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The coming year isn't likely to be a home run for franchise growth, but it won't be a no-hitter either.

The number of franchise establishments in the U.S. is expected to rise by a modest 1.4 percent to 757,055 in 2013, according to a report released yesterday by the International Franchise Association (IFA). The industry grew by 1.5 percent in 2012.

Uncertainty about the economy and fiscal issues are expected to weigh on the franchise sector in 2013, but it is still expected to outpace other industries in terms of growth, according to the report.

The franchise industry is expected to add 162,000 jobs in 2013. That's a 2 percent increase from 2012 bringing the total to an anticipated 8.26 million jobs. According to their findings, the IFA said industry growth estimates would be greater if there were more clarity about the future of the economy, taxes and how the new health care legislation will be implemented.

Related: Business Owners Want Fiscal-Cliff Deal for Customers

"Right now the environment for taking risk is cautionary for prospective and existing franchisees," said Matt Haller, the IFA's vice president of public affairs.

Once you've started a business, you've got to learn how to grow it.

This week, I chatted with entrepreneur Angela Jia Kim, founder of Savor the Success, a women's networking group, during a Google Hangout about business growth. You can watch an archive of our full chat here. We covered a lot of ground -- everything from building your company's brand to learning how to polish your sales abilities. 

Watching the chat was Lisa Nelson, an artist who creates "visual summaries" through her company, See In Colors, of Lanham, Md. Using pictures and text, she captured our conversation about how to maximize growth. She's allowed us to reprint her visual summary below. 

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image credit: Free Enterprise

Small-business groups are adding their voices to the chorus of Americans urging Washington politicians to resolve the fiscal cliff crisis before it hits their customers.

Today the Small Business Majority held a tele-press conference and Main Street Alliance held a briefing call with small-business owners on the battle over where the new tax threshold should be set. Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill once again reached a stalemate in negotiations.

Business owners are eager for both sides of the aisle to come together and hammer out a deal that protects their customers and provides them with certainty going forward. If Congress is not able to make a deal to reduce the deficit by Dec. 31, a mere 11 days away, a slew of spending cuts and tax hikes would go into effect immediately.

If you've noticed an increase in the number of webinars being marketed today, there's a good reason -- webinars can be a profitable platform, but only if they're done correctly. There's a big difference between hosting a webinar and hosting a profitable webinar.

For the past few years I've hosted or have been a guest on several hundred webinars, teaching people a variety of things from LinkedIn marketing to how to start a business from scratch

Those who are on the fence about producing webinars, ask yourself this, "Would my business benefit by educating prospects on the benefits and necessity of my product or service?" If the answer is yes, hosting webinars is a must. 

image credit: Wantist

Just in time for the holidays, online retailing giant Amazon has teamed up with Facebook to bring social gifting to the masses. Its new Friends and Family Gifting feature alerts you to loved ones' birthdays and anniversaries, and lets you browse their Amazon wish lists for presents.

Though Amazon is positioning itself as a one-stop shop for all gifting needs, it is by no means the only option. There's a growing army of startups that are rethinking the process of giving and receiving gifts.

Here's a look at three of the most interesting gifting-related startups we could find. One has pioneered a way to make online shopping more personal, while another lets you browse using unique categories. And the third is all about getting cool gifts for yourself.

1. Wantist. A curated digital collection of gifts with a built-in search function, San Francisco-based Wantist is taking the guesswork out of buying presents for the people in your life. It can be especially useful for those who might be uninspired about shopping but want to give a creative gift.

What's innovative: Need "something clever" for "someone sophisticated"? Or maybe "something romantic" for "someone outdoorsy"? No problem. At least that's the idea: Wantist's drop-down menus of descriptive characteristics can help you find what you're looking for -- even for those difficult-to-shop-for people on your list.

image credit: Tema Daily

According to the ancient Mayan calendar, the current cycle of the world is coming to an end on December 21, 2012. But even if their prediction doesn't come true, it's a good idea to prepare your business for a potential data emergency.

Pete Khanna, CEO of the Denver-based software company TrackVia, says entrepreneurs face a whole host of potentially dangerous situations every day.

"Sometimes an emergency can appear small, like the executive employee who loses his laptop or smart phone containing sensitive information," he says. "Other emergencies are larger and more obvious, such as the recent storms in the northeast that flooded offices and buildings, and destroyed equipment and data for thousands of businesses." 

Related: How to Create a Disaster Plan for Your Business

Whether it's the end of the world or a lost cell phone, entrepreneurs should be prepared. Khanna offers these three steps for protecting your information, and your sanity.

image credit: Shutterstock

In 2001, when five friends left their full-time jobs and pooled their savings to launch Indianapolis, Ind.-based wireless management company Bluefish Wireless Management, they made a bold decision: Instead of establishing the traditional hierarchy of one CEO, they would split the top job five ways. The unconventional structure has worked well for their company, and the five launched wireless mobility management platform, MOBI Wireless Management, in 2009.

How do a handful of smart, driven people run two companies without power struggles or conflict? Co-founder Scott Kraege says it's been "an evolution -- and stepping on toes is part of the process." But here are some of the lessons they’ve learned to remain effective and resolve conflicts.

1. Divide responsibilities. In the beginning, responsibilities overlapped, causing duplication of effort and conflict. Soon, Kraege and co-founders Joshua Garrett, Christian Browning, Michael Browning II, and Tony Paris reasoned that because each had a different area of expertise (including finance, marketing, sales, information technology, and operations), it made sense to divide areas of responsibility along those lines. While they have all been involved in each area of the company, they took the lead in their individual areas of expertise. 

Related: Can Radical Transparency Work for Your Business?

image credit: Mission City Lantern

Move over, eHarmony, JDate and ChristianMingle. There’s a new player in the online matchmaking space.

Rather than trying to make love connections for strangers, however, this new portal -- which goes by the romantic name ICSC/IFA Matchmaking Database -- attempts to unite franchises in need of new locations and shopping centers in need of new tenants.

The searchable database is sponsored by the International Franchise Association and the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The tool could play a role in “escalating the pace at which businesses are coming to market and speeding up the creation of new jobs,” Steve Caldeira, IFA president and CEO, said in announcing the site.

Michael P. Kercheval, ICSC president and CEO, called the portal "the perfect blending" of each association’s core objectives and a "catalyst" for retail expansion.

Retailers searching for a new location for their spa, pizza shop, child-care center, tanning salon or yogurt store already have started posting their requirements on the site. One franchisee, for example, is looking for 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot locations with 60 to 80 parking spaces in shopping centers in areas with a $50,000 median household income and a population of 50,000 within three miles.

Related: Your Franchise Could Be Here

Landlords and brokers likewise have started to list available spaces. The contiguous 3,600 square-foot space available in a Bloomington, Ind., strip center may be the good catch that some retailer is seeking.

While the portal represents the efforts of two industries, individual shopping center operators already have been trying a similar concept – with limited success.

In February, we told you about the effort by Kimco Realty to match franchisees with vacant storefronts in its shopping centers through its FastTrack Franchise program. Kimco, the largest U.S. operator of neighborhood shopping centers, aims to connect franchisees with spaces that have been pre-approved by particular fast-food, fitness, retail or educational chains. DDR Corp., which operates more than 450 shopping centers, also had launched a web platform, FranchiseConnect, to match entrepreneurs with franchisor-approved sites.

Kimco’s blog offers a video explaining how its program works.

Kimco regional leasing associate Brett Cooper said he had been unaware of the new IFA/ICSC database, although the shopping center REIT might be interested in participating.

He added that Kimco's own FastTrack Franchise program, while expanding regionally, hasn't attracted as much interest as anticipated from would-be entrepreneurs seeking to open a first franchise.

While there have been no concrete deals yet from new franchisees, the company has made deals with existing franchisees looking to fulfill development agreements, and from corporate-owned stores, Cooper said.

Still, "we're happy with the progress and how it's been going," he said. "A little slower than we initially thought [with new franchisees] but we're still happy with it."

Related: Turning Jocks Into Franchise Owners
 

Starting a business is the first step. Growing it is the next challenge. From hiring employees to building your brand, the path to entrepreneurial success can be a tricky one to navigate.

That's why we asked Angela Jia Kim to join me in a Google Hangout, "How to Achieve Massive Business Growth," to answer all your burning questions. Watch an archive of the hangout above.

 

Social network giant Facebook announced yesterday that it has updated its "Nearby" feature, which is accessed through the Facebook iOS and Android mobile apps. With the update, Nearby now helps people find local businesses based on feedback from their Facebook friends. The feedback can be in the form of recommendations, a star rating system where friends rate a business from 1 to 5 and where friends have checked into or liked on Facebook.

Unlike other review applications, people need to have checked into a business before they can rate it.

This update could be a boon to local businesses that have a presence on Facebook as hundreds of millions of people access Facebook on their mobile devices. People can use Nearby to search for specific businesses or search by categories such as Restaurants, Coffee or Shopping. They can also search on sub-categories such as brunch or clothing. The suggestions people receive become more personalized the more they and their friends recommend, rate and check into places. 

image credit: Shutterstock

As a business leader, you constantly need to come up with new ideas. You're creating a vision for tomorrow -- a world that doesn’t exist yet -- and your greatest resource for getting it right is your instincts.

Mike Germano, co-founder of Carrot Creative, one of the first social media marketing agencies, has succeeded because of his instincts. "[My instincts have] allowed me to capitalize on opportunities and made me very confident in taking risks that other people didn’t see," he says.

In 2005, Germano ran for political office in Connecticut, using social media to drive his campaign. Everyone thought he was crazy -- until he won. The same year, he founded Carrot Creative, launching a social media agency when no one thought social media would amount to much of anything. Eight years later, his clients include Jaguar, Target, Disney, and a host of other top brands.

Related: 7 Steps to Become an Authority in Your Industry

"A lot of people said we were crazy, and if we had listened to any of them, we wouldn’t be where we are," he says.

Here are five tips to help you trust your instincts and build a successful business.

image credit: QR Insights

Social media marketing can be hard to master. When done right, it can strengthen your brand value and ideally even your bottom line. When done wrong, it can alienate consumers and thrash your reputation.

Here's a look at five of the worst corporate mistakes over Twitter this year, and what other business owners can learn from them: 

image credit: Creative Commons

Using eye-catching images on your company's website or in advertising is a good way to capture a potential customer's attention. But even if you're careful to select an image with copyright permission, your business could still end up in a sticky legal situation.

In 2007 Virgin Mobile created a series of advertisements with images from photo-sharing platform Flickr. The photos were made available under a Creative Commons license, which was developed to allow photographers to share their work under a variety of copyright licenses.

One image, of 15-year-old Alison Chang was printed with slogans such as "Dump Your Pen Friend" printed on the photo. Virgin Mobile claimed the photo was licensed under a Creative Commons attribution license, but the teen’s parents sued, alleging their daughter’s privacy rights had been violated. 

Related: How to Choose the Best Legal Structure for Your Startup

Editor's note: An extended version of this post appears at SociallySorted.com.au.

There's a shift happening in the way we communicate online. In a lot of ways, the focus has moved from written social media to visual social media.

What does this mean? What started as websites and blogs where we shared our message with 500 to 1,000 words or so quickly moved to micro-blogging platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Even micro-blogs became more multi-media driven as we watched Tumblr take off and YouTube reach more than 4 billion views daily. Pinterest and Instagram are now two of the fastest growing and most engaging social networks.

Related: How Photos Can Make or Break Your Marketing Campaign

As social media platforms become more visual, we wind up saying more with less, using images and videos to say what we would with words. 

image credit: Shutterstock

In a scene from the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln tells her husband: "No one is loved as much as you by the people. Don't waste that power." Spoiler alert: He doesn't.

While the movie focuses on the passing of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, it also gives a lot of insight to Lincoln's strong leadership skills -- those things that have made him so admired.

While you may not be leading revolutionary change in the country, here are four leadership lessons from our 16th president on how to lead revolutionary change at your startup or small business.

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