This ad will close in
franchise-green.jpgQuick-service customers want to feel good about themselves. That's why healthier options like salads and fruit have become popular fixtures on fast food menus in recent years. But a new survey from M/A/R/C Research shows that customers might care just as much about the Earth's health as their own--and quick-service franchises can capitalize on that.

Of the 7,000 quick-service customers surveyed, 48% said it was very important or extremely important to them that fast-food restaurants have green initiatives, and only 18% said the issue was not very or not at all important to them. Twenty-one percent of the respondents said they would visit a restaurant more often if they knew it was involved in green practices.
draw-crowd.jpgFeeling shorthanded these days? Wondering if your business is truly meeting your customers' needs? If you answered yes to either of those questions, have you asked all your customers to help you?

Increasingly, companies big and small are doing just that. It's called crowdsourcing--enlisting the help of a large group of people to do company work or shape the company agenda, rather than delegating tasks to an employee or two, or perhaps an ad agency.

The growth of social media has enabled crowdsourcing, making it easy for companies to connect with huge mobs of customers. A couple of the key benefits: saving money and making customers feel more connected to your company.

content continues below
survive-recov.jpg
Small-business owners are feeling cheerier these days. The National Federation of Independent Business's monthly member survey saw business owners' optimism about the future rise a couple of points in August, a change the organization described as a meaningful uptick.

Similarly, American Express OPEN's Small Business Monitor survey saw a big jump in optimism. Back in March, 45 percent of respondents were optimistic about their near-term prospects--in September, that had risen to 55 percent. The OPEN study showed one troubling trend, though--a widening gap between the optimists and those who appear to be circling the drain.

web-resources.jpgNew resources keep popping up on this wonderful internet of ours, and occasionally, I'm going to take the time on my Wednesday blog posts to share some.

This week, I've got three great resources for business owners--two will help you learn how to be successful, and one's about improving your e-mail communications.

First off, the Small Business Administration has hit YouTube with a series of helpful videos. Their Delivering Success series covers all the business basics, including financing, marketing, hiring, and planning. There's also videos on doing a "business reality check," as well as top success tips. If you've been wanting some basic business advice, you're out of excuses--here's some help that's free and as easy as watching TV.
shark-waters.jpgAfter six weeks of watching ABC's "Shark Tank"--a reality series featuring real negotiations between entrepreneurs seeking capital and five investors--there are certainly lessons to be learned. Not the least of which: know when to take the deal.

And it's hard when almost every deal includes one or more of the sharks taking over your company. However, when you're an inventor with no distribution contacts and the investors are offering to take your product to market and pay you a lifetime of royalties, maybe taking the deal would be a smart move.

Let's look at Jeff and Josh Cohen, father and son team who created and patented a hinge for a functional folding guitar. It seemed apparent to everyone but Papa Cohen that his most profitable bet was to license his hinge to a manufacturer and collect a percentage of the sales. Not only was his valuation off $500k for a 5 percent stake outrageous, he also turned down a deal that would have made his the most money with the least amount of work.
biz-search-online.jpgIf you're a business owner who sells to other businesses, a new study commissioned by Google of small-to-medium business owners' search habits should be eye-opening. To sum up: For many, the Web isn't a place to look for information, it's the only place.

Google's director of business-to-business and local markets, Sam Sebastian, shared some of the findings with me this morning. The study of more than 400 American purchase decisionmakers at SMBs conducted in March by Slack Barshinger asked business owners about their Internet habits. Among the findings: 93 percent of respondents said they use the Web to find work-related information, compared with 76 percent using trade publications and 69 percent using newspapers. More than half are online at least weekly, trying to solve a specific business problem. Twenty percent of SMBs use the Internet daily to try to resolve issues.
kwane.jpgThe judges on the venture capital-inspired reality TV show "Shark Tank" had their say on the Daily Dose. Now what about the entrepreneurs?

Kwame Kuadey is CEO and founder of GiftCardRescue.com, an online marketplace where people can buy and trade unused gift cards. We asked him how he escaped the tank in episode four with a cool $200,000 from Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec, in exchange for a combined 50 percent stake in his company. His original request: $150,000 for a 30 percent stake.
funding-online.jpgIf you've given up on getting a bank loan, there are a few offbeat funding options floating around the internet these days. I found three recently that don't offer huge sums, but might be able to give a new business a kick-start.

One of them is called exactly that: Kickstarter. The site began just a few months ago with a focus on helping artists fund their work, but has been developing into a possible small-business funding vehicle, the New York Times' blog recently reported. The site works a bit like the peer-lending sites such as Prosper.com and Zopa.com--the business owner posts about how much money they're looking for, site visitors pledge small amounts toward the funding needed, and then the loan only funds if the business gets that much in pledges. The big plus: It's a grant, not a loan, and the funds don't need to be repaid.
scoop.jpgWhen President Obama declared a National Day of Service on September 11th, the folks from DoodyCalls had already gotten a head start. Franchisees, employees and even the president of the pet waste removal franchise spent September 10th giving the National Mall a much-needed makeover by doing what they do best--scooping poop.

DoodyCalls President Jacob D'Aniello and the rest of the cleanup team volunteered their services after reading a letter to the editor from a Washington, D.C. tourist complaining about the appearance of the Mall--and, in particular, the goose droppings that littered it.
internet-download-free.jpgThere's no image--not an aerial shot of the Taj Mahal at dawn or of me as a baby--that isn't available for someone to download online. And chances are, most entrepreneurs and bloggers are doing it without paying for it.

Online photo theft is arguably one of the most rampant, underreported crimes on the internet. Perhaps for the first time, the problem has been quantified: Lawrence Gould, CEO of the microstock photo service Vivozoom today announced that as much as $10 billion is lost by the photo industry from the combined theft of stock and microstock images.
email-buzz.jpgWe've all received e-mail promotions with a "forward this message to a friend" call-to-action, but hardly any of us ever does. According to Richard Evans, Senior Product Marketing Manager at e-mail marketing automation firm Silverpop, "social e-mail" has the potential to be the new viral, but only if you tap into the right resources.

Richard spoke yesterday afternoon at the Lift Summit in Atlanta--a two-day conference presented by OfficeArrow and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, where real-world examples of social commerce strategies and tactics were on display--about social media integration into e-mail marketing. While Evans' message was simple--as use of social networks/media continues to gain mass adoption, integrating e-mail marketing and social media through social sharing links should be a "must include" feature in marketers' e-mail programs--it's one that's often overlooked by entrepreneurs and marketing professionals alike.

Evans and I sat down after his presentation to discuss his presentation and Silverpop's new benchmark study on social e-mail, "E-mails Gone Viral: Measuring 'Share-to-Social' Performance" in more detail. Here are three key takeaways when considering how to make your e-mail marketing campaigns shareworthy:
umeployment-startup.jpgMost people know the unemployment department (or department of employment security in some states) as a place out-of-work people go to try to find another job. But in our current recession, some unemployment offices are offering something else: training on how to start your own business.

The Self-Employment Assistance Program was spawned with the 1993 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but has gained more steam in recent years. The idea was to help "dislocated" workers whose industries were in decline, where they were unlikely to get another job in their field. Sound familiar?
social-media-myths.jpgThe emergence of social media as a crucial paradigm in virtually all sectors of the economy has led to countless assumptions and new ideas about consumer behavior and marketing activities. Yet many of these concepts, when implemented and examined closely, have led to surprising conclusions--many of which contradict the validity and relevance of these ideas in the first place and have been examined previously for decades.

While we are now living in what some call the "golden age of data," this is not the dawn of a new age of related theory. "Many social commerce problems have been addressed previously, and massive amounts of data will not change the continuing need for the understanding of basic and primitive customer behavior which provides the correct lens to view social media data," says Eric T. Bradlow, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Interactive Media Initiative.
biz-lending.jpgIf your business has been stuck in neutral because you can't get a loan, it might be time to get out and try the banks again. While many business owners have been wringing their hands over the frozen credit markets, it appears a substantial number of businesses have been getting loans in the past few months.

The SBA reports that by May, sales of SBA-backed business loans on the secondary market had returned to normal volumes, with $324.6 million in loan resales in May, up from the rock-bottom January level of $85.9 million.
biz-recovery.jpgThere's a growing drumbeat of economic experts who say the recession is ending. Recently, Federal Reserve Bank chair Ben Bernanke described the economy as "leveling out." The most recent edition of the Beige Book, the Fed's summary of commentary on current economic conditions, came out Sept. 9, conveying the message that the recession is over.

Other recent news, however, indicates many small businesses are not positioning themselves to take advantage of the turnaround.

Small businesses were the biggest sector laying off workers in August, shedding 122,000 of the total 298,000 jobs lost, according to a report issued earlier this month by payroll outsource vendor ADP. Hot on smallbiz's heels were medium-sized businesses, with 116,000 pink slips issued. Large companies shed just 60,000 jobs in the month. Goods-producing and service businesses split the layoffs nearly evenly.