Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Think You Can’t Afford a Butler? Alfred Could Prove You Wrong

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

alfred

Have you ever wished you had your own butler, like Bruce Wayne’s Alfred? Most people could use a little bit of help with their housework and chores now and again. But few have the money and resources to hire live-in help like Alfred. If you’re one of those people who could use some minor assistance, there’s a new solution that might want to consider.

Startup Alfred, named for the famous butler in Batman, aims to make hiring housework help affordable. At just $99 a month, an Alfred butler will come to your home to perform various chores like cleaning, sorting mail and folding laundry.

The business is also partnering with services like Instacart (a grocery delivery service), Washio (a laundry and dry-cleaning service), and handy (a housecleaning service). Alfred can coordinate and manage those various services so you don’t have to bother with contacting and coordinating with each one individually.

Co-founders Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck first came up with the idea for Alfred during a brainstorming session at Harvard Business School. After they completed their assignment, they kept working on their idea and eventually dropped out of school to pursue it full time.

The concept of a butler isn’t exactly new. But providing just a little bit of help to ordinary people who could use the extra time during the week is something that seems to have pretty widespread appeal. Sapone told CNN:

“It’s a really good service for parents who work and are juggling a family. [And] for young professionals putting in a lot of hours [or] entrepreneurs who are busy trying to launch what they’re passionate about.”

All of Alfred’s workers have to undergo background checks and multiple rounds of interviews before starting. Currently, the service is only available in New York and Boston. But already the company has some 100 of these personal “Alfreds’ standing by waiting to help busy entrepreneurs, parents and professionals lighten their loads.

Butler Photo via Shutterstock

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Remember to Thank Small Restaurants and #DineSmall

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

dinesmall

A new campaign aims to encourage those shopping on Small Business Saturday to patronize small restaurants too when their shopping day is done. Small Business Saturday, now in its fifth year, is the Saturday after Thanksgiving specifically designated to promote shopping from small businesses and local merchants.

The campaign already has two hashtags. The first, #DineSmall, is helping to spread the word about the new campaign, officially called Small Business Saturday Night. The second, #ShowUsYourMenu, encourages owners and chefs at participating establishments to post special menus for the event via social media.

In a recent post on the Small Business Administrator blog, SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet explains:

“This year, America’s bars and restaurants are extending the hours on the daylong festivities by promoting Small Business Saturday Night. The SBA is partnering with the National Restaurant Association to encourage families who shop small to #DineSmall at local restaurants and watering holes in the evening. We’re also encouraging small business merchants to extend their hours so they can take advantage of increased nighttime foot traffic.”

In this video from the SBA, Sweet elaborates further:

Why Supporting Small Restaurants is Important

As in the case with other small businesses, small restaurants are important to local economies and employment.

But they also have an important impact on the careers of future restaurant entrepreneurs and, as a result, on the creation of even more jobs in the future.

Sweet adds:

“Nine out of 10 restaurants have less than 50 employees, and 80 percent of restaurant owners start their careers in entry-level positions. So the #DineSmall movement is this year’s important new way to support the proprietors who give Main Street its unique flavor.”

But more than that, small businesses represent a livelihood for many of those in the communities were we all live.

In a recent email in support of the event, John Frazier, Chief Entrepreneur Champion at BizBuzz America recounts the story of 62-year-old restaurant owner Carol Bates.

Frazier says Bates, owner of Dockside Dave’s Grill in Madeira Beach, Fl., tracked him down after a bad experience he had at her restaurant and taught him the value small restaurant owners place on their customers.

“Carol called my cell phone the next day after the event. She explained that her cook was new, apologized, and offered me a gift certificate that was twice what I had actually spent. I turned down her gift certificate and respectfully accepted a replacement meal. But then Carol explained, ‘my customers are important to me; because, if you don’t come back I will be unemployed and at 62 I cannot get another job’.”

Remember to support small restaurants on Small Business Saturday  and all year long and spread the word via #DineLocal. And small restaurant owners, take advantage of #ShowUsYourMenu to promote your special menu for the day.

Image: SBA

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Get Customers to Fall in Love With Your Products

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

fall in love with your products

Most ecommerce business owners want consumers to like their products. But according to Bayard Winthrop, founder and CEO of American Giant, that shouldn’t be your goal. Consumer attitudes are changing. They no longer just want cheap and easy products. They want quality. They want an experience. They want to buy products they truly love.

So the question remains — how do you get your customers to fall in love with your products instead of just liking them? That’s a question Wintrop explores in a book he recently co-wrote with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Randy Komisar called, “I F**king Love That Company.”

In an interview with Fox Business, Winthrop spoke about the book and about the changing landscape of the ecommerce industry. He said that for too long, businesses have focused on scaling their business at the expense of building a quality product or service. Companies spent their resources expanding to new location and building their marketing campaigns instead of improving their products or services. And for many years, that helped big businesses grow.

But about 10 to 15 years ago, consumer focus shifted. And with it, technology offered businesses the ability to improve their product instead of spending their money on new locations and traditional marketing tactics.

When companies are able to re-allocate those resources into improving the customer experience, they create more loyal customers. Those customers who love the experience they have with an ecommerce company are more likely to tell others about it. And that gives the companies they love an opportunity to grow even more while using even fewer resources.

According to Winthrop, that’s why companies like Warby Parker, Airbnb, Nasty Gal and his own American Giant have become so successful. He told Fox Business:

“There’s a whole list of people who are looking at ways to get better in services and products in the marketplace and doing it in new and fresh ways. They’re being very disruptive to the traditional retailers.“

Image: Giant

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Your Next iPhone May Take Photos Like A DSLR Camera

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

next iphone dslr camera

We’ve seen some rapid advancements in cameras for the smartphone in recent years. But to date, all these advancements have really only turned a smartphone camera into a moderate to high-end point-and-shoot.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom brought us a zoom lens attached to a smartphone. Earlier this year, Panasonic introduced the Lumix CM1. The 20-megapixel camera on that device almost makes the smartphone part an afterthought. And the HTC Desire Eye switched the high end emphasis to the front-facing camera. The resolution on the Desire Eye’s front camera is designed to create a higher quality selfie.

But there’s a new report suggesting Apple may be introducing the best smartphone camera yet. If and when Apple does unveil this camera that borders on DSLR quality, it likely would be with the introduction of the next iPhone.

That could be some time off, of course. The company only recently updated its flagship mobile device by releasing the iPhone 6 and the new iPhone 6 Plus phablet.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball reported in a recent edition of his podcast “The Talk Show” that he’s privy to a rumor suggesting Apple is working on a unique camera to add to the next iPhone it manufactures. On his podcast, Gruber says “a birdie of a birdie” told him that the new iPhone’s camera would use a “two-lens system” that helps the rear-facing camera take pictures with DSLR quality.

That would be similar to technology currently being used on the HTC One M8, according to a MacRumors report. On that smartphone, the second lens is used to gather more image information to send to the first lens. The two-lens system on the HTC One M8 allows someone taking a photo to shift the focus.

MacRumors.com also believes that if Apple does adopt a two-lens solution to produce DSLR-quality images, it may use technology being produced by a company called Corephotonics. With Corephotonics’ technology, each lens captures an image at different zoom levels. This allows a zoom-like feature without the moving parts needed in traditional digital single-lens reflex cameras.

Here’s an overview of the technology from CNET:

The dual lens system combines two 13 megapixel cameras — one a wide-angle lens, the other a telephoto — that, when combined, produce an image quality three times that of optical zoom.

If MacRumors.com is correct in its assumptions, the new DSLR-quality camera would be included on the next iPhone — likely the iPhone 6S. If Apple stays true to its recent release schedule, that phone might be making an appearance at the end of next year.

Smartphone Photo via Shutterstock

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New TryMyUI Mobile App Launched for Mobile Usability Testing

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

trymyui mobile app

The importance of having a mobile website for your business is increasing by the day. More consumers now access the internet using mobile devices instead of desktop computers. But just setting up any old mobile site isn’t enough. You likely put a lot of time and care into developing a professional and user-friendly website. So your mobile site should receive the same care and consideration.

This increase in mobile consumers means more convenient and flexible ways for customers to shop, but it also means new demands on businesses. Mobile shoppers are more impulsive, more picky, more distracted, more non-committal. Studies show that two-thirds will abandon a purchase if the shopping experience is not mobile-friendly. Mobile consumers don’t want to feel like they’re getting your cold leftovers. They won’t stick around and deal with a clunky made-for-desktop interface, they won’t wade through tons of tiny text, and they certainly won’t enter their card information if your mobile app doesn’t inspire trust and confidence. And yet, most businesses aren’t doing near enough to tailor their mobile presence to these increasingly important users.

In order to build a mobile site that is truly user-friendly, you’ll need to find out what users look for in terms of things like features and layout. For traditional websites, usability testing services like TryMyUI allow businesses to see their site from a user’s point of view. But because of the navigation style and input methods of mobile websites, it isn’t possible to do the same kind of testing on mobile devices. So far, companies have simply made due with external cameras affixed to testers’ devices to record their experiences.

However, there is one new option that gives business owners a way to test the usability of their mobile sites without any external devices getting in the way. TryMyUI is releasing a new mobile app that will allow businesses to test their UI across multiple platforms and devices. The app allows businesses to get a glimpse into the full user experience while utilizing just the tools available on mobile, and without disrupting the natural mobile experience.

The app works by recording a screencap video from users’ devices. It also captures their concerns, complaints and insights about their experience in real time using the device’s microphone. The app can show where users tapped, selected items, and swiped the screen. Businesses can even choose to record video of the tester’s face by utilizing the devices’ front facing cameras.

trymyui mobile app 2

StubHub’s Mobile Director Parag Vaish told TryMyUI, regarding the new app:

“This is the first mobile testing solution that really works within the parameters of the medium itself, instead of injecting a poorly-fitting foreign solution.”

Along with working within the parameters of mobile technology, the TryMyUI app is also known for its versatility. The app can test both mobile sites and other apps across various operating systems and devices. To test apps on devices operating with iOS, TryMyUI is circumventing Apple’s proscription against apps collecting information on each other by making their own app’s software kit available to insert into your code, so your app can essentially test itself. TryMyUI Co-founder Ritvij Gautam said in a statement:

“We wanted to provide an answer to testing challenges on all operating systems and for all mobile formats, and so the end product is an all-in-one, mix-and-match solution.”

Mobile technology is relatively new and constantly evolving. But it’s a medium that businesses can no longer afford to ignore. So while more and more businesses are choosing to optimize their sites for mobile devices, creating a mobile experience that is truly user-friendly is one way to make your business stand out in an increasingly mobile world.

Images: TryMyUI

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Spotlight: JDog Junk Removal Spawns Franchises in Six States

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

jdog junk removal

Junk removal isn’t a very glamorous industry. But when Jerry Flanagan was looking for a new entrepreneurial venture, it seemed like the right fit. It turns out that choosing a career in the junk removal industry was a great decision. It helped Flanagan’s business succeed through the recession. And now, JDog Junk Removal & Hauling has even expanded throughout six states through franchising. Read more about Flanagan’s junk removal business venture in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does:

Sorts, recycles, discards, and transports unwanted junk items.

People can hire the JDog team to remove unwanted items from just about anywhere. The company can remove items ranging from appliances and furniture to building materials and walls. The JDog team can remove unwanted material from residential and commercial locations, garages, storage units, and even demolition sites.

Items that aren’t moved between locations are donated and recycled through organizations like Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity.

Business Niche:

Helping veterans find career opportunities.

JDog Junk Removal & Hauling franchises are owned exclusively by veterans and their families. Since Flanagan is a veteran himself, he considers it both important and beneficial for his business to support the veteran community. The company also works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to support the rehabilitation of veterans through its Compensated Work Therapy program and donates to veteran charities.

But the decision to offer franchising opportunities to veterans isn’t just a charitable effort. Flanagan says:

“Veterans making the transition from military to civilian life face steep competition and are challenged to re-enter the workplace with a uniquely valuable skill set. JDog Junk Removal & Hauling allows veterans to join a new mission that capitalizes on their strengths in a work environment that matches their strong work ethic.”

jdog junk removal

How the Business Got Started:

After careful research and planning.

When Flanagan completed his service in the U.S. Army, he attended college and technical school on the GI Bill. He then held several different management positions at retail companies. But he wanted to create a more stable career for himself. He explains:

“I started JDog Junk Removal & Hauling to change careers from the retail industry to the service industry and avoid the risks I foresaw when the economy began its downturn. My goal was to create something recession proof that would allow me to apply the skills and discipline I acquired in the Army. Through my research, I discovered that the waste industry had both high demand and high margins, which I felt would lead to fast growth.”

Biggest Risk:

Starting a new business without any experience in the industry.

Flanagan says:

“I could have fallen flat on my face, though my market research told me the odds of that happening were low. Happily, that research proved to be correct and now JDog Junk Removal & Hauling is prospering, barreling forward with momentum as other veterans learn about the opportunity to start their own franchise.”

jdog junk removal

Biggest Win:

Partnering with Julip Run Capital.

Flanagan says:

“The group of investors and experienced management team believed in my vision so much to invest their money and their hearts to help build this National Military Veteran Brand. Thanks to the group, I can offer thousands of veterans small business ownership and career opportunities.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000:

Spreading the word about the business and expanding opportunities for veterans.

jdog junk removal

Song That Describes the Business:

“My Way,” because this really is an opportunity to be the master of your fate.

* * * * *

Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program.

Images: JDog Junk Removal

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3 Essential Things to Do When Building A Free Website

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

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building a free website

Want to know the fastest way to get your website online? Use a free website builder tool.

Oh the price is right, of course. Prices start at free. (And for just a little extra you can add on bells and whistles if you want to — although you can have a professional-looking website without add-ons or premium features.)

But one of the biggest benefits you get is speed. Your time is valuable. A good website builder app gets your website up and running with a minimum of time investment. You can go from no website to a professional website in a single afternoon — sometimes less.

You don’t need to be a Web designer or programmer, either. Most free website builder tools are based on templates or layouts. You choose a template that looks appealing or perhaps is designed for a business similar to yours. Then you add images such as your company logo and photographs. Or choose from a selection of stock images provided. Then tailor the text to describe your business, offerings, location, contact details and other information. Before you know it, your website is ready for prime time.

To get the most out of using tools like these, it helps to have a plan. Don’t forget these three things:

1. Do an Inventory of Your Needs

Please don’t skip this step. It doesn’t take long, and will save you time in the long run. Not every website is the same, and it really depends on how you plan to use yours in your business.

Do you need a one-page flyer for your business? Or are you looking for a multi-page website with pages to outline your services and products in detail, and collect email leads? What about e-commerce — are you planning to sell anything on your website?

A benefit of using free website builders is that you can start small and add to it over time. As your business grows and your needs get more sophisticated, you can choose from varying levels of upgrade packages for an additional fee. What is included in a free package versus a premium package will vary from provider to provider. Knowing what you require now – and what you might need later on – will help narrow down the list of potential website builders. That way you won’t have to start all over again six months or a year from now.

This chart from Verisign includes a list of basic features to consider, and identifies which are generally included in a free package versus an upgraded package.

building a free website

2. Choose Your Domain Name From the Get-Go

Your domain name will be your virtual address online. Some website builders suggest skipping this step, offering to give you an address as a subset of their domain name. Verisign recommends putting your website on your own domain name right from the start. Your own domain name:

  • Brands your business. Being memorable is key. You can pick a domain name that matches your company name, or choose a descriptive name that highlights certain aspects of your business.
  • Gives you a consistent address on the Web for customers to find you. When you use an address provided by your website builder (such as: mycompany.xyzabcdefreewebsitebuilder.com), your domain name will go away if you switch website builder tools later on. With a domain name you own, you assure continuity.
  • Provides an easy-to-remember address for marketing.
  • Enables you to have a company-branded email through the domain name. Having an email address such as joe@myowncompany.com will look more professional than using a general email address such as joexyzabcdef@gmail.com. It looks more permanent. It builds confidence in customers because it says that your business is here to stay.

3. Compare a Few Website Builder Tools

We recommend taking time to compare 2 or 3 different website builders. This will allow you to choose a tool that can give you what you need. It’s also helpful to understand what each offers in their base package, versus the premium packages in case you want to scale your website with them in the future.

Remember not all tools are created equal. Over the years, free website builder tools have gotten easier to use, more feature-rich, and yield more stunning end results. Choosing the right builder for your needs will save you time and frustration down the line. Many of the companies that sell domain names offer free website builders, or you can simply do an Internet search for ‘free site builders’ to find the top tools available now.

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How to Boost Your Retail Sales Into the New Year

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

boost your retail sales

If you’re putting all your focus on the holiday sales season, you’re neglecting a huge opportunity — the chance to boost your retail sales after the new year, which is typically a slower time of the year for many.

Plenty of people will be heading into stores in January to exchange unwanted items, cash in gift cards or spend gifted money. With the right approach and some advance planning, you can continue to capture their attention, and their dollars, well into the new year.

6 Ways to Boost Your Retail Sales Into the New Year

Lure Them Back With Limited-Time Offers Good Only in January

Personally, I’m a sucker for “Kohl’s cash.” The national chain periodically rewards shoppers with $10 to spend for every $50 in purchases. The catch: Kohl’s cash can only be spent during a certain window of time.

Since it feels like free money, I almost always end up checking out the store before my Kohl’s cash expires and spending a lot more than I received in “free money.” You can reward customers with store “cash,” gift cards or percentage/dollar-off deals. Whatever you choose, the key is to focus on getting your customers back into your store in January, a frequently slow sales month.

Sell Gift Cards

Gift cards were the number one most popular gift last year. So if your store sells them, you have built-in sales in January (and even later). Even if customers never redeem their cards, you’ve gotten paid for the face value. But if you can get them to come into your store in January, all the better, since they’ll usually spend more than the amount of the card.

Follow Up With Holiday Shoppers

Make sure you capture email addresses from people who shop at your store over the next four weeks. If you do that, you can then reach out again in January with an email marketing message. You can do a soft sell with a digital “Happy New Year” eCard and a gentle reminder to come in and take advantage of year-end clearance items, or sweeten the pot with a discount offer.

Use Loss Leaders

January is the perfect time to get rid of slow-moving items that didn’t sell well. Discount them to rock-bottom prices to get people into your store. And then entice those customers with well-merchandised displays for full-priced items.

Try a Fun Promo

Consumers are likely to feel a letdown as they head back to work and open their credit card statements that reflect high balances from all of their recent spending.

Put them back in a good mood with fun contests, giveaways or challenges. Give away a free gift with purchases. Hold a drawing in the store for a prize such as a $100 gift card or a desirable product. Or have customers bring in the biggest “white elephant” gift they got this year to receive a $10 gift card in exchange.

Look to the Future

The new year is a time when people are ready for change. Try marketing that emphasizes how your business can help them usher in “the new.” Whether it’s by purchasing snazzy new workout wear from your boutique to motivate a fitness regimen, overhauling the home entertainment center with surround sound speakers from your electronics store, or redecorating the living room for spring, there are plenty of ways to get customers energized about new projects — and into your store to get those projects going.

What ideas will you use to boost your retail sales in January?

Retail Sale Photo via Shutterstock

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How to Claim a YouTube Custom Channel URL

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

youtube custom channel url

Hey video creators, would you like to set a new YouTube custom channel URL for your YouTube channel?

Now YouTube is letting users claim custom URLs for their channels to align with their display names, Google+ Business Pages, vanity URLs or other linked websites. You can even change the capitalization or accents/diacritics of your custom URL.

To get a spiffy new YouTube custom channel URL, make sure your account is in good standing and meets the following requirements:

  • You have 500 subscribers or more.
  • Channel is 30 days old or greater.
  • Channel includes a photos for the channel icon.
  • Channel includes uploaded channel art.

Your YouTube Custom Channel URL

If your account is in good standing, you can head over to the Creator Studio dashboard to get started and claim your custom channel URL.

youtube custom channel url

You can also learn more about setting up a YouTube custom channel URL here and watch the video below:

Republished by permission. Original here.

Smartphone Photo via Shutterstock

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13-Year-Old Entrepreneur Youngest Recipient of Venture Funding

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

youngest recipient of funding

Most 13-year-olds spend their time playing games and just trying to get through middle school. But not Shubham Banerjee. Instead, he founded his own company, Braigo Labs Inc.

The company, a producer of Braille printers, just received funding from Intel Capital, making Banerjee the youngest-ever recipient of venture funding from Intel. And he’s quite possibly the youngest-ever recipient of funding from any VC firm.

The idea for Banerjee’s innovative product came to him after a non-profit organization dropped off a flyer at his house. The flyer was asking for donations for an organization that helped the blind.

He became curious and asked his parents how blind people read. They encouraged him to do some research on Google. It was then that Banerjee learned about Braille. And he also learned that Braille printers cost upwards of $2,000.

It struck him that many people, particularly those who live in developing countries, wouldn’t be able to afford such an expensive device. He was sure that he could create a printer that would cost much less. So he turned to an unlikely tool — a Lego kit.

He used Legos, paper and some weights to create a prototype Braille printer. He entered it in his school’s science fair and received a lot of positive reception. So he moved forward with his creation to receive the venture funding that may make him one for the record books. See him speak about his project at the Intel Capital Summit 2014 in the video below.

Though the final product won’t be made of Legos, it will be much less expensive than other Braille printers — right around $350. There’s clearly a need for such a device, since Braille is necessary for a lot of people. And there aren’t any options even remotely as inexpensive out there.

Banerjee can’t even read Braille. But he likes being able to help people with his innovation. He said at the Intel Capital Summit 2014:

“I was just trying to help people. I never thought it would come this far.”

Image: Video Still

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