9 Tips to Create a Great Podcast For Your Small Business

Over the past four years, the number of Americans who listen to podcasts has nearly doubled according to Edison Research and Triton Digital. The largest demographic of listeners are millennials who hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Many business owners are joining the ranks of other successful podcasters because the return on investment is great when it comes to retaining listeners. According to Podcast Insights, 80 percent of all podcast listeners keep listening to all episodes they begin every week. Making podcasting a great alternative or supplement to blog posts.

There are many ways small businesses are getting involved. And the good news is that creating a podcast for your small business is relatively simple and – even better – relatively inexpensive.

For example, Rebecca L. Weber hosts a podcast called The Writing Coach Podcast, for freelance writers who are in business for themselves. She offers strategies on how to overcome hurdles like setting company policies, boosting your bottom line and getting clients to pay on time.

Chicago-based Basecamp, a small business that helps other companies to perform digital collaboration, hosts Rework, a podcast that offers tips on more efficient and effective ways to work and run a business.

No matter what type of podcast you hope to create for your small business, before you launch your first episode, here are some tips and tools to consider when starting a podcast.

1. Find a topic that will resonate with listeners.

Think about a topic you can commit to that will resonate with you, your customers and potential clients.

Then ask yourself:

  • Why am I doing this podcast?
  • What does success look like?
  • What type of thought leadership do you want to be known for?
  • Is this sustainable for a long period of time?

2. Use a catchy name.

The right name can make a difference. Like a TEDx stretched out over multiple weeks, a podcast is a branding tool that will help you become known for whatever topic you’re speaking about.

ThePodcastHost.com’s Matthew McLean suggests using one of three formats:

1.     Consider a creative name that is abstract but memorable. Think 99% Invisible or The Moth.

2.    Use a descriptive name such as Marketing Over Coffee, Startups for the Rest of Us and The Science of Social Media.

3.    Or use your name such as Noah Kagan Presents, or Chris Ducker Podcast.

3. Get well-designed cover art.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words and having good cover art can make a difference. You can hire a graphic designer, or if you’re savvy enough, do it yourself.

If you’re going the latter route, think about your color schemes and stick to three or four colors. Keep the text simple and easy to read with a design that illustrates the essence of your podcast in an eye-catching simplified manner. Need ideas? Checkout the simplistic design used for the StartUp podcast.

4. Create an intro with music and verbiage.

While having great music isn’t a requirement, it certainly helps. Marmoset curates emerging artists and you can purchase their music via podcast licenses that range from single episode to series use. Other options to purchase podcast music include Jamendo, 909 Music and Envato’s AudioJungle.

Besides having music, structure your podcast intro and outro with a tagline. Your introduction should include the name of your podcast, the episode number, title, identify the name of the host and who you are, information about what the show is going to be about. And make sure your intro sets the tone for your podcast. For example, for a more conversational format, say “I am (insert name)” instead of “My name is (insert name).”

5. Decide on your format.

Being consistent is important. Your audience will come to love and expect a certain format. Decide how you’ll set up your podcast and stick with a format.

Ask yourself, “Do I want to….”

  • Do solo commentary?
  • Conduct one-on-one interviews?
  • Have a panel of guests for an interview or discussion-style show?
  • Do you want it to be conversational and potentially co-hosted?
  • Or more educational with non-fiction storytelling?

As a small business, you’ll want to make sure your voice and tone resonates with your ideal customer and target market.

6. Set up your recording studio.

There’s plenty of equipment you can buy, but start with the basics.

Besides having a good computer, you’ll want a good microphone — not the one that is built into your computer, a usb microphone is best. Consider using Blue Yeti or Audio Technica ATR2100 USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone.

You’ll also likely want a microphone stand or boom arm to hold your microphone like the Heil Sound PL-2T Overhead Broadcast Boom and a pop filter, a circular piece of mesh that goes between you and the microphone to filter out plosives — sounds that can come out with hard consonants like the letters “p” and b.”

If you are conducting interviews, a good recorder such as the Zoom H6, Zoom H4n Pro can help you record in stereo, multi-track or the 4cH mode which are good for getting live room sound via its built in microphones and two external inputs.

7. Investigate editing tools.

There’s free audio editing software like Audacity and Garage Band. For a more robust program, you can pay a subscription service such as Adobe Audition or a flat fee to Logic Pro. Another option some entrepreneurs are using is Alitu which offers a 7-day trial and can help produce your podcast by cleaning up your audio, trim your recordings, create theme music, add ID3 tags for meta data and publish to your hot for $28 a month.

8. Find a place to host your podcast.

Even if you already have a website and web host, you’ll need someone separate to host your audio files. Libsyn, is one of the most well-known, but there are plenty of others. Each have different algorithms for how they track downloads. We Edit Podcasts offers an extensive list and breakdown on two options.

9. Promote your launch.

Ever since the hit podcast Serial gripped the nation in 2014 with its whodunit investigative reporting about a murder, listening to a podcast has become more mainstream. But how often a podcast is downloaded can vary from a couple hundred to hundreds of thousands per episode.

Encourage listeners to leave reviews. Some podcasts will offer a free Kindle book or read the person’s review on their next episode. Regardless of what your podcast is about, it will take a while to become more comfortable in front of the microphone.

Hosting a podcast is about sharing interesting experiences and giving unique insights into your business or mindset, something only you can provide. By building your brand this way as a small business entrepreneur, you can potentially bring in new customers, create engagement and positive interaction within your community.


How to Simplify Your Digital Life as a Small Business Owner

Business owners know how often work-life balance can feel completely unbalanced. The lines between what is work and what is “down-time” often get blurred.  This is especially the case when there are deadlines to meet, after-hours problems to solve, or when you’re the only one who can address an issue. That’s why simplifying your digital life — de-cluttering and streamlining your online usage — can be important for small business owners.

Cal Newport, author of “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” recommends cleaning your digital house to get less distracted. His philosophy is simple: Be more intentional about the technology in your life. If you can focus more intensely on fewer things, then you may find more success with fewer distractions.

“Intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life,” says Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University.

Even if you can’t completely unplug — which most small business owners find impossible — consider streamlining your digital life.

Here’s how:

1. Get a Back-Up

Before you start cleaning house, start by backing up everything. If you’re a digital hoarder, that can be a lot. This is a good policy regardless of how much purging you plan on doing since your hard drive could fail or ransomware could hold it hostage. This can be done using an external hard drive or a Cloud service.

Keep in mind, cloud storage is different than doing an actual cloud backup where a software-based solution will automatically back everything up for you by being housed in the background of your computer.

For external hard drives, a solid state drive is considered more reliable and typically has larger storage capacity. Regardless of what you use for a back-up, make sure you make multiple back-ups because files can be written over and drives may fail. Have a back-up to your back-up.

2. Uninstall every app on your phone

Like tidying up expert Marie Kondo’s recommendation of throwing your entire closet of clothes on your bed to see how many you have, Newport recommends deleting every app on your phone and then reinstalling the ones that make sense.

“Wipe the slate clean,” Newport says, “so that you can get rid of those that were haphazardly downloaded and then rebuild it from scratch intentionally.” Then re-add the tools you use in your digital life that directly serve the things you care about.

3. Clean out your email inbox

Like most small business owners, you may have thousands of unread emails. Although it’s great to aim for “net zero” where there aren’t any unread emails, for most owners that’s nearly impossible.

Start by seeing what unnecessary emails are tied to subscriptions and unsubscribe from as many as you can.

If you’re using Gmail, consider moving from their Inbox to Gmail platform. The bundles feature lets you customize your inbox tabs in Gmail. That can help. Then organize your emails into tabs and folders that make sense.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, snooze emails until later or set follow-up nudges, a tool that can be found under the settings button, where Gmail will move old emails to the top of your inbox with a prompt to reply.

Another option is to take the “inbox zero” approach created by productivity expert Merlin Mann. His suggestion is to reduce your time spent on email, by checking it only at certain times of the day or maybe every two hours. Then with a set aside block of time, review your emails, by doing one of the following five actions:

  • Delete
  • Delegate
  • Respond
  • Defer
  • Do

Once you are done with this, you close your email and do other work you need to accomplish.

4. Review social media accounts

Review what social media platforms are working for your business and what isn’t. If you’re an image-centric business do you really need to be on Twitter if you’re on Instagram and Pinterest? Maybe. Or maybe not. Carefully curate useful tools and then set time limits.

If you are managing your accounts manually, consider scheduling tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social to help you manage all your social media accounts on one platform.

If you use social media for industry information or news, consider creating a free and simple Google Alert.  With google alerts you can track key terms including your name, your company’s name or industry buzzwords.

5. Clean up your internet browsing

Many business owners constantly search and research online until their browser crashes with too many tabs open in their internet browser.

Most browsers have bookmarking options which you can sync across devices so you can call them up later without keeping additional windows or tabs open.

If you haven’t already, create folders within your browser to organize your links.  Consider alphabetizing primary folders with subfolders, or classifying primary folders by themed topics such as work, tech, read later, favorites, etc.

Regardless of how you choose to simply your digital life, a philosophy of ‘less is more’ may help you spend more time focusing on work and less time wading through a digital mess.

 

 


Making Her Mark – Influential Women Business Owners: Mei Wang


Switching Gears and Saving Lives: How Instapath Pivoted and Built a Business

“We need to do a biopsy” – Words that can cause a patient’s hear to skip a beat.  A biopsy removes cells or tissue from a suspicious area of the body.  Doctor’s then study these cells to see if a

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Credit: Instapath

disease – such as cancer – is present. Patients wait with hope and trepidation for their biopsies to return either “positive” or “negative.”

However, few people realize the first biopsy may not provide doctors with the desired information. Of the 5 million biopsies performed in the United States to diagnose cancer, 1 million must be re-done. This can cause more stress, and potentially delay a patient’s treatment by months.

When Mei Wang was a Ph.D. student in biomedical/medical engineering at Tulane University, she was astounded to learn that biopsies are unsuccessful so often. She and a group of fellow Ph.D. students looked into the problem.

The reason, she concluded, was the way in which these tests are done. Most biopsies use an imaging technique known as a rapid on-site evaluation (ROSE). The problem with this technique is that it captures only 1 percent of a total biopsy.  This small percentage is what typically leads to the inaccuracy.  An inaccuracy that can necessitate the uncomfortable and costly procedure being repeated.

A Microscopic View

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Credit: Instapath

Wang and her colleagues came up with a new approach. They use a digital microscope that takes a picture of the whole biopsy at subcellular resolution within seconds of removal, improving the speed and accuracy of the diagnosis. Wang believed it could also increase the likelihood the patient would return for treatment. When they presented their data at different medical conferences around the world, physicians and the medical community took immediate interest.

“Everyone said we should push forward because this was a significant clinical issue,” Wang says. “A few people from the industry approach us during the conference and said they were interested in what we were doing.”

With that motivation, Wang and her colleagues founded a company call Instapath, which is now based in Austin, Texas, to turn their idea into a product. Quickly, Instapath won several pitch contests for their concept, including an international pitch competition, receiving $30,000. The company also received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant for $225,000 to perform their R&D.

Overcoming Negative Feedback

All this would make Instapath seem like a slam-dunk.  After all, they had come up with a solution to an urgent medical issue. However, Wang found a great idea does not necessarily make for a great business. This is especially true in an industry as complex as healthcare. While the need and the solution were apparent to her, the business did not come into focus.  So she set about interviewing more than 200 physicians and health industry participants.

Surprisingly, many of the first doctors she approached were downbeat about the idea. Many different kinds of doctors are involved in treating cancer.  As a result, the need for better and faster biopsies was not of equal importance to all of them.

Trudging forward after a string of negative feedback, finally, she found the medical personnel most interested in her technology: interventional radiologists. These are sub-specialists of radiology who use minimally invasive image-guided procedures to diagnose and treat diseases.

“When we started, they were pretty low on our list,” she says. “We started targeting neurologists and breast cancer surgeons.”

While the latter thought her technology was a “nice to have,” it was the interventional radiologists who felt their work was most impacted by frustrating delays in biopsy quality.

New Business Model

There was another surprise, though. While healthcare providers were interested in improving the diagnosis, the institutions that would pay for the technology – insurance companies and

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Source: Instapath

hospitals – had other concerns. They wanted a procedure that was more efficient and could be performed with fewer personnel. Wang, like many entrepreneurs, had to appease different constituents: the medical personnel who would influence the purchase decision, and the hospital administrators who would have to sign off on the sale.

“Without those interviews, we wouldn’t have a product that would sell and we wouldn’t have known who we were selling to,” she says.

Once the issues and concerns came into sharp focus, she changed her pricing plan and business model. Now, when pitching Instapath, Weng focuses on the fact that the technology “increases the throughput of biopsy procedures and allows more patients to be treated per biopsy suite per day.”

It is a subtle, but critical difference.  A difference that made the difference between having a great idea and having a great business.

“When you start a business, you often find yourself in the valley of despair,” she says. “But you quickly learn how to pivot, because you need to understand what your customer cares about and appeal to them.”


Editor’s Note: Lauren’s story is one of an ongoing series celebrating women business owners.  Take a look at some of the other inspiring stories in this series: How I Built My Own Business After Cancer and Launching Your Own Business as a Working Mom


Why Are All of My Employees Leaving?

Do you know what work your employees really enjoy doing? Most business owners and managers have no idea, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article authored by three Facebook executives and a university professor. “It spills out in exit interviews — a standard practice in every HR department to find out why talented people are leaving and what would have convinced them to stick around,” the article says.

A smarter approach is to figure out why people leave before they actually do. A recent study from the ADP Research Institute found that 5% of all workers leave their job every month, and most employee turnover is voluntary.

“Unemployment is at a 17-year low, and job switching is at a record high,” says co-head of the ADP Research Institute Ahu Yildirmaz. “It has always been important for employers to minimize turnover, but it is more critical now than ever before given the current state of labor market.”

40 Reasons for Leaving

The ADP study determined 40 factors that contribute to voluntary turnover. Those factors can be categorized as: “Pay, promotion, overtime/premium time, commute, experience-and-tenure, and other job characteristics.”

The specific influence each of these categories has on causing employees to leave varies by industry. Pay and promotion are the main drivers of voluntary turnover. Commute time, the study found, is a more important factor than experience and tenure.

Understanding why employees leave can help a company in a couple of ways. First, this can guide you in hiring. If you know that a long commute is a significant factor in why a certain class of employees tends to quit, you might re-consider whether to hire someone who will spend an hour on the freeway each day getting to work.

These insights can also help you determine which of your workers are likely to leave.  They can also help to uncover workplace issues you need to address. Perhaps you can offer remote work or a flexible schedule to that worker with the long commute. If good workers are going elsewhere because of benefits, you may need to reconsider your benefits package.

Conduct Stay Interviews

What’s the best way for a company to figure out what is causing its turnover issues? You no doubt have done interviews when you were deciding to hire someone.  And, many of you might have conducted “exit interviews” after someone leaves.

Susan Heathfield, a people management expert for TheBalance, suggests you also conduct “stay interviews” to determine the reasons that employees remain at your company. “Then, pay attention to and enhance the factors they identify that keep them coming back every day,” she suggests.

If you pay close attention to the reason employees leave, there’s a good chance your turnover will decline. And the workers who stick around will be more productive.


Top 5 Customer Service Books for Business Owners

In running a business, it can be important to think like your customers think; if you don’t, you may quickly fall out of favor with them as they move to competitors who understand their needs better. Yet projects such as creating a stellar customer experience, doing the appropriate research to understand customer needs and enhancing customer support and service interactions frequently take a backseat to more immediate issues.

Even if you can’t begin the aforementioned projects just yet, it doesn’t mean you can’t make some steps to getting to know your customer better and and make some day to day improvements in your interactions with them. The following five business books will help you get started. If you’re a business owner who wants to make sure they are in tune with their customers’ evolving needs, you need to read these books!

1. “The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service” by Jeff Toister

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Purchase here.

Using a step-by-step workflow, Toister’s sage advice will help you build your customer-centric business efficiently and pragmatically.

Written in a conversational tone that is free of jargon, Toister is known throughout the internet (from his training videos on LinkedIn Learning) for his straight-forward attitude toward customer service principles. In this work, he uses real world examples of both excellent customer service and not-so-stellar customer service experiences. He then explains how each experience will impact an organization’s reputation.

2. “The Million Dollar Greeting” by Dan Sachs and Janet Scott

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Purchase here.

While The Million Dollar Greeting focuses on the hospitality industry, it offers many secrets to creating and developing a workforce who are both inspired and committed to your business — a secret recipe for success within the hospitality industry.

Sachs, a Harvard graduate, serves as president of Meerkat Restaurant Advisory, a restaurant advisory group. He is also a professor of business and entrepreneurship at DePaul University. For 16 years, he owned Bin36 restaurant group, which developed and operated multiple wine-focused restaurants. What makes this book unique is that the authors have intentionally spoken to people who work in both large and small companies across a wide range of businesses. This has allowed them to focus on something rare within the hospitality industry: the businesses that grow for decades, rather than the businesses that are hot for a couple of years and then quickly fall out of vogue.

3. “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business” by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine

Outside In, designed for customer service enthusiasts, focuses on how your business can achieve long-term, sustainable success.

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Purchase here.

Manning and Bodine have fourteen years of research behind them as the customer experience leaders at Forrester Research. This book offers a comprehensive roadmap that explains how businesses can achieve advantages with their customers. The book starts off by explaining the concept of the “Customer Experience Ecosystem proof”. The concept explains how “the roots of customer experience problems lie not just with customer-facing employees like your sales staff, but with behind-the-scenes employees like accountants, lawyers, and programmers, as well as the policies, processes, and technologies that all your employees use every day.”

The book then goes on to explain how first identifying and then solving these problems can and will dramatically increase your firm’s sales. At the same time you will also be decreasing your costs.

4. “The Customer Manifesto” by Pamela Hermann

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Purchase here.

The Customer Manifesto is an excellent reminder that despite all of the technology developed, businesses must continue to be “people first” to achieve success.

Practically, this book explains how to get your customers to go from one-time customers to repeat customers. When you achieve customer loyalty, you will watch as your business grows and thrives, because your existing customers will bring new customers to you. This book provides many solid recipes for success that can easily be followed by business owners and operators. It also shows that by focusing on customer success for your clients, you bring success to your business.

5. “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

While this isn’t a customer service-specific book like the others, Grit is a fabulous explainer to help you achieve your business goals.

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Purchase here.

A 2013 MacArthur Fellow and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Angela Duckworth is the Founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development in children. But beyond your childhood years, Duckworth proves scientifically of how perseverance in both the workplace and in life will get you farther than you could have ever dreamed. Some practical advice from this book:

1.     Define what success looks like. (e.g. Running a successful pizza restaurant chain.)

2.    Clearly state your short, medium and long term goals, while also giving yourself stretch goals. (e.g. Sell 5,000 pizzas in the first quarter and 25,000 by the end of next year.)

3.    Put your goals into practice by stepping outside your comfort zone and testing your innovations or products through deliberate practice.

4.    Reflect and learn from the obstacles, challenges, failures you face.

5.    Never become complacent or satisfied — as there is always room for improvement. This requires you to become almost obsessed with your task at hand.

Want more to read?

Of course, there are tons of additional great books on customer service (and running a successful company) to consider including:

It’s important to remember that while books are a great place to learn new strategies and ideas, it is also important to put these strategies and ideas into practice.  So start testing and iterating to determine which strategies works best for your business.


Making Her Mark – Influential Women Business Owners: Lauren Leblanc-Haydel

Winning the Great T-Shirt Battle of 2010

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Source: bizneworleans.com

Lauren Leblanc-Haydel had something most single mothers with three young kids would love: job security. After six years as an on-air personality at a New Orleans radio station, she landed a position as the creative director of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, a solid job that provided her with benefits, a phone and even a company car.

But Haydel wanted more. “I had a belief that I could create a better life for my children,” she says. So when her 2009 tax refund arrived, she knew she wanted to start a business with the $2,000. Still, she was a little hazy on what the business would be. At first, she thought about selling makeup. Finally, she settled on making T-shirts, an idea her boss at the Farm Bureau thought was ridiculous, considering that there was a huge number of vendors selling T-shirts to tourists who flocked to the Big Easy. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” she says.

Getting ‘Fleurty’

Haydel, however, had a steadfast belief that she could stand out with V-neck shirts and other female-friendly cuts reflecting, as she puts it, “the culture of New Orleans.” It all came together when she was sitting on her porch and a name for her company came to her that embodied the spirit and zest she hoped to capture: Fleurty Girl.

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Source: ClearWare

She rushed to her computer and registered the domain name. While the company didn’t have a business plan yet, it got off to a good start: After launching the company’s site, she sold out of her T-shirts within 30 days.

It wasn’t a quick rags-to-riches story, though. Haydel had to make plenty of compromises to pursue her dream, such as moving to a smaller house and having her children give up their individual bedrooms. She was working 14- to 18-hour days. But the biggest challenge came soon after she opened her first storefront six months later. Almost immediately, she found himself being sued by the National Football League. The New Orleans Saints were set to appear in the Superbowl. Haydel was one of a number of entrepreneurs who sold T-shirts emblazoned with the team’s slogan, “Who Dat?” The NFL rained cease-and-desist orders down on her.

“A woman who took a chance to make a better life for her and her kids by celebrating the city where she grew up” – Haydel has a chat with Harry Connick Jr.

Standing Her Ground

Haydel had no trouble with the idea of sending the NFL a royalty payment, but she was caught in a tug-of-war with another company which also claimed to own the phrase “Who Dat?” The origins of the phrase is debated in and around New Orleans, but it had been around for decades. For local football fans, it became a popular abbreviation of, “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints” when fans chanted for their team in the Superdome.

Haydel, who originally sold T-shirts from a building she rehabilitated after Hurricane Katrina, was something of a tornado herself. With her astute understanding of media, she managed to get an avalanche of publicity when the NFL came after her.

Stories appeared on the front page of the local newspaper, the Times Picayune. She appeared on national TV shows, which loved the David-and-Goliath story of the 4-foot-11 single mother standing up to one of the biggest sports league in the world.

Attorneys offered to represent her for free. Louisiana Senator David Vitter sent the NFL a letter telling them to back off. The NFL finally did, issuing Haydel an apology in the bargain.

Haydel says that people, especially independent-minded New Orleanians, admired the local who stood her ground. However, she bristled against the common belief that the controversy and publicity from the NFL lawsuit made her business. She says the suit hit her at a time when she had no money, and almost sunk her.

Onwards & Upwards

With steadfast determination, her business kept going — and growing. Today, the multi-million Fleurty Girl sells not only shirts, but also dresses, jewelry, books, wedding gifts, art and items for the home. Many have a unique, local flair, such as the “Mardi Gras Fan Tassel Earrings.”

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Source: fleurtygirl.net

Last year, Haydel opened her seventh location at the Louis Armstrong International Airport. At the same time, she bought fellow New Orleans T-shirt retailer Storyville. Storyville also got a cease-and-desist order from the NFL in the great T-shirt battle of 2010. In addition to purchasing the company’s line of T-shirt designs inspired by New Orleans, she hired her competitor’s three employees.

To top it off, the same year, Haydel married Ryan Haydel of Haydel’s Bakery.  Haydel’s Bakery is a three-generation Big Easy institution.  This union made them something of a power couple in the city. Haydel says her idea of being a power couple is both of them working 10-hour days — Ryan comes home smelling like king cake, and her arms are tired from folding T-shirts.


Editor’s Note: Megy’s story is one of a four-part series celebrating women business owners throughout the month of March.  Take a look at the other inspiring stories in the series: How I Built My Own Business After Cancer and Launching Your Own Business as a Working Mom


Four Risks That Keep Business Owners Up at Night. And Your Defense Against Them.

Events like natural disasters, disruptions to your supply chain, legal issues, a cyber attack, or changing market trends aren’t entirely within your control. But, you can help mitigate the damage they might bring to your business with a proactive and strategic risk management plan.

Here are four common risks to your business.  Along with some simple ways to help manage how exposed your business is to each.

Risk: Business Interruption

Would you be able to financially survive the process of rebuilding your business if damage deemed it inoperable for months? Even with insurance coverage to protect against events like floods, fires or earthquakes, FEMA reports that about 40% of businesses disrupted by natural disasters are forced to close permanently.

Your Defense: Business Interruption Insurance

Business interruption coverage replaces business income lost if you’re forced to cease operations.  This insurance can be used whether the interruption is due to a natural disaster, cyber attacks, or a massive disruption to your supply chain. Often added as a rider to a commercial insurance policy, the Insurance Information Institute says business interruption coverage may pay for a business’ fixed expenses, financial obligations to creditors, and expenses associated with establishing a temporary business location.

While access to such funds could be the difference between rebuilding your business post-disaster or closing it permanently, the Insurance Journal reports 66% of small businesses do not have business interruption coverage.

Risk: Loss of Intellectual Property

Your business’ intellectual property (IP) includes your business’ name, logo, products and services, taglines and any inventions you’ve created. Experts at Deloitte estimate intellectual property accounts for more than 80% of a business’ value.

If you have not formally claimed ownership of your intellectual property with patents and/or trademarks, do it ASAP.  Or, a competitor might (legally) steal your business name, inventions, likeness and ideas.

Your Defense: Secure Legal Ownership of IP

Make a list of all the elements that make up your business’ goods, services and brand identity and formally claim ownership of them with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. For a few a hundred dollars, you can file an online trademark application to secure ownership of brand assets. Securing a patent for an invention is a more intensive (and expensive) process.  But it’s critical if your business is based on a unique product, technology or solution that you’ve created.

If you hire freelancers or contractors to produce marketing materials, designs, or code for your business products, secure a signed work-made-for-hire agreement before projects begin. Unlike a full-time employee, you do not own contractor creations. A work-made-for-hire agreement should detail the scope of work and deliverables.  It should also state that you own the finished product a contractor creates.

Risk: Cyberattacks

Cyber criminals have their sights set on a target: 58% of breach victims in the past year were small businesses, according to the Verizon 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report.

Your Defense: An Internal Cybersecurity Action Plan

Protecting your business begins with identifying your business’ most important assets and systems. Because these “digital crown jewels” are most likely to be the target of any cyber attack on your business, the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) says they should be the focus of your security efforts. Once you’ve identified them, the NCSA suggests creating a list of all the hardware and software your business uses.  This list should include the makes, models, serial numbers, and versions of software you are running.  You should also include on this list where you store your data. Use the latest version of security software, web browsers and operating systems.  Using the most updated versions will help protect against viruses, malware, and similar threats.  They can also activate automatic update features to keep you secure.

Perhaps most importantly, educate employees.  Train them on best practices for handling sensitive data.  And set clear parameters for how they are to use mobile devices and computers to do their jobs. Many cyber attacks originate from basic human error.  Clicking on an email attachment or downloading an app on an unsecured mobile device can make you vulnerable.  Using weak passwords also provides an easy in for hackers. Because they have dictionary-based systems that make it easy to crack passwords that include a word or name, cyber security company Symantec suggestspasswords be misspelled, “As much as possible, or insert numbers for letters. For example, if you want to use the phrase ‘I love chocolate’ you can change it to @1L0v3CH0c0L4t3!”

Risk: Cash Flow Problems

You can’t control your sales or the competitive environment.  But, you can manage their impact on your cash flow by ensuring you have access to cash before you need it.

Your Defense: Plan for Cash Flow Shortages Before They Happen

Retained earnings are like a business emergency savings fund, and they empower you to prepare for cash flow challenges. When these funds are readily available, you aren’t forced to borrow money, or default on your own business obligations. In addition to building your retained earnings, establish relationships with a few reputable funding partners so you know you have the financial support you need to maintain cash flow if sales decline unexpectedly. Risk is an inherent aspect of owning a business.  But, that doesn’t mean you have to be vulnerable to uncontrollable circumstances. Use these tips to help ensure your business is equipped to survive, despite any disaster that may strike


How to Stress Test Your Small Business

In the banking world, advisors often talk about stress-testing portfolios — determining the effect of different scenarios on an individual’s or business’s holdings. The same should be done for a small business.

How prepared are you if the economy changes, and you need to dip into your reserves? How will you manage your cash flow? Do you, as a small business, have the resources to survive heavy losses if the worst-case scenario happens?

Here are six ways to help stress-test your business if there is a downturn in the economy.

1. Solicit advice from key advisors.

Do you have an advisory board or a brain trust of reliable partners? SCORE, a nonprofit that is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, offers a network of volunteers including retired C-suite executives, who can help mentor.

Find your local chapter, which is typically done on a county by county basis, and attend a workshop or listen to a live or recorded webinar.

You can search for a SCORE mentor online or have the local chapter pair you with an expert who can help mentor you on your business goals. Some mentors bring in additional mentors to help with various aspects of your business, such as preparing for a potential downturn.

2. Create a plan for worst-case scenarios.

One of the more effective ways to prepare for a sluggish economy is to forecast trends. Look at what a dramatic drop in sales or a dramatic uptick in expenses might do to your business. Ask yourself what would happen if you lost a major vendor, product or service. What might this loss do to your company? Then decide where you could trim expenses, potentially increase profits or diversify your client-base.

3. Identify all your best customers.

Not all customers are created equally. That’s because some are more profitable than others. Once you’ve pinpointed who your best customers are, begin nurturing those relationships by continually adding value for them. Build brand loyalty for them by making sure it’s easy for them to do businesses with you. If a change in the economy affects your business, loyal, high-value customers may help sustain you until the market changes.

4. Review your financial cushioning.

Although the general recommendation for businesses has been six months, Hal Shelton, a SCORE mentor and angel investor says to look at how much you cash you need. Ask yourself these key questions:

  • How much cash have you been using?

Look at your “net burn rate,” the rate at which you spend your cash holdings. For example, if you are bringing in $10,000 but you are spending $4,000 in expenses, your net burn rate is $6,000

  • How much cash do you plan on using in the next 12-to-15 months?

Be conservative, but look at your monthly budget or the financial forecast in your business plan. Separately, look at actual cash expenditures as well as the cash in (sales) and cash out (expenditures).

  • What stage is your business?

If you’re a start-up, or ramping up your business and going to have big expenditures, that’s different than being in the middle of a more-established place.

  • How long will it take you to get more cash?

For many businesses, this is an unknown factor. Getting a loan from a bank, if they are willing to lend, can take several months. It usually takes at least a month to find a bank who might be willing to lend money and another month to fill out the paperwork. That’s contingent on already having a bank-ready business plan and an already established relationship.Shelton says pitching and presenting to potential angel investors takes significantly longer, usually at least six months or possibly nine months to a year.

5. Consider your borrowing options.

You don’t want to have to borrow money when you desperately need it. You want to borrow money before you anticipate you might need it, or at least have a good enough financial footing to be able to secure a line of credit or a business loan. Stephen L. Nelson a CPA in Redmond, Washington, offers some tips on how to forecast 12 months out using excel workbooks.

Shelton’s advice is to “Seek cash when you are in a position to explore options and negotiate from strength.” Then ask yourself: Can you still operate if your funding disappears?

6. Consider alternative funding options.

Besides traditional term loans, you may consider opening a business credit card or a business line of credit. There’s also equipment financing and grants for small business owners. If you have less than perfect credit or if you need money quickly as a business owner, a short-term loan may you be your best option.

By stress-testing your business’s finances and proactively planning now, you may help mitigate potential problems down the line.


How to Hire the Right Candidate

Sizing Up a Prospective Employee

When Chase Hillenmeyer takes a job applicant to lunch, something usually goes wrong — on purpose. For instance, Hillenmeyer, who runs a landscaping business in Lexington, Kentucky, will quietly go up to the server and ask that the applicant be brought a salad instead of the cheeseburger he ordered.

Hillenmeyer isn’t playing games; he’s determining how the potential hire deals with adversity. If the applicant treats the server with respect, and handles the mistake well, Hillenmeyer knows he’ll fit with the culture of his fifth-generation business.

Sizing up potential employees is one of the hardest and most difficult tasks for a business owner. A good hire can take the company to the next level, but a bad one is costly. “For a small company, a five-figure investment in the wrong person is a threat to the business,” writes entrepreneur Falon Fatemi in Forbes.

Ask Behavioral Questions

Knowing the importance of hiring well, some companies are shifting to “behavioral interviewing”.  This approach bypasses vague questions, like “What are your strengths?” that often lead to canned answers lacking any real substance or insight. Instead, applicants are quizzed on how they handled actual situations.

For example,Inc. Magazine suggests saying: “Describe a time when you recognized that you were unable to meet multiple deadlines. What did you do about it?” If you want to check an applicant’s communication skills, pin them down by saying: “Give an example of a time when you persuaded a boss, customer, or peer to your point of view, even when that individual may not have agreed with you.”

While this is a better approach than standard interview questions, you should still keep any eye out for any potential pitfalls or problems. Ron Friedman, a social psychologist and author of the Best Place to Work, found that 81% of applicants lie in interviews because they give the answer they think is expected. “In many cases, job interviews are entirely disconnected from the reality of people’s day to day job,” he says.

Run a Job Audition

Instead of interviews, some entrepreneurs favor “job auditions” where an applicant handles the actual tasks of the position. For example, a sales rep position will come in and sell to the company’s team. Or a web designer may be asked to create a landing page.

Friedman’s research shows these tryouts are a better indicator of success than job interviews. This is because they show how a person actually does the job rather than simply what’s on their resume.

Observe All Actions

Candidates are typically on their best behavior when being interviewed.  This makes it difficult to get a true feel for their personality, attitude and demeanor. Since one very important aspect of the interview process is determining whether a candidate will be a positive addition to your team, it’s important to figure out if the person is an “unsavory character” prior to bringing them on.

To help get a better idea of whether a candidates “in interview” personality is fake or authentic, observe how they are interacting with individuals outside of the actual interview – those who aren’t involved with the interview process. Were they pleasant and friendly with the receptionist? Were they cordial to other employees they passed along the way to and from the interview room. Closely watching their interactions with others, when the candidate doesn’t feel as if they are being closely watched.  Doing so can give you an idea of their true colors.

Hold a Brainstorm Session

Similar to a job audition, conducting a brainstorm session during an interview can indicate how a person can actually do the job. In addition, it can showcase how well you and the individual can effectively work together to complete projects and solve problems.

Before the Interview

The above tactics are great options once you get someone in FOR an interview.  But how do you go about narrowing down the candidate pool to determine who you should bring in to interview? With job postings sometimes receiving hundreds of applications, culling through resumes and cover letters can become extremely time consuming. Here are two ways to save time in assessing top candidates to interview.

Request a Video Introduction

Consider requesting a video introduction as part of the application/resume submission process – especially if presentation is a key part of the role. Video introductions can allow you to quickly gauge a candidates personality, skill set and enthusiasm for the role prior to bringing them it. Remember to note in your job description and directions for submission that the video does not have to be great quality and remember be sure to set a time limit on the video.

Nix the Cover Letters

Instead of requesting cover letters that are often templated, consider requesting candidates to “describe in 100 words”. You can ask them to describe why they’d be a good fit for the role. Or you can ask why this opportunity excites them. Or you can have them describe how they’d tackle a specific aspect or responsibility of the role. Descriptions of this nature require candidates to showcase their ability to think creatively (you can’t template unique thoughts!).   It can also show you bits of their personality and how they communicate. And, it’s a lot less time consuming and can be a lot more entertaining for you.


Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Income Statements But Were Afraid To Ask

Editor’s Note: This is one of an eight-part series about key financial terms all business owners should know.

Chances are you’ve heard the word “Income Statement” at some point during your entrepreneurial journey. Maybe you’ve even reviewed one from your CPA or CFO (If so, bonus points!). But, if your eyes glaze over a bit when you hear the term.  Or, if you’re not entirely sure how an income statement is different than a balance sheet.  You’re in the right place.

What is an income statement?

It’s a financial report that shows a company’s financial performance over a specified period of time.  Typically income statements are reported on a monthly, quarterly, or annual bases. However, a report can address any time period. An income statement shows revenues and expenses from operating and non-operating activities, along with net profit or loss. Income statements are sometimes referred to as “profit and loss statements.”

Why are Income Statements Important?

Income statements provide an easy-to-review report of your company’s performance over a period of time. Comparing multiple income statements for multiple periods of time can give you insight into how your business is doing overall. For example, if sales are up but expenses are up even more, your net profit may be down.

How can Income Statements Impact Financing Options?

Because they show performance over a period of time, many lenders use income statements to assess how a business’ sales and net income are changing over time. For this reason, many potential lenders require multiple income statements to review.  They could potentially request three or more years’ worth, depending on the sum you’re financing or raising.

If you’re an entrepreneur exploring financing options, start reviewing your income statements. It’s best to review with your CPA or CFO, but if you don’t have one, use your accounting software to generate the monthly, quarterly, and annual reports now so you’re well-versed on your company’s financial health before you begin conversations with outside parties.

Ask An Expert

Bradley Klingsporn is a practicing CPA and Co-Founder/Co-Owner of Aardvark Wine Lounge in Green Bay, Wisconsin, so he knows a thing or two about why income statements are important to entrepreneurs.

Why is it important to have a handle on your income statement if you’re looking to raise capital?

Klingsporn: Not every company is a tech startup that can operate in the red for years and keep raising capital. Most businesses need to show profits or at least growth to convince investors to give you their money. Keeping close tabs on your income statement can help you know when it is a good time to raise capital and when it might be best to wait a few weeks if you expect some significant improvements.

What’s the biggest misunderstanding about income statements that you see from other entrepreneurs?

Klingsporn: Many small business owners have a difficult time differentiating regular ebbs and flows from trends. There is no hard and fast rule to determine whether a bad month is just a bad month or if it’s the start of a trend (the same can be true of good months). The income statement is a starting point that is used to begin understanding where the business is, but requires additional information to determine what that means for the future. For example, restaurants and bars will often see increased sales in months that have five weekends – to interpret these increases as growth could lead an owner to make capital improvements or hire additional staff that they may not be able to afford when the following month sees a decrease with only four weekends.

Give Me More

Just like it’s easier to travel in a foreign country when you know the language, it’s easier to raise capital (or secure any kind of funding for your business) when you’re familiar with key financial terms and their real-life applications. Want to get up to speed on your finances? Check out the other articles in this series which cover: turnover ratiodebt to income ratiopayables turnover ratiodebt service coverage ratiocurrent ratiocash flow statements, and inventory turnover ratio.


5 Ways to Increase Productivity at Your Business

Do These 5 Easy Things Today to Be More Productive Tomorrow

As a small business owner, do your goals include becoming more productive? If so, these five tips and techniques may make a difference.

Schedule Sleep and Exercise First

Prioritizing non-business activities such as sleep, exercise, spiritual practice, and time with family and friends may improve your physical and emotional well being.  And, being both physically and emotionally healthy can lead to a more productive day. For example, one MIT study found that exercise helps us better process information. A University of Arizona study found sleep-related symptoms negatively impacts daily productivity.

Schedule non-business activities in your digital or paper day planner before anything else. Then when business calls, you’ll be in the best physical and mental state to work efficiently and increase workplace productivity.

Track Your Daily Energy Levels and Distractions

Your energy levels rise and fall throughout the day, although energy level patterns may vary from person to person. At the same time, the level of distractions around you also varies.  This combination can significantly enhance or impede your productivity.

Recently, 75% of respondents to a study by online course provider Udemy said they get more done and are more productive when workplace distractions are reduced. And yes, this includes social media.

Record your energy level as high, medium, or low every couple of hours during the day.  While doing so, make sure to note when distractions to your workday are highest. Then simply rearrange your workday so you’re performing tasks requiring high concentration when you’re feeling energetic and distractions are low.

Batch Your Tasks

Although being more productive means getting more done in a day, performing several tasks at once (multi-tasking) could actually hinder your memory and reduce your productivity. According to recent findings from the Stanford Memory Laboratory, you may boost your productivity by scheduling your time to avoid multi-tasking and incorporate batching, performing similar tasks together in one time block.

Consider your typical weekly or monthly tasks and how they could be batched.

Template, Replicate and Automate

To maximize the impact of batching on productivity, create a template to cut the time required to perform each batching activity. For example, filling in a report template may save time versus creating one from scratch. You may be able to replicate the time savings by using the outline template as a base for other similar activities, such as writing case studies or white papers.

Today’s business world is full of repetitive tasks. Automating those tasks can boost productivity, helping you get more done in a shorter time. According to a 2017 study, 69 percent of surveyed workers say that automation’s biggest benefit is in reducing time spent on repetitive tasks. Study your own repetitive tasks, such as data entry, creating reports, and even paying bills. Look for opportunities to use technology to automate those tasks, such as setting up recurring bill payments through online banking. The more you’re able to automate, the less chance you have of wasting time.

Delegate or Dump

What are you doing that someone else could do instead? And what are you doing that could be scrapped entirely?

When you delegate important tasks to other team members, you free up time to tackle other tasks, increasing your personal productivity and earnings. In a Harvard study of law firms which practice delegating routine work to associate lawyers, partners earned between 20-to-50 percent more than they would have without delegating the work. These partners can take on more clients and produce higher quality work on difficult cases without the distraction of the more routine cases.

Review your most recent “To-Do” lists and identify at least three activities that can be delegated or dumped. Then allocate the time saved for growing your business, pursuing new clients, or developing new product lines.


Making Her Mark – Influential Women Business Owners: Megy Karydes

Launching Your Own Business as a Working Mom

As the managing director of marketing at Chicago’ massive Merchandise Mart, Megy Karydes knew she wanted a change. She spent almost every month traveling, overseeing some of the biggest

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Megy Karydes in Cyprus, August 2018

trade shows in the world.

“I felt like I was at the point where, I’d done everything I needed to do,” she says. “It didn’t feel challenging anymore.”

With two children under the age of two, Karydes left her job and launched her own business. Karydes Consulting is a C-corporation in Chicago. It offers marketing, communications, public relations, and media relations services to corporate and nonprofit companies.

At the same time, she also launched her career as a journalist. Learning how to balance being a journalist, a marketing and public relations consultant and a mom is a lot. Here’s how Megy does it.

Making the transition

Start by identifying your audience and your unique selling proposition to let potential clients know what you can offer based on the kind of work you want, Karydes says. When she decided to start her own company, the first thing she did was email her entire network of contacts to let them know.

“As soon as I sent out that email letting people know what I was doing, I immediately signed two clients.”

Over the past decade, Karydes’ business has grown to include major clients such as The Morton Arboretum, Union of Concerned Scientists, Heartland Alliance, McCormick & Company spice, and Meredith Corporation.

Vetting potential clients

Her advice to new business owners: hone in on both the type of clients you want and don’t want. It’s important to interview potential clients to make sure they are a good fit for you.  Just as much as the other way around.

Although Karydes wanted to focus much of her work on nonprofits, many didn’t have a large enough budget to make some potential clients a good fit. To ensure business viability while fulfilling her need to work with nonprofits, Karydes began focusing only on mid-to-large organizations with budgets of a million dollars or more.

“It’s important to me to determine that early on,” she says. “I don’t want to fall into the trap of just accepting a client and find out when we begin working together that we’re not seeing eye to eye.”

To vet potential clients, Karydes starts by asking “What are you trying to achieve by trying to hire someone like me?”.  To do her job right in media and public relations, Karydes needs access to sources, imagery, B-roll video and the ability to quickly get in touch with an executive if a reporter wants to do an interview.

If Karydes feels like she has the expertise to work and help a potential client achieve their goals, she then asks the following questions:

  • How available will you be for me?
  • How do you prefer to be contacted?
  • Are you prepared to provide me with the necessary material in order to do my job?

“These questions are so basic.  But when you ask the questions, it puts the onus on them to understand that I can only do my job as well as I can if I get what I need from them,” she says. “They almost forget that. They almost feel like if they hire someone like me, they can just hand over everything to me and wash their hands from having to do any more work. That’s never the case. We need to be a team for this to work.”

“If executives are difficult to reach, because they are constantly traveling or don’t check their phones, it makes it a lot harder for me to do my job,” Karydes says. “That’s a problem. If I have a reporter who needs to do an interview, thenI’ve lost that opportunity and potentially alienated that reporter.”

Managing motherhood

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Megy and her son, Alex.

Karydes’ son Alex, who is now 12, was only 10 months old when she started her own business. Her daughter, Chloe, who is now 14, was less than 2 years old.

Running her own business has given Karydes the flexibility to work the type of hours she wants and still be available for her children.

“I was fortunate that my mother was able to take care of my kids full time while I worked. I realize that is not something that’s common, but it was so integral for me,” she says.

Her advice: Since finding affordable (and safe) daycare can be difficult and time consuming, it’s important to do it early on.

“It’s easier said than done, because our country doesn’t necessarily value that kind of role,” Karydes says. Because of this, she suggests involving your children in your work when possible. For Karydes, that meant bringing her children, even when they were babies and toddlers on business trips. She did this especially when she was writing travel stories.

“For the longest time they didn’t even know about kids menus,” she says. “We went to so many restaurants we just let them try the food from our plates. They couldn’t read the menu so they didn’t even know kids’ meals were even an option which has made them become much more adventurous eaters.”

More importantly, it’s helped open her children to different cultures and other ways of life. Even if it’s just in another neighborhood in Chicago.

“It’s a good reminder for them that they don’t live in a bubble,” she says. “But they’re part of a bigger community.”


Editor’s Note: Megy’s story is one of a four-part series celebrating women business owners throughout the month of March.  Take a look at the other inspiring stories in the series: How I Built My Own Business After Cancer.


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