Demystifying Data Backup: Recap In Case You Missed It

Did you miss last Thusday’s chat on Twitter about Demystifying Data Backup?

Data backup

No worries if you missed the chat, because we’ve got a recap of the action for you.

We had two subject matter experts from Symantec join us to share their knowledge — and get the conversation rolling.  Yours truly (Anita Campbell, @Smallbiztrends on Twitter) moderated and asked the questions.

Below are a small smattering of the tweets from that chat. There were hundreds and hundreds of tweets, retweets and mentions, so we don’t have room for all of them. We’ve included just enough for a sampling.  In it you’ll find some Bitly links to some resources where you can learn more about data backup, what you need to know, and solutions to give you peace of mind (because after all, that’s what good backup gives you for your business: peace of mind).  And at the end, I’ve included a link to some fun videos — you may not have thought of data backup as being humorous, but you may change your mind after watching them:

Question 1: Most biz owners say they know they SHOULD back up data – why don’t they? #SMBChat

“Small business owners often suffer from “It-Won’t-Happen-to-Me” syndrome. #SMBChat” – Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“Data keeps growing & backup has become too complex. Many SMB owners don’t backup because they lack resources. #SMBChat” – Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“I can never seem to remember to back everything up – I need CONSTANT backup! #SMBChat” – Ivana Taylor (@DIYMarketers)

“Disaster recovery is mandatory in many uk fields of business #SMBCHAT” – BlackularX (@BlackularX)

“Many share they’re overwhelmed with the choices and some haven’t documented processes. #SMBchat” – (@webAssistca)

Question 2: Question for participants: have you ever lost data? How many hours or days did it take to recover? #SMBChat

“You can’t cross your fingers and hope for the best. Hope is not an effective form of risk mitigation #SMBchat” – Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“The longer you’re down, the more money you lose. Average cost of downtime is $12,500 per day #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“Nearly half of SMBs would lose 40% of their data in a disaster, according to Symantec research: #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“I’ve had multiple system failures and lost data. Most of the time it is my backup copy that saves me. I use mirror drives now. #smbchat” – TJ McCue (@TJMcCue)

“I was w/o computer for a week. But all data recovered. Would’ve been disaster if had not backed up. #SMBChat” – Randy Mitchell (@FranchiseNC)

“I lost an Outlook file a few years ago. I thought it was being backed up but it wasn’t after all. Luckily didn’t lose too much. #smbchat” – Rebecca Quinn (@RebeccaQuinn)

“About 2 years ago I lost some files that I never did recover #smbchat” – Ileane Smith (@Ileane)

Question 3: Shouldn’t every bit of data be backed up? Why or why not? #SMBChat

“Always do regular backups of the data that keeps your business running, financial and customer records, etc. #SMBChat” - Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“Automated backup should include all data, but at a minimum manual backup should account for all critical data #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“It’s good to be prepared but there’s a cost in holding a lot of data you are not really using either – that cost is time #SMBchat” – Pierre Debois (@ZimanaAnalytics)

“Depending on the costs of backup. #SMBchat” – Vedran Tomic (@VedranTomic)

“It’s not just your hard drives & machine. Database too (esp. for WordPress sites). #SMBChat” – Robert Brady (@robert_brady)

“In addition to backups, I can’t stress enough the importance of a data recovery process/plan #SMBchat” – Greg Ortbach (@GregOrtbach)

“Depends of the services, its not necessary to back up all data, for example some kind of binaries, temp data, etc.” – iTECH,C.A. (@CONSULTORAITECH)

Question 4: How does backup differ from disaster recovery – or does it? #SMBChat

“Best practice is to have an onsite and off-site data recovery plan. #SMBChat”  - Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“Backup is one piece of disaster recovery; SMBs must ensure data is recoverable and test processes #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“Backup is account for acts of God in a way – the value of backup depends on how frequently the plan is used #SMBChat”  - Pierre Debois (@ZimanaAnalytics)

“Backup is only one element of an effective disaster recovery plan #SMBChat” – Sumeet Sabharwal (@sabhas)

“I think backing up and disaster recovery one and the same. Especially in places prone to disasters like CA #SMBChat” – Katy Tafoya (@katytafoya)

Question 5: What types of backup solutions are available today? #SMBChat

“Great blog post on how to determine the right type of backup for your SMB: #SMBchat #SMBChat”  - Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“There’s no one-size-fits-all in backup. There are 3 potential solutions: software, appliance and cloud/hosted. #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“If your biz has closed even one deal, it’s time to move beyond the “email to Gmail” data backup “plan”. #SMBchat” – Corey Donovan ? (@coreydonovan)

“RT @amit_walia Dropbox is not backup. Its file share. If you lose the folder you lost it all #SMBchat >holy smokes!” – TJ McCue (@TJMcCue)

“@TJMcCue @symantec @amit_walia #SMBchat is true, i delete the folder in dropbox and lost all! Sadly, i used it as backup and its wrong” – Omar Malavé ? (@omalave)

Question 6: How much do backup solutions cost (from $ to $$$$) and what sizes of businesses are they suited for? #SMBChat

“Backup Exec offers a portfolio of solutions with multiple pricing models to meet your business needs – just pay as you grow!! #SMBChat”  - Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“Cloud-based/hosted backup is ideal for smaller businesses with several servers and computers to protect #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“Appliances are great for SMBs that want on-site backup/recovery but haven’t invested in storage hardware #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“Costs can vary… Depending on the level of backup protection you prefer. #SMBChat” – No-IP (@NoIPcom)

Question 7: What if you have a virtual office or remote workers? What are the options? #SMBChat

“Cloud backup is your best bet for remote workers. It’s quick, secure and continuous backup, and reliable recovery #SMBChat”  - Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“I’ve been doing this for 16+ years now and I use a networked hard drive for my backups – cheap and easy. I use the cloud a lot too #smbchat” – Craig Fifield (@CraigFifield)

Question 8: What are security pros/cons of cloud backup versus local backup? #SMBChat

“Ensure your cloud provider encrypts any data that leaves your business and has an SLA that meets your business needs. #SMBChat”  - Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“If you’re doing your data backup in the cloud, you’re always protected no matter where you are #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“Unless you can’t connect to the cloud when you really need the data #SMBchat” – Gail Gardner (@GrowMap)

“Cloud is great for constant backups and revision tracking, but local is good since you usually have an immediate copy #SMBChat” – Charles Costa (@charlescosta)

“With the cloud, are you sure someone’s backing up your backup? Their machine could go down too. #SMBChat” – Robert Brady (@robert_brady)

“@charlescosta I have layers: I back up incrementally, daily to a local drive and then make a full DR copy weekly to the cloud. #SMBchat” – Tristan Bishop (@KnowledgeBishop)

“Yes but have you ever tested each type of backup to make sure they can be restored? @KnowledgeBishop #SMBchat” – Gail Gardner ?(@GrowMap)

Question 9: Which solutions are suited for DIYers and which require technical staff? #SMBChat

“Cloud does not require dedicated IT; probably best for DIYers. Find more tips here: #SMBchat #SMBChat”  - Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“Software requires someone locally to manage, appliance can work for SMB with just 1-2 IT people #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

Question 10: How much time does it take to implement backup solutions? And to administer weekly? #SMBChat

“Once configured properly, almost no time at all should be required for maintenance of a backup, tops 4-8 hrs per month. #SMBChat” – Thaddeus Howze (@ebonstorm)

“In the time it takes you to brush your teeth you could have your Symantec backup set-up! Don’t wait #SMBChat”  - Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“Symantec’s newest Backup Exec installs in less than 10 minutes with 3 steps. Read more here: #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

Question 11: What help is available to review backup solutions? #SMBChat

“Always should ask employees what they think b/c if they’re not using the system, it’s all pointless #SMBChat” – Charles Costa (@charlescosta)

“@charlescosta @eggmarketing Your backup method should NOT depend on your employees to adhere to it. Must work despite them. #SMBChat” – Thaddeus Howze (@ebonstorm)

“One of our SMB customers also offers some common backup mistakes to watch out for: #SMBchat”  - Monica Girolami (@backupexec)

“Symantec or one of our channel partners can help SMB customers choose the best backup solutions #SMBChat”  - Amit Walia (@amit_walia)

“@symantec @smallbiztrends @amit_walia @backupexec Thanks for an informative #SMBchat. Any additional resources on #databackup on the ‘net?” – Martin Lindeskog (@Lyceum)

“like to learn more about #backup go to where you will find a complimentary download. #SMBChat tx @symantec” – – Ramon Ray (@RamonRay)

Additional side discussions with some interesting points:

 TJ McCue asks:

“@joemsie are there any sample documents showing what a “data backup plan” should like? #smbchat” –  TJ McCue  (@TJMcCue)

And Joe Johnson responds:

“@TJMcCue #smbchat old but good advice on backup plan”  Joe Johnson ? (@joemsie)

Vedran concludes his comments by asking:

“Who will do a backup tonight? #SMBchat” – Vedran Tomic (@vedrantomic)

The Subject Matter Experts

Many thanks to SMBChat’s subject matter experts for sharing their expertise:

Amit Walia  (@amit_walia): Vice President of Symantec

Monica Girolami (@BackupExec): of Symantec

And many thanks to Symantec for sponsoring SMBChat and making its subject matter experts available for this event. Finally, for something fun, watch these Symantec videos of Hal, an IT Administrator.  (I love the line about how he backed up a presentation 200 times in 200 emails…)

From Small Business Trends

Demystifying Data Backup: Recap In Case You Missed It

5 Ways to Deal with Google’s New Privacy Settings

Time Is (Almost) Up: Google’s privacy settings take effect March 1 (Image: Google)

Listen up Google account holders, you only have a few remaining hours before the web search giant enforces its new privacy policy set to take effect March 1. The U.S. Internet company said in January that it was abridging its privacy policy, combining data on users from all of its platforms—search, Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, Google+ and the Android operating system to name a few. Since users cannot opt out of the changes, it’s caused quite a stir among consumer and privacy advocates, public officials and international government agencies.

The company is reminding users that they won’t be collecting any more data than they were before and the new terms have several added perks—more accurate web search results, features that work across various platforms, and more targeted advertisements—however, as Internet watch dogs have expressed, folks aren’t buying it.

Google’s shift from profiling users separately on each of its products and sites to a single compilation of data found in profile form has users up in arms.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a San Francisco-based nonprofit foundation that advocates for online privacy and digital right, stated: “Search data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more.” has a few quick pointers on tip toeing around Google’s privacy policy (or at least will allow you to cruise the Internet with greater ease).

Forget signing in

Many Google services don’t require users to sign in, so don’t even bother. If you are not logged into Google + or Gmail, Google won’t know who you are and, thus, can’t add data to your profile. Happy searching!

Turn off Google search history

Sign in to your Google account. Then go to or go to “Account Settings” menu at the top of your navigation settings. Go to the “Services” section and choose whether you’d like to view, enable or disable your web history.

Click here to continue reading…

How to Feed Your Start-up: 8 Rules

To build a better company culture, start in the kitchen. Here are the 8 delicious ways we fuel our company’s growth.

At Thumbtack, we make food a priority. It’s amazing what eating does to bring people together. Our team feels like a big family, and this is in large part due to the fact that we share most of our meals: four days a week we eat lunch together around a big table in the center of the office, and once a week we all sit down for a big family-style dinner.

Often startups try to attract talented teammates by offering benefits like ping-pong tables, video games, or gym memberships. While those things are valuable, a culture of good food is an order of magnitude more important. Sharing meals around quality food builds an environment that encourages collaboration and celebrates excellence. The team is excited to come to work because they value and respect the full work environment. We believe every company can benefit from a food-centric culture.

Many of the ideas we have about food are based on the work of UC Berkeley professor and food writer Michael Pollan. His book Food Rules documents some interesting, if old-school, ways to think about food. He avoids writing about specific diets or nutritional fads. Before nutritional scientists started writing about cholesterol and calories, people used different guidelines to decide what and how to eat.

At the risk of sounding too Bay Area, these older “rules” can lead to more holistic concepts of meals, nourishment, and health. Rules come in the form of axioms and old wives’ tales: “better to pay the grocer than the doctor,” “eat your colors,” or “the whiter the bread the sooner you’ll be dead.”

The new edition, released late last year, features some great illustrations by Maira Kalman and inspired much of this blog post.

With that, we’d like to present the food rules we’ve come to adopt at Thumbtack.

1. Eat Lunch Together Around a Table

Eating lunch together is the single most important culture-building activity we do. This rule has three distinct and equally valuable parts:

a) Eat lunch. At a basic level, food is fuel. Your team needs to eat so they have raw energy to make awesome things.

b) Together. A team that eats together learns, connects, develops friendships, and collaborates more. Joel Spolsky writes about meals at his company, Fog Creek:

The importance of eating together with your co-workers is not negotiable, to me. It’s too important to be left to chance. That’s why we eat together at long tables, not a bunch of little round tables. That’s why when new people start work at the company, they’re not allowed to sit off by themselves in a corner. When we have visitors, they eat together with everyone else.

c) Around a table. This is also Pollan’s rule #58:

No, a desk is not a table. If we eat while we’re working, or while watching TV or driving, we eat mindlessly — and as a result eat a lot more than we would if we were eating at a table, paying attention to what we’re doing. This phenomenon can be tested (and put to good use): Place a child in front of a television set and place a bowl of fresh vegetables in front of him or her. The child will eat everything in the bowl, often even vegetables that he or she doesn’t ordinarily touch, without noticing what’s going on. Which suggests an exception to the rule: When eating somewhere other than at a table, stick to fruits and vegetables.

2. Have a Weekly All-Hands Dinner

We’ve tried other nights, but we really like Wednesday nights for dinner. People tend not to have conflicting evening plans on Wednesdays, and the midweek perk of a delicious dinner helps break the hump-day doldrums.

At dinner, crack some beers and open a bottle of wine. Encourage your team to relax, stop working for a little while, and get to know each other even better. Celebrate what you’ve accomplished that week. Conversation inevitably comes back to the work you’re all doing; don’t worry when that happens, as you’ll have amazing ideas late in the evenings that (sometimes) turn out to be worthwhile.

After some wine, your engineers might try to argue that the Ballmer Peak is a real thing. You should humor them, but under no circumstance should you let them hit that “deploy” button.

3. Hire a Chef

We mean it. Get an office with a big kitchen where your chef can work, and buy all the kitchen gadgets, pots, and pans that your chef wants. Make your chef happy and you will receive incredible food. This will become a point of pride for your company. Our chef Thea was trained at Le Cordon Bleu and has been part of the team for almost three years. You’ll be so happy with your chef, you’ll write blog posts about how great it is.

If you can’t hire a chef, you should hire a caterer to provide regular, healthy meals. We’ve had good luck with ZeroCater, and it’s likely a good option if your office is in Silicon Valley. If it’s not, Thumbtack can help you find a caterer no matter where you run your business.

If you think you can’t afford it: Think hard about how much efficiency you’re losing by not facilitating interaction in your workplace. When your team members go out for lunch, they’re distracted and have to pay their own money and think about what to order and how much to pay. Spolsky writes that it’s a manager’s job to take away all the pains of everyday life so engineers can focus on what they’re good at: engineering. Take away the hassle of finding food.

4. Invite Guests

Having awesome meals at your office means people will want to visit you. This is a great way to network, grow awareness about your company, and learn from all sorts of people you wouldn’t know otherwise. If you’re trying to recruit, lunch is a great way to entice new candidates and have them meet your team without the need for formal interviews. It’s also a great excuse to have people over who might not yet know they want to work for you.

One of my colleagues at Thumbtack makes it a priority to invite someone new for lunch every day of the week: This always brings something unique to the conversation and we always end up learning something we didn’t know. We make a point to invite our investors to lunch so they can get to know the team and provide feedback on the business. We have had the occasional celebrity guest to mix things up. I can’t divulge them all, but my personal favorite was Kevin Kelly.

5. Don’t Buy Vending Machines

Vending machines are the easy answer for providing food for your employees. But the things that make vending machines good also makes them bad. It’s great that packaged food has a long shelf-life, but it’s also indicative of food that’s packed with preservatives and lacking actual nutrients, not to mention flavor. This kind of food encourages your team to eat alone, at their desks, any time of day. Pollan’s rules are “Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot” and “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

But don’t think this means you should shy away from decadent food. Pollan also writes, “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it for yourself.” Thumbtack often indulges in fried chicken, juicy steak dinners, bread puddings, and chocolate tortes.

6. Provide Sane Breakfasts

“Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.” (It’s Pollan’s food rule #36.) A hearty breakfast has so many benefits: at a basic level it provides fuel for the morning’s work. Breakfast also prevents metabolic highs and lows that can—let’s be honest—really affect the mood and productivity of your team.

Let’s also be honest and admit that your engineers probably won’t be starting work until noon, and breakfast may not be the most important meal of their day. All the more reason to get lunch right, and meanwhile make sure there’s still a good breakfast for all those marketing and business development folks who tend to come in on the early side.

7. Coffee, Tea, & Espresso Are Good

Caffeine is clearly an aid to concentration, inspiration, and productivity. You might try to argue against this, but the reality is that your colleagues will be chugging the stuff and you should learn to understand them.

At Thumbtack, we buy the best beans from local roasters like Blue Bottle, Sightglass, or Four Barrel. We purchased a Nespresso machine that instantly brews delicious single-serving espressos or Americanos. Our in-house tea drinkers place a weekly order for green tea. While we also have a few Cokes in the fridge, we intentionally don’t make soda a priority.

8. Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants

This rule is taken straight from Michael Pollan’s classic book Omnivore’s Dilemma. “Eat foods, not nutrients,” Pollan writes. “Stay out of the middle of the supermarket.”

Thumbtack’s chef makes all our meals from scratch, starting with fresh, seasonal, and often local ingredients. She works hard to build balanced meals that would make the food pyramid jealous. We stay full, stay healthy, and stay at the office.

And really, eating good, real, fresh food is just better for you and your team any way you look at it. Your doctor will be happy. Your health insurance premium will be happy. You will be happy.

This point is a really big deal for Pollan. “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” “Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.” There are many foods we eat at Thumbtack that can be difficult to pronounce—bo ssam, mee goreng, cioppino—but they are all made fresh that day.

In conclusion: We think a good culture of food can be the No. 1 driver of company culture. Work hard, eat well. Everything else is just icing on that cake.

Want to stop by and taste some delicious home-cooked meals? Find us on Twitter. We love to meet new people. Also, did I mention we’re hiring? Eat awesome food with us every day! Apply here.

This post originally appeared on

Facebook Rolls Out New Brand Pages

In a charm offensive to woo advertisers before its IPO, Facebook pitched brands new features to guarantee they reach fans’ timelines and profile pages.

Facebook announced a redesign for Pages at its marketing conference, fMC, held today in New York City. Top brands such as 1-800-Flowers and Walmart joined agencies and marketers at the American Museum of Natural History. The venue was an apt location considering the Facebook team was talking about taking the history of user visits, the history of how brands have interacted with Facebook users, and applying what they’ve learned toward future improvements in marketing.

The new Facebook Pages give brands new features, including the ability to “pin” a post to the top of a page timeline for up to seven days. And those large banner photos that users feature at the top of timeline pages have now also become part of the brand experience on Facebook, as Canlis restaurant in Seattle demonstrated. Brand pages will also be able to use larger pictures in their newsfeed to tell stories and engage with their fans.

This appeal to Madison Avenue comes as Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, plans to raise $5 billion in an IPO that could value the company at upwards of $75 billion. The network relies on advertising for 85 percent of its revenue, which was $3.7 billion in 2011.

For companies trying to reach more of their audience, the brand page aims to become a central hub for connecting and communicating with fans. Mike Hoefflinger, Director Global Business Marketing for Facebook, described Facebook’s new Reach Generator product that will allow companies to get their stories out to user’s pages on the upper right hand side of the page. Stories from pages currently reach an average 16 percent of a brand’s fans.

Hoefflinger asked, “What if we could help you reach 50 percent of fans each week, and 75 percent of fans each month? Reach Generator will make sure your fans see your stories, by moving them from brand pages to people’s Facebook home pages.”

Instead of bidding on words, a company able to decide that they want a given percentage of all fans to see their stories. The reach-generator system is based on cost-per-thousand price model, using Facebook’s typical dutch auction. An example of the effectiveness of Reach Generator is Ben and Jerry’s hitting 98 percent of fans, allowing it to increase sales at a 3-to-1 ROI.

There is also a way to create stories that have “offers” in them, discounts which are free for Page owners to create. These allow a one-click to accept and one click to share model. Offers are an easy way for businesses of any size to provide an offer that can be passed virally. An offer can show in a newsfeed and can be used not only by page fans but by anyone who sees that offer.

For even larger brands, Facebook introduced Premium on Facebook as a way to distribute content to millions of people not only on the right hand side of the page, but also in a fan’s actual newsfeed. Not only will stories show on the desktop, but as of today, it will also show on mobile client interfaces in the newsfeed. An optional fourth placement—showing fans stories or offers as they log out.

The brand pages will obtain the same features we’ve seen on Facebook personal pages in that page owners will be able to have larger story pictures, and their timelines can have “milestones” which can include dates and additional content.

Other features rolled out for page administrators include a redesigned administration panel that allows for performance tracking, responding to private messages and more.

While some of these features are for the largest brands and businesses in the world, many such as offers, the ability to respond to direct messages from page fans, and the Reach Generator program will be quite accessible for small and mid-sized companies to start increasing their engagement and sales with their fans.

Entrepreneurs: Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

It’s a truth universally accepted (and also supported by many surveys) that today’s young people are more interested than ever in entrepreneurship. Having seen their parents laid off from corporate jobs, having grown up with entrepreneurial role models like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and having witnessed their older siblings’ difficulty finding entry-level jobs in today’s economy, it’s no surprise that youth today often express more interest in starting their own businesses than in working for someone else.

lazy entrepreneur

But are young people interested in starting their businesses for the right reasons—or the wrong ones? A new study by Harris Interactive for ASQ (PDF), which polled teens about their attitudes toward careers and study, paints a worrisome picture.

The teens, ranging from 6th to 12th graders, believed studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects gave them the widest range of opportunities after graduation. Medical doctor and engineer were seen as the most desirable careers by 34 percent and 29 percent of respondents respectively. In contrast, just 11 percent of the teens thought being an entrepreneur offered the most opportunity.

But even among those students who were interested in careers in STEM, 67 percent were concerned about the obstacles they would face. What was bothering them? Twenty-six percent said the cost and time required to get a degree in STEM is too high compared to other subjects. One-fourth said their grades in STEM subjects (math and science) aren’t good enough to pursue this as a career. Perhaps most disturbing, 25 percent said STEM careers involve “too much work and study” compared to other careers.

It begs the question, are the students who want to be entrepreneurs taking that path because they truly want to be business owners, or because they think it’s “easier” than studying math or science?

As an entrepreneur, I truly believe that we are living in the most exciting period for entrepreneurs we have ever seen. But to fully take advantage of the biggest opportunities for entrepreneurship today—those in technology–you need to be well versed in math and/or science.

I wonder if today’s image of the successful tech entrepreneur as laid-back and casual (picture Mark Zuckerberg’s ever-present hoodie) and the fun, campus like environment at tech companies like Google may be giving our kids the mistaken impression that you can surf YouTube all day and still come up with the next great business idea. Sadly, 51 percent of students in the survey admitted they spend more time after school on the computer—surfing the Web or playing video games—than they do on schoolwork, studying or reading.

Being an entrepreneur is a lot of fun, and on the outside, it may look like it’s all play and no work. But getting it right requires lots of hard work. Are today’s kids up to the challenge? Or do they think entrepreneurship is “the lazy way out”?

Young Businessman Photo via Shutterstock

From Small Business Trends

Entrepreneurs: Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

Economic Groundhog Day for Small Business

An economic indicator that tracks tens of thousands of small businesses looks a lot like it did last month. Want more clarity? Maybe in 60 days.

Following the progress of the small business economy is starting to feel a lot like being stuck in the movie Groundhog Day; we keep reliving the same thing over and over again. Of course, I see slight variations along the way, but in general we repeat a similar pattern in which the groundhog sees his shadow, and we’re left with six more months of winter.

This February we at SurePayroll saw a slight move in a positive direction, according to our Small Business Scorecard. Hiring was flat, after it had been down 0.2 percent in January. And wages were down 0.2 percent, which may actually be a signal that employers are hiring more people (and paying less in overtime). Our Small Business Optimism Survey also found optimism holding steady at 66 percent.

It’s a good sign that we’re not going in the wrong direction, but I have worked for too many years in business to take one data point and draw a line.

At the beginning of the year, we had high hopes that we would see some more significant growth in hiring, but there seems to still be too much uncertainty for a substantive shift. Gas prices are on the rise, the European crisis still looms, and an upcoming presidential election has small business owners wondering what direction the country will go in.

The rise in gas prices is perhaps the most pressing concern because a dollar spent at the pump is a dollar not being spent on Main Street, where it could help grow our businesses.

That said, I think we will start to observe slight momentum. We report two of three small business owners are feeling optimistic, and our survey this month also found that one of two small business owners are planning to spend money on technology in the next six to 12 months to improve efficiency, better manage customer relations, and increase sales.

On the other side of the spectrum, we still don’t have optimism up to pre-recession levels. I believe attitude drives action, so we aren’t quite where we need to be to see that action, and we’re unlikely to have significant growth in the near term.

My hope is that over the next 60 days we will begin to see more clarity on some of these macroeconomic factors. Maybe then we can start seriously talking about a turnaround, rather than living through this same scenario again and again. I’m certainly ready for a new day.

What A Funeral Has To Do With Company Culture

The community you build at work is just as important as anything else you do. A case in point.

I debated sharing this story here because of how recently these events had taken place. But the opportunity to show the impact of how we treat people in the running of the Beryl Companies reinforced the importance of sharing it now. While everyone at our company wishes that we didn’t have this experience to speak from, I thank you for giving me the chance to relate what it can mean to be not just a business, but a family. –Paul Spiegelman

Validation of the impact of our business philosophies can come from a wide variety of places.

Last week, I attended the funeral of a 50-year old co-worker named Bill who had lost his two-year struggle with cancer. I got to know Bill, not only for his good work for BerylHealth, but because he was a very special person. He was the kind of guy who, even though he was very sick, managed to attend our company holiday party in December. It was a special moment to see someone fighting so hard to join us for a celebration. With his recent passing, it was imperative for me to spend time saying goodbye to someone who was extremely special as both a friend and employee.

I drove up to a non-descript building and went down the hall. I entered the room and the service had just started. I was struck by how small the group was but immediately noticed that probably half of the attendees were employees of my company. It was a source of comfort to see so many people from our Beryl family there to celebrate his life. I grabbed one of the few available cardtable chairs and sat down. As the minister began to recount stories about Bill, from childhood until now, he spent a long time talking about how Bill loved to work at Beryl. How it was the place of work he had always been looking for, and though he was only there for two years, it became a very important part of his life. It was a warm feeling to sit there and hear that he cherished his time with our work family.

But then family and friends got up to share their stories about Bill. What struck me was that each and every person talked about Beryl. His mother, his brother, his friend. While they talked about how much he enjoyed working at Beryl, what they talked about most was the support he felt from his Beryl co-workers during his time of struggle.

They simply couldn’t believe that a company could care so genuinely about its people and show it during times of greatest need. Bill’s brother recounted a story when Bill was awaiting a special appointment at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Bill was at a conference in San Francisco at the time and got the call. The folks at Beryl immediately changed his flight for him and put him on the next flight out. When he arrived at the airport in Texas, a car was waiting for him to take him home. When he got home, he and his wife Denise prepared for the three hour drive to the hospital. He opened up a card from Beryl, and inside was a $500 gas card to help make the trip easier. When he finally had surgery, his boss at Beryl flew to Houston to be with his wife in the waiting room. His brother said: “Companies don’t do people like Beryl does people.”

After the friends and family finished speaking, Bill’s boss (our Chief Information Officer) and our VP of Human Resources also got up and shared moving speeches about Bill. Bill was the project manager for the largest infrastructure project our company has ever undertaken. He took so much pride in his work that he came to work in deep pain when he should have been home in bed. In addition to setting milestones of his 50th birthday (he made it) and his 25th wedding anniversary (he made it), his only other goal was to see the successful launch of this project. He made that too and we were able to have him at a party with his co-workers to celebrate the accomplishment.

I learned three valuable lessons that day. First, I am so blessed to work with a group of people who open their hearts to others in amazing ways. And while some would say that I had something to do with it, I honestly feel that all I did was empower people to do what comes naturally to them. Second, we got as much from Bill as he got from us. He was one of those people that simply loved life. And he lived it to its fullest. We need to remember that in our crazy entrepreneurial lives.

Lastly, while I loved the comments about how special our company is, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why does just being who we are make us unique?” What about business causes people to push this capacity to care and impact people’s lives? What do we have to do to make over-the-top caring about our people the standard and not the exception?

It’s my intent that by sharing how our BerylHealth family celebrated and was a part of Bill’s life, we can all remember how rewarding it is to be more than just a professional part of our employee’s lives. I hope you realize that the effect we have on the lives we touch is equally as important as any other metric we measure.

Procurement Wars: Winning the Hunger Games

Feeling like you’re stuck fighting to the death for big procurement contracts? Use these tips to develop a winning strategy.

The Hunger Games, the bestselling novel by Suzanne Collins, introduces audiences to a horrific, post-apocalyptic world. In the book–the first of a trilogy, and the inspiration for an upcoming movie)–a repressive “big brother” regime forces candidates from different districts to battle to the death for the entertainment of the regime, with only one victor allowed.

If you sell into companies that manage their selection processes for possible suppliers through centralized procurement or purchasing departments, this may all sound disturbingly familiar.

Having once written a book with the title “RFPs Suck,” my biases may be rather obvious. I believe that the structured buying processes required by many companies for their larger contracts are vampire-like and counterproductive. They force price-driven contests that eliminate viable candidates and snuff out opportunities for value discussions and innovation.

In the novel, participants are forced to play. You may feel the same way about your customers’ procurement games. I have seen companies try all sorts of strategies:

  • Don’t participate
  • Participate only when you are the incumbent or write the specifications
  • Participate in all and try to get lucky
  • Participate based upon how busy your response-writing people are

These are not real strategies for success, though. They don’t chart a course; they just respond to circumstances.

How to Win the Procurement Hunger Games

In a world where structured supplier selection processes are becoming the norm for commercial purchases, you need to have a better approach. So if you really want to win these procurement smackdowns, try one of these strategies instead:

Get the low-ballers excluded: Often if there is a company in the mix who is outside of the pricing cluster of the credible main respondents, that vendor will not be able to provide the stated levels of quality and service. If you work with customer to alter the process specs–to exclude either the lowest provider or any bid that is wildly outside of the norm–you can contain this wild card. Interestingly, there are an increasing number of large companies that are writing supplier rules to address this issue.

Know the difference between commodity and value: Often we want to be seen as different in every way from our competitors. A more objective evaluation would say that less than 20 percent of what we do is truly unique, however–the remainder is at best better execution. Concede the commodity quickly, so you can focus on the value. Include a statement in your presentation or written submission that says, “Like the other top providers you are considering, we also provide …” and then list the other elements you consider to be commodity. That diminishes the importance of those elements in the consideration, and helps you shine a bright light on those items you can now address as true value.

Use any access you have: Don’t be fooled; someone is getting access to influencers and decision-makers in the buying company. You need to do everything that you can to leverage whatever access you can get, too. The winner will not have been silent or unconnected through the process.

Refuse to play: In any purchasing process, there are blinking warning lights that you ignore at your peril. Make a clear list of what they are for your business and then use these to avoid spending time with companies or in processes that you cannot win.

The real answer on strategy is not saying yes or no, but focusing on the question, “Under what conditions?” Define upfront what RFP conditions will favor you, then stick to that list and execute.