Tag Archive: small_business

Why You Should Keep an Eye on Gen Y Entrepreneurs

Mark Zuckerberg. Dennis Crowley. Andrew Mason. These are just a few growing entrepreneurs, born between 1977 and 2000. In fact, the SBA and Junior Achievement Worldwide report that 69 percent of teenagers and two-thirds of college students say they want to start their own businesses.

So, what types of businesses are they starting? While many are starting businesses connected to social media or the web in some way (as Zuckerberg, Crowley and Mason did), there are some surprises. Some young entrepreneurs are reinventing old industries, like supply chains, credit unions and packaging. Some are creating businesses that cater to other Gen Y’ers. Others are joining family businesses, but turning them on their heads by hiring their parents and extended relatives as consultants and junior employees.

Why are Gen Y’ers so passionate about starting their own businesses? Research shows they may be more willing to take business risks than their Gen X and Baby Boomer predecessors. According to one study, 67 percent of Gen Y respondents were willing to take financial risks, even during the recession. They may be undeterred by competition, as they embrace a mindset where every other company is considered a potential collaborator. On the other hand, many members of Gen Y are starting their own business ventures out of necessity. In 2010, fewer than 25 percent of college graduates were able to get a job upon graduation.

Work life balance.pngOne thing seems to be constant: Gen Y entrepreneurs tend to play by their own rules. While they may share a desire for financial independence with their older counterparts, they could be motivated by other factors as well. They may be convinced that they can improve an existing industry or company with the technological innovations and brand ingenuity for which their generation is known. Or this social justice-minded generation might want to conceive of businesses that have initiatives for social good built into their business models. A study by Cone, Inc. and Amp Insights shows that 61 percent of 13- to 25-year-olds feel responsible for making a difference in the world, and 79 percent of them want to work for a company that feels the same way.

Or, maybe Gen Y just wants to have fun at work. Studies have shown that these entrepreneurs value and protect work/life balance more than any other group. In fact, 59 percent of respondents to a survey of 37,000 college graduates said that balancing their personal and professional lives was at the top of their list of career goals.

This generosity doesn’t only apply to their schedules. They are almost shockingly flexible with their employees. They have embraced telecommuting, job sharing, part-time employment, virtual offices and creative morale-boosting efforts to a degree that puts most of the companies on the “best places to work” lists to shame.

Whether you’re a member of Generation Y yourself, a more seasoned entrepreneur looking for a younger business partner, or a consumer, this is a generation to watch. Have you learned any lessons from a member of Gen Y? Or, are you a Gen Y entrepreneur?

Cloud Computing: No Longer Pie in the Sky

Cloud computing is more than an IT buzzword. With the worldwide cloud computing market estimated at $10.7 billion (the U.S. accounts for approximately 40 percent of that total), cloud computing is quickly becoming the technology of the future. In fact, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 70 percent of Microsoft employees are doing work that is related to cloud computing, and that figure is expected to continuously increase.

So what is cloud computing?

Simply put, cloud computing is a model in which services and storage are delivered through the Internet instead of a desktop application. Sometimes referred to as ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), a true cloud-computing solution requires no software to purchase and install. Many cloud computing applications have become so commonplace that you probably don’t even realize you’re using them. Internet-based email, document managers and anti-spam/virus programs that update and secure your desktop applications are just a few examples. Along with smartphones, tablets and other technologies, cloud computing is redefining how we work.

Cloud Computing and Small Business – A Perfect Match Made?

With applications available for various business functions and technical needs, it is not surprising that small and mid-size businesses are significant consumers of cloud-based solutions. In fact, a recent report from AMI Partners predicts a 25 percent increase on SaaS spending versus five percent growth for all other categories of on-premise software combined.

cloud computing benefits.pngThe two biggest benefits of cloud computing are convenience and cost. By releasing operations from data centers, file servers and packaged software, cloud computing offers small businesses a high level of flexibility and it allows business partners and employees to connect easily. Another added benefit is that cloud applications are scalable and can grow alongside your business. Applications get updated and improved regularly without the cost and effort of downloading and configuring upgrades. Moreover, the solutions are inexpensive. Generally billed in relatively low monthly installments (which could be adjusted according to the number of users, transactions, etc.), cloud computing tends to be substantially more affordable than the initial investment required for physical data infrastructure and software. Some prominent SaaS vendors include: Omniture, Taleo, SuccessFactors, NetSuite Microsoft, IBM, Google, etc.

Similar to any other type of technology product, you should consider security, uptime (essentially a hosted application’s performance record) and privacy concerns when evaluating whether cloud computing is a good fit for your business. Though SaaS applications may actually offer added protection against issues such as data loss, you should ask vendors for written documentation detailing their security measures and standards. When evaluating uptime, the performance record should be in the range of 98-99.9 percent, (accounting for maintenance or unexpected problems). You should also inquire how long it generally takes to resolve technical issues.

While cloud computing has many benefits, there is no “one-size-fits-all” recommendation. Determining whether cloud applications are right for your business –and to what degree– is a decision that will need to be based on your company needs. It may be worthwhile to kick the tires before committing. In fact, many cloud services will offer a trial prior to purchase.

If you choose to pursue a cloud computing solution, the following are some considerations you should keep in mind:

Ensure that the vendor offers good customer support and check to see if there is an added charge for support and maintenance.

Look for a flexible cloud computing vendor that will allow you to add and subtract users and scale other capabilities as your business needs change.

Determine whether your cloud computing solutions run on complementary interfaces. For example, it may be useful if accounting packages integrate with contact management applications.

Top 12 Time Management and Organization Tips for Entrepreneurs

Many small businesses may not be devoting enough time or energy to develop a true organizational system. Often, getting organized is an afterthought, or something only addressed out of necessity after reaching a certain point of disorganized chaos.

A 2010 survey from the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and Office Depot shows that, although 82 percent of respondents thought a more organized workspace would improve productivity, 42 percent said they only cleaned up clutter once a month.

The consequences of chronic disorganization can range from lost time (something no small business owner has enough of) to missed deadlines or tardiness to key meetings. Conversely, the benefits of organization have the potential to make a positive impact: Having a handle on your physical space, documents, schedule and staff utilization can free your time so you can spend more time for with customers or or to develop plans to break into a new market.

To help get your company organized, consider the following tips:

Physical Space

Streamline your desk area so that only the items you use regularly are at hand. A cluttered desk may make you look busier, but constantly searching for documents can erode your productivity.
Clean off your desk at the end of each day. It will make it easier to get to substantive tasks the next morning.
Envision an office space that will keep you energized and work on moving toward that goal in incremental steps. If you want it done all at once, consider hiring a professional workspace planner.

Paperwork

Keep all official business documents (incorporation certificates; insurance policies; emergency plans) in one place and indexed for easy access.
If you are working toward a paperless office, avoid creating digital clutter by paying extra attention to file organization. Be organized when you first set up your network and shared files so that anyone can find the most current version of a document on your network.
Use the “one-touch rule” for reading e-mails and mail, i.e. either act on it, file it, or discard it. If you’re not sure what to do, file the document according to the business goal it facilitates.

multitasking.pngTime

Keep a master calendar for business and personal commitments, particularly if you have a small business that requires your attention during the day and evening hours. There are a number of free online tools that can help you manage your time, including Google Calendar and Yahoo! Calendar.
Minimize information overload by cancelling subscriptions to magazines and online newsletters that do not have a direct, positive impact on your business. You may feel instantly lighter.
When possible, tackle one task at a time. While it may seem like you’re accomplishing multiple tasks at once, “multitasking” has actually been shown to hinder productivity. A recent Stanford University study shows that while media multitasking in particular has become widespread, processing multiple streams of information and switching tasks frequently can overload your brain and jeopardize your productivity on all fronts.

Leadership

Delegate tasks and set deadlines in writing, not verbally.
Motivate employees to be more organized through your own example, but remember that people’s work styles vary.

You may also find that taking a few simple steps toward creating a more organized work life may help eliminate stress and other mental clutter that can stand in the way of your employee’s and your job satisfaction. What are your biggest organizational challenges? What tips and tools do you use?

Cyber Crime: Nine Ways to Protect Your Company

SQL Injection Attacks. Scareware. Password Crackers. BOTs. They sound like alien attacks from an episode of Star Trek – not real threats to your small business.

But, the threat is real. Cyber crime has reached new heights, and the criminals do not care if you’re a Fortune 500 company or a mom-and-pop shop. In fact, as hackers look for the easiest way into a network, small businesses and their less sophisticated security measures are prime targets. A 2010 Panda Security survey of 10,000 small and midsize businesses worldwide showed that 36 percent of respondents did not use any security tools besides free anti-virus protection. And a study from Symantec found that 73 percent of respondents had been victims of a cyber attack during the last year.

A popular belief is that cyber crime is motivated by a desire to disrupt business and gain notoriety for advanced hacking skills. The more prevalent motivator, however, is money. Even if no money or records are stolen, a security breach can have financial repercussions in terms of damage to a company’s reputation and ability to partner with firms that have more sophisticated security in place. More and more, companies are requiring that their vendors and partners have digital defenses in place. There are also laws that require companies to notify customers if their personal information has been compromised and even offer them free credit protection and monitoring in some cases.

Tips for Protecting Your Business

Your business can be threatened in multiple ways: the network, your applications and company data. Many companies invest in security tools for one level, but neglect the rest. The key is to keep criminals from gaining entry in the first place, and to prevent them from causing deep levels of damage if they do. Here are some precautions you can take:

Although most small businesses do not have them, firewalls are now considered essential, as they control who has access to your network.

Recognize the value of a strong password. The best ones use a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols, are eight- to 12 characters long, and do not include any personal references.

Know your application software vendors. If your vendors offer regular updates and patches, make sure you use them.

Cyber Crime 3.pngFurther protection is available through web application firewalls and web application vulnerability scanning, which look for security holes without requiring you to shut down your business.

If you have a limited budget, focus on email filtering and web filtering technology, as these are two of a small business’ most vulnerable areas.

Investigate newer technologies like data-leakage protection software, which will alert you if sensitive data is going out of your network.

Consider encryption software for your laptop and smart phone. (Remember, they are computers too).

Remember to educate your staff. You can buy the most sophisticated password encryption software, but it won’t help you if a staff member writes the password on a Post-it.

Finally, as ubiquitous and useful as social networking sites are, small businesses should be aware that they come with added security risks. A 2010 study showed that the number of companies attacked through social media networks jumped 70 percent between 2008 and 2009, and that social networks spread malware at 10 times the rate of email networks.

None of this is meant to spread panic. Computers, software, social media, mobile technologies and websites are integral parts of your small business. And, you will most likely see an increase in automated communication between systems in the years to come. If you include security tools in your arsenal, you will be able to keep cyber crime at bay while focusing on what’s really important: Running your business. It’s insurance you can no longer afford to do without. Have you ever encountered a cyber attack?

Seven Ways to Find the Right Mentor

Whether you’re a start-up or you have been in business for a while, chances are issues will arise that you have not encountered before. You may be looking to hire a strategic partner for the first time; you may be interested in launching a social networking campaign; or you may be seeking to expand your business by tapping into a new market.

Instead of taking extensive time to research these issues on your own (or opting to plow ahead and hope for the best), you might want to consider forming a relationship with a business mentor. Sometimes the process of finding a mentor happens naturally, (i.e. someone you know socially turns out to be an expert on the business issue you’re facing). Most of the time, however, it takes a concerted effort.

The following are seven tips small business owners should remember when looking for a business mentor.

1. Narrow down the list of issues with which you need help. Prioritize your most pressing challenges so you can get the most out of a mentor relationship. You may even determine you need more than one mentor. Asking for too much information at once can overwhelm even the most generous person.

2. Pinpoint the personal qualities you think you’d respond to in a mentor. Before refining your list of potential mentors, do some soul searching and see if you can answer questions like these:

Are you interested in someone who is a good listener and doesn’t offer feedback until he or she mulls over your question?
Do you prefer people who tell you everything they know on a subject?
Is responsiveness important to you – do you want hands-on guidance in real time?
Would you prefer verbal feedback on your planned courses of action?

3. Define the parameters of the relationship. The ideal mentor relationship for you might involve someone with whom you can speak briefly every time you have questions. Or perhaps a monthly dinner meeting would be a more productive forum for addressing ongoing issues. Over time, you might discover that your mentor is interested in joining your company as a senior executive or even a CEO if you reach a certain point of growth.

4. Spread the word as far as you can. Reach out to your email list; contacts on LinkedIn and other social networks; friends and colleagues and attendees at networking events, conferences and trade shows. Don’t rule out total strangers. If you read an interview with a like-minded business owner in a trade or business magazine, feel free to send him or her a follow-up note. As long as there is no direct issue of competition, most small business owners are happy to help a fellow entrepreneur, and might even see potential for collaborating in other ways in the future.

5. Do not overlook larger resources. The Small Business Administration, SCORE, local chambers of commerce and private mentoring businesses have wide-ranging mentoring programs that offer long-term mentoring and assistance with advisory board formation. These resources may prove to be a valuable way to connect with potential mentors.

6. Formalize the selection process. Similar to personal relationships, it’s probably best not to rush things. Start out getting to know the potential mentor, get a sense of whether they’d be open to the idea and simply ask to pick their brain on a few issues. Discuss where and how often you will meet, what you can offer to the relationship, and long- and short-term goals.

7. Remember that mentoring is a two-way street. Don’t forget to thank your mentor regularly for advice that led to good results for your business. Further, periodic feedback is a good way to keep your mentor invested in your businesses success.

Since mentors can be from different industries, or even different geographical locations, it should be relatively easy to find someone. It’s certainly less risky and time consuming than using trial and error or relying solely on your own perspective and experience. And, once you experience a positive mentoring relationship, you might look forward to the day when you can become a mentor yourself. Have you found a mentor that has helped make a difference in your business? Share your thoughts with the Apple Capital Group team in the comments section.

Whether you’re a start-up or you have been in business for a while, chances are issues will arise that you have not encountered before. You may be looking to hire a strategic partner for the first time; you may be interested in launching a social networking campaign; or you may be seeking to expand your business by tapping into a new market.

Instead of taking extensive time to research these issues on your own (or opting to plow ahead and hope for the best), you might want to consider forming a relationship with a business mentor. Sometimes the process of finding a mentor happens naturally, (i.e. someone you know socially turns out to be an expert on the business issue you’re facing). Most of the time, however, it takes a concerted effort.

The following are seven tips small business owners should remember when looking for a business mentor.

1. Narrow down the list of issues with which you need help. Prioritize your most pressing challenges so you can get the most out of a mentor relationship. You may even determine you need more than one mentor. Asking for too much information at once can overwhelm even the most generous person.

2. Pinpoint the personal qualities you think you’d respond to in a mentor. Before refining your list of potential mentors, do some soul searching and see if you can answer questions like these:

Are you interested in someone who is a good listener and doesn’t offer feedback until he or she mulls over your question?
Do you prefer people who tell you everything they know on a subject?
Is responsiveness important to you – do you want hands-on guidance in real time?
Would you prefer verbal feedback on your planned courses of action?

3. Define the parameters of the relationship. The ideal mentor relationship for you might involve someone with whom you can speak briefly every time you have questions. Or perhaps a monthly dinner meeting would be a more productive forum for addressing ongoing issues. Over time, you might discover that your mentor is interested in joining your company as a senior executive or even a CEO if you reach a certain point of growth.

4. Spread the word as far as you can. Reach out to your email list; contacts on LinkedIn and other social networks; friends and colleagues and attendees at networking events, conferences and trade shows. Don’t rule out total strangers. If you read an interview with a like-minded business owner in a trade or business magazine, feel free to send him or her a follow-up note. As long as there is no direct issue of competition, most small business owners are happy to help a fellow entrepreneur, and might even see potential for collaborating in other ways in the future.

mentor quote.png5. Do not overlook larger resources. The Small Business Administration, SCORE, local chambers of commerce and private mentoring businesses have wide-ranging mentoring programs that offer long-term mentoring and assistance with advisory board formation. These resources may prove to be a valuable way to connect with potential mentors.

6. Formalize the selection process. Similar to personal relationships, it’s probably best not to rush things. Start out getting to know the potential mentor, get a sense of whether they’d be open to the idea and simply ask to pick their brain on a few issues. Discuss where and how often you will meet, what you can offer to the relationship, and long- and short-term goals.

7. Remember that mentoring is a two-way street. Don’t forget to thank your mentor regularly for advice that led to good results for your business. Further, periodic feedback is a good way to keep your mentor invested in your businesses success.

Since mentors can be from different industries, or even different geographical locations, it should be relatively easy to find someone. It’s certainly less risky and time consuming than using trial and error or relying solely on your own perspective and experience. And, once you experience a positive mentoring relationship, you might look forward to the day when you can become a mentor yourself. Have you found a mentor that has helped make a difference in your business?