Business advice


For all those involved in PR
October 21, 2010, 2:25 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

TIPS FOR THOSE INVOLVED WITH PR

 

If you are or someone in your organization is dong PR or marketing of your product, consider the following:

*Is anyone in that function calling reporters or editors two days before and event?

*Are all your releases stamped ‘FOR MMEDIATE RELEASE when there really is no time constraint to what you are trying to get across?

*Are you attaching two line headlines to the pitch?

*Is the most important part of the text buried three paragraphs down?

*Is this release really a news item or just ‘something’ about your product you think is important?

*Are there so many numbers crushed into the first couple of lines, it takes time to get to the real story?

*Are you getting angry when reporters on a list respond with a request to be removed?

All of these mistakes and more are in the dozens of press releases I get just as a freelance writer every week.  What a mess.  It seems as if the basics of PR have been lost along the way.

 

I know I can help.

 

Laura Bell

Freelance journalist

Author

PR consultant

SME expert

writer@well.com

 



The success of niche businesses
October 28, 2009, 6:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It really doesn’t matter how bad the economy is for niche businesses many times.  If you find a need and no one else is filling it, you can make out like a bandit.

Peter Shankman is a PR guy from New York.  I never heard of him until about six months ago.  A friend, also a writer, recommended that I subscribe to his email list: HARO www.helpareport.com .  The acronym stands for “Help a reporter out.”  Reporters knew for years he had connections with experts in all sorts of fields.  When one asked for experts on African soil, it took him five hours to get an answer and that’s when he decided there had to be a better way.  He started a Facebook group and the rest, as they say is history. He now has 80,000 subscribers and earned a $1M over the past year.

Currently, if you subscribe, and I do, you receive three emails every weekday.  There is one text only ad at the top of the newsletter.  There is nothing fancy or any specific layout.  The newsletter simply supplies information for the readers, both journalists and experts who want to get some publicity by putting their name on a reporter’s story  There have been others, but no one designed a model so easy to use and Shankman has left his competitors grinding their teeth in frustration.

Shankman saw a niche that needed filling and he stepped up and made out like a bandit.

The five founding members of Linkedin.com also seem to have hit on a niche.  We all need to stay connected and it gets harder the more we stay glued to our computers 24/7.  The founders started out with 350 contacts and asked all of them to invite their friends.  The site now hosts close to 50 million users and they are in 200 different countries.

Getting connected is important to humans and it is a needed shared by all demographics.  These folks hit on a great idea and others have been following.  Social media truly has changed the world.  Old friends to potential employers check out people on Linkedin.  If you don’t have a profile, it may be held against you when job hunting.

Experts, otherwise known as PR consultants, have been needing the inside scope into how to get in touch with editors for as long as I have been in the publishing world.  In the mid 80s, two ex staffers for a regional magazine got together in a bar and launched “The Bulldog Reporter.”  It launched via hand to hand by these guys speaking at dinner meetings of writers and PR professional groups around Los Angeles.  At the time, it was $101 dollars a year, if I remember correctly.  It provided PR people with the inside scope on what editors wanted and how they wanted to be pitched to.  This enterprise has been resold two or three times, expanded with other services and is still running strong 26 years later.

Niche businesses don’t take much many times to get started.  Look around and see what needs people are having since the onset of the recession.  They don’t have time to take care of their animals in many instances.  In Los Angeles County, hundreds were being turned into animal shelters.  Some, of course, was because of financial reasons.  You might consider fliers in your neighborhood for a dog walking service.

Coupons are a big thing since grocery prices went through the roof.  A couple of Moms have done quite well by starting a website that found the right coupons for certain cities.  The fee was small.  You might find a couple of friends willing to go and apply something similar among your contacts.

Niche businesses start small in many instances but are easy to expand when the need arises.  The Bulldog reporter now offers additional services, daily newsletters, conferences, etc.  (www.bulldogreporter.com ).  Peter Shankman has another newsletter already in the planning stages.

Niche businesses make great sense during the financial times our country is experiencing.

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The “Shark Tank” is educational
October 11, 2009, 7:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

I hope everyone has been watching it as it shows up on prime time television.  There are many business lessons here in easy-to-understand language.

Last week’s biggest issue was the evaluation of a business that was already up and running.  Entrepreneurs come in asking for a set figure in return for giving up a certain percentage of their business.  Most offer to give away a much too small amount; and in some cases it causes them to lose out and have their trip be for naught.

A group came in with a company that sells designer belt buckles.  They were asking for $500,000 and this was based on current sales and what they were willing to give away.  No matter how the numbers were put together, it didn’t add up.  The business owner wanted the sharks ‘to see the bigger picture.’  That translated to sales he hoped to have in the future.  Obtaining venture capital doesn’t work that way; or, at least it shouldn’t.

The next most important issue that either makes or breaks a deal here in the ‘Tank’ is sales.  Do not come to them or any other venture capitalist with only a prototype of a product.  A couple of them did just that and it wasn’t enough.  They want to know sales during the past year.  They want to know the dollars you brought in and also how much was left over.  In other words, what was the net on the sales you made?  They want to know the projections for future sales.  Do you have orders?  Do you have a distribution chain lined up?  Have you been going to trade shows?  And in some instances, have you approached a major competitor, for a possible sale.  They and any other venture capitalist want to know if you see the big picture.

Knowing your market is also a part of it.  They want to know and do ask regularly how big the market is for any given product.  One woman had designed gadgets to insert into meat while it was cooking on the grill.  It told the chef whether or not it was well done, medium, etc.  The person had the numbers on how big the grilling business was.  It is huge.  George Foreman made a couple of mints on his grills.  That information along with her previous planning got her the deal.

Additional factors that come up:  do you know your competition; how much of your own money have you put into the business already?  Many details turn out to be important to the Sharks.  One man revealed to his determent that he had a personal bankruptcy.  That lost him the deal.  The Sharks concluded that theirs wouldn’t be the only money he would ever need to grow his business to its fullest potential.  If it came time for him to go to a bank and ask for more money it wasn’t going to happen.

Some of the misconceived ideas entrepreneurs come in with include thinking they are going to give away only 10 or 15 percent of their company in exchange for a big chunk of money.  It doesn’t work with these guys and I’m betting it doesn’t work with banks or other venture capitalists.  Get real when it comes to asking for financing.

Some of the entrepreneurs seem taken with the idea that one of the Sharks is going to help them.  The only they are doing is trying to do is make more money for themselves by investing with one of the small business owners.

The Sharks also want to know where and how you are going to use your money.  They have learned since the late 90s when entrepreneurs took investment money and threw wild parties.  That time is over.  Also, be prepared, if asked, to know when you will be able to pay this money back.

This show is a business class on prime time television.  If you don’t know when it is on in your area, search the tv guide website.

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Do some more research, please
June 30, 2009, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Business mistakes are so common these days; it can be hard to weed out good business basics from the irrational.  I have been rereading, “Looking out for Number 1.”  The author reminds us that if you hang out with irrational people long enough, you will start to think like they do.

I just went through a “Who’s on First?” interaction with some bloggers who mistakenly thought they were running a business site.  I have “Google Alerts” set up for the Bell Business Report.  About three weeks ago, I started getting notices of a blog that used the BBR in part of their name.

I wrote to those folks first politely asking them to cease using my name.  They didn’t know what I would be bothered about this.  They thought it a common name for a business report that did a ‘wrap up of the news.’  Obviously, their business education didn’t and doesn’t extend any farther that copying specific economic numbers for the day and posting them on their site.  They had no clue how valuable a name of business is.  Big lawsuits have been fought over these issues.

A couple of weeks went by and I had no further Alerts announcing use of my name.  Then the beginning of this week it popped up again.  I repeated the same message.  I was answered in angry words wanting to know, “…why do you keep doing this?”  I re-explained thinking that I wouldn’t hear back from them.  Lo and behold, later than same evening they wrote telling me they had picked a new name.  I am sure they didn’t do this because they were convinced it made sense, but because they wanted to get me off their back.  It doesn’t matter.  The result was the same.  I don’t have to worry someone is going to Google the Bell Business Report and end up on his page.

Your company’s name is one of the most important things about your business.  It represents to the public who you are and how you want to be perceived.  In picking a name, that you want to have the legal rights to use in your state, you need to file a DBA, doing business as.  It then becomes the Secretary of the State’s job to run a search to see if that name is available for use in your state.  If so, you are granted the use of the name for a time period.  After which, you will then have to pay another fee to get your right to it renewed.

There are also many ways during our Web 2.0 or 3.0 era of being able to search out domain names to see which ones are already taken.  During the middle 90s, the Web wasn’t as organized regarding domain names.  One very famous biggie in the marketing industry confided to me that he was going to have to go to court to keep his website’s name.

Let’s move on to another egregious error that I run into time and again.  Do not tell the general public that you are test marketing your business.  It makes you sound like a fool.  The term being used now-a-days is beta.  The word used to be used solely to describe someone working on either a new computer program or a video game.  People were working on it to try and get the bugs out.  Now, I see businesses advertise time again they are in beta.  This is used as an excuse as to why they can’t pay the people they want involved in their business.  Recently, I discussed this with one guy who thought he knew the skinny on publishing sites.  “I’m in beta.  They, referring to another company I had used as an example; they have just raised $15M.  You can’t expect me to be able to offer what they do.”

I told him to go back and get decent financing.  If he tried using people without paying them, he wasn’t going to succeed.  I didn’t bother telling him that it went against the laws of economics because I would have been wasting my breath.  He kept rambling about how he was going to change the world of journalism and build a site with new technologies.  “Who, are you kidding, these types of sites have been around for a decade,” was how I responded.

They guy didn’t know what he was doing; didn’t know what he was talking about and didn’t care, apparently, that he shared this lack of knowledge with the rest of the world.

All I can say is that if you want to have a shot of having a successful business, look at what others have done, what they are doing and even more, how they got there.  Stop diving into the deep end without finding out what awaits you at the bottom.

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How versatile are you?
June 8, 2009, 12:47 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I ran into an old friend online this past week.  We chatted about my problems and then he got to what was on his mind.  He wasn’t doing so hot and was very angry about it.  I met him when he was in his late 20s.  He was going to school and working on a degree in accounting.  He also worked on computers as a sideline.  Now, he is working in the corporate world and very frustrated.  Well, you know it’s all been drummed into our heads that if we work hard, things should go well for us in life. That axiom only holds true when the economy is moving at a healthy pace.

So, we can see by that reasoning simple hard work isn’t going to guarantee us anything other than we might be farther down on the pink slip list.  What is one to do?

I told him about four years ago when I was too ill to sit in front of a computer and I was stuck with just my disability check. I found an out.  I have always crocheted and took it back up.  I started a small project.  Others were astonished and before I knew it, I was in the crochet business.  It turned into a nice supplemental income.

The demand for computer repairs isn’t what it once was.  If someone gets too frustrated, they simply buy a new one.  Sometimes, the repair costs just aren’t worth it.  But my friend could still keep another revenue stream going with the knowledge he has.  I am thinking he was in the state of just wanting to complain.  He wasn’t interested in pursuing another outlet at the time.

We can’t afford to sit still and wait for things to get better.  Because, truth be told, the market niche you’re in might not get better. Sitting still and tensing over every negative report on the economy is going to do anything but make you ill and ready for the unemployment line.

Do you have a decent job that might be around for awhile, but has you going nowhere?  Sign up for night classes and latch on to another skill before the pink slip shows up on your desk.

Douglas Adams, since deceased, came to fame with his series of “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”  The inside jacket of the books revealed what he had to done to earn a living before he got the writing bug.  One stands out in my memory.  He had been a ditch digger.  We all need secondary skills if we wish to keep the roof over our heads and food on the table.

Many have hobbies that can be turned into revenue streams if push comes to shove.  Well, push has come to shove for most of us.  Handmade items always have a market no matter how bad things are.  For small fees these items can be sold on eBay.  If you have sewing skills, there is a market.  People throw clothes away these days because they don’t want to take the trouble to get them altered.

If you had a talent for languages back in college, sign on to one of those programs that promises you will be speaking like a native.  Check out your local court system and find out about their need for translators.  People with language skills have doors open that are closed to the rest of us.

If you are in a corporate environment where you feel there might be some cutbacks close to you, take on extra work your colleagues can’t seem to get to.  This way you may learn just a little something extra that might keep you around longer than your colleagues.

Look for anyway to keep a Plan B going and in this state of affairs, you might even have to go a few letters down the alphabet in order to keep all your bases covered.  Stop griping about what isn’t happening and learn something new so you can make it happen.

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The California legislators have run amuck
April 22, 2009, 6:05 am
Filed under: Blogroll, Business Advice

Stop hurting the little people.  Things will not go right.  I’m sure the pressure of the ongoing budget crisis has pushed their reasoning powers to the limit.  The latest article on the issue was front page news April 14 in the Sacramento Bee.

The time it is not only SSI disbursement but what is allowed under Medi Cal.  They are talking about taking out our trips to the eye doctor and the dentist.  This is a very big part of life for those who will go without if this is removed.

The percentage of monthly checks this time around is 2.3 percent.  In case you are not up-to-date on the issue, there is already one cut scheduled for May 1.  Yes I, too, am a SSI recipient.  However, my monthly disbursement is now divided between retirement benefits and the disability fund.  Translated, this means the cut for me is smaller.

The example used in the Bee talked of a man who was going to lose more than $20 a month and for him that was a big thing.  For me, that’s a week’s worth of groceries.

It isn’t easy earning SSI benefits.  It can be a fight that lasts two or three years; and now, we find out the fight isn’t over yet.

Now, this isn’t the whole picture.  When it comes to who is cutting what, I always turn the California State Controller’s website: http://www.sco.ca.gov/ .  According to a small piece on the homepage, California has enough money to pay its bills for the rest of the year.  Ok, so what’s going on?  I have found conflicting information more than once on this site.  If anyone knows, they aren’t talking.

Now, let’s get realistic about the budget issue.  There are only so many cuts one can make and continue to have a budget work at all.  If cutting allowances was the answer, the budget crisis would have been over years ago.  It’s time to start thinking more realistically.  The biggest contributor to any state’s budget is the businesses that call the state home.  California hasn’t been a friendly place for business for years.  All you have to do is look at any Chamber of Commerce’s roster of businesses and see how many were there five or ten years ago. I am talking about increasing revenue.

It is simple: start a committee whose sole purpose is to seduce businesses back to the state.  I don’t care what it takes.  Promise them no taxes for six months.  It doesn’t matter.  More business means more jobs; more production; more sales tax; more buying and a large increase in the state’s GDP.  It means that things, economically speaking, will improve and show the rest of the world how to conqueror a budget problems.  Cuts only work in the short run.  What I am proposing will change the long run picture and the positive effects will be here long after the current state legislators have retired and turned the reins over to the next bunch.

In the meantime, stop picking on the little guy.  It’s a shame and it should embarrass those currently in office.  How are they going to explain themselves to any parents or relatives who are on SSI?  This whole pattern needs to be revamped.

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Laura Bell

writer@well.com

818-448-1193



Should we have had bailouts?
April 12, 2009, 8:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

There are many citizens greatly worried about the debt the government created because of the bailouts.  The worry is citizens will be taxed unfairly in the future to pay down the debt.  Keep in mind, however, taxes aren’t the only way the government raises money.

Other countries lend the US money and then there are government bonds and securities that the Fed sells to the public.

This worry is this debt will be passed on to other generations.  It’s not good, but the various government bailout programs were born out of necessity.

I have heard some who think we should be content with living on wages that the Third World Countries, dream on.  Not likely.  One of the reasons the economy expanded since the 50s and 60s is more people. More people means an increased in demand, which requires more goods and leads to higher prices.   Our current economy can only shrink so far before it collapses.

Now, I am not claiming huge debt is good under any circumstances.  I am saying without the bailouts you would have seen riots in the streets.  It would have been a worse scenario than your wildest nightmares.  If the Feds hadn’t stopped the bank collapses, what would have happened the next day when you wanted your money?  True, it was insured to a point, but if you had to wait for an insurance to pay out while the bank was shut down, just imagine for a minute what your world would have looked like.  How many times in a week do you stop by the ATM machine because you are running short of cash?  They would have been shut down and no, you can’t use another company’s ATM because there is no longer an active account in your name through the bank that collapsed. It would have been chaotic.

If banks were allowed to close, it would have created a panic for the other banks.  There are still copies of photos around of people in line waiting to get their money from the banks during the 30s.  God forbid we have to live through something like that.  Our grandparents weren’t hooked on ATM machines.  It was easier for them to revert to barter than this spoiled generation.

Ok, we have had the bailouts, There are billions floating companies that would have collapsed if left alone.  All of this has to be paid back some day down the road.  What are we as individual consumers doing as responsible citizens in this whole picture?

In order for consumers to be ready to deal with a better balanced economy, they have to live with less than they ever thought.  Suze Orman has been predicting we are going to have to live on half.  If you have a two income family, you need to learn to live on one salary and put the other check away.  Hard stuff to grasp.  Not likely, anyone is actually going to be able to meet those guidelines in the next few years.  We live too far out on the limb.

However, if we don’t start somewhere, we’ll not see the end of this mess for a long time.  We still have companies who find it efficient to outsource a portion of their workloads.  It’s a sad fact.  We need to take a look at why and try to encourage corporations to leave the work here in the U.S.. But, if they feel they can’t afford us, that isn’t going to happen.  Agreeing to work as a temp might land you a job with a company who would have outsourced the position..  Let the temp agency pay the benefits.  These days if you work for 90 days in a row, temp agencies pay health benefits.

No one is going to bank one spouse’s total check.  We have spending patterns ingrained to the point it takes the threat of being homeless to make us change.  However, you can take a good percentage of one partner’s check and stash it.  The other new recession advice from Orman is, “…stash the cash.”  Do any thing that will make that happen.

Start changes in your family and take any chance you get to talk about the changes you are making with your personal finances to friends, family and business colleagues.

Is there a chance that some of the bailout money will be misused by the recipients?  Of course, there is.  We already saw the incident with the AIG bonuses.  Thankfully, the flack from the press, etc., created enough pressure to correct that mess for the most part.  Every human when it comes to money makes mistakes. We can’t change the government and its decisions unless we are willing to run for office.  We can write about the problems and hope someone out there listens.

Take care of your own house and hope that the Federal government doesn’t run out of resources from which to borrow money in our life time.  We can only change the financial mess one person at a time.

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