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Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Complete Resource Guide to Start a Business in 2012

Use this list of free -- or almost free -- tools to turn your business idea into a reality in the new year.

If you're planning to launch a business in 2012, you'll need every last penny you can get your hands on. That's why we put together a guide to free and low-cost resources to help you ease smoothly into the world of entrepreneurship.

It's still tough out there. Credit remains relatively tight, and consumers are cautious. So arm yourself with valuable information that will help you to get off to a winning start. We're here to help. Here are the essential steps you'll need to take to get your new business off the ground.

Figure out the right concept. To be successful and happy in your own business, you need to think seriously about how you like to spend your time and where you want to live. After you've come up with a business concept that suits you personally, the next step is to research the competition, your prospective customers and the cost of getting started.

•Here are trends we think are going to be hot next year: 10 Hot Startup Sectors for New Business Ideas in 2012
•Identify your passions and the things that make you happy with these five creativity exercises.
•Have you thought about a franchise? We've got a list of 100 low-cost franchises you can start for less than $50,000.
•To estimate your startup costs, work through our free and low-cost financial forms.

Create a business plan. Putting your goals on paper will help you focus your concept. A business plan typically includes details about the product or service, the competition and target consumers, plus a cash-flow projection. You'll also want to come up with a clever name for your startup.

•Explore our how-to guides on business plans, including the basics of writing your plan, what you must include and where to find help.
•As you consider names for your business, be sure to check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website to make sure they aren't already taken.
•You'll need to determine the structure of your business for tax purposes. Study the SBA's list of possibilities and tax implications for each one.
•Find your local chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit association created to educate and mentor entrepreneurs. It may be able to refer you to local business owners to serve as advisers.
•If you plan to recruit employees, look for guidance in our hiring center, including how to start employees on the right track. You can also review the SBA's 10 steps to making your first hire.

Find Financing. The idea is hatched, the plan is set. But nothing happens without some green. Getting a loan could prove challenging because banks often are hesitant to lend to someone without a track record. And another traditional credit source—the home equity loan—has become harder to come by since the housing market cratered and home values plummeted. So it just might be time to hit up friends and family and draw on your personal savings.

•Follow our guide to raising money for helpful tips. In particular, check out the section about startup financing.
•Search for angel investors in the directory for the Angel Capital Association. We also recap the top 10 angel investor groups that fund startups, ranked by number of investors.
•Find venture capital investors through the directory of the National Venture Capital Association.
•Try the SBA's search tool for loans and grants to find out what you may be eligible for.
•If you're considering giving up a stake in your company for cash, use our Investment ROI calculator to see how you may fare in the end.
•This search tool from MultiFunding, a loan advisory firm, will tell you how friendly your bank is toward small businesses.

Develop and execute a marketing plan. In the Internet age, you can choose from an ever-expanding array of marketing tools, including traditional media, social networks, blogs, email and pay-per-click ads. They all require time and money, and the trick is to determine which offer the best return on investment for your particular business.

•What is a marketing plan and how should you put it together? Consider these five steps to get started.
•If you're advertising online, you will want to optimize your rank on Google and other search engines. Check out Google's beginners guide to search engine optimization.
•Become a member--for free--of the Foundation for the Advancement of Marketing Excellence in Entrepreneurs and take one of its online courses.
•Use Entrepreneur.com's calculators to determine your ROI for pay-per-click advertising and the efficiency of email marketing campaigns.

Start selling. When you hang out the "open" sign, be ready to meet your new customers with enthusiasm and the right sales pitch. Once you start attracting customers, you'll need to figure out how to keep them coming back with great service, new products and promotions.

•When approaching your first customers, you're likely to face rejection before you reach sales success. Consider these seven rules to help you cope.
•Are you going to accept credit and debit cards? If so, consult the National Federation of Independent Business for recommendations for finding a merchant card processor: You also can watch its free webinar, "Payment Processing 101 for Small Businesses."
•Now that you're making sales, you have to pay taxes, of course. Check out the IRS's Virtual Workshop to learn the basics.
•While on the road making sales calls, you can stay organized with these essential sales apps.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How to Create a Social Media Marketing Schedule

It's easy to get into social media for the wrong reasons and to post too much or too little. Here's how to balance out your social media efforts.

BY John D. Leavy

Why have you joined the social media world?

Some social networkers are there for purely egotistical reasons. They don't want to engage in the conversation. They simply collect followers and friends in order to have bragging rights every time they collect another thousand. But connecting, following or befriending just anyone dilutes your influence and standing among those in your audience.

Others join because they feel they must. They spend a few days setting up their profiles and then abandon them when other tasks call.

The real motivation for any business social networker is connection: You should want to connect with like-minded people who can help your business and whose businesses you can assist. You want to add to the conversation, and not come across as desperate, spammy or a waste of time. If you develop a bad reputation in these communities, it will be hard to shake off.

But making such strong, real connections takes time, effort and thoughtfulness. If you never return to your profiles, you and your business will be forgotten (best case) or seen as unconnected, clueless or lazy (worst case). If you post too much, people might consider you a pest and stop following you.

Some social networkers are the worst of both worlds: They don’t post to their blog or text their friends or colleagues for weeks at a time. They don’t reply to messages sent to them, and the company site looks like it has gone out of business. Then, without any warning, they’re back . . . alive . . . and conversing. Was the organization’s social networking person out of the country? Did they suffer a grave illness? Nope. They were just distracted, disorganized, sidetracked or overworked. There’s no method to the company’s madness in being a social networking participant. Not committed. No strategy. Its influence will never be felt. The competition will soon fill the void.

Whether your company is a one-person business or a large organization, your commitment to social networking should be consistent, compelling and informative. The social networking community is a fragile, collaborative ecosystem. Make the commitment. People will follow a trail of dependable, exciting, instructive news. But once the trail goes cold, they’re gone and likely never to return.

Being a social media maniac isn’t the right persona either. You know who we’re talking about. These people can answer emails on their laptops with one hand while texting friends or colleagues on their iPhones with the other. They can’t be looked in the eye when talking because their heads are always looking down at some screen. This behavior may be seen as good technology gone bad.

The key is to strike a balance somewhere in the middle. Avoid becoming a social media ignorer or a social media maniac. Develop a social networking schedule that does not run your life but does keep you accountable. The goal should be consistency. Choose a schedule and stay the course for at least six months. As you find success, you can slowly grow your social networking persona.

The sample social networking agenda below can be used as a springboard for designing one that suits your schedule and the community channels you’ve joined.

Twice Daily in the Morning and Afternoon

•Check Twitter via a program like HootSuite. Respond when necessary. Follow the @replies that make sense.
•Check LinkedIn. Reply to emails and comments when appropriate.
•Scan Twitter followers for relevant conversations to join.
•Check your business's Facebook Page for questions and respond when necessary.
•Scan Google Alerts for brand and company mentions. Respond as appropriate.

Weekly or on Weekends

•Build Twitter Lists to better organize ongoing discussions and special interest groups. Set up saved searches in Hootsuite to find out if people are talking about you or your company.
•Scan LinkedIn questions from network connections and respond when appropriate.
•Catch up on LinkedIn discussions. Add to discussion when appropriate.
•Send LinkedIn invitations to connect with clients when beginning a new assignment.
•Ask for LinkedIn recommendation after successfully completing a project or engagement.
•Add new content to Facebook like videos or photos.
•Think of ways to repurpose this content and energy to reach a larger audience with the social networking gospel.
•Keep an eye open for new social networking venues, tools, and functionality that will make the social networking experience more enjoyable and easier to traverse.
•Identify new social networking influencers and build relationships where appropriate.

Through the Week

•Mondays: Schedule tweets through HootSuite to go out three times per day at regular intervals.
•Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays: Join one hot trend conversation on Twitter, if appropriate, and add new content to Facebook (new items you are selling, photos, discounts and other promotions).
•Tuesdays and Thursdays: Respond to blog comments.
•Fridays: Check traffic at your blog or website.

Obviously, your daily social networking to-do list will be much different, given your available time and commitments. Just be sure to make the schedule livable. If it’s not working, change it. Keep making modifications until it works for you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Lesson in Social Media from Snoop Dogg

In the age of social media, pop stars aren't just burning up the song charts.

Using social media, personalities the likes of Justin Bieber, 50 Cent, Puff Daddy and Kanye West have evolved beyond the music industry into some of the biggest brands online. Through a combination of social platforms including Twitter and Facebook, they've been able to create a conversation around their music and grow their fan base. They've also been able to promote their entrepreneurial ventures from fashion and films to sites and apps.

So how does the one and only rap icon Snoop Dogg handle the online game?

While Snoop has millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook, he doesn't consider them just 'fans.' Rather, he calls them his "family." "My recipe is just being me: I'm up front; I'm up close and personal. My fans don't have a wall between me and them," he says.

Snoop's social-media team also offered some insight on how they work to keep his online presence consistent and growing. "As with all of our clients -- Far East Movement, RZA and Raekwon -- we are focused on helping them enhance what they're already doing," says Seung Chung, president and co-founder of the Cashmere Agency, a Los Angeles-based marketing firm. "The strategy with Snoop is to give his audience both an insider look at his life and to continually pump out relevant video content."

Beyond the social media giants, which new platforms or tools are providing the most traction for your clients?

Viddy.com is one new platform that we feel will continue to explode. The app allows users to records brief video clips, apply various filters and then share with their friends on the app or through their social networks. We helped Snoop Dogg get started on the platform and then we aided in launching an actual Snoop Dogg-themed filter late last month. We know that video content is now firmly rooted in cyberspace, so we feel that helping users interact with brands using video is a real plus.

Chill.com is another platform that we are very interested in. Chill allows groups of people to gather online and watch content together and create a dialogue around it. Users login and create personal avatars and then comment on curated content. There is already a Snoop avatar that he uses when he is on the site. So far, fans love it.

What can entrepreneurs learn from how the music industry uses social media?

The entertainment business is about winning customers/fans over one at a time. Since the first customers you interact with will likely be your best fans, make them your focus. These early adopters will help spread the gospel of your product. It is the interactive power of social media that will not only get your name out to the masses, but also identify core customers where you can learn, reward and repeat.

And what's the best way to keep fans coming back?

You must stay consistent and cohesive. To be most effective, you have to have a real commitment to putting up content and messaging on a regular basis. You also must have real interactions with your core audience and customers. In a way, social media allows you to build a voice and a persona for your brand -- a personification that can work to build your brand's message.

Friday, August 5, 2011

How Young Entrepreneurs Can Bridge the Generation Gap

Three strategies for overcoming age bias when starting a business.

By Matthew Toren,August 5, 2011

You could start a business, lasso funding and already have top-tier clients, but, because you're young, some people still won't take you seriously. What's worse, some may even try to take advantage of your youth.

Having co-owned a series of businesses with my brother since I was 7 years old -- we sold stunt airplanes at a festival with my grandfather -- I've seen my share of that kind of discrimination. For our first decent-sized venture out of school, we purchased a struggling pool hall in Vancouver, B.C., which we bootstrapped with money that we had earned with a few small, successful business ventures we launched during high school. Although we eventually turned the place into a thriving hot spot, we faced a number of challenges along the way. From the initial purchase transaction to setting up accounts with vendors, we learned quickly to be on guard from people who assumed we didn't have to be taken seriously or that they could "play" us because of our youth.

One situation that stands out happened when we were hiring a contractor to perform renovations for the bar. The first guy we contacted for a bid met with me at the pool hall. He had sized me up as young and naïve, before I even opened my mouth. After asking me to get my boss, he was clearly surprised -- and a little amused, if I'm not mistaken -- when I told him that it was me. The encounter went downhill from there.

Not only did he try to tell me we needed completely unnecessary (and overpriced) repairs, he had the nerve to say we had to pay in full for the work and materials up front. "That's just the way it's done," he said. Needless to say, he didn't get the job, but, to his credit, he prepared me for what I'd be up against time and again throughout my younger days as an entrepreneur. I quickly learned that I'd need to step up my game to be recognized and respected as a "real" business person.

So, how did I do it? Here are three strategies I used to bridge the generation gap, and you can too:

1. Know what you're talking about. If you're "winging it," people can tell, and, perhaps justifiably, they won't take you seriously. To elicit the opposite response, you should learn everything you can about your industry -- and your own product or service -- so you can speak clearly and authoritatively about your business. If you're also professional with everyone from vendors to employees to customers, you're bound to be seen in a better light. Once my brother and I learned everything we could about pool halls, we were able to communicate with beverage distributors, equipment manufacturers and food suppliers in their own language. That effort made all the difference. We took away their excuse to treat us differently than their other clients.

2. Admit that you don't know everything. Many young entrepreneurs try to overcompensate for inexperience by talking as though they've got it all figured out. The only thing worse than not knowing all you should know is not knowing, and then acting like you do. There's certainly nothing wrong with confidence, but admitting that you don't know something and asking for help shows integrity, which can't be underestimated. To help you figure things out, I encourage all young entrepreneurs to find a mentor to learn from and bounce ideas off of. This person can be a more seasoned entrepreneur than yourself or simply a business person who has expertise in your industry. It was our grandfather who recognized that my brother and I had a hunger for entrepreneurship. He helped guide us through some of the basic principles of entrepreneurship, showing us what it means to be an entrepreneur. I remember him telling us that an entrepreneur does anything and everything that needs to get done. That’s a lesson that has stuck with us to this day.

3. Clean up. People judge others by the way they present themselves -- how they look, how they dress and how they speak. It might be the latest style to wear eight piercings in your face and your pants around your thighs. But while this look might impress your friends, it's likely to repel adult vendors, customers, and potential mentors. Is that "fair"? We can debate that point all day long, but it won't change the fact that superficial judgments take place virtually every time we meet someone.

That’s not to say that individuality isn't important. So, let me clarify: I'm not talking about acting like someone you aren't. I'm simply saying that you already have built-in obstacles to overcome as a young entrepreneur, and you can amplify those challenges by dressing, talking and acting like your favorite rock star. My brother and I didn't dress in suits every day by any means, but we made sure we presented ourselves as professionals who took business seriously. As an entrepreneur, the key is to standout as unique because you've got it together, rather than standing out for less desirable reasons.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The 10 Best Things for Entrepreneurs to Outsource

by Carol Tice

Take a look at your schedule this week, business owners. How much of your time is taken up with activities that don't create new products or services, drive more sales or find new customers?

If the answer is a lot, it's probably time to think about offloading some of your chores so you can concentrate on what really matters. For instance, are you cleaning counters or writing Web copy, when what you're really good at is inventing, selling or servicing customers?

Here is a list of the top 10 tasks creative solopreneurs should outsource, says Kevin Reeth, CEO and co-founder of the accounting-software firm Outright.

1.Taxes
2.Production
3.Technology Setup
4.Scheduling
5.Cleaning
6.Bookkeeping
7.Data entry
8.Shopping
9.Creative work outside your specialty
10.Anything you don't enjoy

Personally, I think that No. 10 there should come first on this list. Things you don't enjoy take forever to do, naturally. So what that amounts to for you is a major time-waster.

Shopping and errands, to me, rank a close second. Rather than drive to town, hand a bank deposit to a teller and pick up the dry cleaning, your precious time is likely better spent elsewhere. Recruit a teen -- unemployment is high among our nation's youth and you won't have any trouble finding someone great.

Cleaning I have made a longstanding vow not to do -- it's really a bad idea for me, as I am allergic to both dust and cleaners. Plus I hate it, so back to that No. 10 there.

Having once been a secretary, I'm not so sure scheduling is a good one to outsource. Seems like half the time there's a miscommunication once you hand that off, and we all have those handy online calendars now that track our appointments. Think I'm keeping that one.

Bookkeeping or accounting always seem like the one where you outsource it and the next thing you know, you realize somebody's been writing themselves company checks and they've flown off to the Bahamas. Or maybe it's that I'm sort of a numbers dork, having covered business finance for a long time, so I like it. Just did my half-year close and projections for annual income for 2011 this morning...my idea of a good time. If you outsource this one, I say make sure you keep a close eye on it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Start a Teen Business This Summer? Why Not!

For teen entrepreneurs, minimum wage summer jobs just won't do.

Every season has its own qualities that make it enjoyable. Fall can mean changing colors, warm sweaters and crisp evenings. Winter is a great time for playing in the snow, curling up by the fire and spending time with family at the holidays. Spring melts away the chill of winter and ushers in regrowth and warmer days. But summer? Just like There's Something About Mary--well, there's just something about summer.

Aside from the fact that most of you probably aren't in school during the summer, this time of year is just plain enjoyable. Who couldn't love a season when wearing shorts all day long and not seeing nightfall until 8 o'clock at night is the norm? At the same time, this time of year also means opportunity.at least if you're an entrepreneur. If you're reading this, you probably are.

While other teens are busy working minimum wage jobs--slinging french fries or collecting measly tips at a local café--you could be busy raking in big-time profits and enjoying yourself at the same time. Free of homework and tests, summer is a great time to start your business. Whether you just want a business to run while you're not in school or you want to start something more permanent, you have plenty of options when it comes to starting a business.

Great Summer Businesses to Start

Ahhhh.summertime. It's just around the corner. And already, you've found yourself daydreaming about how you'll spend those lazy days.at the beach, hanging with your friends and earning some serious cash.

Did that last item stop you in your tracks? It doesn't need to. There are plenty of cool ways for you to be your own boss this summer--and still have time for fun in the sun.

And you'll probably earn more money than you would have if you'd chosen to go the traditional job route. Surveys by YoungBiz staff show that most teens who run their own businesses earn at least 25 percent more than teens who accept typical part-time jobs.

Homegrown Money

Blair Sheridan Barber doesn't mind getting up a little early in the summer--when there's money involved. In fact, for the past few summers, this Phoenix, Maryland, teen has been up at the crack of dawn most days, tending his garden and selling homegrown tomatoes with a sign in his front yard advertising Blair's Tomatoes.

Like many 'treps, Barber ran his business only during the months of June, July and August. Not only was it a good time for growing tomatoes, but it was also a good time for him since it didn't interfere with school.

Barber has made a profit of about $2,400 during the summers he's run the business. Knowing the alternative--working for $6 an hour sacking groceries or slinging burgers and earning only $1,500 for the summer--Barber thinks his business is a pretty cool deal.

Seeing Green

Maybe getting up and heading out to the garden at the crack of dawn isn't at the top of your list of fun things to do. That's OK. There are plenty of summer businesses that can help you see green, even if you don't want to see the light of dawn.

You won't have to go far, either. Many of your customers are right in your own neighborhood. Try these trusty favorites on for size:

•Car washing: People who care about their cars need them washed at least once a week. Find out what a local car wash charges and set your prices a little lower. If you do a good job, you'll have business all summer.

•Child care: If you like kids, this is an excellent opportunity. Busy parents today are willing to pay well for a good, dependable sitter. Pass out fliers and let folks know you are available.

•Lawn care: Offer a complete line of services, including mowing, edging, weeding, trimming and flowerbed maintenance. Or specialize in one service. Make it your goal to build a list of regular weekly customers.

•Pet care: Today people spend lots of money on pets. Earn some of those bucks for yourself by offering to groom pets, give flea baths, clean fish tanks or pet-sit when your neighbors go on vacation.

Our Start-Up Kits will give you dozens of ideas for businesses to start.

"We encourage teens to use tried-and-true money-makers like car washing and babysitting as a starting point, then personalize their businesses to fit special needs in their communities," says YoungBiz CEO Steve Morris.

A little creativity and extra attention to detail goes a long way. Customers who need a car wash may also need their boat or RV cleaned, for example. Those who hire you to pet-sit may also need pet grooming or carpet cleaning (to remove pet stains). The kids you baby-sit may be prime prospects for craft lessons, baseball coaching or math tutoring.

Reaping the Rewards

Sure, a summer job is about earning some extra cash. But it's more than that--there's no better way to prepare yourself for running your own year-round business.

"The real value of a summer job is what you learn," Morris says. "A young person who is a business owner for the summer is going to learn 10 times more about customer service, business management and planning than the teen who simply mops tables every day."

YoungBiz.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How To Create a Home Office on a Budget

10 tips for creating a comfortable and professional work space.

For many companies, offices are a thing of the past. Colleagues communicate via instant messages and bosses use tools like Skype and Base Camp to delegate tasks. Physical work spaces have become less important and, as a result, more people are working from home.

Working from home can be wonderful; you have the option to wake up later, avoid morning commutes, stay in pajamas, and get tax write-offs on rent.

It can also be challenging. There are more distractions, such as television, family members, and household chores. Supervisors aren’t around to keep an eye on you, and you may feel less inclined to work to at maximum capacity.

A home office is the best of both worlds. It is the room in your house reserved for all things business. Shut the door to buckle down, but wander freely into the kitchen for snacks at will.

Here are 10 tips for creating an efficient home office on a budget.

1.Be creative with your space. Renovating an entire room can be costly. Instead of completely converting the space, consider using a screen to set off one corner for work. Otherwise, set up shop in an isolated, sparsely used spot, such as an attic or basement.

2.Don’t run to big, chain office stores for supplies. Consider cheaper options like Walmart and The Dollar Store for basic items such as papers, pens, filing cabinets, and bulletin boards.

3.Go green. Look into smaller computers, electrical outlets, and phone chargers that save energy. Don’t forget to turn off lights and unplug chargers when you are not using them, and recycle paper. You will help the environment while cutting costs.

4.Use what you already have. Look around your house for much-needed office items. Desks and lamps can often be found in attics or spare rooms while smaller items, such as staplers and notebooks, may be buried in closets from school days past.

5.Hit the thrift stores and flea markets. If you don’t already have furniture, visit flea markets and thrift shops to purchase items. Many antique pieces are affordable and can add a sophisticated feel to your home office.

6.Decorate the office yourself. The advantage of working at home is having the freedom to make your space your own. Be creative; hang pictures of family and friends, frame inspiring quotes, or hang your kids’ artwork.

7.Avoid landlines. Having a landline in addition to your cell phone can be costly and unnecessary. Use a cell phone for all correspondence. Instead of having a fax machine, buy a printer that has scanning capabilities.

8.Barter or trade with neighbors. Find items you need by posting ads on Craigslist or putting up bulletins in community organizations. If you don’t have extra items to trade, consider offering your professional services.

9.Shop the sales. Take your time setting up your office; you don’t need every item at once. Make a wish list of everything you need, prioritize the items, and only buy them when they are on sale.

10.Make yourself a D.I.Y. expert. Instead of hiring painters, electricians, and furniture assemblers, do everything yourself. It will be a fun way to learn new skills, and you will save a lot on these otherwise costly services.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Best Exits Start Early

Perhaps one of the least well understood parts of being an entrepreneur is how to incorporate an exit strategy. With all the demands start-ups face, exits often appear low on the "to do" list with the result that CEO's and their Boards sometimes miss the optimum window. That window often opens before rather than after a company hits its peak because after the peak, the company's market value may begin to slip. At least that's the way investors see it.

One pro in the exit arena is Jim Estill, who until 2009 was CEO of Canrock Ventures, a technology investment fund where he remains a partner. Out of 100 angel investments, Jim has been an active participant in about 20 exits. Jim's advice is to "put exit on the agenda" as soon as you join a board, or start a company. He believes it's important to start building relationships with potential buyers by courting them at trade shows, for example, and then staying in touch. "Identifying acquirers early," Jim advises, "provides input for strategic planning to align the company's activities or descriptive materials with potential buyers' markets." He also advises gathering materials to build a selling document periodically by adding anything "helpful to the sale, " such as financial statements, patent information, legal documents; he also includes links to articles on industry news or sales which provide potentially useful competitive data.

In several of the exits in which he has taken an active role, Jim positions himself as "Exit Chair or even Co-CEO." The Exit CEO does not operate the company, but spends a month or two conducting due diligence as a preamble to setting up and leading exit meetings with prospects. His rationale for the title is that "exits are very intense times and demand long hours outside of the operating demands on the CEO." Plus most CEO's have never sold a company, so it's useful to have an exit specialist drawn either from the Board or from company investors. It's also a good deal for a company, Jim says, "because it adds a lot of value and doesn't cost very much, since compensation is success-based. Besides, bankers love Exit CEO's who share the considerable workload of preparing documents for mergers or acquisitions."

In some cases, an exit strategy, especially for many women, is never to sell because they see their companies as lifestyle enterprises. But even in cases where the entrepreneur is not actively looking, buyers may come calling. In 2006 Laney Whitcanack, founded Big Tent, an online company that connects women with communities they care about, making it easy for groups to organize and communicate. The group choices are many, in such areas as arts, crafts and hobbies, health, sports, and parenting, often concentrated in an area, such as Moms of Multiples of Indy (Indianapolis). While Big Tent offers it services free to groups, it generates revenues through connecting marketers to the million women currently in Big Tent groups.

In a world divided between missionaries and mercenaries, Big Tent founder Laney Whitcanack counted herself among the missionaries because "I had a big vision and was driven by the idea which I wanted to see through." The relationship with Federated Media, a next generation media and publishing company that connects web conversations with brand markets, developed casually and "evolved over a year before the offer came." In 2010 about 11 members of her team moved with Laney to Federated Media where she is now Chief Community Officer, working on strategies for more consumer interaction as the "web grows increasingly group- based. "

The former CEO of Big Tent, Donna Novitsky, chose to leave when the exit came. "For me," she says, "it was like my baby going off to college. We had built something meaningful that needed a bigger stage, but Federated didn't need another CEO! I don't think you can't plan for exit but you can build the biggest, most successful company you can envision and eventually someone will make you an offer you can't refuse." One way to get a little closer to finding that partner, Donna suggests, "is to create partnerships with companies that are potential acquirers. For one thing it will help you understand your company from another point of view--ideally that of the customers."

Founder-Executive Publisher Joanna Track of Sweetspot.ca, a Toronto-based website that alerts savvy shoppers to the latest trends in clothes, restaurants, shops, never went looking either. But in 2006 she was "discovered" by Rogers Media, which owns 70 magazines and 54 radio stations, and was interested in a minority stake as well as foothold in digital media. Joanna compared the process to a dating relationship in which you get to know each other and have to look for the dirty laundry too. "I did a lot of research," Joanna notes, "to be sure I was getting a fair deal and that they would stick to their word because I had had two prior painful experiences." Of course the corporate sweep of Rogers added considerable exposure to Sweetspot, tripling subscribers in the year following their first investment.

By 2010, Rogers bought out Joanna's entire remaining stake and within months she was preparing to launch another start-up. "Day to day operations, especially within a corporate bureaucracy, are not my thing. I never wanted to work for a big company. My nature is to build and develop and move on." Her new venture, to be launched later this spring, is Dealuxe to provide designer fashions and accessories to Canadian shoppers online, removing the frustrations of purchasing from US and other international retailers.

Exit coach Basil Peters, author of Early Exits often says that exiting can be "the most fun part of being an entrepreneur." But ask Joanna Track what she likes best. While she talks with enormous pride about Sweetspot and its new future, she positively lights up as she describes her plans for Dealuxe, her next "creation."

For more on women entrepreneurs, visit www.wstartup.com

Follow Angela Haines on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AngelaMHaines

Venture Capitalists Aren't Investing In Black Entrepreneurs

It's a simple formula: Investing in high-growth companies creates jobs while generating more wealth for investors. The formula has worked for America's private venture capital investment community for 65 years.

Unfortunately, no such active community exists in Black America.

This week, the National Venture Capital Association and the Angel Capital Association meets in Boston for the ACA Summit (April 4-6, 2011) and NVCA Annual Meeting (April 6-8). Together, these organizations are comprised of more than 500 groups of private equity investors who make up a large portion of the reason why the 21st century Innovation Economy races along at breakneck speed and offers solutions to the problems of high rates of unemployment and diminishing levels of wealth.

There are no such comparable gatherings in Black America.

Producing Jobs and Wealth

Between 1980 and 2005, all net job growth in America was produced by companies less than five years old. That doesn't happen without angel and venture capital investing in high-growth entrepreneurship.

During the same time period, venture capital experienced its largest boon since it was first introduced in the '50s.

In the '50s and '60s Blacks were legally and institutionally barred from many facets of the American Dream. In the 70s, Americans were still consumed by widespread, overt racial disparities, some of which seeped underground during the '80s and '90s, when private equity capital enjoyed its heyday and the establishment of a firm economic investment infrastructure and high-growth entrepreneurial culture

None of that job- and wealth-creating infrastructure was built in Black America ... or any broad regions comprised primarily of any racial minority demographic groups.

Infrastructure: High-Growth Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

The culture of high risk-high return capital investment had been established by the 80's, which led to rapid growth in the technology sectors. This laid the foundation and established conditions in which high growth startups could emerge. These startups have gone on to revolutionize, if not create industries, including biotechnology (Genentech), personal computers (Microsoft, Apple) and eventually internet-based commerce including social networking sites like Google, Facebook, etc...

This type of high risk and explosive entrepreneurial culture has yet to take root in Black America, but not due to lack of an entrepreneurial, innovative or creative spirit among Black Americans. Rather, it has been the lack of understanding of the relationship between (high) risk capital, explosive entrepreneurship and economic growth that has hampered Black America's participation in the Innovation Economy.

The private equity capital investment community laid the framework for the high-growth Innovation Economy today, which has replaced the former manufacturing economy, which replaced the agrarian economy.

Today, it is private equity capital investments from high net worth individuals and SEC-qualified investors (both known as angels), along with venture capital, that ignite the fire blazing into new technology frontiers. Fueling that fire is science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and those pursuing professions in the various STEM fields.

Since 1995, more than 50,000 companies have received a total amount greater than $439 billion in venture capital equity investments. That's not counting angel investments, which typically enter in the equation early and exit earlier than venture capital.

Much of this activity has somehow escaped Black America. However, it is also clear that very few of those companies are led by Black entrepreneurs. In 2010, Black tech entrepreneurs received just 1% of technology based equity investments.

America's Job Creators Meet in Boston

Likely few Blacks will find their way to the ACA and NVCA events in Boston this week, where many of the people responsible for the success of high-growth entrepreneurs (who have created jobs that reduced the unemployment rate and generated more wealth for investors) will come together to network, learn, share and improve their infrastructure.

Indeed, the private equity investment infrastructure is expanding. And President Obama has recognized the private equity investment community as the leading opportunity for job creation and wealth generation in America, as well as the solution for the U.S. becoming more competitive in the global marketplace.

So, where is Black America?

Missing: Black Capital Investments

While the recent unemployment numbers brought good news for the nation as a whole, with total unemployment dropping to a two-year low, it left a sour taste in the mouths of Black Americans, who must contend with the notion that the rate of unemployment today for Black Americans remains double the rate it is overall for the nation. That point hasn't changed much since Dr. King bemoaned being left out of the American Dream when he articulated his famous "Dream" speech in August of 1963.

Moreover, a May 2010 data report by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy reveals that wealth is being generated in America at an astounding rate, yet has managed to bypass Black America. This report shows a quadrupling of the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites over the 23 years the study was conducted (1984 - 2007).

It's not a secret how wealth is created in America on a mass scale. Other minority groups have managed to figure out the formula.

Asian Americans Invest in STEM / High-Growth Entrepreneurs

For example, Asian Americans, who own nearly one million fewer businesses than Black Americans, produced $2.5T in total gross receipts compared to $137 billion by 1.9 million Black-owned businesses.

Asian Americans have an investment infrastructure. They own hundreds of companies in Silicon Valley. They also produce STEM-educated professionals and high-growth entrepreneurs at a significant rate.

Black Americans are no strangers to entrepreneurship nor innovation. Our focus, however, has been on lifestyle entrepreneurship ventures primarily rather than high-growth equity backed enterprises that produce more fast-growing employer firms.

Government Solutions?

It is no secret the focus of economic activity in Black America has targeted conducting business with the government as a prime channel of activity. Thus, major investments of time, energy and money have been made in obtaining political cache in attempts to affect public policies that open doors of access and opportunities for a tiny percentage of Black-owned small businesses.

This focus on government solutions, which proved prudent during the 20th century battles over constitutional citizenship, must be transformed to fully engage in the 21st century quest for economic equity citizenship.

Today, Black America is missing out on a vital element required for job creation and wealth generation: an innovative infrastructure that focuses on high-growth entrepreneurship fueled by a pipeline of STEM ingenuity and risk capital. Such an infrastructure would be the foundation of capital investments necessary to fund an ecosystem of high-growth entrepreneurship.

Real Economic Solutions

If Black America is to change the current paradigm of a widening wealth gap compared to White America and a rate of unemployment consistently much higher than the national average, it must recognize an immediate need to establish its own private equity investment community and establish strong ties with the current infrastructure that has decades of experience.

Perhaps a step in the right direction would be to show such a significant presence at the equity capital investor gatherings in Boston this week to a degree that simply the sheer attendance numbers alone would raise eyebrows and interest. Or perhaps there should be a convening of the minds within our community to address this important issue?

What's preventing us from establishing such a valuable infrastructure and ecosystem?

The numbers speak for themselves. While the rest of America has figured out how to create both jobs and wealth, Blacks have consistently lagged behind in both. The missing element in Black America is a viable, growing equity capital investment community that can fuel high growth entrepreneurship and Black participation in the Innovation Economy.

Follow Mike Green on Twitter: www.twitter.com/amikegreen2

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Cathy Harris is an Empowerment and Motivational Speaker, Non-GMO Health and Wellness Expert, Self-Publishing and Business Coach.