Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

I Hired My Wife and It Strengthened Our Business — and Our Marriage

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2010 at 3:17 am

By Rich Brooks, President, flyte new media, Portland, Maine

My wife, Cybele, has an MBA, and an amazing head for details and numbers. I’ve always admired her business acumen. But even though I knew I could use someone with her skill set at my web design and Internet marketing firm, I was really hesitant to bring her on.

We were never the type of couple who could spend 24 hours a day together. She has a girls’ night out every week, and I have a boys’ night out. We thought that if we worked together every day, it would put a lot of extra stress on our relationship — but it’s turned out to be the best possible decision for our marriage.

Hiring my wife

I started flyte in 1997, and it’s grown to over half a million dollars in revenue, with eight employees.

I brought Cybele on two years ago, after she’d gotten burned out on her previous job. One of our project managers was leaving at the time, and we’d been outsourcing our bookkeeping, so we had a lot of work that would be a great fit for her managerial and accounting skills. I made her the marketing director, which didn’t involve taking anyone else’s position, but instead grouped together duties that had previously been handled by a range of people.

When I decided to bring her in, I knew it might be difficult for my existing staff, because any time you bring in a spouse, it changes the atmosphere and the office politics. I sat down with them, and told them what her role would be, and said that they could bring up any problems with me.

None of them have had any issues, as far as I can tell. Flyte is very flat in terms of hierarchy — no one is overseeing anyone else, and there’s a lot of collaboration. People go out of their way to support each other here.

Ground rules

To make the transition easier for both of us, Cybele and I worked out a couple of ground rules.

First and foremost, we agreed that she would leave flyte if things weren’t working out. It was more important to make sure that our marriage survived, so if the work relationship was creating problems between us, I could fire her or she could quit, and there wouldn’t be any hard feelings about it.

We also outlined our roles: I’m the boss at work, and she’s the boss at home. We talk things through a lot and like to make decisions together, but one of us needs to have final say. At the end of the day, I make the decisions in the office, and she’s in control when it comes to our two kids and home life.

Fighting in front of the children

Not long after Cybele started working at flyte, we had a big flare-up. I needed a quick estimate on something, and asked her to give me a ballpark quote off the top of her head. She wanted to go back to her office and research it for a few minutes. When I pushed her again to give me an estimate right then, she yelled at me and I was sure the whole office could hear her.

I asked her to close the door. Then I calmly told her that I knew yelling was expected at her previous job — that was how everyone communicated — but we had a “no yelling” policy here. It’s just not the vibe of the company.

I told her, “There’s no fighting in front of the children,” referring to the other employees, tongue firmly in cheek. Seeing us fight could crush their morale. They’d wonder if the company was failing, or if Cybele and I were getting a divorce.

She never yelled at me at work again after that, but it was a big shift from how she was used to communicating in the office.

Why it works for us

Before Cybele started working for me, her old boss pushed her to work 50 hours a week, and I needed to work 50 hours a week to keep building business for flyte. We were always having battles at home about who could pick our kids up from school, or how late we could work, so there was a lot of tension.

But when she came to work at flyte, she cut back to 30 or 35 hours a week, so now she can spend more time with the kids and do more cooking, which she loves. We can balance our responsibilities better, which has been really great for our relationship.

Now, she’s able to understand what I’m going through at the office. Likewise, I understand when she’s had a tougher day than I have. Sharing the work experience has helped us communicate better as a couple.

Hiring Cybele has really helped my business, too. I’m always concerned with making sure that people like me, but she’s more hard-nosed, and has firm processes when it comes to making fair decisions regarding our clients and employees. She was also responsible for bringing on two of our recent hires. Based on their experience, I probably wouldn’t have chosen them, but she explained her criteria to me and it turned out to be a great decision. We wouldn’t be doing as well as we are now without her.

A lot of people in situations like ours set up rules limiting how much they can talk about work while they’re at home, but we don’t. We both love our jobs, and we love the creative aspect of talking and brainstorming about all of our client projects. The only rule we have is that if one of us says, “Enough,” we change the subject.

Rich Brooks enjoys killing zombies and taking long walks on the beach when he’s not talking about search engine optimization and social media.

– As told to Kathryn Hawkins


Getting an Accurate Picture of Your Business

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2010 at 3:14 am

6 tips for making sure your business reports deliver succinct, measurable insights

By Bill Bartmann   |   September 1, 2010

I don’t have much use for self-help books that trumpet, "What you can visualize, you can achieve." Believe me, I did plenty of visualizing during my six years killing hogs at a slaughterhouse, and I sure didn’t grow rich until later–when I took action.

I much prefer Napoleon Hill’s book, the Laws of Success. One of my favorite laws is No. 11, which is "Accurate Thought." You must see the world as it truly is and not how you wish it to be.

As entrepreneurs, whether we have accurate thoughts about our businesses is determined in part by the types of reports we look at regularly. After we practice "ready, aim, fire," it’s necessary to measure whether we hit the target or just shot our foot.

Here are some tips to help you with your reporting challenges:

  1. Make your most critical report a short, daily one.
    I like my reports like the dashboard on a jumbo jet: one page, so I can see the company status at a glance. Some key numbers I follow are bank account balances, sales volumes (both quantity and dollar volume), and the number of customers subscribing/unsubscribing to services. If something on the one-pager raises questions, I can, of course, get much more detail on other reports.
    It’s critical that each of your departments or products be measured daily with a single number on this one-page report. It forces every manager to focus each day on what really counts, rather than doing so only for a monthly or weekly report cycle.
    If you can’t get your key numbers down to one page, either you’re not trying hard enough, or the numbers you’re following are not the essentials.
  2. Admit when you’re confused or unsure about what something means.
    It takes a self-confident person to say, "What’s that ‘TQ Index’ column?" or "I see that we’re averaging 4.9 percent for returns, but how does that compare to our competition and to our numbers a year ago?" You’re much better off knowing the answers than hoping you won’t look like a novice for asking them. In my experience you’ll often hear others say: "I was wondering about that myself."
  3. Make sure you don’t repel bad news.
    I talked about this at some length in an earlier column. When you get bad news, do you have a nasty habit of shooting messengers or getting upset at no one in particular? Most employees quickly pick up on these not-so-subtle clues and begin to shade reports toward happy news. You must show by your actions that you encourage both good and bad news if you want to have a prayer of viewing your business accurately. 
  4. Add human inputs to your paper and electronic reports.
    That’s also known as "managing by walking around." Plenty of things happen to your employees, customers and suppliers without ever getting formally reported. You should see what you’re missing by hanging around those stakeholders on a regular basis. At first they may clam up at your proximity, but don’t use that as an excuse to stop. Eventually you’ll benefit from looking at your reports in context with what you saw and heard, and that can improve your decisions.
  5. Don’t let IT convenience drive your management needs.
    If you conclude that you could really use your numbers broken down in a different fashion or delivered more often, stand your ground even if your IT person says he can’t run the report or that nobody’s ever asked for it broken down that way. If that information will help you make decisions, a way must be found. Maybe the report will cost you resources to create and truly cannot be delivered for a while. It’s fine to negotiate a middle ground, as long as people are moving in the direction of getting you the information you need.
  6. Know your own personal numbers daily.
    A mentor pulled me aside 40 years ago and gently berated me for not knowing my personal bank account numbers on a daily basis. When I made it a habit to watch those numbers every day, my income jumped, and I’m convinced it was no coincidence. There’s much more to life than money, but that’s no excuse for being an ostrich and burying your head. Knowing your daily net worth helps you eliminate surprises you won’t like.

The next time you’re handed a report, pause for a moment and notice your gut reaction. If part of what you feel is a sense of dread, then you need to roll up your sleeves and fix that report. Don’t give up even if the fix involves many versions and even some backtracking to get it just right. When it begins to deliver succinct, meaningful insights, you’ll look forward to it and welcome its contribution to an accurate view of your business.

Common Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2010 at 2:43 am

imageBy Penelope Trunk | September 9, 2010

If you are smart, you have already studied up on how to be great in an interview. You know what to wear, how to walk, and you studied the answers to the common questions. There are three questions, however, that are so obvious, so common that most people never think to study for them.

Yet they are also the hardest questions you’ll get.

1. Tell me about yourself?

This is not a literal question. This is a question for you to give framework to the interview. You will tell the person what is important to you, what she should talk with you about, and, most importantly, you will tell it to her in a story that she can remember, and relay to other people. You need to be interesting here, so don’t just list your jobs and duties like this is a verbal version of your resume. This is a time for you to turn your life history into a story that leads seamlessly into this job being the obvious next step for you.

We shape how we think about ourselves by the narrative we tell about our lives. In an interview, this skill is most important. You make yourself sound coherent and focused by making your story coherent and focused. A story that is disjointed makes you disjointed. Leave things out. Add some flourish.

When someone says, “How was that person you interviewed?” The interviewer should respond by telling your quick, opening story about you. So make it memorable.

2. How much money do you need to make?

Do not answer this question. You have no idea how much this position is worth to the company. The person interviewing your knows the firm’s bottom line, so he or she they should tell you how much the position is worth to the business. Maybe you did your last job for free. That has nothing to do with how much this position is worth to the current interviewer. So you politely say that you’d like them to decide how much the position is worth to them and offer that wage. Learn to say this ten different ways, because you might have to.

The first person to give a number sets the benchmark. If you set it too low, you’ll never know. If you set it high, they’ll tell you. But you don’t want to risk going low.

Any interviewer who will not give you the first number is not being fair. They can give you a ballpark for how much the position pays. They have a budget. No position is approved without a ballpark budget. So get that number before you give a number. If the interviewer insists on you giving a number, ask yourself if you want to work for someone who wants an unfair advantage from the beginning.

3. Do you have any questions for me?

Interviewers usually ask this at the end of the interview. This puts you in a bad spot because at the end of the interview, you don’t have questions. At the end of the interview you want the job. At the beginning of the interview you have some important questions: What does the perfect candidate for this job look like? What will the first month of this job be like for it to be a success?

Get the answers to these questions at the beginning of the interview, and then you can tailor your interview to address what you’ve learned. If you wait to answer the “do you have any questions” question at the end of the interview, it’s too late.

Finally, there’s one more thing smart people forget to do in an interview: Close. Salespeople are always focused on the close. When you are interviewing, you’re selling yourself, so you need to close. This means, first, asking for what you want. And second, looking for any barriers to getting what you want. Here’s the script: “Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I want this job very much. Do you have any reservations about hiring me?”

At this point, you will have a chance to allay any fears the hiring manager has about you. It’s a tough moment to put yourself into, but it’s better to have a chance to do it than to give up now, when you are so close.

Most people will answer the question directly. Because most people are nice and honest. And that leads me to my last piece of advice. Assume people are nice and honest and approach them with optimism. Assume they will like you and you will like them, and then that’s the most likely outcome.

6 Things You Should Never Reveal on Facebook

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2010 at 2:37 am

image By Kathy Kristof 

The whole social networking phenomenon has millions of Americans sharing their photos, favorite songs and details about their class reunions on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and dozens of similar sites.  But there are a handful of personal details that you should never say if you don’t want criminals — cyber or otherwise — to rob you blind, according to Beth Givens, executive director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

The folks at also say that ill-advised Facebook postings increasingly can get your insurance cancelled or cause you to pay dramatically more for everything from auto to life insurance coverage. By now almost everybody knows that those drunken party photos could cost you a job, too.

You can certainly enjoy networking and sharing photos, but you should know that sharing some information puts you at risk. What should you never say on Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking site?

  • Your birth date and place. Sure, you can say what day you were born, but if you provide the year and where you were born too, you’ve just given identity thieves a key to stealing your financial life, said Givens. A study done by Carnegie Mellon showed that a date and place of birth could be used to predict most — and sometimes all — of the numbers in your Social Security number, she said.
  • Vacation plans. There may be a better way to say “Rob me, please” than posting something along the lines of: “Count-down to Maui! Two days and Ritz Carlton, here we come!” on Twitter. But it’s hard to think of one. Post the photos on Facebook when you return, if you like. But don’t invite criminals in by telling them specifically when you’ll be gone.
  • Home address. Do I have to elaborate? A study recently released by the Ponemon Institute found that users of Social Media sites were at greater risk of physical and identity theft because of the information they were sharing. Some 40% listed their home address on the sites; 65% didn’t even attempt to block out strangers with privacy settings. And 60% said they weren’t confident that their “friends” were really just people they know.
  • Confessionals. You may hate your job; lie on your taxes; or be a recreational user of illicit drugs, but this is no place to confess. Employers commonly peruse social networking sites to determine who to hire — and, sometimes, who to fire. Need proof? In just the past few weeks, an emergency dispatcher was fired in Wisconsin for revealing drug use; a waitress got canned for complaining about customers and the Pittsburgh Pirate’s mascot was dumped for bashing the team on Facebook. One study done last year estimated that 8% of companies fired someone for “misuse” of social media.
  • Password clues. If you’ve got online accounts, you’ve probably answered a dozen different security questions, telling your bank or brokerage firm your Mom’s maiden name; the church you were married in; or the name of your favorite song. Got that same stuff on the information page of your Facebook profile? You’re giving crooks an easy way to guess your passwords.
  • Risky behaviors. You take your classic Camaro out for street racing, soar above the hills in a hang glider, or smoke like a chimney? Insurers are increasingly turning to the web to figure out whether their applicants and customers are putting their lives or property at risk, according to So far, there’s no efficient way to collect the data, so cancellations and rate hikes are rare. But the technology is fast evolving, according to a paper written by Celent, a financial services research and consulting firm.

Beat the Big Guys at Hiring the Best

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2010 at 2:16 am

By Michael Hess | September 9, 2010

Chances are your small business can’t compete with the big guys when it comes to compensation and benefits. But that doesn’t mean you can’t compete for — and win — the best employees. Many, if not most, people will trade some income for job satisfaction, opportunity, work environment and other intangibles.

So make your company a fantastic place to work, and when it comes to benefits, be creative.

At Skooba Design, we have a pretty simple philosophy: We will do anything we possibly can for our people, period. Unfortunately, the reality of small business (read: money) doesn’t allow us to do everything we wish we could. The really big stuff is often out of our reach. The biggest of these, of course, is medical coverage. One of my dreams and goals is to provide 100% coverage for everyone here. But the nature of insurance — especially in Rochester, N.Y. — makes this impossible right now. We do pay a portion, but we simply can’t cover it all. So we can’t compete with corporate America on some big money stuff… what else is new? Yet we still attract and retain incredible, talented people. Here are some ways to win the David-and-Goliath game against deeper-pocketed companies:

Create an outstanding work environment. Your people spend a third or more of their life working. Don’t make them dread and regret every minute. There are endless ways to make your workplace one that keeps people happy and satisfied (most of the time… after all, work is still work and it’s not always jellybeans):

  • Make the physical environment as pleasant as possible. Comfy chairs and personal space are not unimportant. Don’t waste money you don’t have, but don’t be a tightwad either.
  • No politics or other corporate BS. Keep hierarchy, meetings, wasted time and effort to an absolute minimum. If you need meetings, you need them. Just be mindful.
  • Be 100% honest and open about everything. The second you think honesty is not the best policy is the second you cross a very dangerous line that’s hard to cross back over.
  • Don’t be a clock-watcher. if your people are truly good, you should never have to think about the time they’re putting in. We don’t have time clocks or sheets anywhere – and I never give it a second thought. Closed tomorrow for a holiday and things are quiet? How about letting everyone go a little early?
  • If people need time flexibility and you can find a way to accommodate, do.
  • Always be fair. You can find the “fair” in everything if you really want to.
  • Give as much responsibility and autonomy as people can handle. And praise what should be praised.
  • Create opportunities for growth.
  • For cripes’ sakes, have a personal and collective sense of humor. Be human and run a business built around humans. Very few big companies can beat small ones at that.

Find anything and everything that can be turned into a benefit, no matter how small. Maybe you can’t throw lots of money around, but do something. There are always things you can do, and little things do add up.

  • Keeping the kitchen full of free stuff isn’t up there with full dental. But it’s a relatively inexpensive way to show people you love ‘em. Having an employer who doesn’t make you dig for coffee coins is a nice thing.
  • Buy lunch whenever you have an excuse-birthdays, milestones, or no reason at all.
  • Offer generous employee discounts.
  • A basic life insurance policy (covering one year’s salary, for example) is very affordable and gives people a little bit of extra security. We provide this to everyone at no cost.
  • Don’t go overboard with big brother rules. Set necessary policies and guidelines, do what you have to do to protect your business and avoid liability. I am not suggesting being naïve, reckless or stupid; you have a business to run. But accept, for example, that people browse the Web at work, and be tolerant to the extent that it is possible in your business. If you have genuinely good people, it shouldn’t matter. Like working hours, it’s a trust issue. And if you don’t trust your employees, you have bigger problems.
  • When times are tough, find ways to help. When gas prices went through the roof a while back, we gave out prepaid gas cards a few times. Not to win any hero awards, just because it helped. People were paying 50% more to get to work, and it was a small way we could ease some of the pain until prices came down.
  • If you really get creative, you can come up with all kinds of other things. For example, everyone here has an annual allowance to use our shipping account for approved personal packages. Again, may not seem like much, but put yourself in the shoes of an hourly worker who has to find time to go out (in a blizzard, if you’re in our neck of the woods), wait in line with a pile of holiday gifts, and get ripped off by a shipping store.

These things may sound trivial or even quaint, and no arguing they are relatively small benefits in dollars, but the signal they send to your people about the kind of company they work for is bigger than the sum parts. When we sold our last family business — and that was a much bigger company than Skooba, with more substantial benefits — one of the most common things we heard was “we’re going to miss the turkeys you gave out every Thanksgiving.”

Still, pay as well as you can. Money may not be the final reason an employee chooses one job over another, but money is still why most of us have to work. So even if you can’t pay as much as they do in the glass castle downtown, pay as well as you can. Don’t nickel and dime your employees because you think you can get away with it. Do the best you can for them. And that includes things like personal days, vacation time, any savings or retirement plans — again, no matter how modest — that you can afford, and so on. Be as generous as you can be. People can smell a cheapskate a mile away, and cheapskates stink. You can give me the “saving money is critical in small business” argument, and my answer will be that it is, but that investing wisely in good people is worth every penny.

I’d love to hear other creative ideas and practices you or your employer have put into place to make your business a more attractive place to work than MegaJumboCorp.

Why the Small Business Failure Rate Is 90 Percent Smoke and Mirrors

In Uncategorized on September 16, 2010 at 12:23 pm

By Mark Henricks | September 2, 2010

You can’t read or talk about small business long before you run across it. If you haven’t heard it before, it could well rattle whatever resolve you have to go into business for yourself. Ninety percent of small businesses, you’ll learn, fail within one year of startup. Are you now thinking twice about refinancing the house and draining your retirement account to finance your startup? Oh, yeah.

However, without passing judgment on the specific prospects for whatever startup you are considering, if you listen to the 90 percent failure rate stat, you are probably making a mistake. It’s a myth, and far — very far — from the truth. No one seems to know where that factoid came from. We can say that, whatever it’s source, it’s flat wrong.

According to well-supported studies by reputable researchers, 70 percent of new firms that have at least one employee survive for at least two years. Roughly half go on for five years. That comes from the SBA, but other studies reached similar conclusions.

And even the 30 percent failure rate after one year may overstate the real risk of starting a small business. That’s because other studies have shown that most firms that close their doors were profitable at the time. They may have closed because the owner had health concerns or decided to do something else more personally interesting. They didn’t, most of the time, go broke.

Of course, risk is best considered relative to the alternatives. One alternative to starting a business is getting a job. And it turns out that going to work for someone else is roughly as likely to be short-lived as going to work for yourself. The Bureau of Labor Statistics looked at American workers’ average tenure on the job and found that, even when considering only more stable, older workers, 31 percent of the jobs they took ended in less than a year.  Not only that, but 65 percent of the jobs ended in fewer than 5 years. Whether you’re punching a clock or signing paychecks, it seems, the future is about equally uncertain.

Caution: Although the chances of a job ending may resemble those of a business closing, the impact of losing a job is likely to be less. You typically don’t liquidate your savings and personally guarantee a loan to start a job. If the job ends, you find a new one. You aren’t as likely to have to sell your house to pay off lenders, or file for bankruptcy, as if you started a business that didn’t work out.

Another qualifier: The SBA stats are for firms with at least one employee in addition to the owner. The agency’s researchers found that non-employer firms — people self-employed in one-person enterprises — tend to go in and out of business at much higher rates. That’s mostly because they are easier to start and stop, not necessarily because they are doomed to fail.

So next time you’re talking about business and hear the 90 percent-failure rate myth, feel free to nod and go along. As long as you know the truth, you have a competitive advantage against more gullible, more fearful and less well-informed would-be rivals.

Richard Branson: Five Secrets to Business Success

In Uncategorized on September 16, 2010 at 12:01 pm

by Richard Branson for Entrepreneur

I am often asked if I have found a secret – or at least a consistent answer – to successfully building businesses over my career.

So I’ve spent some time thinking about what characterizes so many of Virgin’s successful ventures and, importantly, what went wrong when we did not get it right. Reflecting across 40 years I have come up with five “secrets.”

No. 1: Enjoy What You Are Doing.
Because starting a business is a huge amount of hard work, requiring a great deal of time, you had better enjoy it. When I started Virgin from a basement flat in West London, I did not set out to build a business empire. I set out to create something I enjoyed that would pay the bills.

There was no great plan or strategy. The name itself was thought up on the hoof. One night some friends and I were chatting over a few drinks and decided to call our group Virgin, as we were all new to business. The name stuck and had a certain ring to it.

For me, building a business is all about doing something to be proud of, bringing talented people together and creating something that’s going to make a real difference to other people’s lives.

A businesswoman or a businessman is not unlike an artist. What you have when you start a company is a blank canvas; you have to fill it. Just as a good artist has to get every single detail right on that canvas, a businessman or businesswoman has to get every single little thing right when first setting up in business in order to succeed. However, unlike a work of art, the business is never finished. It constantly evolves.

If a businessperson sets out to make a real difference to other people’s lives, and achieves that, he or she will be able to pay the bills and have a successful business to boot.

No. 2: Create Something That Stands Out.
Whether you have a product, a service or a brand, it is not easy to start a company and to survive and thrive in the modern world. In fact, you’ve got to do something radically different to make a mark today.

Look at the most successful businesses of the past 20 years. Microsoft, Google or Apple, for example, shook up a sector by doing something that hadn’t ever been done and by continually innovating. They are now among the dominant forces.

No. 3: Create Something That Everybody Who Works for You is Really Proud of.
Businesses generally consist of a group of people, and they are your biggest assets.

No. 4: Be a Good Leader.
As a leader you have to be a really good listener. You need to know your own mind but there is no point in imposing your views on others without some debate. No one has a monopoly on good ideas or good advice.

Get out there, listen to people, draw people out and learn from them. As a leader you’ve also got to be extremely good at praising people. Never openly criticize people; never lose your temper, and always lavish praise on your colleagues for a job well done.

People flourish if they’re praised. Usually they don’t need to be told when they’ve done wrong because most of the time they know it. If somebody is not working out, don’t automatically throw him or her out of the company. A company should genuinely be a family. So see if there’s another job within the company that suits them better. On most occasions you’ll find something for every single kind of personality.

No. 5: Be Visible.
A good leader does not get stuck behind a desk. I’ve never worked in an office – I’ve always worked from home – but I get out and about, meeting people. It seems I am traveling all the time but I always have a notebook in my back pocket to jot down questions, concerns or good ideas.

If I’m on a Virgin Atlantic plane, I make certain to get out and meet all the staff and many of the passengers. If you meet a group of Virgin Atlantic crew members, you are going to have at least 10 suggestions or ideas. If I don’t write them down, I may remember only one the next day. By writing them down, I remember all 10. Get out and shake hands with all the passengers on the plane, and again, there are going to be people who had a problem or have a suggestion. Write it down, make sure that you get their names, get their e-mail addresses, and make sure the next day that you respond to them.

Of course, I try to make sure that we appoint managing directors who have the same philosophy. That way we can run a large group of companies in the same way a small business owner runs a family business – keeping it responsive and friendly.

When you’re building a business from scratch, the key word for many years is “survival.” It’s tough to survive. In the beginning you haven’t got the time or energy to worry about saving the world. You’ve just got to fight to make sure you can look after your bank manager and be able to pay the bills. Literally, your full concentration has to be on surviving.

Obviously, if you don’t survive, just remember that most businesses fail and the best lessons are usually learned from failure. You must not get too dispirited. Just get back up and try again.

© 2010 Richard Branson