Get Out There and Learn: Events and Conferences for Small Businesses

Welcome to our guide of events for small business owners and entrepreneurs — this latest edition covers the Spring and into the Summer, 2012:

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Infusioncon 2012
April 2-4, Phoenix, AZ

Get ready to learn, network and set new ideas in motion! Join hundreds of small businesses from all around the world at InfusionCon 2012, Infusionsoft’s annual user conference, and experience three days of idea sharing and inspiration in beautiful Phoenix, Arizona on April 2-4.

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Give Me 5 131: Using your WOSB Certification to Win Contracts
April 4, 2012, Online

Now that you are self-certified as a Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB), it is critical that you know the requirements unique to the WOSB Program for you to participate in, compete for and win federal contracts. This session takes you through the next steps after certification including the 4 required steps to compete for a WOSB set aside contract and how to grant the contracting officer access to your certification in the repository

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Small Business Invitational: Promoting the Drivers of Economic Growth
April 4, 2012, Las Vegas

The day’s events will kickoff with a business expo, during which Nevada’s Latino entrepreneurs will have a venue to exhibit their small businesses and engage in networking. The invitational will also feature an advocacy panel on the state and federal laws that impact small businesses and the ways in which Hispanic advocates can make a difference. Governor Brian Sandoval will deliver the keynote address, focusing on the state’s economic outlook.

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Five Things You May Not Know About SBA Disaster Assistance
April 10, 2012, Online

Useful facts about the range and depth of SBA’s disaster assistance programs will be presented in this webinar, which is hosted by Agility Recovery Solutions and SBA. In addition to clarifying SBA’s partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the session will look at SBA’s outreach to local banks to expand the support network for business recovery after a disaster.

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The Small Business Tour 2012
Multiple Cities and Dates, April through June

Business owners participating in this event will have the opportunity to learn, network and discuss business issues that top the small business agenda, including money, customers, people and growth. Educational sessions include:

Financial Fitness, discussion led by Corelytics and Concur.
Customer satisfaction and loyalty, discussion led by Constant Contact
Growth in a Social World, discussion led by several leading social media tool providers
Productive People, discussion led by T-Mobile, Cisco and Microsoft on keeping a connected & informed staff.

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Innovation Uncensored
April 18, 2012, New York City

Where provocative thinkers collide and engage in meaningful, unexpected conversations. At this event, participants from various industries are charged with sharing smart techniques and exploring the next generation of innovative ideas that are shaping our world.

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Vator Spark
May 1, 2012, Berkeley, CA

Vator is introducing Vator Spark, a series of master classes on innovative and disruptive topics relevant to succeeding as a technology entrepreneur. Vator Spark is a full-day, high-energy and accelerated class designed to give entrepreneurs the right knowledge platform, best practices and tools to succeed. The topic for the first Vator Spark is: “Got Game? How to Gamify Your Start-up”.

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New York XPO for Business 2012
May 2-3, 2012, New York City

On May 2-3, 2012, business leaders from across New York will gather at the world famous Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for the 7th Annual New York XPO for Business. This highly acclaimed business event is expected to draw upwards of 10,000 attendees and over 200 exhibitors as the largest business-to-business marketplace in the region. Education will be offered throughout the day and will include over 40 quality information sessions covering sales, marketing, advertising, business growth, best business practices, social media and much more! You’ll be able to identify the latest products and services to meet your competitive challenges and discover the keys to financial success and stability.

Use promo code Smallbiz10 for $10 off any admission package

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Government Small Business Conference
May 2-3, 2012

The Small Business Development Center and Procurement Technical Assistance Center at the University of South Florida make your pathway to winning government contracts easy by bringing buyers from federal, state and local government agencies and prime contractors all in one place. With more than 70 exhibitors, you’ll meet the company that needs your products and services. Previous representatives include: U.S. Special Ops Command, Jabil, Lockheed Martin, MacDill Air Force Base, Department of Veteran Affairs, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Harris and City of Tampa Purchasing, and more.

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Content Marketing Strategies Conference
May 8-9, 2012, Berkeley, CA

The Content Marketing Strategies Conference (ContentMarketingNow.com) provides companies of any size a step-by-step systematic approach to developing a complete Content Marketing program that masters the content marketing life cycle: Strategize, Create, Curate, Manage, Distribute, and Analyze.

Subject experts will address topics along the life cycle. Day one kicks-off with insight into how to get started within each step. Day two, through a series of case studies, digs deep into successful companies like Dell, HP, ServiceMax, Kelly Services, SAS and more who have created successful content marketing programs.

By the end of the conference, you will walk away with a complete understanding of how to get started in content marketing or improve upon your existing initiatives.

SmallBizTechnology.com readers receive $50 off with promo code SMBIZTECH

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Internet Week New York
May 14-21, 2012

Since 2008, Internet Week has taken place all over the city, thanks to our many partners hosting diverse events in different locations.The result is a critical mass of web-focused events that raises the profile of NYC’s industry as a whole, as well as the partners who participate. Just like in 2010 and 2011, Internet Week NY HQ will be home to stages, classrooms, lounges, installations, and more. With 20,000 more square feet of Digital Playground as well as Conference Theater—Internet Week HQ at 82 Mercer is poised to be the best yet.

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Confab: The Content Strategy Conference
May 14-16, 2012, Minneapolis

Deep dives. Conceptual discussions. Practical application. Whether you’re a seasoned content vet or new to the game, Confab has something for you. You’re sure to walk away with not only new insights and discoveries, but also the ability to actually DO something with them. A mixed agenda format will offer attendees a variety of ways to engage with and employ the innovative ideas that come from the scintillating content and unexpected environment.

The event content is aimed toward anyone who thinks of themselves as an innovative business leader including but not limited to the fields of technology, design, marketing, entertainment, venture capitalism, energy, infrastructure, non-profits and brand executives.

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America’s Small Business Summit 2012
May 21-23, 2012, Washington, DC

US Chamber Small Business Summit

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s annual event — America’s Small Business Summit — unites small business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs from across the country to learn, network, and discuss common legislative and management concerns. Past speakers include former President George W. Bush, General Stanley McChrystal, Small Business Editor of the WSJ Colleen DeBaise, and many more. Attendees help influence our nation’s economic and political agenda by advocating for pro-business policies through the Rally on the Hill portion of the program. The event will take place at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., on May 21-23, 2012. For more information and important dates, check the Summit website, www.uschambersummit.com.

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Zenith Social Media Marketing Conference
May 23, 2012, Duluth, MN

The conference is designed for marketers, advertisers and public relations professionals looking to conquer the social media space, boost online engagement, increase social market share and avoid wasteful social media campaigns. The three track levels include the introductory-level Boot Camp Track, intermediate-level Channels Track and the Advanced Track for cutting-edge marketers. In addition, all attendees have the opportunity to learn from top-ranked attorney Jamie Nafziger, partner at Dorsey and Whitney, on how to navigate the tricky, unchartered waters of social during the Social Media & The Law Round Table.

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8th Annual Kentucky Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference
June 1, 2012, Louisville, KY

The Annual Kentucky Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference (8th KIEC) will bring together distinguished speakers, tech-based economic development practitioners, researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, students and postdoctoral fellows.

The conference will focus on growing local initiatives powered by science and engineering talent.

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CT Business Expo
June 7, 2012, Hartford, CT

The 2012 CT Business Expo offers free educational seminars hosted by industry elite speakers and trainers. All of the educational seminars will be held in custom built classrooms on the show floor. Four educational tracks include Sales, Marketing, Technology and Management.

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2012 Veteran Entrepreneur Training Symposium
June 11-14, 2012, Reno, NV

Designed by Veteran small business owners for Veteran small business owners, VETS2012 brings government agencies, industry leaders and Veteran entrepreneurs together in a small, intimate forum to discuss the questions you need answered.

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National Veteran Small Business Conference & Expo
June 26-29, 2012, Detroit

The Department of Veterans Affairs is hosting the National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo. As the largest nationwide conference of its kind, this event focuses on helping Veteran-owned businesses maximize opportunities in the federal marketplace. Join nearly 6,000 participants in Detroit for the opportunity to:
Connect with procurement decision makers from other businesses and federal agencies
Expand knowledge through over 200 training and business requirement sessions
Engage with other attendees and gain visibility in the Expo Hall of nearly 500 booths
Use VetGovPartner to facilitate online and onsite networking including face-to-face sessions with senior procurement decision makers

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The New York Enterprise Report 2012 Small Business Awards
October 10, 2012, New York City

The New York Enterprise Report Small Business Awards is the annual awards program honoring the achievements and accomplishments of the 500,000+ small businesses throughout the tri-state area. Now in its 7th year, the Awards gala attracts more than 400 business owners and executives and is often referred to as “the networking event of the year.” Don’t miss the chance to do business with the “who’s who” of the New York small business community.

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To find more small business events, contests and awards, visit the Small Business Events Calendar.

If you are putting on a small business event or contest, and want to get the word out, please submit it through our Events & Contests Submission Form (it’s free). Only events of interest to small business people, freelancers and entrepreneurs will be included.

Brought to you as a community service by Small Business Trends and Smallbiztechnology.com.

From Small Business Trends

Get Out There and Learn: Events and Conferences for Small Businesses

FTC Report Shows Businesses How the Wind Blows On Consumer Privacy

Advertising choices privacyThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week released its report on consumer privacy for businesses.  The report does not have the force of law, but calls for businesses to voluntarily adopt best practices around consumer privacy.

Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change (PDF) is a 73-page report that creates a “privacy framework” that shifts the privacy protection burden away from individual consumers and on to businesses.

FTC Report Covers 3 Areas

The report is complex, but outlines 3 areas of best practices for businesses to follow:

Privacy by design – According to the FTC, firms should build privacy protection into every aspect of their business operations.   This includes limiting the amount of data collected from consumers, maintaining  data security, making sure data is accurate, and having sound retention practices.

Simplified consumer choice – Companies should give consumers more choice about keeping their data private, and  make it easy to choose to keep data private, including a Do Not Track mechanism to  give  consumers control over information collected about them as they surf the web and use mobile devices.  The FTC report lauds browser vendors Microsoft, Mozilla Firefox and Apple for equipping their latest browsers with features that allow users to say “hands-off” to trackers.

The reports also commended the advertising industry for taking action, noting the Digital Advertising Alliance, a self-regulating body for online behavioral advertisers.  You’ve probably seen the triangular-shaped icons on some ads (see above).  Clicking the icon gets you to information about how the ad reached you.  Most importantly, it gives you a way to opt-out of behavioral advertising that tracks your interests and attempts to predict your preferences to show relevant ads.

Greater transparency – The report calls for companies to make their information collection and use practices transparent.  Included is a recommendation that firms provide consumers with “reasonable access” to the data collected about them.  Privacy notices should be shorter, clearer and standardized so that consumers can understand them better.

What the FTC Framework Applies To

The FTC’s framework  applies to online and offline data, both.  It applies to data that is “reasonably linkable” to a specific consumer, computer or device.

It applies to businesses of all sizes that handle consumer data.  But it does have what might be considered a small business exception:  businesses that collect non-sensitive information from fewer than 5,000 consumers each year, and do not sell the information to third-party marketers.  For example, the privacy framework would not apply to independent retailers that use emails to keep fewer than 5,000 customers informed about special sales.

Although the FTC’s report does not have the power of law, it is a good collection of common-sense privacy protection practices along with evolving industry practices.  And for businesses, it gives you a sense of which way the winds are blowing around consumer privacy issues.

From Small Business Trends

FTC Report Shows Businesses How the Wind Blows On Consumer Privacy

7 Affordable Ways To Boost Your Support Team’s Morale

Unhappy employees can be detrimental to your business. Not only are they less productive and absent more often but turnover costs can accumulate and make it difficult to recover.

Lucky for you, improving morale doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

The following are 7 affordable ways to boost your support team’s morale.

1. Recognize individual employees

This is simple, and it works well. Praise your employees at staff meetings, or take the time to thank them in a handwritten note. The important thing is that employees know that you notice and appreciate their hard work.

Employee recognition does not have to stay within the office walls. Create a program that celebrates outstanding staff accomplishments.

Try challenging employees to devise an innovative and cost-effective way to promote the company. Then, choose one of the suggestions and implement the idea. Announce the winner at a staff meeting and award the creator with a prize.

2. Show employees the results of their hard work

Share thank you notes and positive reviews from customers with your staff. Better yet, ask clients to meet and personally thank the employees who service their account.

By reminding employees about the meaning their work has by seeing its impact directly through the eyes of the people they are engaging with, it serves as a tremendous boost to morale, confidence, and satisfaction.

3. Give employees responsibility

All your employees can point out inefficiencies in your organization, but not all feel empowered to do so. Listen to employees to learn what gets in the way of the work they want to do and involve them in the process to eliminate barriers.

4. Make sure top management is available

People need to feel that their work and opinions are valued. We all need to feel like we’re genuinely a part of something larger than ourselves to do what we do, stay loyal and go the extra mile.

Spend time talking with individual employees, asking questions, and soliciting ideas.

5. Offer training

One of the top reasons employees leave a company is the lack of development opportunities. Make sure to provide your employees with professional, effective training in order to boost morale.

This begins by partnering new employees with more-seasoned veterans, bringing in experts for training sessions, and paying for employees to attend local trade conferences.

Your best employees will continue to demand professional development opportunities that help them grow. Yet, most companies take the short-sighted view of cutting those programs when financials are tight. Be wary of taking away these benefits.

6. Give small perks with big personal impact

In addition to providing training, reward staffers with perks that make a difference in their employees’  lives.

New Belgium Brewing Co. in Colorado rewards each employee with a new bicycle after a year of employment, and it encourages employees to ride by providing on-site showers and bicycle maintenance supplies. Of its 320 employees, more than half the staff rides to work in the summer.

7. Ask employees what motivates them

Though the list above will certainly help bolster the morale of many employees, one of the most important things is to ask what motivates them. Sit down with each employee and have a conversation about what they value.

The outcome of these sessions is often a list of ideas you hadn’t thought of. Implementing them will make employees feel even more appreciated and typically, help get the ideas launched.

Whichever methods you implement, remember to do so out of genuine interest and concern for your employees. Employees will recognize forced office socials and cheap thoughtless gifts as such, and this can cause more damage than the good.

Yo Noguchi is an experienced freelancer, guest blogger, and frequent contributor to a blog hosted by Benchmark Email, one of the world’s global email marketing software services.


Reverse Innovation Gives a Glimpse Into the Future

Reverse InnovationI’ve had a review copy of @vgovindarajan) sitting on my book pile for about a month or so.  When I read the overview for the book, I could feel my small business bias coming out.  I don’t know about you, but there is a part of me that resents all these case studies featuring big global brands with big budgets and a population of employees that rivals a small country giving me advice or insight as to how I should run my small business.  I am not a global brand, I don’t have infinite amounts of money to spend on the necessities – let alone innovation and there’s no chance that I’m going to be doing any innovating in some far flung country.

So why should I read this book and why should YOU read this book?

Read Reverse Innovation for the Insights on Trends

One big reason for digging into this rather academic and intellectual book is to get a glimpse into the trends that will be hitting your small business in the next few years.  When I put my prejudice against multi-nationals to the side, I begin to see that Reverse Innovation is really a bellwether of things to come.

First, let me explain what the term “reverse innovation” is.  In the past, big companies would do their innovating here in the United States and then, after making some adjustments, launch that innovation to the world.   Reverse innovation takes that model and turns it upside down.  The authors, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble did some research and found that by innovating abroad, you actually increase your chances of success worldwide.

How the Book and the Concept Got Their Start

In 2008, Jeffrey Immelt, then CEO of GE chose Govindarajan to advise them on innovation.  This should tell you something if you know that GE only likes to be in the #1 slot of any market.  Given that commitment, it’s no surprise that they are always on the lookout for new ways to do this.

As Govindarajan set out to transform GE’s strategies, he interviewed the thought leaders insight some of the best brands in the world which include: Pepsico, Logitech and P&G.   What he learned was that technology was not the primary stumbling block in developing innovations, rather it was a function of mindset and organizational structure.

What his research showed was that companies can earn the same or better return on their investments if they launch their innovations in low cost countries such as China and India rather than in highost countries such as the US.

The Three Fears That Keep Us From Taking Advantage of Reverse Innovation

The book discusses three fears that have kept big brands from practicing reverse innovation:

  1. Fear of low margins
  2. Fear of brand cannibalization
  3. Fear of losing technological leadership

When you read the book, you’ll see the answers to all of these questions as they pertain to large corporations and brands.  But the lesson for small business is that it’s our own mindset about where innovation should happen that holds small business back from really competing in a global marketplace.

In other words, US businesses suffer from a touch of xenophobia when it comes to innovation.  And I can see why.  We could easily let go of our manufacturing because it was “manual labor” but to send our innovations and ideas abroad could mean literally losing our competitive advantage.

Reverse Innovation will ease your fears about that.  Govindarajan encourages businesses to open up to new possibilities of innovation that can transform ideas that require too much money into completely feasible products and services.

Who Should Read Reverse Innovation?

This book is an ideal read for anyone who likes reading about big global companies and what they are doing to keep their business and their brands alive. (Visit Govandarajan’s blog where he writes about his research and reverse innovation in general.)

As a small business owner (no matter the size of your business), you’ll want to check into this book to see how you might be able to apply these principles to your own innovation plans.

Overall this is a serious book.  It’s not entertaining, or engaging – it’s informative and educational.  If you are involved with customers or companies who have multiple locations and technical facilities that span the globe, you will certainly want to read this and see if you can apply some of these concepts.

Reverse Innovation, may not be at the top of your reading list today – but you can expect to see the trends and applications of this work become more the norm in the next few years.  The businesses who are familiar with this process will find themselves better prepared for the future.

From Small Business Trends

Reverse Innovation Gives a Glimpse Into the Future

Competition: A Choice Activity for Young Entrepreneurs

In business, unlike the NCAA, we experience the equivalent of March Madness every month of the year. Here’s the good news: competition only makes us better.

To continue with the sports analogy, for many years the four-minute mile was considered as fast as a person could possibly run. Like the speed of light, no one ever imagined actually going faster. Until Roger Bannister came along. In the early 1950s, Bannister was considered the fastest runner in the world. And while the Englishman repeatedly tried to break the four-minute-mile mark, he was continually thwarted. And on one occasion he actually lost to Yugoslavia’s Andrija Otenhajmer who outpaced Bannister in a 1,500 meter race, which is about 100 meters shy of one mile. That constant competition, he would later say, helped drive him to run faster and faster. Then in 1954, Bannister finally did it: He broke the four-minute mile and set a new world record with a time of 3:59.04. Serious competition changed expectations, and thereafter people increasingly began to run at a speed that was once thought impossible.

The same thing can happen when businesses compete. When my brother and I took over a pool hall, which was our first real business out of high school, we knew our competition wasn’t just other pool halls, it was anywhere people could spend their time and money. That included movie theaters, bars and restaurants, as well as places to play basketball or other sports. To compete with these other forms of recreation, we designed our marketing materials to entice people away from them and into our place. We ran newspaper, magazine and directory ads right next to event and entertainment ads to give people a clear choice and help them keep us in mind as one of their many entertainment options.

Related: 5 Keys for Driving Your Competition Crazy

As a young entrepreneur, it may be difficult to see the advantages of competition, but it’s what keeps you from getting lazy. Whether you’re competing for customers with the guy down the street, trying to come in first place at a business-plan competition, or vying for venture-capital dollars, you need to demonstrate that you’re the best, or you may end up like the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’s men’s basketball team — that is, good but gone.

Here’s how to one up your competitors:

Consider your competition. With the pool hall, we knew our real competition was anyone who wanted people’s time and money. Don’t think too narrowly. If you produce cookies, your competitors are bakeries, other cookie manufacturers, the Girl Scouts and every other dessert maker. The broader your definition of competition, the more likely you are to create a company with multiple competitive advantages.

Perfect your product. Have you polished your concept? A good idea is great, but is it really the best version you can present? Product attributes such as ease of use, size, weight, convenience, reliability, sturdiness, color, shape, features and speed can make a difference to customers. Competitors with products that have similar characteristics are a great source for ideas you can use to improve your own.

Related: The Key to Success: Ambition or Competition

Shine your service. A “baker’s dozen” is often described as a competitive advantage some bakeries used to encourage customers to choose them over the competition. What sweetener can you offer potential customers that will help you outshine other companies? Special offers, coupons, free shipping, convenient locations, same-day delivery, reduced rates after 4 p.m., open until 11 p.m., 24/7 availability to answer questions. What is your competition doing and what can you do to attract attention to your approach to service?

Buff your brand. You’re not just selling good ideas. You’re selling your whole company. From social media to signage, make sure your brand sparkles brighter than others in your industry. It’s not enough to be better than the competition, you have to look better, sound better, act better and stand out from the others.

Cater to customers. What can you do to keep your customer base loyal, excited and growing? When they start looking for the next big thing, make sure you have something to offer them. Keep them committed with insider opportunities and better features and options. If you keep improving your approach, your competitors will be too busy trying to keep up with you to develop their own next big thing.

Beware of backsliding. If you aren’t constantly working to improve your product, service, brand and customer connections, you will start slipping. After all, your competitors are aiming for you too.

Corrections & Amplifications: Roger Bannister ran against Yugoslavia’s Andrija Otenhajmer in a 1,500 meter race. And he broke the four-minute-mile mark in 1954. A previous version of this story misstated these events.

Competition: A Choice Activity for Young Entrepreneurs

In business, unlike the NCAA, we experience the equivalent of March Madness every month of the year. Here’s the good news: competition only makes us better.

To continue with the sports analogy, for many years the four-minute mile was considered as fast as a person could possibly run. Like the speed of light, no one ever imagined actually going faster. Until Roger Bannister came along. In the early 1950s, Bannister was considered the fastest runner in the world. And while the Englishman repeatedly tried to break the four-minute-mile mark, he was continually thwarted. And on one occasion he actually lost to Yugoslavia’s Andrija Otenhajmer who outpaced Bannister in a 1,500 meter race, which is about 100 meters shy of one mile. That constant competition, he would later say, helped drive him to run faster and faster. Then in 1954, Bannister finally did it: He broke the four-minute mile and set a new world record with a time of 3:59.04. Serious competition changed expectations, and thereafter people increasingly began to run at a speed that was once thought impossible.

The same thing can happen when businesses compete. When my brother and I took over a pool hall, which was our first real business out of high school, we knew our competition wasn’t just other pool halls, it was anywhere people could spend their time and money. That included movie theaters, bars and restaurants, as well as places to play basketball or other sports. To compete with these other forms of recreation, we designed our marketing materials to entice people away from them and into our place. We ran newspaper, magazine and directory ads right next to event and entertainment ads to give people a clear choice and help them keep us in mind as one of their many entertainment options.

Related: 5 Keys for Driving Your Competition Crazy

As a young entrepreneur, it may be difficult to see the advantages of competition, but it’s what keeps you from getting lazy. Whether you’re competing for customers with the guy down the street, trying to come in first place at a business-plan competition, or vying for venture-capital dollars, you need to demonstrate that you’re the best, or you may end up like the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’s men’s basketball team — that is, good but gone.

Here’s how to one up your competitors:

Consider your competition. With the pool hall, we knew our real competition was anyone who wanted people’s time and money. Don’t think too narrowly. If you produce cookies, your competitors are bakeries, other cookie manufacturers, the Girl Scouts and every other dessert maker. The broader your definition of competition, the more likely you are to create a company with multiple competitive advantages.

Perfect your product. Have you polished your concept? A good idea is great, but is it really the best version you can present? Product attributes such as ease of use, size, weight, convenience, reliability, sturdiness, color, shape, features and speed can make a difference to customers. Competitors with products that have similar characteristics are a great source for ideas you can use to improve your own.

Related: The Key to Success: Ambition or Competition

Shine your service. A “baker’s dozen” is often described as a competitive advantage some bakeries used to encourage customers to choose them over the competition. What sweetener can you offer potential customers that will help you outshine other companies? Special offers, coupons, free shipping, convenient locations, same-day delivery, reduced rates after 4 p.m., open until 11 p.m., 24/7 availability to answer questions. What is your competition doing and what can you do to attract attention to your approach to service?

Buff your brand. You’re not just selling good ideas. You’re selling your whole company. From social media to signage, make sure your brand sparkles brighter than others in your industry. It’s not enough to be better than the competition, you have to look better, sound better, act better and stand out from the others.

Cater to customers. What can you do to keep your customer base loyal, excited and growing? When they start looking for the next big thing, make sure you have something to offer them. Keep them committed with insider opportunities and better features and options. If you keep improving your approach, your competitors will be too busy trying to keep up with you to develop their own next big thing.

Beware of backsliding. If you aren’t constantly working to improve your product, service, brand and customer connections, you will start slipping. After all, your competitors are aiming for you too.

Corrections & Amplifications: Roger Bannister ran against Yugoslavia’s Andrija Otenhajmer in a 1,500 meter race. And he broke the four-minute-mile mark in 1954. A previous version of this story misstated these events.

Kickstarter and Interactive eBooks, An Interview with Donny Claxton

I’ve known Donny since we met at a men’s conference a few years ago in Atlanta, and when he shared with me that he was working on an interactive book around the history of Machu Picchu, I was so interested, I asked if I could interview him. This is the result.

Q: You’re launching a new type of interactive book with your kickstarted project on Machu Picchu. What’s your inspiration for this?

What excites me the most is an image of a darkened kid’s room at night with a pup tent set up in the middle of the room.  On the cover of the tent are patterns of pyramids, Stonehenge, menhirs, and TheWondersExpedition.com‘s logo of course, but inside the tent, instead of seeing the beams of a flashlight dancing about, you see the rectangular light of an iPad moving around.  And as the camera peers in closer, you see a Dad’s silhouette.  He’s finishing up and says, “And that’s Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World!”  And next to him, a little head moves to look at him and his DAUGHTER says, “Daddy, that was great! When can we go back?”  And dad replies, “How about tomorrow night? Sis.”  

It’s the potential for that kind of interaction between dads and their kids that really excites me the most.  Of course, dads are going to go re-read and dig deeper into the levels of the book than the kids, but it can become such a great tool for parent-child learning and nightly bed time stories.   

Q: Why Machu Picchu, of all the places in the world to choose?


There’s the business answer–The Google traffic about the site is incredible each month from all over the world.  There’s a demand to know more about this incredible site.  And because it is so fragile and relatively remote, it’s hard to get to and not something everyone can afford on a budget these days.  This is a viable solution that meets such demands. 

Then there’s the more passionate answer–Machu Picchu now is regarded as one of the “new Seven Wonders of the World.”  2012 marks the 100 year anniversary of its “re-discovery” by American Archeologist Hiram Bingham.  And then it is really a fascinating place that helps all of us in our search for answers to what was life like for our ancient ancestors, what did they know, and how could they do things we’d have a hard time replicating today.  There’s just an innate curiosity people have about Machu Picchu and we are trying to help them find some answers.

Q: When you compare an interactive book, which is expensive to create, with a photo book a la “A Day In The Life”, there’s a clear trade-off between production cost. Why did you choose interactive?

We chose Interactive Books for the iPad because they clearly are the platform that offers the greatest experience to readers who want to feel like they’re there.  And for those who go, they’ll even be able to take their iPad and point it at points at the site and use it as a tour guide instead of those old $9.99 headphones and a cassette recorder.  Is it going to cost a little more than normal?  Maybe, but there are only 2,500 people a day the Peruvian government will even let tour the site because of the impact foot traffic is having on it.  We think it’s worth it to put together this real-life, virtual experience for the benefit of ‘children’ of all ages who will be able to tour the site, again, even if they never get to go in person.

Q: While there are a number of different computing platforms for an interactive book, the iPad tablet is a clear market leader. Are you just focusing on producing an interactive title for the iPad, or will you support Android, Windows 8 tablet, etc?

With 52 million iPads sold, it’s clearly a business decision at this point to focus on where the greatest market is.  However, we know that there are other developments coming a long and we are waiting for Android and Microsoft to come forward with software alternatives that also will allow us to bring this experience to their platforms.  But for now, we’re focusing on developing the best product possible and the most bells and whistles possible for the Interactive Book for the iPad..

Q: What’s next for Wonder Expeditions after Machu Picchu?

Already in product is Dr. Mark Van Stones’ 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya, a book already in print and in an e-pub format, but we know, already half-way through its conversion into an Interactive Book, once its out readers will look at the three alternative formats and clearly see there’s only one they want to read.  We are hoping to have Dr. Van Stone’s book out in mid-Summer as interest in whether or not we’re all going to die on Dec. 21, 2012 escalates.  Next month in Memphis at the Society of American Archeologists, we’re getting the forward shot with one of Dr. Van Stone’s mentors and one of the original professors who started the whole 2012 meme to begin with.  Not to mention some other great scholars. 

But after Machu Picchu we are planning to do books right out of the shoot on Stonehenge, The Colosseum in Rome, The Great Wall of China, and the Pyramids of Giza.  Two weeks ago we sent our first crew to Chaco Canyon New Mexico to begin work on an Interactive Book on the Anasazi Indians.  It’s just fascinating where all this project will take us.

And on our Website, TheWondersExpedition.com we’re already loading up cool content about some of these places around the world.  Coming soon will be a Webinar series where anyone can sign up and talk to some of the world’s prime scholars on these sites and topics and learn what you cannot learn from watching a crazy show like Ancient Aliens.

Q: Switching gears, you’re seeking funding through Kickstarter. Tell us briefly what Kickstarter is, how it works, and why you choose that avenue to fund the project?
Kickstarter is a crowd-source fundraising site. You develop a fund-raising goal, add descriptions of what your project is about, do a video to support your effort and then spend the next 30-60 grueling days expanding your social circles and networks and asking, encouraging and convincing people that you have a great project that will come to be, only, and only if, you reach your funding goal.  Nearly 50 percent of all projects get funded.  The trick is to be in the group who does….

When people back the campaign, they also get a commitment for some cool stuff from the project’s organizers.  For instance, for $25 a person is going to get their name at the back of our book, but also get to interact with us as we do the project and actually get a vote on one of the three final cover options for the book so they have some buy in and satisfaction for hopefully having made a difference.  They’ll also get a copy of the book.  Good stuff.

Q: What’s your experience with Kickstarted at this point just a few days into your project being publicly available?

We started yesterday, a Thursday and wanted to make sure we were in the game before payday of March 2012. Things were slow yesterday but we’ve had a good morning on a Friday and are excited about having things ready to tickle people’s interest when they return to work Monday.  This is a lot of work and it’s not easy.  Asking people to fund a project, particularly a new type of project and one that’s going to largely happen in a foreign country on another continent is a little daunting.  But it has to be done if we’re going to be successful.  Every person we can reach directly or through the networks of others, is a potential backer who will put us that much closer to our goal.  The short answer is I’m scared to death!  

Q: I have to ask this, where does the target funds of $57,766 come from? What are we paying for?

As in all things, nothing ever is free.  Five percent of what we raise is going to Kickstarter.com, that’s their bid.  Another 5 percent goes to Amazon for a transactional fee.  The rest of the funding goes to help cover the costs of sending a four or five-person crew to Peru for a week and dodge the rains, other tourists, the bugs and did I mention SNAKES?!  (We hear it’s the 12-inch gray ones that are the worst!)  Like I said before, going to Machu Picchu isn’t inexpensive and it’s part of the reason most people never will get to go there in the first place.  

There also will be production costs, like you have to get permits from the Peruvian government to use “professional lenses” to shoot.  And then there are costs for ISBN listings, equipment rentals, shipping and even to pay for some of the cool swag we will send out as rewards for backing the program.  That all gets factored in with the cost of the project.  

It’s not an easy thing to make all this come together.  And rather than going to a Venture Capitalist who is going to want to take a chunk of the company, this helps us prove our worthiness so that hopefully other funding possibilities will come about.

Q: Finally, tell us a bit about yourself, Donny, and what’s brought you to this unusual project.

I’ve been in public relations for about 25 years and worked for two Alabama governors, served as the communications director for Dallas schools, and done corporate PR for ExxonMobil, but nothing in that time has excited me like the opportunities The Wonders Expedition presents.  Before leaving corporate PR, I had gotten really big into social media and blogging.  Traditional PR firms don’t understand the power and impact they have.  Or didn’t then.  

The Wonders Expedition began back in July when I literally asked myself, “What the Hell is Stonehenge doing up there all by itself?” I then began to pull the GPS coordinates of more than 250 sites around the globe and started to see some remarkable patterns. Nonetheless, a study of these sites brought a realization that most people never will be able to visit them in person and there is so much mystery and curiosity about them. So we found a way to give people a real-life experience of these places, even if they can’t go there in person.  With these Interactive Books for the iPad, and soon, other mobile devices, it’s going to provide an incredible experience. By the way, I sound found out that Stonehenge isn’t in any way “all by itself.”  There are hundreds of sites all over Great Britain like it in many, many ways.

It is the potential to help bring parts of the world to those who might otherwise miss it that excites me and gets me up every morning.  I’m working on this project from about 6 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily.  My three daughters went to Poverty Point, in Louisiana for December Solstice.  We had the most incredible time learning and finding out things like the Native American Indians were building mounds in Louisiana BEFORE the Egyptians were building the pyramids two degrees to the south and 7,000 miles to the east.  The mystery just keeps my fires burning.

Weed Out Wannabes; Not Everyone Can Cut It At A Start-up

Nine ways to know if the job seeker you’re talking to has the personality, risk profile, and skill set for an entrepreneurial venture.

They smile, they laugh on cue, and they have a rehearsed response for every conventional interview question. They profess to be entrepreneurs, but are they actually wantrapreneurs?

A wantrepreneur is a well-intentioned person who wants to be an entrepreneur, but does not have the skills, personality, or risk profile to be successful. When the going gets tough, as it always does at every start-up, wantrapreneurs get busy emailing their resumes to prospective employers.

The costs of a mis-hire during the early stages of your venture are dramatic. As such, deploy the following unconventional tactics to separate the wantrapreneurs from entrepreneurs.

Discover the inner child

Gain an understanding of who the candidate was when he graduated high school, in order to assess who he is as an adult. Did you just meet the shy boy who spent his high school years writing in his journal, or the boisterous verbal bully who used her wit to hide her insecurities? Maybe you spoke with the class president voted “Most Likely to Succeed” or the nerd who preferred video games over interpersonal relationships.

If you only focus on the candidate’s skills and work experiences, you may learn the what associated with the person, but you might miss the who. Some of the key aspects of who the candidate is include: creativity, risk profile, curiosity level, and desire to win.

Ask really personal questions

Another way to identify the acne-faced high school kid is to ask personal questions. Relax, I am not suggesting that you violate fair employment practices. When I say “get personal,” I am referring to non-typical questions designed to determine who the candidate really is. Here are some examples:

  • Did you move around a lot as a kid? If so, did you enjoy relocating? Why?
  • How many siblings do you have? Are you the youngest, oldest, or middle child?
  • What do/did your parents do as a vocation? Did they enjoy their jobs? What were their dreams? Which of their dreams remain unfulfilled and why?
  • Did you play any team or individual sports competitively? Do you still compete?
  • Did you become proficient on a musical instrument? Do you still play?
  • What were your hobbies when you were growing up, and what are they now?
  • What were your childhood dreams? How have they changed? Which dreams remain unfulfilled?
  • What were some of your more memorable childhood ventures? Did you always scheming to make money?

Some people will be uncomfortable answering these questions. If so, they may not have the temperament required to succeed at a start-up, an environment in which everyone is forced to work in close quarters and on multidisciplinary teams. A willingness to share who she really is and become part of a start-up family is an important trait for all early-stage hires.

Team up to interview

Group interviews can also be an effective way to gain insight into someone’s soul. In one-on-one interviews, the applicant is always on. He maintains eye contact, smiles at the right times, says what he thinks you want to hear, and generally makes a concerted effort to keep you from knowing what he is thinking.

In group interviews, maintaining an unflappable facade is more difficult, as the interviewers who are not in the midst of asking a question have the luxury of observing the applicant. Top negotiators often prefer to work in teams so that one team member can observe body language, devise questions, take notes, and analyze the applicant’s responses, while the other interviewer is engaged in conversation. You can gain similar observational insights through group interviews.

Generally, two interviewers at a time is sufficient. Too many interviewers will heighten the artificial nature of the discussion and should be avoided.

Lunch at an out-of-the office locale is an effective forum for group interviews, as sharing a meal in a group setting further reduces the formality of the conversation, and gives you a more accurate glimpse into the applicant’s true entrepreneurial style.

Even if you conduct an interview one-on-one, changing up the environment from a traditional desk discussion is often an effective way to encourage someone to speak more openly about who she is. Go on a walk, head out for coffee. Anything that breaks the interviewing norm will help you better assess the candidate’s suitability for life at a start-up.

Meet the significant other

For significant hires, I recommend you meet the candidate’s spouse or romantic partner. Even in a relatively brief encounter, you should be able to assess if the candidate’s significant other will be a hindrance that will make your start-up’s inevitable lows even lower, or if he will act as a positive force that will help the partner through the inevitable start-up challenges. The vitriol generated in unhealthy relationships can seep into your organization and negatively impact your company’s morale and culture.

Find out where else she is interviewing

Ask your candidate to name the other companies she has targeted in her job search. Her response will give you further context into her start-up proclivities. If all of her other interviews are with Big Dumb Companies (BDCs), then the applicant may not be an entrepreneur. Knowing that she is speaking with one or more BDCs will alert you to a potential incongruence in her career aspirations. If an inconsistency arises, address it in frank terms, and assess the applicant’s response.

Challenge him to face difficult issues (even during the interview process)

For instance, you might say, “You certainly have a great skill set, but I am not sure we can afford you.” This nicely sets up your future salary negotiations, gives the candidate a chance to reach for the opportunity, and encourages him to explain why he is an ideal fit.

This approach also ensures that your new hire joins your team with his eyes wide open, with a realistic understanding of the challenges that must be overcome in order to thrive at your start-up. Someone simply searching for any job will be unenthusiastic about an offer with a below-market salary. Entrepreneurial candidates will be willing to make monetary concessions in order to join an exciting venture, if you offer them adequate potential upside in some other form, like stock options. If the applicant does not appropriately value your start-up’s equity, quickly usher him out the door.

Assign free consulting projects

You might ask a candidate to research a potential new market, analyze a competitor, or assess a new distribution channel. Preferably select a task that will actually add value to your team’s efforts.

There are several potential positive outcomes from this approach. The candidate gets engaged in your business and can hit the ground running if hired, and gives you an effective window into her true motivations, as well as, of course, an assessment of her skills and abilities.

Brace for a counter offer

The recruitment process is not over if you make a star candidate an offer. You should anticipate that his current employer will attempt to win him back with promises of additional compensation, a promotion, possibly more equity. Especially if you have a strong rapport, you can head off such win-back efforts by letting the candidate know in advance that a last-minute scramble to retain him is flattering, but it would be more meaningful if proffered in the normal course of business, rather than as a last-ditch effort. He should ask himself, “Where was the love before I announced I was leaving?”

Try before you buy

Both your company and the employee can benefit from a mutual 90-day trial period. Such an arrangement facilitates correcting an improper fit between the employee and the position she is hired into. If it is apparent that the relationship is not working, the employee can move on to another organization that will ultimately facilitate her happiness and success. Or it gives a natural time to offer feedback and become even more effective

In addition, by institutionalizing a review early in the employee’s tenure and the employee decides to stay on, long-term problems can be avoided and the employee can ultimately become more effective through timely constructive criticism.

The 90-day trial is also a good test to determine if the applicant is a wantrapreneur. If he is just looking for a job, your unconventional request to enter into a mutual trial may offend him. You should hope it does, as you’ll want to weed out wantrepreneurs as early as possible.






WATCH: David Banner on Trayvon Martin Shooting Death

Over the course of the past few weeks, the nation has been fixated on the death of Trayvon Martin. The 17-year-old who was shot and killed in Florida by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who claims the unarmed boy looked “suspicious” and was up to no good. No weapons were found on Martin, who only had a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea on him. No charges have been filed against Zimmerman, who says he was attacked by Martin and only acted in self-defense, despite the fact that 911 operators instructed him to not follow Martin. The resulting death of another young Black man and the fact that Zimmerman has yet to be charged has evoked a firestorm of controversy and backlash. Hip-hop artist/producer and BlackEnterprise.com contributing blogger David Banner recently stopped by the BE offices to express his frustrations with the Martin incident and the system that allows his shooter to walk free. Listen below to hear Banner’s passionate perspective on the life and death of Trayvon Martin and what changes need to be made.

Video shot and edited by Brain Food Film.