Grow Smart BusinessUMDNetwork Solutions


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.
homepreneur

Search Articles

Rules for Entrepreneurs Series Articles


The top 10 Tips to Hire Right! By Lorne Epstein

October 2nd, 2009 :: Lorne Epstein

The top 10 Tips to Hire Right! By Lorne Epstein

I have been recruiting for 14 years and wanted to share with you my top 10 tips for hiring the right people at your organization regardless of its size or frequency of hire. I have found over my 14 years of recruiting, these 10 tips can be applied to both the largest of organizations as well as the smallest. I would ask you to compare your costs of hiring an employee who never meets your businesses needs to that of taking a methodical approach to interviewing and hiring. They are not listed in a particular order and you may find some not applicable to your situation as they are written but the spirit of point is well worth examining for your specific situation.

  1. Source candidates who are as excited and interested in working for you as you are in hiring them. Never over sell candidates nor try and pull them from an employer just because they are successful there. There are many reasons someone is successful at a company that might not transfer to them working with your organization.
  2. Have several “hoops” for the candidates to jump through. I recommend using phone interviews, written screening questionnaires, on-line personality profiles, and more than one in-person interview. You can come up with more screens based on what the job is.
  3. Make a clear and speedy choice so that an offer can be made within a few days or less of the last in-person interview. The longer you take to extend and offer or rejection, the more it costs your employment brand. Set the candidates follow-up expectations by telling them what will happen after the interview and meet them.
  4. Be honest and up front with candidates by telling them the good and the bad things about working within your organization. This screens candidates and leaves them feeling respected and treated like a professional. I believe you have a moral obligation to be honest.
  5. Tell all candidates that you pass on to keep you in mind as their career develops. As candidates grow and develop they could make a better fit in the future. Work to make every candidate a client or add them to your newsletter, blog feed, etc.
  6. Apply a uniform, concise, and reproducible interview and hiring process. Ensure buy-in from everyone in the hiring process. Train your staff to interview in a cohesive fashion so each interviewer is drilling down into a specific aspect of the candidate. Leave no stone unturned so that when you are done interviewing you are a clear yes or no on extending an offer. If you leave the interview with a maybe you have not done your job.
  7. Focus on delivering an exceptional candidate experience. From the moment candidates hear about your company until they are hired or not, strive to give each candidate a Disney-esq experience so they are more likely to apply again in the future and recommend your company to their friends all of which increase your qualified pool of candidates.
  8. Write clear and accurate job descriptions and commit to what you want applicants to do. This involves writing job descriptions that tell the applicants everything they could possibly want to know. It will help create the screen to bring forward the best candidates. If you bait and switch with the job description it will create negative street credibility, poor moral and decreased productivity.
  9. Leverage your current talent pool to source applicants. Internal referrals put employees at stake for hiring candidates that perform and are a fit. Offer your employees a few thousand dollars to not only send their friends your way, but to qualify them before hand. Set up a process so employees screen candidates.
  10. Take some level of responsibility in preparing candidates when they come in to interview. Let them know who they are interviewing with, about how long it will take, what to expect, and what they expect to learn about from the candidate. Set the candidate up to win. The candidate still has to prepare and do their homework, throwing up obstacles limits the learning you will have during the interview.

Thanks for taking the time to read my article. Please comment below as I appreciate any feedback you have to offer. Pass this along to other business owners if you see fit. I am available to consult with your organization on applying these tips.

Lorne Epstein – CEO of Arlington Soho, has created one of the top (http://bit.ly/abSAl) job applications on Facebook called “InSide Job” (http://apps.facebook.com/insidejob). Lorne is the author of “You’re Hired! Interview skills to get the job”, a step-by-step guide on what to do before, during and after the interview to get the job you want. You can contact him at [email protected]

Introducing the Grow Smart Business Small Business Expert Network

August 10th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

Over the last month we have been reaching out to some very talented experts in small business many of them owners of their own small business. We began with leveraging our network on Facebook through the Grow Smart Business Club and asking some very smart people to contribute once a month and impart their expertise to you our Grow Smart Business blog.

We have about 20 contributors writing about topics such as capital access, small business marketing, technology and small business, marketing, pr, social media, customer service, accounting, taxes, business writing etiquette, health and wellness, generational marketing, business coaching and human resources to start. All of these contributors are experts have volunteered their time once a month to impart their wisdom and experience so you can build the best small business possible.

Starting today we will be publishing these guest contributors in addition to our staff writers and we would like to give you a preview of the upcoming week and future contributors.

Contributors for the Upcoming Week

Email Marketing and You: So Happy Together by Monika Jansen
Social Media: 10 Tips on Jumping In Feet-First Without Drowning by Michelle Riggen-Ransom
Evian babies in your face. Just like their GenX parents by Jessie Newburn
What to do if you are downsized by Lorne Epstein
The apple pie bakery that could teach you a thing or two about making a sale and loyal fans by Mayra Ruiz

Contributors Coming to the Blog in the Coming Weeks

Barry Moltz – Small Business Technology

Carla Briceno – Marketing to the Hispanic Markeplace

Carlos Diggs – Selling for Small Businesses

David McGillivray – Small Business Coach – “Coaches Corner”

Debbie Weil – Corporate Blogging

Toby Bray – Small Business Sales and Marketing

Jimmy Gardner – Small Business Technology

Erica Knoch – Small Business Marketing

Gary Honig – Raising Capital for Small Businesses

Harry Lalor – Small Business Strategy

Kristin King – Effective Business Communications

Liz Strauss – Social Media for Small Business

Pamela O’Hara – Small Business CRM

Would you like to be a contributor?

If you would like to be considered as a contributor, we would love to see if there is a fit so reach out to [email protected] and point us to your blog or send a few samples of your writing and your bio.

Rules for Entrepreneurs #7 – If You Never Ask, They Can Never Tell You "Yes"

August 4th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

“If you don’t really take the time to learn about yourself and improve, you will never realize your full potential.”

-Steven Fisher (2009)

Sure, I guess I can create my own quote book, heck I am creating my own rule book based on a decade of entrepreneurial experiences (good and bad) so I know that if you don’t try and know yourself better and overcome the things you are weak at you will never be able to realize your full potential.

This is why I give you Rule #7 – If You Never Ask, They Can Never Say Yes

That sounds weird doesn’t it? Usually you hear the statement “you should always ask because the worst they can say is “no”. In turn, we are conditioned in sales to turn a “no” into “yes” yet we never address the anxiety many people feel when having to ask for something, especially if it is for free. During the last year I have been part of a project that is non-profit and we are kind of expected to ask for free stuff (free time, free materials, free everything) and if you are not used to asking it can be kind of uncomfortable.

I am the first to admit it made me really nervous and that was because I didn’t have the confidence in what I was asking and the almost cocky believe that people should believe in my cause. Some times I would put that call or email off being the procrastinator or then just sounding so nervous with the person I pretty much said “no” for them before they got a chance to say “yes”.

It was only when I started to see others around me getting things they asked for that it started to occur to me that having them say “no” was not the end of the world because there was someone else out there who that would support my cause.

This leads my to how you can apply this rule to your own business, be it for-profit or non-profit. Always ask whether it be for the sale, for a resource or even a little extra mayo on your sandwich. Here are three rules to apply:

1.) A Pleasant Demeanor goes a long way – Ever try and get some one to do something for you when you are in an angry mood? Yeah, the ticket agents at the airport love it when you are like that and can magically lose your luggage if you are a real jerk. Being nice is the first step and puts people in the same frame of mind especially when you can make them feel better from an early bad mood they got from a previous person.

2.) Believe in your product/service or cause comes through – If you don’t believe then they surely won’t. Your passion or boredom comes through in your voice and your body language and you might not even know it. Believe in what you do and others will want to be a part of it.

3.) Find other resources to give you a mental backup plan – It is when you might not have another place to ask or go is when you might be your worst and an air of desperation might come through. Have a backup plan in your mind so you come across as you need me more than I need you and in many cases they will probably say “Yes”

So go out and start asking. You will be amazed with the results, I guarantee it.

Rules for Entrepreneurs #6 – All Your Previous Failures Prepare You for Future Success

July 6th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

FAILURE. Say it with me – FAILURE! No louder…FAILURE!

OK, now that everyone around you thinks you are crazy from your impromptu scream therapy session. Everyone fears failure. But breakthroughs depend on it. The best entrepreneurs and the best companies embrace their mistakes and learn from them. In Rule #6 of Rules for Entrepreneurs we address success and failure. For every entrepreneur, especially successful ones, failure is something they have experienced often and sometimes very publicly but it is part of the territory.

There is much to be said for failure. It is much more interesting than success.
– Max Beerbohm

We live in a culture of perfection and most organizations push the undercurrent that failure in any capacity is unacceptable. Success is all that matters. This actually backfires because if people think that failure has dire consequences they will do the minimum and not rock the boat. The dialogue from Ron Livingston’s character, Peter Gibbons from “Office Space” to “The Bobs” (you have to see the movie to understand that one) comes to mind:

Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?
Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my butt off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Does this sound familiar to you?

It did for me at the last job I worked at 10 years ago before I made the entrepreneurial leap. I had three bosses but no TPS reports (again a Office Space reference) so I did the minimum and if I got in trouble I had to figure out how to deflect the blame.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
– Sir Winston Churchill

Courage to continue is one the finest character traits a leader can have when everyone is ready to give up. Have there been times when I wanted to quit and walk away from a project? Sure. But knowing that a project is dead and nothing can be done is different from knowing there is still a chance if you take a different approach and there is a path to succeeding. I think this is a defining characteristic between someone who is a leader and who is just a dreamer.

Allow people to make intelligent failures — according a great article in Business Week, intelligent failures are “those that happen early and inexpensively and that contribute new insights about your customers — should be more than just tolerable. They should be encouraged.”

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
– Robert Francis Kennedy

That quote by RFK reminds me of the statement “Go Big or Go Home” which seems like the motto for a power drink commercial but it has such powerful implications to those who dream big and go for it all.

In fact many times when you are dreaming big, the more detractors you will have and the more people tell you “no,” the closer you are probably to ultimate success. In other words, the more people telling you “no” now, the more people will say “yes” in the long term. Most people say “no” or “you can’t do it” because they are afraid to try themselves and would rather see you fail than try themselves. I know that sounds arrogant, but it is true in many cases.

One caution… it is this is this very strength can become a weakness. Every talent contains an opposite that sometimes makes it into a handicap. Successful people like to win and achieve high standards. This can make them so terrified of failure it ruins their lives. When a positive trait, like achievement, becomes too strong in someone’s life, it’s on the way to becoming a major handicap.

You ready to succeed?

Rules for Entrepreneurs #5 – Compliment and Give Credit to People

June 11th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

For the last year I have been working on a project that is non-profit and I believe pretty groundbreaking in terms of its business model and offering. During this time I have learned even more about my strengths, weaknesses and learned to improve in many ways, take new risks and work to be a better leader. Building a business, whether profit or non-profit, requires people that believe in the vision and what is being delivered to the world.

Although you might have the crazy hair-brained idea to start something and have a partner or two that join you on this journey, it quickly becomes not about you. This is a fact that I had to learn the hard way in the past and have said things that were the result of my own pride and ego ending up hurting those around me and impact the project. This is why I present to you “Rule #5 – Compliment and Give Credit to People“. It has three parts to it:

Part 1 – Everyone has different agendas

We are a tribal species by nature and we find ourselves or place ourselves in various groups and based on the goals we unconsciously or some times bluntly craft an agenda or goal that we would like to achieve. Most people are very non-opportunistic people but in the group there are some that are just out for themselves and what something or someone will give to them without regard for reciprocity. While that is the more extreme and Machiavellian, there are more subtle agendas like adding skills for a resume for the next job or participating to be a part of the accolades that could possibly come.

But in many cases and what I experienced in this project was the best agenda and the one you hope everyone has and that is to create something so great and amazing that it changes the world even in some small way. These are the people that make you get up every day and promise to work your butt off because you refuse to let them down and I am humbled to be around some of the very best of these kinds of people.

Part 2 – If people stop believing, they will stop working

In order to execute and deliver, you need people and if you take them for granted, they will be out the door never to return. Whereas for-profit companies can hire someone and pay them some sort of salary, many non-profits, including this project, relies on unpaid volunteers. These people can be the saviors of the project and be the critical support to see the project to completion.

However, if you give them pause as to your commitment and passion to the project or show them your frustration, you will lose your most truest of believers in your project or startup. Secondary lesson? Believe in them and the project and don’t show them anything different even when you are at your most anxious and worried when things could all fall apart. They most likely won’t but if you show doubt, then they will doubt and then they will leave.

Part 3- Recognition can be more powerful than any money in the world

People take pride in their work and it might be a surprise to many that a great deal of people are not motivated by money. Sure we would all love to have more money in our checking account to pay debts, give a little more to charity or increase our standard of living but it is not a top priority as much of the media might have you believe. I know many people who are paid very well do a job they don’t really like and the only time they hear from their boss is when they screwed up or how they should have done it differently with no recommendation included in the reprimand. Those very same people take tremendous pride in their volunteer work or other project where they are recognized for their contribution. This pride in their work as well as to the credit give to them by those in charge motivates them to continue working hard and see a project to completion.

So in closing, spread the accolades and praise people as much as possible because they will know they are being recognized for the hard work they put in and be your biggest evangelists for your startup/project. No amount of money could motivate that because people recognize geniune passion in someone and it is usually contagious.

Rules for Entrepreneurs #4 – 5 Ways to Avoid Small Business Death by $100 Expenses

June 10th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

This article was originally posted on Solutions Are Power, but the series is now residing on Grow Smart Business.

broken-piggy-bank-smallWhen I started my first business as an adult and left the warm blanket of a steady paycheck I also left the fuzzy fun of expense reports. Those detailed reports on excel spreadsheets full of stapled pages of photocopied receipts that we got paid back on eventually (usually in 2-4 weeks) and were part of the work experience when you traveled or did anything company/client related.

Back then they were a tedious chore because I really wished I had a corporate credit card but that was only available to the executives. However, I never noticed how those expenses added up because they weren’t mine and they were usually billed back to the client.

Then I launched my first business.

Eyes Wide Shut

I started my own business and my eyes were wide open – shut to the realities of how quickly things add up. I thought I was being conservative and budget conscious but I was still doing lots of business lunches, buying lunch for the team a few times a week, paying for drinks on Friday because I thought I was the “cool boss”. We sponsored various events at small levels because we were more concerned with seeing our logo out there than actually demanding that there be some type of measurable return. Very soon the $50 here, $50 there, $100 for this sponsorship, $250 for that sponsorship and lots of $75 for happy hour rounds started to really add up and we were spending $2000-4000 a month for non-sensical things but it didn’t stop until the party was over and we burned out.

Burn Rate? More like “Burn Out Rate”

You might have heard of the term “burn rate” during investment conversations and discovered that it is the amount spent on a monthly basis that you burn through and includes fixed and estimated variable expenses. The purpose of knowing this number for investors is to understand how much money you would burn based on the level of growth as you scale up to reach certain revenue/customer milestones. This concept can be applied to any business regardless of whether you get outside investment because it will be readily apparent in a cash flow statement when you would run out of money based on current operations if you are spending more than you earn. When I started the business, I had a fair amount of savings stocked away and as I ramped up and felt that I need to quickly scale to “run with the bulls” so I felt I was spending money to make money. Really I was just spending money. Clients would sign with me regardless if I took them to a coffee house or a fancy steak house.

These little expenses felt like paper cuts that all together were causing the company to bleed out and be on the verge of death. Things had to change.

5 Ways to Avoid the $100 Business Expense “Paper Cut Bleed Out”

Paper cuts are unexpected and happen in the worst places. The shallow ones sting and bleed a little bit. The deep ones bleed a lot more than you think. If you had 100 or 1000 of them happen at once, you could actually bleed out and die. I apologize for the morbid description but there is no better analogy than a paper cut.

We realized that since we were like most companies that did not have investors, our high burn rate was leading us down the path of burning out. We decided at that moment that we must first get our expenses under control then evaluate or correlate expenses to things that helped our business grow. We came up with five simple ways to make things work:

1.) Know your burn rate

2.) Question the expense before you spend it

3.) Budget for recurring expense amounts each month and keep it in check

4.) Find cheaper alternatives to off site meetings – If you meet a client off site, coffee is much cheaper than a meal and really cheaper than rounds of cocktails

5.) Get your employees to think creatively and reward them with saving the company money – if they can save $500 for you, give them $50 extra

How Have You Prevented Burn Rate “Burn Out”?

These five ways seem like no-brainers but you would be surprised how hard it is to actually admit you have a problem and understand the depth of it in order to make the change.

Rules for Entrepreneurs #3: Avoid Founderitis at All Costs

June 9th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

This article was originally posted on Solutions Are Power, but the series is now residing on Grow Smart Business.

leadershipbuttonIn this next rule in our series “Rules for Entrepreneurs”, Rule #3 deals with the affliction of “Founderitis”. Don’t know what it is? Sound like a weird dermal disease?

Wikipedia defines Founderitis as “the unhealthy condition that afflicts many companies whose founders maintain a stranglehold on organizational leadership. While many companies owe their success — and in fact their very existence — to their founders, those same individuals can create chaos that ultimately leads to the organization’s collapse. The challenge to founding CEOs and boards of directors is to take steps to change conflict and chaos into opportunities for growth.”

Founders, because they are not detail-oriented and are driven by their exclusive devotion to mission, often disdain management tasks. At some point, staff members begin to complain to the CEO or perhaps even directly to the board, calling for more systems to be established. Founders, comments Linnell, may “see all such challenges as malicious or wrongheaded or an abysmal waste of time in the face of the real (mission) work of the organization. This can lead to all-out battles between the champions of mission and the champions of systems.

While this may not be a disease that makes you sick, you sure can feel stressed and nauseous working for someone with this “affliction”. Unfortunately, I was someone who used to have this problem in a bad way. Over time I have learned that hiring people smarter than you and getting the hell out of their way is usually the best way to build a company. More on that topic in a future “Rules for Entrepreneurs”.

Symptoms of a Larger Disease that can Kill Your Company

Founder’s syndrome manifests in numerous ways. The Center for Association Leadership has an excellent list of the symptoms. The leader who suffers from founderitis exhibits these types of behaviors:

  • Gives short shrift to planning activities, staff meetings, and administrative policies;
  • Is reluctant to relinquish strategies and procedures that worked in the past, although circumstances may dictate new approaches;
  • Neglects to institute new systems, even though the board has formally requested them;
  • Seeks and accepts little input from others in making decisions;
  • Sees all challenges as hostile and drives away staff and board members perceived as disloyal; and
  • Refuses to delegate authority.

Treat the Personality not the Problem

Managing through a fit of founderitis requires a tricky mixture of growth opportunities, board involvement, and a firm delivery method. In the mean time, here are a few things you MUST do to beginning shed the affliction of Founderitis from infecting your company:

  • Respect the need for planning activities, staff meetings, and administrative policies;
  • Realize that as the company grows circumstances may dictate new approaches;
  • Institute new systems with approval of your board;
  • Seeks and accepts input from others in making decisions;
  • Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
  • Accept the fact that you can’t do everything themselves and you need to bring on people whose strengths complement your own.
  • Separation of your identity and goals from your role as a founder.
  • Accept that the organization’s success no longer depends solely on your creativity and decisions but instead requires the input of partners who are equally or perhaps more skilled than you.
  • Dance around the room to let things loose
  • Shift responsibilities to worthy successors and trust them to fail and succeed.

Don’t worry if you can’t over come this there is a simple solution. Get your board to hire a professional CEO and take a long vacation.

Do you have Founderitis and not even know it?

Do you see yourself in these words? Have an errie feeling that you might be like this or working in an environment where you engender Founderitis?

First, read this article again and see how many symptoms you may have already. If you notice some, ask those around you if you fit this profile. Tell them it is ok to tell you if you do and be very honest. If you are a classic case of Founderitis then go back one section in this post and follow the instructions on beginning to let go. This is not something that will happen over night. It took you all your life to build up these habits and it can take just that long to work them out of your system.

Photo Source: iStockPhoto

Rules for Entrepreneurs #2: Pay Yourself First

June 9th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

This article was originally posted on Solutions Are Power, but the series is now residing on Grow Smart Business.

I originally wrote this on VentureFiles which is now part of the Technosailor Galaxy of Blogs but as Aaron Brazell, Editor and fearless leader of Technosailor.com said, this post is more relevant than ever when you are trying to keep your business running and growing (even in this economy). I originally wrote the post about a year ago so below is the original post and after that is an update that tries to do a little reflection on doing this during the current state of the economy.

Original Post:

Over the last 9 years and two startups I have learned many things and screwed up royally in some cases. This series is about providing you best practices of lessons learned and avoiding the mistakes I have already made.

In the past, I have had good years and bad years. When you have employees, they expect to be paid and when you mess with payroll (and payroll taxes, but that is a post for another time) you create such a negative culture that nothing will get done.

With that said, when you are starting your business regardless if it is a service or product company, you will have startup costs and probably forgo paying yourself for 6-12 months to keep growing the business. That is fine and to be expected. What you should not do (and what I did) is keep adding staff and sacrifice your own salary in the name of growth. If you keep going like that and have a bad quarter you will have nothing saved for a rainy day and if the business fails you will probably be in immense debt and get nothing out of the business.

Granted, the balance between growth and cash flow is a tenuous one but it is one thing you should never defer to someone else in beginning. Plus, there is a difference between creating a lifestyle business and an enterprise. A lifestyle business is really making enough money for yourself and having some contractors or 1-2 people that gives you a good salary but is more about freedom. An enterprise is a business that scales and gets big over time but you will be working intense amounts in the beginning but will need to hire those smarter than you with the intention that you are looking for an exit and will have time for freedom when you cash out.

So when you are growing the business you should work the first 6-12 months paying off the initial capital expenses and getting about 6 months of cash flow for yourself before you hire anyone else. Once you have that done, start paying yourself something, even if it is small and will ramp up over six months, pay yourself first. This will get you in the habit of being committed to making the business pay for itself and you so you are not worrying about living month to month and lets you find some resources to help you deliver while you continue to sell and grow the business.

Once you are looking at hiring someone use these two rules as a starting basis:

– Have six months of payroll for that person in the bank on top of your salary

– Have 90 days of projects or sales committed for that person to deliver so they not only have something to do but are earning their keep.

You may have to be conservative at first in your growth but in the end you will scale better and create a business that is focused on delivery and customer service without putting you and your employees on a cash flow roller coaster.

Update, One Year Later:

When I read that post I reflect on the mistakes of past and having had a business through the dot com bust and subsequent recession. Granted, it was not as deep or as long as this one, but the word that comes to mind is, balance. And while it holds true that you need to pay yourself first before you keep growing, the original post was written with the tone of growth and not reduction which may be more likely these days.

When you are growing you are tempted to throw caution to the wind and sacrifice your pay in order to hire that extra person that keeps the idea factory turning out wonderful widgets. When times are good and the sales are going upward, your risk threshold increases. When times are tight, you might feel like you are holding on with your fingertips to a 5,000 overhang below you and no way to see up over the ledge. In these cases, it is natural for people have a tendency to pull WAY back into their shells and not hire when they know they need to or lay people off in order to stay cash positive. In this case, you might sacrifice your entire salary to keep people on board. While this might sound noble, I have done this and it usually ends badly.

This is where the word “balance” comes in.

You can only go so far to reduce staff and pile tasks up on people that are probably already overworked, but cutting down too much can keep you from potentially delivering to clients in the end making things worse. Look to reduce costs in other ways, like office services you may not critically need, or ask if people would volunteer (including you) to take a 5% pay cut so we can keep everyone and deliver at the level of quality clients have come to expect so we can keep our clients happy and ride out this recession together.

Rules for Entrepreneurs #1: Make Sure Your Business Card Doesn’t Get Thrown Out

June 2nd, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

This article was originally posted on Solutions Are Power, but the series is now residing on Grow Smart Business.

Last year when I wrote for my blog, Venture Files (now owned by Technosailor), I wrote a post about business cards called “Business Card FAIL“. It was a very popular topic and seemed to strike a cord with many people. As time has gone on and I have seen a ton more people out freelancing or starting their own business in the last few months, I thought it would be good to do an update.

Now, I am a sucker for great design and great branding. To me it sets you apart from the tiny businesses that don’t invest in a good branding package from the beginning. Granted, there are many companies that are totally word of mouth and don’t really need it in their particular business so a basic card will do just fine.

However, there are many professions where people will judge you, knowingly or unknowingly, by your presentation and your business card, along with your attire and attitude will convey this to potential clients. Some great business card designs and other inspirational designs, many of which don’t meet the test in the original Business Card FAIL post, are useful in the right situation.

So I have to take back adjust much of what I wrote in the “Business Card FAIL” post and approach this from a different angle.

So here is some updated advice to ensure your business card doesn’t get thrown out:

1.) Tell me what you do. Quickly.

I like this from the original post:

“Business cards are supposed to have the usual information – name, address, e-mail, title, phone, company name. To make some real impact, you should use the space on the front of the card to have a single statement below your company name that is your main marketing message. For example “Next Generation in Sales Software” let’s me know you are innovative, provide sales software and are a tech company. Simple.

You can also use the back of the card for this too but don’t jam it full of sentences or a big paragraph. 2-3 sentences at most and it should build on the marketing message you have on the front. You can also use the back for the marketing message itself to change it up a bit.”

I have a friend that uses the traditional back of his business card. He hands it to them with the back facing up. Very smart and very memorable.

2.) Don’t jam your web site onto your business card

Ever been on a date and the person tries to tell you their whole life story in between breadsticks and dessert? Same thing. This is in the same vein as number one but I had to say it again.

3.) You can be cool, but be relevant to your audience

In my original post I really bashed cards that went outside the box and I really should take that back. Nothing bores me more than getting a Times New Roman 12 point font business card and although they are probably very competent and very nice, they don’t stick in my mind when I might need them or want to recommend them.

What I really didn’t get into last time was the most important – Know your audience. People will expect a certain thing from you and if you push the envelope just a little bit it will work beautifully. If you go to far they will think you are trying to hard and throw your card out.

4.) If you use funky materials, have a purpose

I love great looking cards and there are some really creative ways to use a business card. My original post really judged a bad business card if I couldn’t write on it. Now some business cards are just really out there, but I have seen cards that fit the business and the approach really well. My dad, who has been in business for 32 years runs an engineering firm and their cards use the same materials (mylar) they use to create the master drawings for blueprints. Very cool and unique.

5.) Your LaserJet does not count as a professional printer

For those of us that remember dot-matrix printers and doing our term papers with them it really couldn’t compare to the LaserJet that your parents had at the office that was all sorts of sexy. If you were able to get them to print it out for you at work (if you didn’t wait until the night before) it looked awesome and might give you a couple of extra points for a good grade. Same thing here. Now everyone has color a LaserJet and thinks they are a print shop. Not so fast dude.

This is where professional printers are worth their weight in gold and will make your beautiful design look fantastic on the right card stock. Think about it. You spent a lot of money on a logo and an design and you print it yourself? I don’t think so.

6.) Make sure it works on a card scanner

If you get alot of business cards these days, you probably use a business card scanner or your assistant does. For many people, if it can’t scan they will toss it instead of typing everything in manually. This is the risk you will run using the more funky and edgy types of cards. Hence, you are warned.

7.) And for goodness sake, get a domain name and a PROPER email address

I like this too from the original post:

“Nothing says “amateur” than using a Yahoo/Hotmail/AOL/Gmail e-mail address as your main address. I mean come on, a domain name and hosted e-mail account is not expensive these days. The biggest perpetrators are usually those trying to be “consultants” but have a day job and this is their side thing or they are just starting out and haven’t talked to one person about marketing.”

With all the new laid off workers going freelance and doing the consulting thing, this an excellent way to show that you are in it to win and build a business. I do make an exception if it is your personal business card and your are using it to find a job. Still there, I would recommend that you get your own domain and put your CV up there and market yourself in the same way.

We want to hear about your bad business card experiences

Since there are so many bad business cards out there I couldn’t capture the sum of things that you my reader have probably seen. Please use the comments as your place to be funny, trash bad business cards and most of all call people out on their bad business card protocol.