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life-aint-nothin.jpgWe know you all have amazing stories to tell--it's the reason we exist in the first place. And we want to help you tell them, but you have to help us by learning the art of the pitch. Because most of you out there are serving as your own PR machines, learning to pitch your business to the media is a vital part of your marketing strategy.

I get pitches. Lots of them. Every day. Some of them are interesting. Some of them aren't. But a select few are delicious train wrecks. Here are four such catastrophes, and what you can take away from each of them.
google-startup.jpgGoogle has established a venture capital fund that will be formally unveiled tomorrow, The New York Times reports. The fund could be seeded with as much as $100 million.

Its focus will, as might be expected, include internet ventures, clean technologies and life sciences. The fund will be run by David Drummond, senior vice president of corporate developing and chief legal officer at the web-search giant, the paper reports.
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shark.jpgMark Burnett, producer of CBS television's Survivor, has teamed up with the rival ABC network to produce a reality show in which entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to multimillionaire moguls.

The seven-episode series, Shark Tank, is based on a successful reality show in the U.K. of the same formula - Dragon's Den, according to the Hollywood Reporter. In the show, the tycoons have to be convinced to invest their own money into an idea, the Reporter states. If they don't, the entrepreneur is eliminated.
rebrand-biz.jpgLast week, AIG CEO Edward Liddy told Capitol Hill, "I think the AIG name is so thoroughly wounded and disgraced that we're probably going to have to change it." Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) added that AIG now stands for "arrogance, incompetence and greed."

There's an important branding lesson to be learned here--namely, if you've screwed up royally, changing your name and rebranding your business is a good idea. Just make sure you can back up your new name with a better business strategy.
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The stock market has been rebounding, consumer confidence is up and business owners are expressing unusual optimism. The U.S. economy might not be past its rut yet, but Discover Small Business Watch's monthly report indicates that economic confidence among the entrepreneurs it surveys saw its biggest jump in nine months.

"Increased confidence in economic conditions is definitely a bright spot in an otherwise bleak business environment," states Ryan Scully, director of Discover's business credit card. "Small-business owners are far less bleak about the direction of the overall economy than they have been in months."

super.jpgFear is a funny thing. For some business owners, it creates knee-jerk reactions that come in the form of employee layoffs and crippled spending. For others, it's a paralyzing emotion that stops them from making crucial decisions and seeing further than a few feet. Whether your instinct is to fight or flee, operating your business solely on fear probably isn't a good idea.

To help give you a good kick in the pants, this week's articles are about how to navigate your business in face of your biggest business fear.

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For business owners looking for potential good news about the economy, February provides a mixed bag on the consumer front--the most important front for biz owners and the economy as a whole, really.

The latest Commerce Department Bureau of Economic Analysis data show a couple of things. One, personal income fell by more than $29 billion, or roughly 0.2 percent, largely due to a 0.4 percent decline in wages and salaries--the largest component of personal income. Not surprisingly, given the drop in income, disposable personal income fell by 0.4 percent, after a 1.3 percent surge in January.

Consumer spending. Now that's where it gets interesting.

he-brew.jpg I first started at Entrepreneur in June 2007 and, at the time, had a very boring perspective of business. Business wasn't quirky to me. No, I didn't think that everyone was a suit, but even those who ran small businesses had a very distinct personality, I thought.

Small-business owners were serious about trying to succeed, which in turn, sort of just made them serious people, I figured. To me, businesspeople were businesspeople, whether they worked in a corporate headquarters or a dinky little office. However, as an intern, I was quickly assigned to a research project where I was to investigate the craft beer industry, and I soon learned that a number of entrepreneurs not only had senses of humor, but they applied them to their actual business, their products, their websites and their marketing strategies.

carrot-stick.jpgIn the coming weeks, Entrepreneur.com will be rolling out a special "Stimulus Watch" report, focusing on how the Obama administration's efforts to ease the United States economy from the grip of recession will impact small businesses and entrepreneurs. In preparation, I've been combing the internet and speaking to economists, government officials and business owners about the stimulus bill, a wearisome, 407-page piece of legislation entitled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Of everything, I was most amused to find out this: at the end of January, the Cato Institute sponsored full-page ads in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal criticizing the proposed legislation. Printed below were the signatures of approximately 200 leading economists. Then the same week, the Center for American Progress Action Fund sent a letter to Congress encouraging the bill's passage, also signed by about 200 economists, including several Nobel laureates.

So is it a good idea or not?
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Until recently, it has been assumed that social networking was largely something for younger generations. Even here at Entrepreneur, we've debated the validity of sites like Twitter, with the lines being drawn along generational divides. The fact is, while the young may be the early adopters, the older generations are finding their way into social networking, blogging and other forms of digital media.

According to a recent Nielsen report, blogs and social networking have surpassed personal e-mail to become the fourth most popular online activity. Apparently, social networking accounts for 10 percent of all global internet activity and is expected to grow at three times the rate of internet activity overall

marketing-6.jpgHere's the new brand--same as the old brand.

It might sound like a crazy way to start off the last blog in a series about the rebranding of a company, but at the end of the day, it was less about how Pete Wiltjer would change his brand and more about how he changed the way he presented it. He's got a new website, complete with new copy, integrated social networking tools and a new logo. But he's still sending the same message, as illustrated by the photo here: "I help you find the right people."

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Increasing unemployment figures mean that layoffs are abundant and jobs are hard to come by, but they also mean innovation and new ideas. For many, the ideas are flowing. And, fortunately, there are avenues to channel that energy.

If you've got a great idea for a gadget, gift or accessory, you might want to test if it's a winning one by registering for The Next Big Thing, a national product search contest held by the Dallas Market Center, a wholesale merchandise resource. Three finalists will be chosen to showcase their products at the Dallas Total Home & Gift Market that will take place from June 24-30. The exposure will be significant, with more than 50,000 people expected to attend.

grocery.jpgThe federal racketeering trial of Los Angeles grocery magnate George Torres is scheduled to begin tomorrow. Federal prosecutors allege the 52-year-old founder of Los Angeles-based Numero Uno stores conspired to kill, bribed a public official, robbed, extorted, committed fraud and laundered drug money as he expanded his grocery empire.

The entrepreneur denies the allegations, saying the feds have patched together a series of unsubstantiated and unconnected allegations to try to prove a drug-related enterprise that doesn't exist. Even assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Searight admitted to the publication LA City Beat that "I have never met a person who can put George Torres in a room with large amounts of drugs or drug money."

billingley-2.jpgI explored the concept of secret hand signals in Part I of this two-part series. I started with the story of a man who became famous in the 1940s for his elaborate set of signals and explored secret signals used by modern-day entrepreneurs. Here, I'll go a little more in depth in a Q&A with an entrepreneur who's also a deft secret-hand-signal expert. (As a bonus I'll touch on secret code words and how to properly use them in conversations.)

Andy Abramson is CEO and founder of Comunicano, a Del Mar, Calif.-based marketing communications company. He took his communications know-how to the next level internally through numerous secret hand-and-body signals he used with a former partner. "We were so good at it that it spooked people," Abramson says, adding that people still need to be discreet. "It's an art, and I can share how it's done and what one needs to do to be good at it."

mag-stories.jpgProtecting your idea. Finding alternative financing routes. Pricing your product. Each of these is vital to a startup. And in this economic climate, each of these tactics comprises an entrepreneur's strategy for riding out the storm. With a nod to startups, this week's article highlights hit each angle of starting and staying afloat in the recession.

Starting a Business
It's a jungle out there, especially for startups. Good news, though: Information, advice and assistance are available--often at no charge. Armed with the proper coordinates, you can gain quick, direct access to one-on-one counseling, step-by-step strategic guidance, legal advice, funding opportunities and more. In our April issue, we give you an insider's guide to four of the best startup resources.