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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.

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Ken Yancey CEO of SCORE gets First-Ever Small Business Corporate Support Award

September 24th, 2010 :: Shashi Bellamkonda

I was thrilled to hear about this news that SCORE presented the first-ever Ken Yancey Small Business Corporate Support Award on September 16th at the SCORE Awards in Washington, D.C. SCORE CEO Ken Yancey, is the first recipient of this award honoring those who provide exceptional assistance in creating small business procurement opportunities. I have met him several times and his passion for helping small business comes across as he speaks.

SCORE has a network of volunteers who mentor new and existing small Business and has helped  more than 8.5 million entrepreneurs with a network of 12,400 mentors. Well deserved award- Congrats ! Ken Yancey and SCORE.

More information from the SCORE press release :

This award the “Ken Yancey Small Business Corporate Support Award” is named for SCORE CEO Ken Yancey in honor of his personal leadership in the development and growth of Business Matchmaking and his guidance in facilitating more than 75,000 face-to-face opportunities for entrepreneurs to present to government and major corporate potential customers, resulting in more than $1 billion in sales for America’s small businesses.

The Business Matchmaking organization established this annual award for an organization or individual who has provided exceptional assistance in creating small business procurement opportunities. Yancey has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, Fox and PBS as a small business expert. He serves on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advisory Council. He is an active supporter of the Boy Scouts of America.

Mike Mendez, SCORE Association Incoming Board Chair, says, “Ken Yancey has been instrumental in SCORE’s growth and success. It’s been an honor to work with Ken in leading mentoring and training support for America’s small businesses.” Mendez adds, “Today, we honor Ken Yancey as the first recipient for this award named in his honor the Ken Yancey Small Business Corporate Support Award. It’s a testament to Ken’s long-standing support of small business and the corporate partners that help small business connect with resources & opportunities for success.”

Mark Dobosz, Executive Director of The SCORE Foundation, says, “Ken is a visionary and inspirational leader. His ability to rally support for SCORE, small business mentoring and other great programs like business matchmaking demonstrate his commitment to small business success.” Dobosz adds, “Ken has built corporate support for SCORE’s mission and small business. We felt it was appropriate to name this award honoring corporate supporters of small business after the man who has done so much to enable small business success.”

About SCORE: Since 1964, SCORE has helped more than 8.5 million aspiring entrepreneurs. Each year, SCORE provides small business mentoring and workshops to more than 375,000 new and growing small businesses. More than 12,400 business experts volunteer as mentors in 364 chapters serving local communities with entrepreneur education to help grow 1 million small businesses.

Here is a video the Network Solutions team interview with Ken Yancey during the National Small Business Week

Women in Business: Growing an International Non-Profit from Scratch

May 26th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

We don’t talk much about non-profits in this space, though they are businesses, too, and growing them is just as difficult as growing a for-profit business. In fact, I would argue that starting and running a non-profit is even more difficult due to the money factor.  You need seed money to get going, but because non-profits are generally un-sustainable, year after year, you must rely on individual donors and grants to ensure your mission can continue.  On the plus side, working in the non-profit world can be really rewarding.  Everyone is committed to the cause, and your work is making the world a better place, whether on the micro level, macro level, or somewhere in between.    

Jillian Poole

Jillian Poole

I have been lucky to watch an amazing non-profit evolve for the past 8 years.  In 2002, I began working as the assistant for Jillian Poole, founder and CEO of The Fund for Arts and Culture.  I got to do a lot of really interesting work: travel and budget planning, grant writing, correspondence writing, and report editing; I have been their Editor since 2003.  Their mission statement sums up pretty neatly what they do:

The Fund provides assistance to selected major arts and cultural institutions to assist in their adjustment to a free market economy. Our senior consulting experts serve pro bono and share their expertise in administration, management, governance, planning, public relations, marketing and fundraising with visual and performing arts organizations.  We believe that promoting healthy, vibrant and welcoming institutions of art and culture strengthens civil society.

Jillian founded The Fund following her retirement from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, where she had been head of the development (fundraising) department.  “The year was 1991, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” said Jillian.  “And like many things in life it came about through pure serendipity.  There was a need, and I knew people who could help fill that need.”

They began their work in Russia and quickly expanded to other former Soviet bloc countries.  Jillian continually recruited senior museum and arts administrators to serve as consultants.  As she said, “A rolodex is an expandable thing.  It grows in unexpected ways, often with unforeseen encounters and certainly with almost every major endeavor.”  Word of their expertise and positive impact traveled quickly.  As the only organization offering hands-on, interactive seminars and workshops, the more than 100 consultants engaged by The Fund traveled to more than 20 countries.   (It is important to note that these consultants worked pro-bono, and many were eager to travel on behalf of The Fund again.  It was an enriching experience for them as well, and many have noted that they learned as much as their seminar participants.) 

The global economic collapse has forced some changes, as fundraising has been negatively impacted in a big way over the past two years.  After 20 year leading The Fund, Jillian has stepped down as CEO.  (A new CEO has not yet been named.)  I asked her if she would have done anything differently, and she replied, “I tend to look forward, not back.  There are many things that could be done, and some that must – and whether they will be remains to be seen.”  Though it seems like an evasive answer, her attitude perfectly reflects that of a leader: keep moving forward and make the changes you need to make to stay viable. 

I asked her for one piece of advice she’d give to someone interested in starting a non-profit, and she said, “Build a strong board to help you, always bearing in mind the essential 3 Ws – Work, Wisdom and Wealth.”

Women in Business: Turning a Layoff into a Golden Opportunity

May 17th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

I first met graphic designer Margo Wolcott in September 2009 at a weekly meeting of the Business Network International (BNI) group that she belongs to in northern VA.  Though I disappointed her a bit by not joining the group, she and I have collaborated on several projects together, and it has always been a pleasure.  She is creative, responsive, versatile and flexible, so it’s no wonder that her company, MW Studio, has been growing at a quick clip for over a year now.  She started her company during a recession and has weathered this recession very well. A key to her success? Networking! 

Margo Wolcott

Margo Wolcott

I was part of a layoff in mid-2003 – another recession. I started freelancing while I was looking for a full-time job and after a few months realized that I really enjoyed working for myself. So I made a website for my business and printed up some business cards. By the end of the year, I stopped looking for full-time work. My husband realized that I was doing well with finding clients, and told me “If this is what you want to do, then I’m behind you 100%”. That’s all I needed. I officially launched MW Studio in January of 2004.

Being my own boss is very rewarding and empowering. I am able to talk directly to my clients without having to get feedback filtered through an account executive. This allows me to provide better service and design. I can do things the way I want to without having to answer to anyone other than my clients. However, being the only person responsible for the success or failure of this business is intimidating! The key is to use that fear to drive me to do the things that scare me, like public speaking.

[I have grown my business through] networking, word of mouth and referrals from clients, friends and my network group members. I have done very little print advertising, only a couple of ads. I’m starting to get into social media and will be volunteering with some organizations to get my name out there to new markets.

Lessons Learned

There are plenty of things that I could have done better, but in doing them, I learned, so I don’t regret any of it. I do wish that I had sought out more mentors though. Many times, I felt as though I was in this all on my own.

Looking Ahead

MW Studio is entering a major growth mode. I want to grow the business so that it can provide the sole source of income for my family. Then maybe I can convince my husband to come work for me! I see the company expanding into new target markets and taking on larger projects.

Advice for a New Business Owner

Figure out what you want, stay focused and don’t give up!

As told to Monika Jansen via email.

Women in Business: Transforming a Shoe and Accessories Store at the Beach into a Year Round Shopping Destination

May 12th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

My parents, God bless them, had the foresight to buy property in the early 1970s in what has become the exclusive beach resort town of Avalon, NJ.  One of my friends “down the shore” owns the adorable designer shoe and accessories shop Boutique Bellissima.  Because it’s a seasonal town, operating a successful and profitable business poses its own set of unique challenges.  Here’s the story of how Danielle O’Hara got into the shoe business, what she’s done to reach clients and build her business, and what advice she’d give to burgeoning business owners.

I was working as a realtor in Spring of 2006 when I found out that the local shoe store was for sale! I was so super excited as I was a Fashion Merchandising Major in college at FIT in New York and the real estate thing wasn’t going quite as planned.  Owning a boutique was my dream. I didn’t expect an opportunity like this to come up so soon after graduating college and moving to Avalon. I thought it was now or never so I jumped on it. I made the decision to buy the store in early summer and worked at the shoe store all summer long. To complicate things just a little, I found out I was pregnant two days after making settlement on Bellissima. The store was all mine in September.  

Being my own boss has been both a blessing and a challenge for me. Although I love the freedom that comes with owning my own business, I find it hard to manage my time and balance responsibilities. It took some time for me to give up control and delegate tasks.

Reaching—and Keeping—Seasonal Clients

Boutique Bellissima Named 2008 Best Women's Accessories by Fox Philly

Image courtesy of Boutique Bellissima

The previous owner of Bellissima spent a lot of money on print advertising. When I first bought the business I continued advertising in local Avalon publications as well as publications that targeted the greater Philadelphia and South Jersey area. I found this to be extremely expensive and not very effective. My situation is unique in that I am a seasonal store in a resort town. I was trying to turn my store into a year round business by advertising to areas north of Avalon where there are more “year round” people. Getting local support has been a challenge to say the least.

I am now more focused on advertising to my summer clientele. I still use print advertising but stick to it only in summer months when my customer is already here to see it. I have a website and also use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to promote the store. Facebook has proven to be very effective. I post pictures of all new merchandise that comes in the store weekly. I sell a lot this way but I also get my customer excited to get to Avalon to come shopping at the store.

Lessons Learned

Honestly, the only thing (and it’s a major thing) that I would have done differently is that instead of buying an existing store I would have started from scratch and opened my own store. I would have been able to create my own image from the beginning rather then keeping up with an image already in place. I would have also researched the shoe business a little bit more before I decided to buy the store. This business is extremely challenging because of the exorbitant inventory costs.

Diversify to Grow

My immediate goal is to diversify my product offering to appeal to a broader customer base. I am bringing in some smaller ticket items such as jewelry, small leather goods, candles, bath and body, and children’s shoes and clothing. I think this will increase sales tremendously this summer as well as bring different people into the store. I am hoping this will drive shoe sales also.

Ultimately, I would like to open a second location in a populated more year round area. I would like to be known as an accessory boutique rather then just a shoe store. I would also like to expand on my baby and children’s merchandise. A little less shoes and a little more of everything else so there is something for everyone at every price point. 

Hiring and Customer Service Are Key to Success

My advice to a small business owner would be to hire people to do all of the mundane tasks so you can focus on what is really important in your business. I have learned to hire people to do the smaller tasks so I can focus on buying the merchandise. This is what I am good at and this is what will drive my business. I cannot be consumed by all of the daily tasks that add up or I will lose focus on my main objective. You have to pick one aspect of the business that you are strongest at and keep your focus there.

Another piece of advice is to keep building great relationships with your customers. I have so many customers that are now friends. Building a business is all about building relationships. Providing exceptional customer service is something I take great pride in.

 As told to Monika Jansen.

Why Every Small Business Needs an HR Program, Not an HR Department – An Interview with Jack Hayhow

May 5th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

I met Jack Hayhow from Opus Communications at SOBCon in Chicago last year. Opus creates custom online training with large corporations for whatever issue they might have (business processes, risk management, human resources). Jack is also a long time Network Solutions customer. He is a gregarious and knowledgeable guy who after spending 10 minutes talking with him realized we had much in common. He had just put out this book called “Wisdom of the Flying Pig”. It is a great title and wanted to read it but he didn’t have any copies so he asked for my card and promised to send a copy. As most conferences go, you hope to stay in touch with usually you never talk to them again. Low and behold about a month later I received this package and in it was a copy of the book and a box with a battery operated, you guessed it, a flying pig. This became quite the popular toy in my office and left an indelible impression so I would never forget Jack. So a year goes by and he emails me about a new business that he has spun out from Opus called ReallyEasyHR. Of course, I wanted to know more. Recently I was able to sit down with him, catch up on things and talk about this new business, ReallyEasyHR. This is a transcript of the interview:

Steve: Jack, you mentioned that the motivation to build this started about 5 years ago based on the need to do HR compliance for your own small business. You decided to build your own so, why were other solutions not a fit?

Jack: To answer that, I need to give you a little background.  Our business had grown quickly from three to nine employees.  I suspected there were some HR issues I needed to tend to, but I had no idea exactly what they were.  I looked, but I could find nothing that told me in definitive terms what I needed to do to keep myself out of trouble.

So I hired an HR consultant and worked with our lawyers and we put together a very good program – but it cost close to $10,000.  When I saw what I got for that $10,000, I thought  –  “there HAS to be a better way”.

Lawyers are good for dealing with problems but they cost a lot.  HR consultants want to make a huge deal out of HR stuff.  Small business owners like me want to comply with the law in quickest, easiest, cheapest way possible.  We’re not interested in becoming HR professionals – we’ve got businesses to run.

So we developed ReallyEasyHR.  ReallyEasyHR provides a complete small company HR program for just $30 per month.  It gives small business owners a way to deal effectively with HR compliance and get back to their business.  We built it because we couldn’t find an existing option that was anywhere near cost effective.

Steve: From your experiences you first wrote HR Basics to help other small business avoid the landmines you experienced. What is the core of this white paper?

Jack: HR Basics tells small business owners what they need to do right now, what can wait until later and what they can forget about completely.  If I would have had this information a few years ago, I would have saved myself a bunch of money.

Fundamentally, HR Basics details the three things a small business needs to do to comply with HR laws and regulations.  If a small business does these three things, it’s tough to get in too much trouble.

Steve: After living with this application and evolving it to a mature solution that others could use, you decided to open ReallyEasyHR into the wild. What was the catalyst to spin this off from Opus and start and entirely new business?

Jack: The business model for ReallyEasyHR is substantially different from Opus.  It just seemed to make more sense to operate it as a separate entity.

Steve: ReallyEasyHR is sold as software as a service (SaaS) and includes many things around compliance and HR management. What are its core functions and more importantly, what does it not do? What are the real differentiators in this solution that small business should note?

Jack: That’s a great question.  The core of any effective HR program is the employee handbook.  ReallyEasyHR provides an Instant Online Handbook.  The business owner answers 12 questions and ReallyEasyHR generates a customized online employee handbook with the policies most small businesses need.  It takes less than five minutes.

Most importantly, after an employee reads the handbook, the employee acknowledges receipt and acceptance of everything in the handbook by digitally signing.  A record of that acceptance is stored in the system.

ReallyEasyHR also provides high-quality, video based training on a variety of essential topics.  Sexual Harassment Prevention, Time Management and Management Skills to name a few.  Every course has a test and test records are stored in the system for reporting purposes.

Finally, ReallyEasyHR also accommodates any proprietary documents, notifications or training a business might have – all of it goes right into ReallyEasyHR making it really easy to administer.

I guess the other differentiator is the price.  For $30 per month it’s almost impossible to go wrong.

Steve: Many small businesses get pitched with all types and sizes of products these days, what have you learned from marketing and selling a product (ReallyEasyHR) to marketing and selling a service (Opus)?

Jack: I wish I had a magic bullet or a secret sauce but I don’t.  I think it always comes down to understanding what the target audience needs and addressing that need in a far superior manner.  HR is a distraction and a pain in the butt for most small business owners.  We alleviate that pain quickly and cheaply.

Steve: I usually close my interviews with a “five things” question. In this case I would like to have you talk about five HR mistakes that could kill a small business.

Jack: HR is about two things:  Compliance and performance.

Let’s start with compliance.  Every business needs an employee handbook that lays out the rules and regulations.  If you don’t have that, you run the risk of having all kinds of problems.  So if you don’t do anything else, put together an employee handbook.  Take a look at our HR Basics document to get a sense of the policies you need.

Every company needs to maintain certain employee files.  Again, refer to our HR Basics for details.  But make absolutely certain your I-9 file is in proper order.

And every company is required to post certain state and federal information.  I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but it’s all covered in HR Basics.

Now, to performance.  I think the short version is performance is about selecting the right people and providing what they need to excel.

I believe you can’t stack enough good people up to make a great one, so selection is critical.  And finally, great people need great managers.  In my opinion, companies languish or fail far too often because they lack great managers.

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Three Secrets on Effective Social Media that Actually Work

April 20th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Dr. Alan Glazier of Shady Grover Eye and Vision Care here in the Virginia area. They have been in business since 1993 and always early adopters of technology. They registered their domain and built their web site in 1996. Over these last 15 years the web site got them a foothold in search engines and as the web has evolved they have evolved with it. They use the site extensively for customer service and were an early adopter of social media and have seen tremendous value being a small business. This is especially for those customers who are younger and it connects with those patients and potential customers who see that they use the same tools they do. They have gotten rid of all print advertising, even the yellow pages.

Shashi sat down with him recently and discussed the evolution of technology in his small business and how it has changed the way they do business and will carry them forward. He has three great secrets that you will have to watch the interview (or head straight to 6:05 in the video below) and find out. The interview is below:

Using Social Media Tools to Build a Successful Photography Business

April 14th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Shashi was recently at the Frederick Chamber of Commerce New Media conference and met Mary Kate McKenna who is a photographer and has a web site, a blog and a presence on Twitter @DCPhotog. Her web site is a traditional and beautiful photographer site with services and portfolio. Her blog includes much of that content but also the stories behind it. Through the blog, this has become a powerful source of traffic to get new customers. She is a big fan of how blogs draw in natural search for terms like “Wedding Photographer Frederick”.

She has some great free advice for small businesses who are just starting out using social media but you will have to watch the interview to find out (run time 3:14) so check it out below:

Turning Your Necktie into a Pillow and other innovations

April 9th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Ever been on a Shashi was recently at the ASD Expo in Las Vegas and met Thomas Bowen of an innovative little company called Pillow Tie. It is a neck tie that you can wear as a normal tie and you can inflate the insert and turn it into a pillow. Check out Shashi’s interview with this innovative entrepreneur:

Going Nuts with Inbound Marketing to Sell Nuts Online

April 6th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Recently, Shashi met Sherrie Bates Ness of Bates Nut Farm and she talked about how they use inbound marketing tools, particularly Facebook to let people know about events, new products and sales specific on Facebook. The farm has been around since 1921 when Gilbert Bates decided to plant a walnut grove and walnut processing plant in the valley of Valley Center. They have 1,724 fans as of this writing which is a good and growing community. Check out the fully interview below:

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Getting Access to Capital for Your Small Business – GrowsmartBiz Podcast with John Backus

March 4th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

In our second episode of the GrowSmartBiz Podcast we speak with John Backus, Founder and Managing Partner of New Atlantic Ventures ( He is a seasoned technology investor and entrepreneur with 25+ years of experience investing in and managing rapidly growing, high-technology companies.

His thoughts on Small Business’ challenge to getting access to capital

Here is the podcast:

John shared some of his thoughts on how small business’

  • Funding will be challenging through 2010 and should be
  • Understand Your Customer and What They Expect in Return from Buying and using your product
  • Deliver a product that solves real problems and saves money in the short term

He had some thoughts on those who have become entrepreneurs or thinking about becoming one:

  • Follow your dream
  • Don’t be afraid to start in a downturn. It is actually to your advantage
  • Be doing it, not just talking about it

Top 3 Messages that a Small Business should take away:

  1. Do Your Research before You Jump
  2. Get Very Close to Your Customer and Understand What They Want and are Willing to Pay for It
  3. Focus on generating revenue early

More About John

Prior to founding New Atlantic Ventures in 1998, John was a founding investor and the President and Chief Executive Officer of InteliData Technologies, a Fast 50 growth company in both 1997 & 1998.  John led InteliData’s predecessor, US Order, through a successful $65 million IPO in 1995. John currently manages a $225 million venture portfolio at New Atlantic Ventures.

He currently serves on the board of directors of MPowerPlayer, Ftrans, Koofers, Qliance & RemitPro. He is the past Chairman of the Wolf Trap Foundation Board of Directors, the past Chairman of the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) Board of Directors, the founding Chairman and current Board member of the NVTC TechPAC, and was appointed by former Virginia Governor Mark Warner to co-chair the Virginia Research and Technology Advisory Commission which he served on for 4 years.   John began his career at Bain & Co. and Bain Capital, where he was the first Bain & Co. management consultant to take a full time operating role (as CFO) in a portfolio company.

Tell Us How You are Doing

So how are you and your small business doing out there? What things have you learned on getting access to capital that you would share with your fellow entrepreneurs?