Publisher John H. Johnson Recognized with Black Heritage Stamp

(Image: File)

Iconic publisher and founder of Ebony and Jet magazines John H. Johnson will be honored with the 35th stamp in the Black Heritage series.

Issued by the U.S. Postal Service, the stamp features a color photo of Johnson taken by photographer David McCann. It will be available Tuesday and is being issued as a Forever stamp.

Previous honorees include Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, singer Ella Fitzgerald, poet Langston Hughes and baseball player Jackie Robinson.

Read more at NBC Chicago…


4 Sustainability Trends Among Retailers

Retailers face major challenges when it comes to sustainability. They source products made all over the world. They use lots of energy to keep stores well lit and comfortable.  They sells products that could one day end up in landfills.

carbon footprint

But a new report from the Retail Industry Leaders Association says many retailers are taking bold steps to reduce their environmental footprints. It looks at some of the green trends and points to some success stories. While the report drew its findings from interviews with 20 major retailers – from IKEA to PetSmart – these practices are likely to affect smaller retailers as well.

Here’s a look at four trends:

1. Looking closer at supply chains. More retailers are evaluating the sustainability of their suppliers, including energy use, hazardous material, greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Some even require manufacturers to produce an annual report, so they can better gauge their total environmental footprint and be more transparent with their customers. Many big retailers are relying on third-party organizations, including The Sustainability Consortium and the Fair Factories Clearinghouse, to help them conduct supplier reviews.

2. Focusing on end of life. Some retailers are getting more active in help consumers responsibly dispose of their products — and that’s because if they don’t, it’s very likely the items will end up in landfills. Target Corp. offers recycling centers in its stores for plastic bags and aluminum, among other materials. The Gap in 2010 collected 360,000 units of denim to be repurposed into home insulation.

3. Educating consumers. Retailers have to be careful not to inundate consumers with sustainability information – especially in stores. But they’re finding ways to make it more engaging and transparent. WalMart’s Love, Earth Jewelry collection, for instance, allows people to trace their jewelry’s journey “from mine to market.” Whole Foods and IKEA created their own green labels.

4. Engaging employees. Retailers are actively asking their employees to help them lower their environmental footprint – and that’s tough: Retailers tend to have high turnover rates, which means employees don’t feel quite as engaged in the business. But some have been quite successful. Some, like Walgreen,  are forming green teams of employees passionate about sustainability or hosting volunteer drives to help with local environmental nonprofit efforts.

What other sustainability measures are you seeing among retailers?


Footprint Photo via Shutterstock

From Small Business Trends

4 Sustainability Trends Among Retailers

Spending Too Much Time on Twitter

Many of us love engaging with our customers, industry folks and like-minded individuals on Twitter. Some of us also believe that time spent on Twitter translates to more awareness for our brand, and thus more customers. But how do we measure if it’s working? Or how much time is too much time?

social media exhaustion

Here are some of the things that have worked for me:

Measure Your Chatter

About six months ago, I came across a tool called Buffer. It basically allowed me to store tweets that I thought were worth sharing, and shoot them out at pre-determined times. This allowed me to catch up on news for 15 minutes in the morning, and share my thoughts and other links over the next 8-10 hours without having to go to Twitter.

The real value in Buffer is the analytics feature. When I logged into Buffer at the end of the day, after the tweets had been sent, it showed me how many people had clicked on them and who retweeted them. This allowed me to learn what was appreciated by my audience and what times of the day got the most clicks.

Do Not Chase Followers

A higher number of followers translate into having a larger audience for your words and thoughts – agreed. But you will grow a much more meaningful base of followers – if folks follow you for your tweets, as opposed to a reciprocal follow. In other words, stick to organic content that can benefit people in some way, instead of following people by the hundreds and expecting a follow back.

There are two good tools that can help you clean the clutter and follow relevant folks aligned with your interests:

1. Manage Flitter allows you to see who in your follow list is not following you back, and who is not an active user. You can use this tool every couple weeks to assess what kind of news feed you want to receive.

2. Twellow is a proactive tool that allows you to search for people by interests, industries and professions. You can get lists of people with their Twitter descriptions and can add them if you like.

Don’t Annoy People

Too many Tweets might not be a good thing. Imagine if you were following someone who was hogging your feed all hours of the day. You might lose more followers with excessive, irrelevant posts.

Here are three little tricks that you can use to have more weight with your followers:

1. Five Tweet rule: If you have a several article links or other data to share, stick to around five tweets a day (at three hour intervals using Buffer). Your followers will not be overwhelmed and might look forward to your links on an ongoing basis. You can answer questions and engage in conversations in addition to these five tweets.

2. Ask a question: This is a genuine way of engaging with real people rather than throwing information at them. If you have the right follower base, asking questions is the best way of introducing yourself and vetting out who wishes to remain engaged with you – this might give you a few pointers as to who you should write to about your next product update.

3. Personal Critique: Whether it’s a person or a brand, posting negative tweets on a consistent basis might alienate your followers. You might have a valid reason but don’t get too personal with your attacks. Keep it professional and polite.

There is some charm in moderation. I know it’s easy to fire off seven words and hit enter, but try to resist it – until you have something meaningful to say.

Social Media Exhaustion Photo via Shutterstock

From Small Business Trends

Spending Too Much Time on Twitter

Happy First Birthday Startup America Partnership

Today marks one year since Startup America Partnership first launched. If you haven’t heard of it Startup America is an organization that focuses on building and developing the startup ecosystem in America. They help young companies connect with advice, talent, capital and more to assist them on the road to success. The first year has seen over $1 billion in commitments from partners to help support the Startup America mission.

Birthday Events:

To mark their first year they are holding 14 events throughout the country on January 31st. Check out the full list here to see if one is in your area!

Here is Startup America’s CEO Scott Case discussing the past year:


Splurges, Surprises, and Serious Consequences

(Image: Thinkstock)

I’ve always been mum about my age. “A lady never tells,” would always be my response upon hearing an inquiry I always found rude and intrusive. As the years went by, I’d even remix the reply: “I’m 21 for the second time… third … fourth … fifth … sixth…”and friends and family would play along.

But, after the sixth time of turning 21, I thought about how close I was to reaching 30 and how being 21 for the umpteenth time was just becoming tired and corny.

Earlier this month, I hit the big 2-9 — my last year in my 20s. And with that has come quite a bit of growth and fearful, honest reflection.

There are small triggers for me that spark those Oprah-esque “Aha!” moments in my life. I recently had a candid conversation with my 81-year-old Granny about aging, and it somehow drifting into ideas for decorating my apartment. I’d been practically neglecting to do so since it wasn’t the ritzy Park Ave. oasis I’d envisioned I’d have by 30.

“You should learn to make wherever you live a home,” she advised. “No matter how small or how big and no matter where you think you should be, you should always create a space to be proud to come home to.”

That insight alone made me think of my life and what space I wanted to create for myself in the world at large. As a college student, I was used to being transient and carefree. I’d lived on campus all four years, supported by my parents, loans, grants, scholarships, and an allowance. When I had breaks, I’d spend them either traveling or interning, and when I was home, it was for short stints.

My outlook on getting employed was centered on the concept of free-spirited independence. I had dreams of leaving behind my laid-back, debutante, Southern upbringing for the fast-paced, ever-changing city life I’d witnessed many times while visiting my family in Harlem and Brooklyn as a child.

I was blessed to get my first full-time job in media shortly after graduation, and briefly lived in my own apartment in the South. In my mind, the move was temporary — a stepping stone to get my feet wet, excel as much as I could, and catch the eye of a big New York publisher. I never really invested in decorating or fixing up my place, nor did I invest fully in many things I’ve written so much about as a mature journalist today (such as networking, retirement accounts, savings, and emergency funds). I was more focused on spontaneous experiences, travel and ultimately keeping it moving.

When I finally got a chance opportunity for a freelance job for a major publisher Manhattan, I went for it — with very little planning or savings. I had many bumps, including interesting and not-so-comfy rooming experiences and several bad financial decisions. Fortunately, I landed the job and would eventually move on to a few others before getting my position here at Black Enterprise.

Now that I’m close to 30 (*gasp*) and have achieved all I have professionally, I’m implored to approach things in a more holistic fashion— where every piece of the puzzle plays a vital role and must fit in a more strategic, big-picture way. It’s less about growing pains and short-term thrills, and more about building a foundation of worthwhile experiences that will ultimately have long-lasting benefits.

Continued on next page …

Seal the Deal: The 6 Laws of Successful Sales

Each and every business focuses on its sales numbers.  Whether a company offers products or services, their ultimate success depends on how many people they can convince to invest in them.  While many believe that the executives in their ivory towers determine the daily success of a company, the people truly steering the ship are the salespeople.  These are the individuals who know best what customers want, what customers are concerned about, and what it takes to get prospects to become customers.

That’s not to say, however, that each salesperson couldn’t benefit from some help.  A change in mindset can be all it takes to change the course of your ship – and your company’s.  Here are the six laws that each sale hinges on:

1. The Law of Vibration

Everything carries a frequency or vibration, and the highest form of vibration is thought.  Things in the same frequency will resonate and attract, while elements in different frequencies will repel or oppose.  This means that fixating on positive thoughts will attract more of the same, while ruminating on negative thoughts will prevent you from bringing positivity into your fold.  Great entrepreneurs have command over choosing the thoughts they’re aware of, and therefore, giving the most energy toward.  Focusing on thoughts that empower you attracts more deals, better customers, and high-quality team members.

2. The Law of Cause and Effect

Ralph Waldo Emerson called this “the law of laws.”  The concept of cause and effect doesn’t begin at the physical action/reaction level, despite what you learned in high school physics.  Rather, it begins at the conscious thought level.  The cause (the ideas or perspective you choose to focus on consciously) creates feelings (vibrations) that lead to an effect (the frequency you are in).  Again, this attracts opportunities and challenges that are in line with the vibrations you’re giving off.  You and I bring about our thoughts the majority of the time.  To change your results, you must first change your thoughts.

3. The Law of Engenderment

Everything in life has an incubation (engenderment) period.  Babies, for example, incubate over an engenderment period of approximately 280 days.  Deals and sales cycles are the same way.  Some sales cycles and products move on impulse; others do not.  A good rule of thumb for entrepreneurs and salespeople is to remember that you’re always 90 days away from your income potential.  This means that what you’re doing today will not likely manifest into real income potential until 90 days from now.  To jump-start this incubation period, be proactive.  Start calling and visiting prospects – you never know which sale will mark the beginning of your big 90-day period.

4. The Law of Rhythm

There’s an ebb and flow to the universe.  Great entrepreneurs understand that this rhythm applies to their business and sales as well.  They work to cash in on the high tide in their business or industry so they can create cash reserves for the low tide.  There’s one constant: change.  Don’t assume that the good times will last forever – or that the bad ones will, either.  Accept that you will encounter both, and prepare accordingly.

5. The Law of Compensation

Compensation is a function of 1) the need for what you do, 2) your ability to fill that need in comparison to others, and 3) how difficult – or easy – it is to replace you.  For salespeople, this encourages you to take ownership of your job.  You certainly need to focus on your customers and their needs, but you also need to ensure that you have the skills and confidence to tackle their needs head-on.  Focus on your abilities and your growth as a seller, and you will attract more success.

6. The Law of Minimums

A phenomenon that I have witnessed over my work with no fewer than 10,000 entrepreneurs and salespeople over the last decade is that of big goals.  Most people who meet with great success set large goals, which is key to stretching their comfort zones.  This, in turn, forces them to increase their awareness.  However, the vast majority will stop when they achieve what I call their “acceptable minimum,” rather than their actual goal.  This is important to remember.  When all five other laws are in play, we are operating on autopilot, and the target destination will invariably be some minimal acceptable standard we fall back on that’s in the general direction of our most-desired dreams.  With this in mind, the purpose of goal-setting outside of our current performance level is two-fold: 1) it requires us to increase our awareness and grow, and 2) it ensures that our acceptable minimums from yesterday do not remain our acceptable minimums of tomorrow.  We have to continue to move ahead.

Great salespeople produce 90% of an organization’s sales.  They’re operating from a higher level of minimums within their subconscious.  They may or may not set goals, but all of them inherently have “acceptable minimums” that exceed the status quo.  This causes them to default to a higher autopilot level, and therefore, receive more than the majority of their counterparts.

Why shouldn’t you be one of them?  Following these laws of selling will not only strengthen your thoughts and abilities as a salesperson, but your sales will also grow as a direct result of the changes you’re making within.  Gandhi said it best: “Be the change you wish to see.”  It will also be the change your company wishes to see – and you’re the one who can make it happen.

Chris J. Snook has spent over 11 years as an author, entrepreneur, and venture catalyst and has spent the last 5 years in the investment community incubating media startups as the Managing Partner of TLEC Ventures. He co-authored three international best-selling books entitled Wealth Matters 2007 and 2011 (2nd Edition) and Burnout: How to Transform Frustration to Fortune in 2005.

10 Tips for Keeping Your Products Lean

product testingYou have the next great innovation of the 21st century to unseat Google. Problem is, you don’t have all the cash reserves Google does. Hmm, what to do? Here are some tips for launching what the lean evangelists of the world refer to as a Minimum Viable Product, or “MVP”.

Homework

1. Define yourself: Not a 20-page business plan. Who is going to read that? Will it even apply two weeks into development? Debatable. Instead, define your business in the existing landscape. Are you disrupting the industry with a new and better approach? (Hint: you should be.) Who exactly can benefit from your solution? If it’s a new product or service, make sure there is demand. A great product that no one wants is a waste of your time and money. Mixergy just offered a compelling piece on this very topic.

2. Existing solutions: Everyone thinks they’re inventing something that doesn’t exist. Possible, but not likely. Do some analysis. See what’s out there, even if remotely in the same vein. Sign up for their services. Learn what works and what doesn’t. The more you can bring to the table, the less time you’ll spend refining during design and development, which will be more costly at that stage to rethink.

3. Research existing tech: Chances are, whatever your idea is, there are pieces of supporting software floating around the interwebs that you can leverage and integrate, at least for now (a fully custom re-arch in 2 years is another story, but you’re not there yet). And some of them are likely to be open source, aka free! This research will, hopefully, give the digital vendor you partner with, a running start.

Budgeting and Vendor Selection

4. Use your cash: Your bank account is not likely to be bottomless. If it is, stop reading this, go buy a surfboard and relax. For the rest of us, the first piece of the puzzle is determining what you can afford. Angels and VCs should not be a consideration at this stage, nor should substantial bank loans. Budget for what you (and your partners) have at your disposal.

5. Selecting the right digital partner – step 1: Find an agency that specializes in working with startups (they exist). Ask them about their typical project costs. If their average client’s budget is 10 times yours, they’re probably not the right size agency for you.

6. Selecting the right digital partner – step 2: Make sure agency you select is accustomed to helping clients vet out the technology vision to support their business plans without charging you consulting fees for planning and exploration. Most firms will blindly offer a ballpark estimate. The gems will spend time analyzing your needs, helping you craft the solution that fits and then offering a proposal.

Perfect Schmerfect

7. Start simple: The lure of scope creep is tough to escape. It’s like when you go car shopping. You start out modest, looking at the base model Toyota Carolla. One week later you’re in the Audi dealership trying to figure out if their fully-loaded A8 will do the job. Included features that are absolutely core to your offering and focus on launching only those. An alpha, beta, v1.0, whatever, should be “just enough”. But whatever you do launch, make sure it’s complete. You want 3 features that work, not 10 features that are half-assed.

8. Soft launch: Do not make the mistake of shouting to the world about your newly minted product with press releases and Facebook fan page announcements. It’s in beta because it’s not ready for hundreds or thousands to begin using it. Hold off on the article in TechCrunch until you can handle that spotlight. Once your audience gives you a thumbs down it will be difficult to recover. Tip-toe for now. Form a line and make people sign up for an invite, which may even help to build the sense of anticipation.

9. Listening & trying: If you followed tip #8, you told only a select few about your product. Hopefully you were humble enough to give this version away for free and ask for feedback, in exchange. This is the hard part. You have to listen to the commentary with one, good ear. Steve Jobs listened with neither, but you’re not Steve Jobs, right? You built your product with a vision and certain demographic in mind. Stay true to this. Make it irreplaceable for that group. Don’t try to cater to everyone or no one will love it. Then once you have an idea of changes you need to make, test out variations and see which works better and run with it.

10. Just ship already: The theme here is to disregard your fears about being perfect. The most successful innovators are exceptional about putting their ego aside and having the balls to ship something to market. They listen and tweak and change course until they find their sweet spot. If you wait until it’s “perfect” it’ll either never happen or someone else will beat you to it.

Jay Melone is the CEO of DigitalXBridge (aka DXB). DXB is a digital agency offering web & mobile design and development, branding and strategy/consulting for all things web.


Google Makes Business Photos Self-Service

Back in May we told you about Google Business Photos, an effort by Google to pair small business owners up with professional photographers to take high-quality images of their business for their Google Places profile. At the time the program was only available in select cities so we encouraged SMBs not to wait for Google and to take their own photos. Today we tell you that if you didn’t listen to us, you’re in luck because Google just made the whole program self-service. So if you do want a professional photographer to come take photos of your business, here’s your chance.

Because of the success of the original pilot, Google has created a new Business Photos Web site so that small business owners can find a “trust photographer” in their area. SMBs can get started by finding a photographer from Google’s list and then both parties work out a time and price on their own. Within days your photos will then be available on Google’s properties. Google has essentially taken itself out of the equation and is now playing match-matcher between SMBs and photographers.

A few things worth noting about the program:

In its FAQ, Google does disclose that these photos may be used outside of just your Google Places profile, including possible Google Maps integration. By allowing a Google “trusted photographer” to take your business photos, you license the photos to Google to use. This probably isn’t an issue for most SMBs who want their photos out there, but something to keep in mind for certain businesses. If you want full rights to your pictures, you may want to hire your own photographer and not go through Google.

Something else to keep in mind is you won’t have the ability to review the photos before they go live on your Google Place page. Again, from the Google FAQ:

Because of the technology takes individual unstitched and unreviewed images that need considerable processing after they are uploaded by the photographer, to produce the attractive ‘walk- through’ experience, you will not be able to review the images before they are uploaded to Google.

However, if you find a major issue, you can ask Google to blur some areas of the panoramic images. You can also ask to have all panoramas removed, but they’re unable to take down individual ones, which may be a bummer.

Months after our original post, I still think small business owners are better off finding their own photographer rather than looping Google into the process. By doing your own legwork you can potentially find a photographer you can barter services with (allowing you to get the photos for free) and you get full control over how many photos are taken, which are used, and how they’re used. Maybe I’m just paranoid but I don’t see the value of bringing Google into the equation.

However, if you’re interested, Trusted Photographers is currently available in 14 US cities (Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco/Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, DC.), as well as in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and France.

Happy photo taking.

From Small Business Trends

Google Makes Business Photos Self-Service