Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Need A Logo!!!!

Marketing gurus tell us that we need to become a brand, and that the first step down that road is to develop a logo. Then we will use it in all our communications with the public, be it an add, a website, business cards, stationery, a blog, etc.

But developing a logo may mean hiring a graphic designer, who will charge hundreds of dollars or more. Don't get me wrong, I believe that the talents of a good graphic designer are well worth the hundreds of dollars that he or she will charge, and they deserve every penny. The problem is that many new businesses are counting pennies, and waiting to have the funds to hire a graphic designer may mean delaying the startup date.

Good news, I just came across a website that may be the answer to a new business's prayers. The address is This site allows you to design your own logo for free, though you need to buy the logo if you want to use it. You can design several logos, save them, and share them with friends and family. Your friends can vote on which one they like best,and you can make your decision based on their opinion, or ignore them and go with your own preference. And even though you must pay for your logo, the price is only $49.00. I think that this a great solution for a new business long on dreams but short on cash.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Think Green, Green Business

Green is not just for hippies any more. Even the Bush administration has finally released a four year-old report telling us about global warming. Al Gore has won an Oscar and a Nobel Price. We are all beginning to really internalize these ideas that just a few years ago sounded a bit odd. Hey even is getting into it. It is selling shopping sacks made out of colorful fabrics, for those of us who might want to be ecologically aware and fashionable at the same time.

This is more than a fad, it really is a change in the way we see the world and our place in it, particularly with the sticker shock that we are getting at the gas pump. So what does it mean for our business? It means that we must find a way to participate in this great revolution. We can do it in several ways. One is to become more efficient about how we operate so that we reduce the amount of pollution that we produce. This will save us money, and will gain much goodwill with our clients and the public. Another is to follow Neiman Marcus’s example, and look for products or services that help others reduce their environmental impact. It will require that we change our way of doing things, but it also offers many opportunities for profit and creativity.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Apple Polish

Recently I came across an article in the New York Times about the Apple retail store. When Apple opened its stores a few years ago many analysts thought that Steve Jobs had lost his mind. These analysts did not give the retailing experiment much hope, and they thought that the company would loose its shirt (if companies had shirts). These were they years when the Company was not the golden child that it has become.

The article goes on to talk about the Apple Store experience. Yes, the products are great, but it is the employees that make the store the place to be. It talks about a workforce that believes that the customer is king. The public is treated as if it matters. Members of the pubic sometimes go in to use the computers for free. Some just check their e-mail, others even write books on the store’s computers. Imagine that! Not chasing someone out the door because they are not actually buying anything! The article talks about the store as being a gathering place.

As I read the article I kept thinking about the series of articles written by Paul Lavesque on motivating employees ( He believes that motivated employees feel they are furthering a cause, and that cause most definitely is not making the owner rich. The motivated employee will work very hard if he or she believes in what they are doing. In the Apple Store we see what a motivated workforce looks like, and the cause that they are furthering.

Being an Apple fan myself, I can understand why people feel the way they do. The Apple products and the retail store have a following that borders on religion, and both customers and employees are on a mission to spread the word. We love the products, they are chic and elegant, simple to use and sophisticated at the same time. The customer base is so committed that they will put in an extraordinary amount of work in order so further the “cause”.

One example is Randy Singer, the MacAttorney. He writes a newsletter for attorneys who use Mac computers. He will review products and advise on technical issues for the love of the product. A while back he asked for donations to defray some of the costs, but you still get the newsletter whether you have donated or not.

The New York Times article tells the story of a woman who wrote a book in the Manhattan store. It took her months to finish her 300-page manuscript. After she finished it, she was invited to give a reading of her book at the store. She still hasn’t bought an Apple computer!

There is no question that you feel a sense of being part of something special when you enter an Apple store. True, you can buy Apple products in other stores, but you cannot get Apple employees anywhere else.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Free Trade/Fair Trade

The world is becoming smaller every day. I see it in my blog readership. Though most of my readers come from the United States, I have readers from different parts of the world. Each day people from Mexico, Turkey, France, Malaysia, Australia, and many other countries come to read about being an entrepreneur. They learn about doing business in the United States, and I learn about them.

Whether we like it or not, trade is here to stay. We hear about products or services in other countries, and we want to duplicate what others are doing. And if we find that it is impossible to duplicate, we seek ways to adapt those economic activities so that they will work well in our communities.

But when we deal with people across borders, especially if our contacts are through the Internet, it is easy to be anonymous, at least that is what we think. In fact we are not anonymous at all, and if we hope to have lasting business relationships, we must not be so. We need to forge strong personal contacts in order to succeed. But with those personal contacts come responsibilities, and because our reputation is on the line, we must act ethically in all our dealings

One ethical concept that has been around for a while, but has gathered steam in the last few years is the Fair Trade movement. There have been several scandals about companies and celebrities who are importing products that are manufactured under horrible conditions. The reputations of companies such as Nike, and celebrities such as Kathie Lee Gifford, have suffered tremendously as the public becomes aware of how they are making their money. Others, such as Starbucks, have improved their reputations greatly, and made a lot of money by partnering with Fair Trade programs. Now the coffee giant is perceived as a progressive, fair, and very cool company.

The Fair trade system wants to create awareness, and to improve the lives of workers around the world. The goal is to educate consumers so that they will demand products manufactured by laborers who earn a fair wage within the economic context of their country. The idea is that by encouraging long-term business relationships, the workers have a safe and healthy workplace in which to earn their living; and it will be in a situation that respects their cultural identity.

Many people around the world believe that trade can be detrimental to individuals, but it need not be so. Stopping international trade is like trying to tame the sea, just about impossible. Better to trade within an ethical framework that benefits many rather than just a few. If you are considering, or are now involved in international trade, I believe there is a great business opportunity in pursuing the Fair Trade way, just ask Starbucks!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lets Continue the Dream

On this Martin Luther King’s day let us not forget that it is up to all of us to keep the dream alive. As I read the text and watch the video the memories come flooding back. No, I was not there on that August day almost forty-five years ago, I was getting ready to start my senior year in high school that summer day. But thankfully we lived in an age where you could watch the news on television, and there is where I saw this monumental event. It is difficult for us all these many years later to understand the impact that this man had on the nation’s psyche. All I can say is that it crystallized those feelings he expressed in so many of us at that time.

The memories are now fading, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become almost a saint. But lets not forget that he was not a one-dimensional hero, but a man, all to human, and yet so capable of being the best that a person can be.
And as I watch the video (that you can catch on YouTube) I am reminded that he was only thirty-three years old on that day! It is interesting to hear the words he used; words such as Negro; so old fashioned; so quaint. It seems like such a long time ago. And yet, his words and ideas are absolutely up-to-date because every day we become a more diverse society, often brought together, but also torn apart by this new technology that is the Internet. So we need to become more aware and more understanding of one another because the world is very small now. Not just the person from Montana and the one from Alabama, but the person from Mexico and the one from Albania will be brought together like never before. Let us learn from each other so that we can become richer.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero because, among his many qualities, he pushed on even when he was afraid or discouraged. So what does this have to do with business? Well, as business owners we are in a position to decide who is hired and who is fired. We say who will get an opportunity to advance, and who doesn’t. Let us not cheat others and ourselves by judging on the color of the skin, or religion, or gender. And let us remember his example when we feel afraid and discouraged.

Text from the “I Have a Dream” Speech
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
August 28, 1963
Washington, D.C.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Virtues of the Business Plan

After telling you abut the wonderful virtues of a business plan, I find myself preparing one for a business that my son and I are contemplating together.

Though I find a business plan to be extremely useful, it doesn’t mean that I actually enjoy preparing one, frankly my eyes a glazing over just thinking about it. But the enterprise that we are thinking about is relatively unfamiliar to us, so it is doubly important that we know what we are getting ourselves into.

My main focus at this point is the market analysis, because this part of the plan will tell us a lot about the future success of our business. I believe that studying the competition will reveal much about how to market, how to price our product, and most importantly, how to differentiate ourselves from our future competitors.

Another area in which I am seeking answers is in the starting capital that we will need, and how fast we think we can recuperate our initial investment.

The way I see it is that it is not a waste of time if after the completion of the plan we decide that this business is not for us. Better to spend several weeks preparing the plan, and studying it, than to spend months and a ton of money only to get to the same conclusion.

So I am practicing what I preach, and I am dutifully working on the business plan. This exercise will surely take the pink lenses off our eyes, but will also make us more confident about our final decision.

If you are thinking about starting a business, I advise you to work on a business plan. You will find plenty of help in the Small Business Administration website at

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Perils of Reducing Service to Save the Business

Two items on today’s paper got my attention. One was an article about the airline industry. It seems that if you did not have enough of airline delays, lost luggage, oversold flights and plain bad customer service; well, you are in luck. The airline industry intends to fix all this problems by… us more, much more, of the same, and the plan is to charge more for the lousy service! The article by Jeff Bailey of the New York Times News Service states that while the 2007 flying woes might indicate that there is a need for more planes to ease the overcrowding, in fact some airlines are planning to cut flights in the hope of raising prices.

Another example of cutting service, in this case features, in order to improve your business is the newspaper itself, as the San Diego Union-Tribune has been steadily cutting sections and features for some time now.

Usually the first thing that I read in the morning is the editorial section, which in most days consists of three pages. Well, to my surprise today it only had two pages of editorials and letters to the editor. This in the middle of a dramatic election! Of course, this is not new for the San Diego Union-Tribune. For months, actually maybe a couple of years, it has been tinkering with its content in order to make the newspaper more profitable. But the way they have been going about it is by insulting the readers’ intelligence. One trick that they have used several times is to combine, let say, the Food section and the Living section by telling us how much larger the Food section is now going to be. But you find that this particular section is now half of what it used to be, while the Living section is now also half of what it used to be. Some improvement!

Businesses have to find creative ways in order to survive. Newspapers, in particular, are going through a rough time. So many of us rely on the Internet for news, and this makes it very hard for the print media. By the time the newspaper arrives at your door 90% of its content is “old news”. What is a newspaper to do? It certainly makes sense to find the right mix of stories that will interest the reading public, and experimenting seems a logical way to do it. As to the airline industry, I do not claim to understand their thinking process. Abusing your customers doesn’t seem to be a great way attracting more; but heck, what do I know?

The problem here is that with experimentation comes the risk of losing more and more customers, until the business finally becomes irrelevant. Therefore, it is very important that the customer is treated with respect while the company finds a solution.

The newspapers have a right to fear irrelevance, as there are now so many other ways that a person can acquire information. As to the airline industry, clearly they do not fear irrelevance, so they mistreat the flying public with abandon

The lesson here is to not lose sight of the fact that the customer is an intelligent and rational actor, If we want our business to survive, we need to treat him as such, otherwise he will find a solution to bad service by going elsewhere.