Are you a successful business? Part 2

Three of the most important things startups need to focus on / demonstrate if they are raising money, want to grow or just plain want to be successful:

1. Gaining customers (or if no proof of concept then a list of qualified customers)
2. Showing they know how to grow their business
3. Demonstrating profitability and ROI

These points may sound easy to achieve and you may be saying to yourself, ho hum, I don’t need to read further.

Point number 2 – showing you know how to grow your business is key to not only getting funding but to keeping your business healthy. This is something that many startups and small businesses don’t focus on. They say cash is king and “they” are right. Sometimes companies become very successful very quickly and can’t handle it. Prepare for growth. By managing your cash flow you can set goals to grow your business, manage cash on a monthly basis and get a clear picture of what’s going on in your business. Make sure you understand all the financing options available to you – traditional as well as alternative and invoice factoring.
Don’t put your entire business at risk because of something that’s easy to plan for and track.

Here’s some interesting related points:

Are You Really Ready to Succeed?

I recently finished a PR job for a small client. They wanted to get the word out about a new product and hired me as the external PR person on a very limited budget. In addition to me, they used internal staff as well as a freelancer. We are all smart, I have an incredible resource of contacts, and we reached all the movers and shakers in this client’s sector. But sales and response was still low. Here’s why and what you can do before embarking on a PR, marketing or a sales push.

MAKE SURE You have a brand and communications platform BEFORE you do the marketing and PR on a specific project.
If you don’t, then your audience is doubly confused. First, they don’t know that much, if anything at all, about who is sending the message. Not good. Second, because of the first point, the message holds less weight and is more likely to be ignored.

There’s enough budget to get the job done.
This client didn’t have enough budget to get the job done. If you don’t, then no matter how smart your resources are, they can only take you part of the way.

There’s infrastructure in your company so that everyone knows where they belong and who they report to. This could change on a job by job basis. That’s ok. What’s important is that everyone knows where they fit in on any given project.

Give someone, preferably internal, responsibility for the project. If no one person is a project manager, then the separate elements will go their own ways, miss deadlines, forget to do the job and basically not understand the importance of the job. This applies to companies of all sizes. I have three or four-men jobs and there’s always a project manager assigned.

DEBRIEF AFTER EVERY JOB! Get feedback from your team. What went well? What can be improved? Surprises along the way. Give everyone a chance to speak freely.
It’s better to save your money and do the job right than waste it doing only part of the job.

Are you a successful business?

Three of the most important things startups need to focus on / demonstrate if they are raising money, want to grow or just plain want to be successful:
1. Gaining customers (or if no proof of concept then a list of qualified customers)
2. Showing they know how to grow their business
3. Demonstrating profitability and ROI

These points may sound easy to achieve and you may be saying to yourself, ho hum, I need read no further.

Point number 1 – gaining customers is something that many startups and small businesses don’t focus on. They fall into my Lie #1 – If I build it, they will come. Investors (and actually the company owners should feel this way too) are looking to see where your market is – are you marketing? And startups, even marketing startups, often get lost in this space. Ask yourself: Would I invest in a company that can’t show me their market? The customers lined up to buy the product as soon as it’s available? A list of beta-testers? ANY INTEREST AT ALL?

More and more I’m seeing startups and small businesses flounder in this area. Forget for the moment Michael Moore’s crossing the chasm…these businesses aren’t even getting the early adopters. Take heed and show the market interest.

Here’s some interesting related points:

Is big data* changing the need for focus groups?

Recent articles suggest that there is so much information being gathered about customers and spending and everything else you can think of, that the need to do traditional market research is starting to fall by the wayside. Data will give you all the information you need to predict consumer actions.

As I noted in my recent post about consumers using Amazon and other sources to comparative shop for price and quality, features and benefits, big data still reports historically on what consumers have done, therefore, you are looking backwards to predict the future. Yes, I know, history repeats itself but when you’re selling next seasons’ clothing line, you might want to reconsider consulting the past. And I agree that focus groups and other agency/consultant and client pre-conceived ideas put in front of customers should fall by the wayside (after all, a focus group asks the customer to react to YOUR ideas, they don’t ask what the customer wants).

I’m sure if you are a huge corporation, having access to all this data must be comforting. But it’s still all seen from the perspective of the market and not the customer. I believe that nothing is better than asking your customers what they want and how they want it. That’s a predictive, not historical, approach. I’ve done it for big corporations (one had a return-on-investment of 1,000%) and I’ve don’t it for solopreneurs (one had a return-on-investment of 60%). I suggest you do it for yourself. Get out there and poll your customers directly. Mimoona, which is a new crowdfunding tool (, allows your customers to have a vote on your next seasons line – and it’s not an idle vote – they vote with their credit cards (hopefully Mimoona is still in business as of this post).

*Big data is a term coined for the collection of data that comes in such large volume and in groupings, that it can’t be handled by traditional methods. The value of mining big data, is that enables one to see connections on a larger scale than ever before, as well as see connections between things that were never before available.

A logo / design and tag line do not make a brand – especially a fashion brand

Yes. They are definitely contributors but there’s a 360-universe that comprises a brand and those elements are only a part of it. A key part of your brand is the brand promise: what are you going to deliver? It’s great if you can promise to deliver something no one else is talking about. My company offers 60%-1,000% return-on-investment. We back it up with numbers from actual clients. A promise like this may not have clients knocking down the doors, but they ARE going to remember a promise that breaks through the clutter.
In what used to be called image marketing (such as fashion, liquor, and in the old days cigarettes), you are often selling a story as the brand promise. A story that the buyer believes will become their experience if they purchase and use the product. Ralph Lauren is a master at creating stories that invite you to participate by wearing his clothing.
Below are some links that offer advice on branding for any kind of business (even Tom Fords’ advice works well beyond the fashion world).,28189

Make sure you know what you want for your company or you will lose it: “I guarantee it”

Last year Men’s Warehouse founder, George Zimmer was fired from the company he founded. It turned out he wasn’t the majority shareholder of the company. That led to his ouster.
No matter what kind of company you found, there are a few key points to ensure this doesn’t happen to you (unless you are just in it for a quick turnaround and flip, in which case that’s your exit strategy and what you strive for).

  • When raising money, remember, the probability of having to give up more than 50% to get the money is very high. That means you’re giving up control. Often the founder is parachuted out with lots of cash. But if you want to build a company and maintain control, think carefully about the sources of your money. This is what is meant by “expensive” money.
  • When taking on partners or starting out with partners, make sure there is a strong contractual agreement in place that covers who is in control of what and to what degree. Anything can happen, and the weird stuff often does – if your partner dies or gets divorced, you may wind up with an heir who knows or cares nothing about the business. Then your problems really begin, especially if they don’t want to be bought out (or you can’t afford to buy them out).

Are you still the sucker you used to be?

New research was just released that demonstrates a big shift in how consumers buy and what influences their purchase. Traditional ads no longer have the same power to shape consumer opinions as they once did. Amazon (the ultimate cost and quality comparison, along with others) influence consumers more than ever. The studies were based on the “compromise” effect – (see NYT article below for the full story) are probably now saying to yourself, ho hum… and why is this news? Well, it took a while for the establishment to document what most of us already know and practice organically. However, some of the results of the study suggest that digital feedback in the digital world allows marketers to see what works and what doesn’t – what messages are influencing customers and which ones aren’t. And they can make adjustments accordingly…and very quickly. This is all very well and good, and excellent support (although the writers and researchers don’t see it from the customers’ point-of-view, so they are still missing the point) for my position that customer-focused information and insight right from the beginning…pre- advertising/marketing/PR efforts and spending, is more valuable than measuring what works after you’ve spent all that time, money and effort and then correcting it.

Sandra Holtzman teaches Licensing at FIT, is a Kauffman Institute certified Fast Trac facilitator at the Levin Institute, and teaches MA level Marketing at NYU.
She is the author of Lies Startups Tell Themselves to Avoid Marketing.

3 Things Entrepreneurs should know about WordPress

Today’s blog is guest written by Stephanie Cockerl, a WordPress expert.
Stephanie owns nextSTEPH a company that helps individuals, small businesses and companies take their websites to the next level. She’s been doing this for over 16 years. nextSTEPH provides web development, search engine and social media services to clientele in the education, health, media, non-profit, and publishing industries. For more information, visit

If you have been online for a while, hopefully you have heard the word “WordPress.”

WordPress has impacted the way people communicate and publish on the web.

Nearly 20% of the web operates on WordPress. ( Many companies, media outlets, public figures, entertainers and non-profits run on WordPress. Here are some examples,

WordPress ( is an open-source content management system or CMS for short. “Open source” means that the software is non-proprietary. There is no additional cost for installing in on a website (other than web hosting.)

Anyone is free to contribute to the development of WordPress, from participating in the forums to attending and volunteering at WordPress conferences, or WordCamps. Developers contribute their support to the core software (, themes (the templates), and plugins (mini- applications that extend beyond the WordPress core functionality.

Not long ago, if you didn’t know HTML, how to find web hosting, and create webpages, you were out of luck. Now with WordPress, anyone can have a site within minutes.

One thing that entrepreneurs get confused about when getting started with WordPress is what version to use. There are two versions of WordPress, (hosted on WordPress ) and (self-hosted.)

By using first method, WordPress is hosting the website.

The benefit of having an account on is that you don’t have to contend with obtaining web hosting. You can also have multiple “blogs” or “websites” under one account.

When you sign up for a new account, you would be given a default web address like If you eventually obtain your own domain name, charges a yearly fee to attach it to your account. As the site grows, you may want to add more functionality. may not be able to accommodate it unless more space on the account is purchased. Also, if you don’t have your own domain, you are vulnerable if has hosting difficulties. If goes down, no one will be able to see your site. That would be the point to consider self–hosting. When you establish your self-hosted website and you would like to forward your address to your own domain, there is also a fee for that.

Most web hosts make it easy to install WordPress. WordPress is known for it’s “5 Minute Install.” Web hosts should also have a control panel in which WordPress is located.

Making your WordPress Site Yours

Once you install WordPress, it already comes with a default theme. If you want, you can start filling it up with content, or you can find a theme ( that better suits your website.

Once you find a theme you like and you have customized it to your liking, you may discover that the site needs a bit something extra. This is where plugins come in. Plugins extend the functionality of your site. If you want to install a form, or a place for banner ads, the plugin section of

( is where you would look.

WordPress has come a long way in under a decade. From what was once thought of as just another blogging platform to being the preferred CMS of not only the famous, but also those who want a flexible and manageable solution to make their mark on the web.

Stephanie M. Cockerl is the owner of nextSTEPH. The company has been helping individuals, small businesses and companies take their websites to the next level for over 16 years. nextSTEPH provides web development, search engine and social media services to clientele in the education, health, media, non-profit, and publishing industries. For more information, visit

What’s the connection between marketing and intellectual property?

Here’s an important one:
Marketing, and branding are essential foundations for creating a successful business. That’s why it’s crucial to protect your intellectual property. Not just patents, but your name and your company’s name as well. That’s what goes into creating your company or your personal brand. It’s what tells your customers that everything that comes from your company can be counted on to deliver the same quality over and over, even if it’s a different product. You come to expect the same quality, service, and experience at every Starbucks you walk into no matter what city, state, or country. Can you imagine what Starbucks would have had to do to re-name, re-brand and essentially re-create itself if, say two years into the company, another company came along and said, “hey, we have that name. And we have it registered as a trademark three years ago.” That’s exactly what happened to a client of mine. After we created a beautiful logo, corporate ID package, website, sales sheets, a brochure, and convention panels, (all of which takes time, costs the client money, and wound up getting serious recognition for their brand) another company came along and sent them a cease and desist letter claiming their trademark rights. It turned out that my client, fortunately, had filed for their trademark before the challenger. Thus, it was the challenger that had to go through that whole long process of rebranding.

It’s a lot more time, energy, and money consuming to have to stop using a name or title, etc. than to do a trademark search to begin with.

Here are some other points of connection between marketing and intellectual property offered by Sharon Toerek:

Sandra Holtzman teaches CEO 035: Licensing.
She is the author of Lies Startups Tell Themselves to Avoid Marketing

Equity Stakes in a Startup

Creating a new business structure around a partnership or multiple founders is one of the most single important aspects of starting a new business. Like a business plan, your corporate structure, how you allocate shares, profits and control of the new business will help determine the fate of your company as well as the company culture (anywhere from hostile to win-win). This is a relationship, or more accurately, a marriage (so the culture would be more like dysfunctional to loving). Like a marriage, I highly recommend looking to the end of the company or partnership as you create the beginning – like a pre-nup. Seriously. Have everything worked out to cover the end and you will be good to go in the beginning. Because you never know how the relationship(s), or company, will end – will you be bought out? Go public? Be taken over? Get investment? Change direction to one that not everyone wants to buy into? Dissolve? Will founders or partners or you have a change of circumstances that lead to a desire to end the relationship? Will someone die and you are suddenly stuck with a spouse as a partner? All this needs to be spelled out upfront, because once the horse has left the barn…well, you all know how that one ends.

When I speak to multiple stakeholders at the start of their company, I go around the room and point out a scenario where one person decides they want to take more control of the company – maybe because they feel they are doing more work, or contributing more value or whatever. And ultimately that leads to someone else being screwed. I’ve had co-founders come back to me later and tell me that the scenario I played out in the meeting was exactly what happened. So protect yourself and your partners BEFORE YOU BEGIN.
George Deeb in Alley Watch provides some helpful hints and considerations that should be taken into account about how to split up equity in a startup.