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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
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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

GrowSmartBiz 2010 Conference is on Nov 5 so Save the Date!

August 11th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Coming this fall is the second annual GrowSmartBiz Conference being held on November 5, 2010 at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC. Last year Network Solutions launched this conference and it was MC’d by Alex Orfinger of the Washington Business Journal. This year the Washington Business Journal is partnering with Network Solutions to make this a bigger and even better event than last year.

We listened to your feedback and this year we also plan to have multiple content tracks to really take this event up a notch. If you are interested in reserving your booth space before August 27, call 703-258-0800.

Register Now!

Our GrowSmartBiz registration site is up and running! Tickets are $79 per person and if you want to bring a group of 10 the cost $69 per person or $690 for the group. You can register at

If you are curious as to the quality of content, here are some videos from the 2009 GrowSmartBiz Conference.

This is an event not to be missed. We will be announcing more in the weeks ahead so fill out the form below and we will let you know the details as they are announced.

If you are curious as to the quality of content, here are some videos from the 2009 GrowSmartBiz Conference.

Using Content Curation To Become a Thought Leader

August 11th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Ever hear of content curation?  Neither did I, til I signed up for another fabulous American Marketing Association webinar on that topic last month.  Pawan Deshpande, Founder and CEO of HiveFire, and Chris Brogan, President of New Marketing Labs, collaborated to present the informative, funny, and very interesting webinar.  Here’s what I learned:

Thought leaders share four qualities:

  1. They distill information into key insights
  2. They foresee new directions their industry is taking and set trends based on that information
  3. They are trusted, go-to authorities for information
  4. They look for patterns in trends and news and report on those patterns

Chris Brogan

So, what a thought leader will do is identify a topic they think is worth pursuing.  They’ll do research on that topic and produce a report, article, blog, white paper, or whatever.  Then they repurpose the content for different uses, distribute it, and start all over again.

The reason it’s so important to become a thought leader in an industry is due to the power of influence.  You want to not only influence your prospective clients but, most importantly, have them seek you out, rather than vice versa.  Remember, though, that thought leadership is NOT about tooting your own horn.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: no one cares about you, they only care about themselves.

So let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about content.  Content marketing evolved as the cost of publishing information nose-dived.  Thanks to the internet, free blog software, and numerous social networking platforms, anyone can publish and distribute content for the price of a high-speed internet connection.  This, as we well know, has lead to its own complications. There’s just so much out there!  And because marketers struggle to get found, they publish tons of stuff and distribute it on as many mediums as possible.  So now there’s this vicious cycle going that is expensive, time-consuming, and creating content marketers rather than thought leaders.

Pawan Deshpande

Pawan Deshpande

This is where content curation comes into the picture.  Rohit Bhargava defined it very nicely: “A content curator finds, groups, organizes, and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific topic online.”  Think the Drudge Report, TMZ, the Huffington Post.  Because these companies are so good at content curation, they have become thought leaders.  We go to them for our information.

To become a thought leader using content curation, you have to first decide if content curation is a good marketing strategy for you.  Ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is your brand focused on an issue and do you have an innovative perspective on that issue? 
  2. Do your prospects conduct a lot of research on this issue?

If you answered yes, then here’s what you do:

  1. Distill information into key insights
  2. Provide fresh perspective on a topic (or topics) within your industry

As always, easier said than done!

Founders At Work: Max Levchin, PayPal

August 9th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Max LevchinThe book Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston provides an educational, behind-the-scenes look at companies that began life as start-ups and exploded into huge companies.  She interviews the founders of Hotmail, Apple, Yahoo, Trip Advisor, Firefox, and Adobe Systems, among many others, and lets them tell their stories: how they got started, the mistakes and smart decisions they made, what they wished they’d known, etc. 

In her introduction to the book, Jessica says all of the founders she interviewed shared one quality: perseverance.  That’s a trait most small business owners share, too. And because I like to learn from others (even while making plenty of mistakes on my own), I thought sharing insights from select founders each month on this blog might be fun.  So here goes:

What you can learn from Max Levchin, Cofounder and former CTO, PayPal, launch date December 1998:

Throw out business ideas that aren’t working.  Before PayPal became a web-based payment system, it offered a service for transmitting money via PDAs.  When Max and his co-founder, Peter Thiel, realized everyone was trying to use the website, which was just a demo, for transactions, a light went off.  Max and Peter made the decision to shut down the PDA service and focus on the web-based service.

If someone warns you about potential risks, listen to them.  Max was warned about fraud from people in the banking and credit card processing systems.  They did what they could to prevent fraud, but after 6 months, chargebacks started popping up.  (I had no idea what a chargeback was, so I looked it up on PayPal’s website: Chargebacks occur when buyers ask their credit card company to reverse a transaction that has already been approved.  Fraudsters game the system by requesting a refund on goods they purchased and received.) In no time at all, PayPal got swamped with chargebacks—to the tune of $10m in losses per month.  Because the problem was so severe, Max ended up refocusing his time and energy on the fraud issue.  PayPal had to hire investigators to help track down the sources of fraud, and he and an intern built an internal system called IGOR to finally bring chargebacks down to almost nothing. 

What Max wishes they’d known.  They had no idea that fraud would become such a huge issue and require so many resources—both time, money, and people—to combat it.  As Max says in the book, they are basically a security company pretending to be a financial services company.

Free is a powerful tool to fuel growth.  Because PayPal allowed non-members to receive money without being charged a transaction fee, growth went viral.  The catch: once the money was sent to you, you got an email saying you had to become a member to actually retrieve it.  Max said, “That’s the most powerful viral driver there is.  Free money available to you.”

 Endnote: Max has left PayPal and, like many serial entrepreneurs, he has moved on to found a new venture, Slide, which sells apps for Facebook.  He is also the Chairman of Yelp.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

August 3rd, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

Intellectual property, from copyrights on your marketing materials to patents on the processes you use to create your products, are crucial to your business’ ability to keep on earning money. It’s easy for a business owner to focus more on physical assets, but it’s also important to protect the less tangible pieces of your business. Similarly, you want to make sure that your business isn’t infringing on other companies’ intellectual property — if only to avoid costly legal problems.

Planning for Protection

“The first thing small business owners can do to protect their own intellectual property is to recognize its value and plan for it like you would any other element of your business plan,” says Chrissie Scelsi, who specializes in media law. She points out that the first step that any business owner should take is to appropriately register your intellectual property with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. While it may be possible to protect your claim to a particular piece of intellectual property without registering it, in most legal matters, problems can come down to who has the paperwork from the USPTO.

You should also create internal systems for checking up on the possibility of infringement. There are many new tools that make the process easier. Scelsi says, “As you proceed in business, also keep an eye on the competition and what they are doing relative to your intellectual property. Has someone adopted a similar store name down the street? Did your Google alert come up with another party using your business name or trademark? Run a search periodically for similar business and product names. Be vigilant, once you have registered or acted otherwise to protect your intellectual property, you don’t want to let down your guard. This applies to employees that leave, particularly if you have an invention or trade secret.”

Protect Yourself from Other Business’ Problems

Getting pulled into a legal dispute over intellectual property can be an expensive proposition. Not only is it important to avoid actual cases of infringement, but avoid even the appearance of violating another company’s intellectual property. Setting policies in place that help you to research any new trademark, project or even web copy can help protect you. Even if the policy is little more than running a search on Google before you start the trademark process, you can save yourself a lot of time down the road.

Scelsi also suggests ensuring that you own all intellectual property associated with your business. “Small business owners also should work from the word go to make sure that they own anything that is created for them. This means that if you have a logo created for your business, have the designer sign an agreement or put in writing that you indeed own that logo and have all rights to it.” If intellectual property is created specifically for your business, you have less to worry about when it comes to unintentionally infringing on another company’s intellectual property.

Image by Flickr user Horia Varlan

Podcasting: The Underused Marketing Tool with Big Potential

August 2nd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Jay BerkowitzI recently watched a video (online of course) that featured Jay Berkowitz, CEO of the internet marketing firm Ten Golden Rules.  He was talking about social media, which he is wont to do, and mentioned podcasting as a great online marketing tool simply because it is so underutilized.  I found this bit of information intriguing and decided to blog about podcasting for several reasons. 

  • First, as he pointed out, podcasting is a one way social media tool, unlike Facebook and Twitter (when they are used properly). 
  • Second, there are few competitors so it’s a relatively easy market to dominate once you pick your topic.
  • Third, I am sick and tired of hearing nothing but Facebook and Twitter this, Facebook and Twitter that.  At this point, articles on those social media platforms are redundant and boring. 
  • Fourth, podcasting is a creative medium and can be used in a variety of ways.
  • And fifth, a series of podcasts is a great way to position yourself as a thought leader on a specific topic and can really drive some traffic to your site (and hopefully convert some leads into clients).

 To quote Jay directly:

There are very few podcasts on any topic, but there are now millions of iPhones, iPods and iTouches – 25% of users download podcasts. It is a great way to build a following with an audience looking for this content, very few competitors are podcasting. You could also add the shows to your website.

Now, please forgive me if we have gotten this far and you’re scratching your head wondering what on Earth a podcast is.  It’s an audio broadcast, or, to put it another way, a song with no singing, only talking.  You can listen to it online or download it to listen to on your iPod or other MP3 player. A podcast can be short or long, include one person’s voice or a few people’s, and actually, it could include music if you’re so inclined.

Here’s how you could use a podcast: 

  • Distribute a weekly podcast that includes a secret word or phrase to receive a special discount on a product or service.
  • Create a series of educational podcasts on a specific topic that would be of interest to your target market.
  • Use podcasting for PR and release news in a more personal, immediate way.
  • Advertise new products or services using your most persuasive sales skills. 
  • Replace one blog post a week with a podcast. 

To create a podcast, you need some software.  I’ve certainly listened to podcasts, but I’ve never made one.  Google to the rescue!  A quick search on podcasting software resulted in this nice little list of 2010 Podcast Software Reviews, which is very comprehensive.  Underneath the long chart comparing the features of 10 podcast software programs is a tutorial on what to look for in podcast software.  Good information to have for a newbie. 

I’m curious to know if any of you have used podcasts for marketing purposes, and if they’ve been successful.  Leave a comment and let me know!

How to Win Friends and Influence People

July 30th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

The lessons and advice imparted in Dale Carnegie’s ground breaking 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People are as useful today as they were then.  Think about the reasons we small business owners spend time and money on marketing, especially social media: We want to connect with current and prospective clients and convince them that they need our product or service.  To do that, we need to know exactly how to connect with them, and this is where the book comes in.

Dale CarnegieThe only way on earth to influence the other fellow is to talk about what he wants and show him how to get it.  Dale Carnegie

Dale’s book is centered on one simple fact.  People want to feel important.  It’s just human nature.  We like praise and hate criticism.  Praise makes us feel important, while criticism makes us feel like losers.  And, as Dale also points out in the book, we spend around 95% of our time thinking about ourselves.  So, when you want to make someone do something, stop and think how you can make that person want to do it. 

If there is any one secret of success, it lays in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as from your own.  Henry Ford

My absolute favorite piece of sales advice, which speaks to Mr. Ford’s quote above, is that you need to show people how you can solve their problem, and they will buy from you.   We all strive to do this, but do we always do it?  Probably not. 

The book is broken down into six sections, but I’m only covering the second and third, because I think are the most important.  All of the following advice is common sense and highly applicable to most any situation (the final section, in fact, is titled Seven Rules for Making Your Home Life Happier).

Here are Dale Carnegie’s Six Ways To Make People Like You:

  1. Show a genuine interest in people. 
  2. Smile!  You’ll feel better and so will the person you are talking to. 
  3. Remember names.  “A person’s name is to him (or her) the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
  4. Be a good listener.  Encourage others to talk about themselves.  After all, we are our own favorite subjects!
  5. Discuss with the person whatever his or her interests are.  Teddy Roosevelt use to study his guests’ favorite subjects before they’d visit him at his Oyster Bay estate on Long Island so he could talk knowledgeably about it with them.
  6. Always make the other person feel important.  Remember the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?   Make others feel important, appreciated, valued and be sincere when you do!   

And here are 12 Ways To Win People To Your Way Of Thinking:

  1. The only way to win an argument is to avoid one.  Unless it’s a matter of life or death, let the person think they’re right, even if they’re not. 
  2. Show respect for someone else’s opinion.  Don’t tell that person they’re wrong for having that opinion, even if you think it’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard.
  3. If you’re wrong, admit it immediately.
  4. Begin your persuasive argument in a friendly, not hostile or defensive, way.
  5. Get the other person saying “yes” rather than “no” by emphasizing the things on which you agree.  If you can, emphasize that you and this other person want exactly the same thing and that your only difference is method, not purpose.
  6. Let the other person do most of the talking.  (See #4 in the above section!)  Don’t pretend you have all the answers.  Let the person describe their business and problems to you, because they know these things better than you do.
  7. Let the other person think that the idea is his or hers.  Ask for his or her advice or help in solving a matter.  Then you can gently steer that person in the direction you want them to go.
  8. Play the devil’s advocate, and try to see things from the other person’s point of view, not just your own.  Show that you understand that person, what they need, and what they want.
  9. Be sympathetic to the other person’s ideas and desires.  If you want to stop an argument, create goodwill, and make the other person listen attentively, say “I don’t blame you for feeling the way you do.  If I were you, I’d feel the same way, too.”  
  10. Appeal to noble motives, such as honesty, fairness, and honor.  Think about celebrities asking the paparazzi not to take photos of their young children.  “Photos of me are fine, but please respect my baby’s privacy—there are too many creeps out there.”
  11. Dramatize your ideas.  The best Super Bowl ads do this.  You might not like beer, let alone Bud Light, but after watching one of their funny commercials, you’ll certainly remember it.
  12. Throw down a challenge.  Everyone wants to show off the fact that they’re better than someone else.

New Kinds of Shared Office Space

July 28th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

As someone who has had office space in all shapes and sizes there are a few things I have learned over the years:

  • Stay flexible because you can grow out the space (that is a good thing)
  • Don’t get space based on filling it at some point in the future (not a good thing)
  • Having a fussball tables does not mean your company is hip and cool (you decide)

In the past I have been in five year leases which are great if you are an established company that understands its needs. But if you are a new company or a rapidly growing company, staying nimble is essential to growing your business. For years the concept of the “Executive Suite” was a shared office space that you paid for to get a receptionist, a conference room and a professional presence to meet with clients. It is expensive and for many small businesses that are virtual, mobile and cost conscious, not an option. Those who know me know that I am a big fan of coworking. Coworking is were people pay a membership based on usage from walk-ins to full time tenants. It creates a very flexible and collaborative space but can be noisy or problematic if you have security needs (document storage, locking an office).

One other concept in between has been the office incubator that is for new companies to grow and hopefully graduate a program to go into a regular office space. While that may work for tech companies, many other business models, like retail have been at a disadvantage.

Recently, I came across this article in Entrepreneur magazine on this company called POOL Together that is a combination of a marketplace and business incubator. Here is an excerpt on the concept:

Brad Weinstock got the inspiration for POOL Together-a combination marketplace/small-business incubator-from other popular public markets and shared workspaces such as the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Brewery in Los Angeles, and Pike Place Market in Seattle.

At its core, POOL Together is a business incubator. It offers local entrepreneurs affordable leases in a shared commercial space, and its owners provide assistance with business planning, marketing, space customization and cross-pollination as part of a comprehensive lease agreement.

You should start to see similar things like this in a city near you and if you haven’t this might be a whole new way to expanding your business. By owning the space and creating a community of small businesses around you.

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Creative Ways to Trim Payroll without Laying Off Staff

July 26th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

It is fair to assume that at one point in your career you will either be involved in a layoff by being laid off or doing the layoff. Nothing is more painful than letting talented people go because of an external issue (i.e. merger, lost business) and getting

I recently came across this great article from on some creative ways to trim payroll without laying off staff:

Keep employees working. If there isn’t enough work to go around, consider switching up people’s duties, suggests Ray Friedman, a management professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. “I have seen big companies make it through downturns by having factory workers do maintenance work [such as] painting, fixing tools” and the like, he says. Small companies, he adds, can receive similar cost savings by having current employees perform jobs that you would otherwise hire someone to do.

While such a role reversal will likely upset some workers, Christopher J. Collins, an associate professor of human-resource studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., says that “complete honesty is really important.” If you articulate to your employees that such a job shift is only temporary, they may appreciate your resourcefulness and pitch in where they can.

Explore alternatives. As you converse honestly with employees about your business’s struggles, ask them for their cost-reduction thoughts, suggests Collins. “They may have creative ideas that have to do with nonpayroll ways to save money.” For instance, there may be some inefficient processes that an employee may have noticed that, if fixed, could save the company a bundle.

Ask for volunteers. You might also ask employees to consider a voluntary furlough, which is typically an unpaid temporary layoff or leave of absence. “Some employees may want time off,” says Friedman. “It’s better to let those who want, and can afford, time off to not work, rather than forcing it on everyone.” Some employees might consider using the time off to take a vacation, spend time with family or work on a personal project if they’re promised a job when the furlough is over.

Offer other incentives. Look into other forms of compensation, says Gene Marks, a small-business consultant in Philadelphia. For instance, providing stock options in lieu of payment may be acceptable for a short period. Additionally, if your company regularly provides bonuses but can’t afford them this year, consider offering nonpayment incentives instead, Marks says. “If you have anything like a vacation home or a timeshare that you can give to an employee that doesn’t cost you really anything, offer it,” he says. Just make sure you’re upfront about the switcheroo, as (understandably) many employees will chafe at having their bonuses disappear.

Install shorter work weeks. Reducing your employee’s hours may do the trick as well. For instance, Tray-Pak, a custom plastic packaging maker in Reading, Penn., has for the past two years instituted a four-day workweek during the typically slow months from February until April. “In our slow period, we really don’t need full staff,” says Ken Ritter, the company’s chief financial officer. Historically, he adds “we would have laid those people off.” However, Tray-Pak has found that it’s worth keeping the employees on because the training process, which takes three weeks, is so costly.

Reduce pay. If all else fails, consider reducing employees’ pay, says Collins from Cornell. This is obviously going to be controversial. However, since a person’s livelihood is on the line, a pay cut vs. a job cut, for many employees, may be preferable. The key to this predicament, he adds, is to “keep employees involved.” It will be a difficult conversation, but after relaying to your staff that the business is being squeezed and its overall stability is in question, a pay cut may be an easier pill to swallow.

Takeaways from this post:

  • If you are forced with trimming payroll you might not have to lay people off
  • You can get creative and explore many alternatives to cut costs and payroll expenses to make it through a tough time
  • If everyone is invested in keeping their colleagues by keeping their jobs everyone can benefit
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Women in Business: Marketing Strategy For Everyone! Part 2

July 26th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Emily RichardsBecause my friend Emily Richards of Drew Consulting, a full-service marketing consulting firm based in Falls Church, VA, had so much to say about marketing strategy and small businesses, I divided my interview with her into two parts.  You can read Part 1 here

Care to share a couple of success stories?

My client’s success is my success. I was brought in last summer to make recommendation on a project in Boston, MA for a residential construction client. The investors were ready to finalize the deal (and it goes without saying my client was as well). After we conducted our market research, the deal didn’t pencil. Our recommendation, while not popular, was to not pursue the deal. They reviewed our research and recommendation and killed the deal. It was a success for us in that while we didn’t provide our client with the information they were hoping to obtain, we contributed to ensuring they maintained a solid portfolio and didn’t compromise on a bad development decision.

Another was a strategy session for a start up client. They brought us in to conduct a session with their employees to ensure that everyone understood the purpose and direction of the company. At the time, the team was only about 10 people. As the session was conducted, you could see individuals making the connection of the business’s passion, their own individual purpose and how the two ‘fit together’. While this certainly didn’t have quantifiable results, the company has continued to grow successfully and is an incredibly close knit organization.

I’m always curious as to how other small business owners market their business. So, how do you market your’s?

Often, I find myself so entrenched in marketing other companies that I neglect the marketing of my own company. Most clients come by way of referral and word of mouth. We have begun branching out in traditional methods of marketing including, eblasts, social media campaigns and direct mail to companies in the area that are identified as growing/expanding companies that could potentially be in need of our services.

If you could give 3 pieces of advice to a small business owner putting together a marketing plan, what would they be?

1)      Don’t neglect the exercise

I’ve seen start up businesses and established businesses, alike, fail to place importance on creating a formal business plan and strategy. It is difficult to express your vision and purpose if you haven’t taken the time to sit down and think through high level goals and objectives for your business. In my opinion, it could make or break your entire vision. These goals and objectives are the premise upon which we build strategies.

2)      Be flexible (to the change and evolution of your original plan)

I had a client come to me last week and apologize. He wanted to make significant changes to a strategy he previously approved. While I certainly don’t encourage serial modifiers, you must be realistic that the strategy may (and will) change dependent on a myriad of factors within and out your of your control.

3)      Be thoughtful (both in current objectives and long term goals)

Don’t haphazardly select strategy initiatives. Just because your largest competitor launched a twitter contest, it doesn’t mean you should (necessarily) go out and implement the same. If you were to replicate their campaign, what outcome would you wish to achieve? If you say ‘just because my competitor has a twitter campaign’ is rarely sufficient to jump in head first without thoughtfully contemplating your desired outcome and overall results.