Small Business and Startups: Where to Learn Mike | December 2nd, 2013

Resources for entrepreneurs are widely available and easy to access, but you need to know where to look and who to visit. First time entrepreneurs in particular have tons of questions and hunger for mentors, confidants, cronies, and fellow travelers. Anyone with an idea for a business can find a place to turn, an article to read, a war story to listen to, an online discussion, or a local entrepreneurship program or incubator to provide guidance. Many of these resources are free or low cost and the amount of knowledge available to share can make your head spin. Here are a few resources, programs, and organizations that you can leverage.

1. The institutes, the incubators, the accelerators.

These programs are designed to kickstart entrepreneurial ideas and the idealists who dream them up. Their stated goals are similar: provide opportunity; nurture great ideas, make introductions, and create an environment where great companies can get started. These organizations are designed help budding entrepreneurs a place to learn while developing their ideas. Check out the sites for these five for more information:

Founder InstituteJunto InstituteY CombinatorThe Technology Innovation CenterTechStars.

2. The networks.

Online and off, these organizations and groups are designed to help entrepreneurs meet one another, share ideas, transmit knowledge, and create an atmosphere where learning and collaborating are the norm. Many cities are actively developing centers for entrepreneurs and startups what provide lectures, resources, co-working space, and an environment that promotes economic growth and development through entrepreneurship.

Young Presidents’ OrganizationTech CocktailKCnextOnStartups1871

3. The blogs.

These great blogs focus exclusively on startups, small business, entrepreneurs and the issues and subjects near to their hearts. Entertaining, sure. But mostly these small business, venture capital, and marketing blogs provide great tools, resources, learning opportunity, and practical information targeted directly at you., Seth’s Blog, John Jantsch, Mark Suster, Tim FerrisSmallbiz Technology, Small Biz Survival.

4. The webinars.

There are numerous webinars available online  for free to entrepreneurs and these are a great way to learn in depth about specific topics. Studies show that video is a great way for many people to learn and the experts who create these webinars share tons of valuable information, tips, and specific strategies for your business.

BizlLaunchStanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Webinar SeriesThe Company CorporationDell Global Events Webcasts

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Small Business and Startups: End-of-Year Mishegoss, 2013! Mike | November 25th, 2013

Every year I have to sit you down and explain to you the importance of preparing for the end of year madness that every small business is required to experience. There is a ton of work to be done, myriad details to attend, and fun that must be had; this I need like a loch in keppe, but hey, we make our own choices in life, right? The madness is best summed up in the Yiddish and there are several variations: meshuggah (which Merriam Webster defines as crazy or foolish, but also happens to be a metal band from Sweden!), meshugener (a foolish or crazy person), and (for our purposes here) mishegoss defined as general craziness, or a senseless behavior or activity.

So while you keep an eye on your team, your customers, your marketing, your online activities, and your bottom line it is now also time to get ready for tax time, perform the year-end reviews, consider raises and bonuses, clean up the office, schedule holiday vacations, and plan the company party! Here are 10 things you should be considering as the calendar ticks down and 2014 looms large!

1. Start with a look back. Now is the time to review your 2013 budget, strategies, and tactics as you consider whether you did as well as you might of and how you should adjust your approach for next year. Do you need to make adjustments to your budget categories and amounts? How successful was your overall strategy? Which of your tactics should you keep and which should you dump? We are huge believers in a lean approach to marketing and business and one of the precepts is small batch testing: stick with what works and get rid of what doesn’t. Consider what you learned this year and take action accordingly.

2. Prepare for tax time. Put together a package for your accountant and start the review prior to the end of the year. We do this every year in November and share with our accountant a package of documents and reports which lets them get a head start on tax prep. By doing this a month or two ahead, we have time to make the changes and adjustments the accountant inevitably wants us to make and when January rolls around all that is left are minor tweaks. Typical items to share include, year-to-date payroll reports; reconciliations on all bank, loan, and credit card accounts; any business intelligence reports or data you collect; and a current copy of your QuickBooks or accounting software file. Check with your accountant and prepare a checklist of the items she’ll need to do a meaningful review. If this process goes well you will save a significant amount of time on your tax preparation come January.

3. Review your website. Take the time to make sure your site is performing well and is optimized for the best results in search. Check your links, your help pages and your landing pages for accuracy and to make sure everything is working well and your links are redirecting appropriately. Make sure your user agreement and About Us pages are up-to-date and plan to work with your web developers to make sure everything is ship shape.

4. Clean house. Stop right now and look around your office. Messy desks, paperwork needing filing, old files that should be thrown out. Every spring mom would make you clean out your closet and get rid of the old junk in there and your office should be no different. Clean up, now!

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Twitter Link Roundup #203 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | November 22nd, 2013

Every day on the crowdSPRING Twitter account and on my own Twitter account, I post links to posts or videos I enjoyed reading or viewing. These posts and videos are about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, and more! Here are some of the links that I’ve liked and shared this past week!

The video above is a great example of storytelling. It was made by GoldieBox, a company creating building-block toys for girls to inspire future engineers.


How can you price your products & services to demonstrate value? Here are tips to help you find the right balance -

Empower Your Small Business: content marketing, pricing dilemmas, conference call services –

The Right Tool For The Job -

Book Review: Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson –

Create products that people love by validating your idea first -


Why Silicon Valley Funds Instagrams, Not Hyperloops -

Book Review: Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson –

How can you price your products & services to demonstrate value? Here are tips to help you find the right balance -

This I Believe: A Manifesto for a Magnificent Career -

Demystifying 409A Valuations -

Is Crowdsourcing Fueling Business Innovation? | Forbes -

Ecommerce Trend for 2014: Buying Into the Subscription Service Model | by Matt Villano –

Google Reveals Its 9 Principles of Innovation | Fast Company -

Chicago can be better than Silicon Valley (when it comes to promoting women entrepreneurs) | by Sharon Schneider -

The Right Tool For The Job -

Interesting perspective on lack of women founders

Make Things As Simple As Possible, But Not Simpler | Psychohistory by Adam Nash -

Create products that people love by validating your idea first -

C.R.A.Z.Y. … Dropbox Could Be A Bargain At An $8 Billion Valuation | TechCrunch -

Complete nonsense? Snapchat’s Valuation If For Real | Business Insider -

New startup economics: Why Amazon (web services) and Dropbox need each other -

The Real Cost of your Commute -

Where luck fits into stories of startup success | Blue Sky Innovation -

The Science Behind What Naps Do For Your Brain & Why You Should Have One Today | Fast Company

The Llama has finally kicked Winamp’s Ass -

The Startup Accelerator Trend Is Finally Slowing Down | TechCrunch by Belle Beth Cooper -

From Its Beginnings In A Denmark Loft, Zendesk’s Steady Rise To The Top Of The Helpdesk Heap | by Leena Rao -

Why I don’t check Facebook until 6 p.m. | The Next Web -

Fight Like You’re Right, Listen Like You’re Wrong and Other Keys to Great Management –


The top 10 ideas anyone ever had for marketing | ThoughtGadgets by @benkunz -

Five Ways the Advertising Industry Is About to Transform | HBR

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12 Questions: Meet Emanuel Hărdăuț (Transylvania, Romania) Audree | November 21st, 2013

In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.

We’re very proud to feature Emanuel Hărdăuț  (crowdSPRING username: emanuelhardaut ) today. Emanuel lives and works in Cluj-Napoca (Transylvania), Romania.


1. Please tell us about yourself.
Servus to everyone, (Servus is an old Transylvanian salute, it comes from the latin “servus tu sum” which means “I am your servant”). My name is Emanuel Hărdăuț, I’m 34, I am a graphic and motion designer, I live in Cluj-Napoca (Transylvania), Romania, with my fiancee, Luciana, which I love very much and I hope we’ll get married soon. I’m proud and honored to be here, on crowdSPRING, with all of you, talented Teodora_small
Because I loved drawing and painting I went to the Arts High School, and graduated the University of Arts and Design, here in my hometown, Cluj-Napoca. It was a nice period, I was drawing portraits and nudes, studying much history of arts, meeting interesting people, playing guitar, having fun after classes, and the most important – learning from each other drawing and graphic design, my coleagues and I. Pretty much like here on cS, where we all can learn one from another, that’s one of the things I like about crowdSPRING.
After graduating the university I had many jobs, I worked as a graphic designer for two publishing houses, and three advertising companies. I was an animator and background designer for a tv animated series. For the past two years I have been a motion graphics designer for a local television. And now I’m back on crowdSPRING, after a two-years break, and I enjoy being freelancer again.

Titan Treatslogo

2. How did you become interested in design?
Probably during high school, in ’94, when my graphics teacher was trying to keep us away from the computers. She was teaching us traditional, manual techniques for obtaining textures, hand drawing letters, collage, etc. At that time I really hated her for the anachronic approach, but over the years I realized that that experience helped me understand what  design is all about.
That’s when my parents bought me my first computer, a terribly slow 486 PC, and a friend of mine brought me the ms-dos 3ds studio 1 (the first 3ds max) and I was amazed, although every command took like 4-5 minutes to do, and I was kinda staring at a sphere, not knowing exactly what to do next. Back then I discovered PhotoStyler and later, PhotoImpact, which came free with my first scanner, in `96, and it was much faster than Photoshop, so I used it until a few years ago, when it was discontinued.

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Content Marketing: Beastie Boys And Girls Ross | November 20th, 2013

If you’re struggling with your content marketing strategy, read How To Grow Your Business With Content Marketing. But more importantly, watch the video below.

More than anything else, great storytelling differentiates successful content marketing from noise. I’ve previously shared some outstanding examples of storytelling in content marketing.

Here’s another good example from GoldieBox, a company creating building-block toys for girls to inspire future engineers. I have two daughters and I definitely can relate to the lyrics in this song.

In creating the video, GoldieBox rewrote the lyrics to The Beastie Boys song, Girls. Here’s the video:

GoldieBox hired Brett Doar, the creator of the Rube Goldberg machine in the band OK GO’s viral video for “This Too Shall Pass”. Here are more details about the video and the company, including a behind the scenes look at how the video was shot.

It’s time to change!
We deserve to see a range,
cuz all our toys look just the same,
and we would like to use our brains.
We are all more than princess maids…

This is a great example of storytelling in content marketing. Do you agree?


The Right Tool For The Job Ross | November 19th, 2013


A few days ago, my son and I replaced an old, leaky faucet in our laundry room. We planned on 90 minutes, but we ran into a problem and ended up spending more than four hours to replace the faucet.

Our struggle with the faucet reminded me about the importance of having and using the right tools for every job. This is especially true when it comes to running a business (more on that below).

It wasn’t difficult to remove the old faucet, but the hole cutouts in the sink were 1/8 of an inch too small for the new faucet.

The sink is porcelain, and this presented a unique challenge. I didn’t have any experience drilling porcelain sinks, so we tried a few things first, including a hole saw made for creating holes in wood, and a bi-metal hole saw (I already had both of these so it was easy to try). Our efforts proved futile – neither was able to drill into the porcelain.

A quick Google search  taught us that we needed a special diamond-tipped hole saw to drill porcelain. After a quick trip to the local hardware store and $20 for a simple diamond-tipped hole saw, we finished the cuts in about 30 seconds (after struggling for nearly 2 hours trying to use the wrong tools).

I took the opportunity to teach my son about the importance of using the right tools – for every job.

Our conversation about using the right tools reminded me about the importance of finding and using the right tools when running a business. It can be very frustrating to use the wrong tools for any job, but the wrong tools can be fatal to your business. The right tools nearly always make tasks easier, quicker and often, more fun.

For example, years ago we experimented at crowdSPRING with Skype chat, IM and other tools for team collaboration, but settled on Campfire from 37signals. Instead of using the web interface, we looked at a few apps and found that Propane and Flint offered the best user experience and functionality – and that’s what our distributed team uses daily.

Similarly, we relied exclusively on Skype group video when it was initially released but Skype group video was incredibly buggy and frustrating (and it still is). A huge amount of time in our group calls was wasted trying to get video to work correctly. We switched to Google+ Hangouts for group video calls and have been very happy.

We periodically evaluate the tools we use and switch when we find something better – whenever a new tool can make our team more efficient or happier. For example, we’re currently testing Trello for our engineering team sprints after using another product for many years.

The right tools can help empower your social media efforts, and can also help you launch your company for less than $1,500. In fact, a “tool” doesn’t even have to be physical. For example, did you know that “surprise” is one of the most powerful small business marketing “tools”?

Look carefully at the tools you’re using in your business. Are they the right tools for the job?

image credit: Cayusa

The Pricing Dilemma: Finding the Right Balance Mike | November 18th, 2013

There is a tension inherent in the relationship between a business and its customers when it comes to pricing of a product or service. Customers look at prices with a complex eye in determining whether the tradeoff between cost and value is a fair one for them to make. The value proposition that your business offers its customers is based on a mix of the product or service offered, the perceived convenience of buying your offering, your marketing efforts and how you “sell” it to them and, finally, your pricing. These are (in essence) the legendary four P’s of marketing: Product. Place. Promotion. Price.  When a customer is deciding between yours and a competing offering they determine for themselves the order of importance of these elements and determine if the price you are asking is a price worth paying.

This does not mean, for instance, that a customer will always choose the lowest priced offering available. There are other factors that may warrant paying more. Convenience, for instance, looms large in making a determination. Yes, the deli on the corner may charge me more for that gallon of 2% milk than the supermarket, but the supermarket is 5 blocks away and I want my milk now. Done, I have just justified paying 35% more for my white nectar.

The product itself may be the determining factor for a consumer of your goods. Can you charge a premium for superior quality or better features? Just ask anyone who chose a Mercedes over a Toyota. Consumers (whether end-users or other businesses) will compare product features as long as they believe that the thing they are buying is not a commodity that can be purchased elsewhere for less or purchased more conveniently (see the last paragraph, right?).

The next ingredient in your customer’s mix is your own marketing, branding, and promotional efforts. How your brand is positioned is key to many of your customers when deciding if the value you offer is equal to or greater than your competition. Your company may be built on its ability to operate efficiently, or it may be built on the relationships you develop over time with your customers and a deep understanding of their needs, or it may be built around your ability to develop the best, most innovative products or features. But at the end of the day it is the customer who determines whether the value you present in your promotional efforts is of the mix they seek.

All of this brings us back to price. How much you can charge for your product is a function of all of those components and how the customer perceives them. Many businesses will experiment with pricing looking for just the right balance of value and quality; indeed in the past 20 years or so we have seen more and more industries move in the direction of dynamic pricing where company adjusts it’s prices on a day-by-day, even minute-by-minute basis determined by current demand, competitive analysis, season, weather, even the day of the week or the time of day. Think airline tickets, hotel rooms, and cruise vacations for examples of industries that change their pricing constantly in a dance between value offered and market-driven demand.

Collecting data on your customer’s buying habits is critical to price adjustments, whether done as a one-time change or continuously as a dynamic model in response to demand. Having an understanding of everything from average shopping card sizes, to customer lifetime value is critical when considering adjustments to pricing. Finally, how you communicate value when making price adjustments is of great importance to your business and your customers; be clear and transparent that price changes are occurring, let your customers know when the change will occur, communicate why you are adjusting prices, and help them to understand the value that is being delivered and how you justify the price you are asking.

Photo: Dave Fayram

Twitter Link Roundup #202 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | November 15th, 2013


Every day on the crowdSPRING Twitter account and on my own Twitter account, I post links to posts or videos I enjoyed reading or viewing. These posts and videos are about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, and more! Can you believe this is Roundup number 200!?!? Here are some of the links that I’ve liked and shared this past week!

The image above is a fun interpretation of four famous brands and their imaginary slogans, based on public sentiment.


How Content Marketing Can Help Grow Your Business in 2014 –

The 10 Best Conference Call Services for Entrepreneurs –

10 things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Coach –

Why You Shouldn’t Say “You’re Welcome” –

The Second Time Is Harder –


Six Key Benchmarks for Your SaaS Startup –

How Content Marketing Can Help Grow Your Business in 2014 –

The 10 Best Conference Call Services for Entrepreneurs –

Model Equity Calculator for Founders with Option Pool Expansion –

The Second Time Is Harder –

Why You Shouldn’t Say “You’re Welcome” –

10 things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Coach –

Good examples (photos) of tech startup offices in the Valley –

If you can’t make it [as an entrepreneur] in Chicago, the problem might be your idea –

Startup tips from “The Walking Dead” –

Startups and the law: 5 key issues | Blue Sky Innovation –

It’s time to rethink startup equity – GigaOM –

Why the Petal Diagram Isn’t the Best Competition Diagram for Startup’s Pitch –

This I Believe: A Manifesto for a Magnificent Career –

5 Examples of Companies Innovating with Crowdsourcing | InnoCentive Blog –

Instant unicorn? An app for selfies –

“Venture capitalists are not just buyers of companies; they’re also sellers of capital” -

Amazon’s big reveal: Desktops as a service –

Fab was on cloud nine but recently, not so much, it seems –

The Five Ways Companies Can Leverage 3D Printing –and Avoid Disruption | by Jeremiah Owyang –

The generous skeptic –


40 Infographics & Cheat Sheets For Social Media Marketers –

Google Is Bigger Than Magazines And Newspapers | Business Insider –

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How Content Marketing Can Help Grow Your Business in 2014 Ross | November 14th, 2013

Content continues to dominate media headlines and marketing programs at many startups and small businesses. But is content marketing effective?

There’s very useful insight, especially for B2B (business-to-business) marketers in a recently published 2014 Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks Study. The study surveyed 1,217 marketers around the world in July and August 2013. I’ll share a link to the full study at the end of this post.

For those who don’t have the time to read the entire study, here are five key takeaways:

1. Content marketing is ineffective for many B2B marketers. Fewer than 10 percent of B2B marketers say that content marketing is “very effective” for them.

Strategy Tip: As you’ll see below, many marketers fail with content marketing because they neglect to develop goals and strategies when they launch their content marketing initiatives. Tactics alone are rarely effective. For more insight, read How To Grow Your Business With Content Marketing. Before you give up on content and social media marketing generally, consider making some changes in your strategy.content-marketing-efficacy

2. Pick the right social channels for your content strategy. Interestingly, the social channels that many businesses prefer – Facebook and Pinterest, for example, all received low approval ratings for effectiveness from content marketers. In fact, only one social network received positive approval ratings for effectiveness – LinkedIn (62 percent of content marketers found LinkedIn to be effective). Despite these findings, marketers are increasingly using many social channels, including those they are finding to be less effective.

Strategy Tip: Before you invest time developing and sharing content on a social network, consider whether your customers are likely to be using that network. Spreading content to non-customers might make you feel good, but will not help your bottom line.content-marketing-channels

3. Develop goals and a content marketing strategy. If you have been creating content without any strategy, you’re probably creating a lot of noise and little value,. You are not alone. More than half (56 percent) of B2B marketers have no strategy for their content marketing tactics. Tactics, without a goal and strategy, are futile. In fact, According to the study, B2B marketers with a content marketing strategy are 600 percent more likely to be effective. To put that in perspective, 84 percent of marketers who say they are ineffective at content marketing have no documented strategy.

Strategy Tip: Take some time today to think about your goals and develop a strategy (or strategies) for your content marketing efforts. For example, storytelling is an extremely effective content marketing strategy.content-marketing-most-effective-least

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10 things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Coach Mike | November 11th, 2013

I am not the biggest of sports fans, but I do love watching a great team from just about any sport working together as a unit. The beauty of an powerful individual performance, wrapped in the cohesion of great team work is a thing of wonder and a treasure to behold. The grace, power, and skill of athletes at just about any level is something people from across cultures are taught to admire, but behind those performances is one person responsible for pushing, prodding, organizing, teaching, praising, criticizing, and motivating: Coach. It is Coach is the designer and keeper of the system; prioritizer of strategy and goals; and organizer of the details. It is Coach who leads, inspires, builds, and molds a team into success. Sound familiar? If you are an entrepreneur it sure should, because these are the core skills and responsibilities of an entrepreneur, too.

Coaches, the great as well as the less-than-great, can have an enormous influence over the ives of their players. Think back to just about any childhood and there is an excellent chance that Coach played a significant role in the development of that child, whether through a single play in a single game, or through a long season of hard work and effort. Entrepreneurs may not have the same influence over their team’s lives, but they can still seek to develop talent, teach skills, inspire performance, and set expectations for excellence. Here are 10 things that entrepreneurs can learn from Coach:

1. Coach coaches. Actively.
Coach spends a great deal of time teaching, guiding, and giving direct instruction to the players. Everything from basic skills, to strategy, to the specific plays that were designed for the game. Entrepreneurs also can take the role of teacher and help to instruct their teams in the strategies and tactics used in the business.

2. Coach delegates.
Good coaches understand how to divide the work amongst their staff. Typically a coaching team will have an offensive coordinator and well as a defensive coordinator, and Coach will give each primary responsibilities. This does not mean that Coach isn’t involved, but rather that he recognizes how the other coaches can contribute. Assistants, whether a team parent or team manager are given responsibilities.

3. Coach inspires.
We all know the old trope of the locker room speech at half time. Well, old tropes are grounded in truth. One of the  most important things a coach can do is inspire people to work harder and constantly improve. For entrepreneurs this is equally important – remember your team looks to you for guidance and leadership and inspiring them to give their best is a critical part of the job.

4. Coach set expectations.
A good coach expects a great deal from her players and she will let them know this every single day. Coach always expects players to give their all, perform at the highest level, and succeed. But it is not just on the field that expectations are set: Coach also expects her players to accept responsibility for their own actions, be respectful of their teammates as well as the opposing team. accept the judgement of the officials, and come prepared to work hard every day and improve constantly.

5. Coach builds teams.
Building a strong and cohesive team is the most important single aspect of coaching. Great coaches build character through rewarding positive behavior, correcting poor performance, and providing experiences for the players but they also build it by teaching players to work together, defend one another, and achieve common goals. Coaches will also encourage their players to support one another and praise each other’s hard work, yet still make it clear that they have a responsibility to the entire team and that each of them must count on the others.

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