willy’s loyalty program members have spent more than $850K since the program began a year ago. That’s the kind of data you won’t get with a punch card.

Do you have a successful loyalty program at your company? Tell us about it.

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial, tax or other advice.  When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on July 16, 2013 at 9:47 am