trickle-down job creations *still* not a boom for small business

Earlier this morning, President Obama outlined a series of steps that would help companies make the decision that it’s time to bring more employees on board. The process, even if it works according to economists plans, will take a long time. Meanwhile, not only do small businesses hold back (correctly so) on hiring people, but they also suffer from an economy where the combination of widespread unemployment and the fear so many of us have about the security of jobs.

Without jobs, people don’t spend. Without spending, businesses don’t hire. Without hiring, people remain unemployed.

Yes, huge bailouts to the financial system probably helped this country avoid a catastrophic depression. And yes, in time, free-er money will find its ways to small businesses as capital for growth. In the meantime, remind a small art frame shop owner who saw his revenue decline 20% last year, and anticipates another 20% this year – *remind* them that patience pays off.  Better still, remind an unemployed husband and wife balancing the decision whether to keep paying a mortgage or buy health insurance that patience is a virtue.

Plan B is the direct intervention of government to create jobs. Direct intervention.  Almost every city in this country has parks, or government buildings, or bridges, built by WPA employees in the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps employed my own father in rural Ohio 80 years ago. (just to counter the argument that ‘make work’ jobs create so many layabouts who grow used to government handouts: this same man went on to be a decorated bomber pilot in WWII and from then, used GI loans to become a physician and later, a psychatrist)

A few days back, Paul Krugman wrote a piece for the NYTimes about this politically impossible option.

I include his short column in it’s entirety.


A question I’m occasionally asked at public events is, why aren’t we creating jobs with a WPA-type program? It’s a very good question.

As it is, job-creation efforts are generally indirect. Tax cuts and transfers in the hope that people will spend them; aid to state governments in the hope of averting layoffs. Even infrastructure spending is routed through private contractors.

You can make a pretty good case that just employing a lot of people directly would be a lot more cost-effective; the WPA and CCC cost surprisingly little given the number of people put to work. Think of it as the stimulus equivalent of getting the middlemen out of the student loan program.

So why aren’t we doing this? Politics, of course: government is the problem, not the solution, even when it is, you know, the solution, and cheaper than running things through the private sector.

Still, it might be worth discussing whether we shouldn’t try to include an, um, public option in stimulus, too.


so WHERE (or, at least when) to have meetings?

Sitting around the conference table just now with the principle of BlueKey – Julie Gordon White – we started talking about venues for meetings.

Before you find the back arrow on your browser, terrified by the idea of something deadly boring … here’re some of the thoughts we kicked around

Business lunches are challenging. People are at work, they have things on their desks – and on their minds – ‘n’ number of people are trying to get their attention by voice and texting and Blackberries are buzzing everywhere. In between trying to eat, there’s the nagging worry of ‘how long is this going to take?’

Meals at *either* end of the work day seem to be better.

-Breakfasts are inexpensive and the menu choices simple. While the whole load of workaday problems are waiting on peoples’ desks, they’re not yet engaged with them.

-Good things to say about dinner as well. People may be tired from the daily grind but they’re usually more receptive to more casual exchanges. (hint: avoid friday dinners – it’s too much like “thank GOD that week is over, oh… yoohoo… another double malt whisky over here fellah! “)  A friend of mine works at a nationally famous foundation and she claims that her monthly “dinner salons” have been the key to a LOT of great organizational planning. The short of it: she hires a caterer for simple snack food – and puts out the word “remember, this thursday is Cheryl’s dinner salon – come, eat, have a glass of wine, and schmooze with people in the Foundation you probably should know but have never had the chance!”  No presentations, no PowerPoint!”

(hmm… let me find out more about how she markets these evenings)

The POINT? It’s as old as civilization – breaking bread and talking over food and drink is something that reminds us that business is first and foremost, a matter of people interacting. Getting down to ‘bid’ness’ will happen, but having a ‘measure of the person’ your making deals with is invaluable. Sadly, it’s also something we often rush by…

got a business story to tell.. think “Thumb Novels”

In a twitter ‘tweet’ I just posted:  keitai-shosetsu – ‘thumb novels- fiction series in phone-sceen bits, 50% of Japanese top-10 fiction bestsellers originate on cellphones.

So you ask, “How in God’s name is this relevant to anything about my business?”

There’re arguments floating around that as we read more things like quick blog entries, bullet-pointed summaries, and (obviously) tiny twitter tweets, we become less comfortable wading through long(ish) texts. SO how do you, as a business owner, get longer messages across to your customers?  While there are lots of possibilities, here’s something you can consider.

Just as Charles Dickens’ wrote novels intended to be serialized in penny newspapers, so too are an increasing number of Japanese authors writing stories that are capable of being broken into small bits. In this case, however, the bits are displayed on mobile phone screens. Stories written for, truly, the Small small screen are typically less than 500 words – and even this short amount of text is broken into 6 or 7 chunks. When you finish one, you send a text message to a text address that sends you the *next* chapter.

Two things are important here. The first is that authors get their stories out to a potentially huge marketplace easily. The second is that  because of the nature of the medium, readers have the ability to send comments to a central site — and so the stories become interactive.

So – maybe there’s a clever way to wrap up your information in short, punchy, narrative spurts. Tell people they can get you stories at such-and-such a text address. And the novelty can drive the audience.

Background on this new form of story-telling:

crowdsourcing – and now for something completely different

It’s a quirky term – crowdsourcing – but it gets the message across. More bookishly, it’s called User Created Content. And how it can work for your small business is probably still an unknown issue.

BUT – here’s a local example. There’s a local Chinese restaurant that is trying, so, so very hard, to be *more* than a place you double park in front of on the way home to get some Lo Mein and Pot Stickers. Business was slow at the tiny restaurant and the owners wondered how to make themselves unique.

So, one day, in the window, in great big print, was the sign “We’re asking YOU to come up with combination plates – YOU will design the next menu!” For a place with little business, there were hundreds of responses – some by email, some by hand  written notes. Samples were put in the window and another notice went up “TIME TO VOTE FOR OUR NEW MENU!”

Now, to be fair, I haven’t seen the new menu and I’m inherently skeptical that it will be a *radical* change from the menu of yore – BUT – the point is, the restaurant owners did something so incredibly obvious – they asked their customers what they wanted. AND, they made an ‘event’ out of that question (unlike, say, corporate suggestion boxes in lunchrooms). The owners COULD have taken long looks at their menu, or driven around to other neighborhood Chinese take-out places and made notes, and they could have done the process by themselves. The ‘tried and true’ approach.  But they didn’t. They trusted the collective opinion of the people who were customers. They ‘outsourced’ the work to ‘the crowd.’

Hence, ‘crowd sourcing’

Just for fun, here’s another example of crowdsourcing at work. A couple of authors have been experimenting with planting a ‘seed’ of an idea for a short story – as a Twitter ‘tweek’ (so, there’s the 140 character maximum) and asking people to write and complete the story. The article about two of these experiments is here:

AND, the bit-by-bit crowdsourced story, here:

psst… boomer buyer? Good news – you’re the key to recovery!

Quite possibly fueled by The Great Recession, or possibly the inevitability of a generation long known for doing things differently, there’s a new entrepreneurial boom on the way — but it’s not what you think.

The stereotype is the college drop-out who goes on to form wee companies like, say, Dell or Microsoft. The reality is that over the last 10 years, the majority of startups are being done by the Baby Boom generation.  (generously defined as people born in the 10 or 15 years post WWII   1945-60)

Entrepreneur, the new mid life crisis – is a Newsweek  article from Emily Schmitt.

OK Boomers, get out there and help fuel that recovery!

A friendly avatar tells you to stand out from the crowd

Picture 2Here at BlueKey Business Brokerage Mergers & Acquisitions help you find creative ways to market the company you’re selling.

Don’t make *my* word for it, check out this avatar’s little spiel:

Ever been blindsided by a Yelp “review?”

Here’s something buyers, sellers, and brokers should be considering. In addition to the flow of all the financial statements and all the necessary due diligence that takes place in business sales, something else is happening. While grizzled old timers (many of whom are younger than me) may pound on the table and claim “facts are facts,” increasingly, one’s reputation is a factor in selling and buying.

If you’re a seller, are there Yelp comments on what you offer as a service or a product? Are there angry blog entries by people who’ve had an unfortunate experience with your company? And- what are the online bread-crumbs your senior management are leaving behind? What are *their* skeletons? While you may not be able to scour the web and eliminate all the goop, you can, and should, be aware of what’s out there. If for no other reason than to prepare for the inevitable question of why you’re a regular attendee at a boondoggle conference every year, in Hawai’i, in February, or why your spouse belongs to a country club that’s repeatedly faced charges of discrimination … All this information is out there.

And there’s more. As a potential seller, what odd things will a Google search find about the person who’s possibly going to make an offer to buy your company?

The point is, what was due diligence 10 years ago isn’t the best you can – or should – get nowadays.

In a recent article, “Avoid that online reputation management nightmare” (by Lisa Barone) -there’s more meat to this idea: