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disaster-strikes.jpgSwine flu. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Wildfires. The sudden death of your server.

Business disasters come in many forms, and like death and taxes, it's sort of inevitable that you'll be confronted with some variety of disaster at some point. The question is, what's your game plan for dealing with them?

If you haven't asked yourself how your business would keep going if half your employees came down with swine flu at the same time, now's the time to ask that one, because that problem is already here. At Washington State University's hometown of Pullman, Wash., for example, this week more than 2,000 people were out with the flu. And we're not expecting vaccine for this charming bug to be available for at least several more weeks, possibly too late to make a difference.

To give you a quick crash course, disaster planning falls into a few basic categories:
free.jpgTo put a new twist on an old song, what have you done for free lately?

In a down economy, some businesses are prospecting for clients by doing a few free jobs, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. The story quotes one Boston firm, Studio G Architects, that took on some pro bono design work for nonprofits to keep staff busy after business dropped. The result: more than $100,000 in paying contracts from the charities, after the projects Studio G designed won funding. What a win.
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kevin-harrington.jpgKevin Harrington, CEO of TVGoods.com, LLC, is in his natural element on ABC's show "Shark Tank," listening to entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas and deciding whether to put his money behind them. In the 1980s, he founded a direct TV marketing company and produced the first infomercial, and then pioneered a global effort that now distributes in more than 100 countries.

Harrington knows how to spot the gems among the junk, and has financed more than 500 product launches totaling more than $4 billion sales worldwide (making millionaires out of many entrepreneurs along the way).

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Q1 - Inspiration: What was the inspiration for starting your current business?

Q2 - Hiring: What are the three most important things you look for when hiring new staff/employees?

Q3 - Personal Politics: Do the personal or political leanings of third-party vendors play a role in determining who you choose to work or partner with? For example, if you learned that a potential business partner was strongly opposed to a socially-charged issue that you were strongly in favor of (e.g., universal health care, gun control, abortion, etc.), would that information in and of itself be a determining factor in your potential or continuing business relationship?

Q4 - Dogfooding: When a business owner or leader says their company "eats its own dog food," what they mean is that the company and its employees use the company's own products and services in preference of or in replacement for like or competitive products or services. So for example, if you manufacture nutrition bars, the only nutrition bars you eat are your own. Or, if you're Microsoft, you use your own software in-house on a daily basis. To what extent do you go to encourage 'dogfooding' within your company?

purge-comp.jpgEver felt like your small business lost its insurance coverage for no good reason? Apparently, you're not alone.

In case you're not addicted to C-SPAN, Both houses of our federal legislature are investigating whether major insurance companies deliberately cancel coverage -- a practice known as 'purging' -- or jack up premiums for small businesses after they file large claims from a sick employee or two. Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV are among the lawmakers who have sent letters to top insurers, seeking to learn how cancellation decisions are made. The Senate Commerce Committee has also recently held hearings on the topic.
biz-help.jpgI've heard a lot of complaints recently from small-business owners. The economy is down, they're hurting, and they feel like no one understands their pain.

But someone does, and they're offering lots of help. The question is, are you taking advantage of it?
daymond-john.jpg"Shark Tank," ABC's reality TV show featuring capital-hungry entrepreneurs and five investors holding the pursestrings, is well underway as we near the end of the judges' line-up. The spotlight today is on Daymond John, founder of FUBU The Collection, a multimillion-dollar fashion empire that sprang from fairly humble origins.

In 1992, after some success selling hand-sewn, tie-top hats at concerts and festivals, John recruited some friends, took out a $100,000 mortgage on his mother's house, and launched a branding campaign for an urban clothing line that, roughly five years on, reached a staggering $350 million in revenue.

credit-cards-biz.jpgWith banks turned stingy about handing out small business loans, more and more small business startups are turning to credit cards as the primary vehicle for their business spending needs. We always knew that was risky, but a new study on businesses' credit-card use released by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is enough to chill an entrepreneur's blood.
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Q1 - Co-CEOs: Guthy-Renker, one of the world's largest producers of infomercials with sales of more than $1.3 billion per year, recently announced the appointment of Ben Van de Bunt and Kevin Knee as Co-CEOs. According to a company-issued statement, Van de Bunt will oversee all facets of marketing for current and newly developed brands, while Knee will oversee business operations, encompassing IT, finance, and the company's international business units. Why would or wouldn't Co-CEOs work in your company, and what do you think about the concept of Co-CEOs?

Q2 - Selling on eBay: In a move aimed at increasing revenue while helping simplify the car-shopping experience, General Motors last week launched a promotion enabling consumers to click and buy new vehicles online via an eBayStore from participating California Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Pontiac dealers. Has your company ever considered opening an eBay Store? If so, did you succeed in using the eBay platform or was it a failure? If not, is it something you're now considering?

Q3 - Shark Tank: As you may have read here on Daily Dose, ABC Television is now in the midst of broadcasting a reality television show featuring aspiring entrepreneurs who pitch their  business ideas, products, and services in hopes of landing investment funds from the show's judges, each of whom we're told is a business mogul worth millions of dollars themselves. Have you caught any episodes of Shark Tank? If so, what do you think about the show (true to life or silly dressing for television)? If you have caught the show, would you be interested in appearing before the judges?

Q4 - Conference: What's the last industry conference or trade show you attended, and would you attend again?

gov-contract-biz.jpgThere's good news and bad news for small businesses interested in doing business with the federal government. A report recently released by the Small Business Administration assessed how much small businesses got last year, and whether the feds met their Congressional mandate of awarding at least 23 percent of their contract dollars to small businesses.

The good news: A record $93.3 billion in federal contracting went to small biz in 2008, almost $10 billion more than small business owners got in 2007. Disadvantaged businesses, including those owned by disabled veterans, saw their share increase by $1 billion to $3 billion.
papa-johns-car.jpgEntrepreneurs often have to make tough sacrifices to get their businesses off the ground. For John Schnatter, it was his 1971 Z28 Camaro. He sold the gold-and-black car for $2,800 in 1983 and used the money to save his father's tavern from closing and start his own business: Papa John's pizza restaurant.

Twenty-five years later, it's obvious that the sacrifice paid off--big time. Papa John's has grown to over 3,000 locations worldwide, and the company ranked #10 in our 2009 Franchise 500. But Schnatter never forgot about his beloved Camaro, and never stopped dreaming that someday he'd get it back.
ladder-dreams.jpgMost people will continue to strive for their dream job even after others tell them it's unattainable, a new Ohio State University study finds. People will cling to their ideal career until they're specifically shown why they're not qualified and the negative affects the failed goal will have on their life.

"Most people don't give up easily on their dreams. They have to be given a graphic picture of what failure will look like if they don't make it," says Patrick Carroll, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University at Lima.
biz-collaboration.jpgOne of the developments that caught the biggest buzz out of this year's SXSW (that's South by Southwest for newbs) music/film/interactive conclave in Austin is the recent unveiling of the Small Business Web. It's a collaboration among several technology startups focused on small-business apps, including BatchBlue, Freshbooks, MailChimp, Outright and Shoeboxed.

Rather than try to market their offerings separately, they've banded together to promote them through the Small Business Web. From their site: "The Small Business Web is a movement to bring together like-minded, customer-obsessed software companies to integrate our respective products and make life easier for small businesses." What. A. Concept.
kevin-o-leary.jpgThe set looked a lot more welcoming in the third episode of "Shark Tank," Mark Burnett's latest reality TV show featuring entrepreneurs pitching ideas to tough venture capitalists. The five "sharks" are now convening in a room with couches and earthy tones--but it's probably just to lull victims into a false sense of security.

This week, Entrepreneur.com shares an interview with Kevin O'Leary, who, like Robert Herjavec, was a judge on "Dragon's Den," the Canadian version of the show (based on the original Japanese program by that name). He's also the chairman of O'Leary Funds, and the founding investor and director of Stream Global Services.
business-handshake.jpgSome entrepreneurs are workaholics. They envision themselves working to build their businesses for the rest of their lives. But that's not everybody. Some business owners think in terms of building their baby up for a few years, and then selling it off and sailing to Bimini. Or taking a break and then getting to work on their next business idea.

Probably fewer business owners are thinking about selling just now...but a couple of recent news announcements reminded me that though the IPO market may be slumbering, some small businesses are still cashing in by selling to bigger players in their space. Many big corporations still have money--or can borrow money--for acquisitions.