Your company's next great idea could come from anyone -- an employee, a customer, a vendor, or even a stranger. Everyone involved in your small business helps you drive innovation. They also create chaos. But, with so much input, how do you make sure the best ideas don't get lost in the shuffle?
Some companies collect new ideas in a wiki, which is good for storing information, but terrible for finding it. They end up becoming a disorganized mess of great ideas that go to the wiki to die.
To create a culture that fosters innovation, organize new ideas in a way that empowers you to act on them.
"People stop participating in an innovation community without active decision-making and transparency," says Tim Meaney, CEO of Kindling, an idea management and collaboration tool. "People are too busy to speak into the void."
Here are four tips to help you organize your ideas and drive innovation.
If you have a Tumblr page for your business you might have noticed some issues with the site today. The popular blogging and social media tool was hit by a hacker group that reportedly spammed 8,600 accounts with a crude message criticizing bloggers, calling them "self-insisting, self-deprecating, self-indulgent empty husks of human beings."
The apparent worm seemed to infect any account that either viewed or shared ("reblogged") the post. Tumblr took to its Twitter account to acknowledge the viral post and to say it was working "swiftly" to resolve the issue. A subsequent update about two hours later said Tumblr's engineers had resolved the issue.
While you may think your own site isn't in the crosshairs of hackers, they're increasingly targeting small-business sites, infecting visitors with malware or cracking databases to access sensitive customer information. You might not always be able to stay a step ahead of hackers, but there are steps you can take to avoid experiencing a security breach.
This month, Pinterest announced the addition of "secret boards," which are available through the holiday season. Account holders now have the ability to add up to three secret boards that won't show up anywhere else on Pinterest, limiting visibility to the creator and any collaborators they choose to invite.
Is this new feature valuable for businesses? Does this privacy capability defeat the purpose of creating and sharing pins that go 'viral'?
Pinterest recommends creating secret boards for holiday wish lists, and special events. While these are great ideas for personal use, brands also have the opportunity to think outside the box by using secret boards as an inter-office collaboration tool.
While some hit the stores the day after Thanksgiving, Justine Lackey, president of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.-based Good Cents Bookkeeping, a money-management firm for entrepreneurs, has another tradition.
"During the year, I put the charity solicitations I receive in a folder, and after Thanksgiving I review them and decide which organizations I want to support," says Lackey. "This way, I make sure I’m giving appropriately, and bearing the bottom line in mind."
With tax laws likely changing soon, it’s a good idea to follow Lackey’s lead and donate before the end of the year, as one of the proposed revisions for 2013 is a cap on itemized deductions. But before you write a check, here are three things you need to do.
1. Evaluate the organization. Any time you consider making a donation, you should ensure that the organization is legitimate and lives up to its mission.
"It's unfortunate, but with disasters like super storm Sandy, many 'charities' pop up that aren't charities at all, in fact they are scams," says Lackey. "As a business owner, I want to be guided by both my heart and my brain."
In this special feature of 'Ask Entrepreneur,' Facebook fan Tony Lam asks: How can you increase sales when competitors are playing the price war and have already established a firmer foundation and relationship with clients?
The simple answer is that dropping the price should be the last thing you do to be competitive. Your margins are probably already tight enough and the last thing you want to do now is engage in a price war that results in "lose-lose." Using price as your tool is an indication that you need to get back to developing what makes your company a unique proposition. For any product or service, there can only be one business that's the cheapest – and is that really what you want to be known for? Even if you do, it's a tightrope to walk.
We all suspect that the internet is rotting us to the very core of our souls. But is it bad for our physical health as well?
This week's need-to-know social-media news.
A new social network called At the Pool, which has been called the "anti-Facebook," might be worth keeping an eye on. At the Pool is closing a $1 million seed round led by Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Clearstone Venture Partners and has overhauled its platform with many new features.
While Facebook helps users connect with people they already know, At the Pool wants people to connect with strangers who have shared interests. It's similar to activity-dating site HowAboutWe, minus the romantic element. Sporting-goods companies could advertise in the Hikers pool, for instance. -- TechCrunch
A roundup of the best tips of the week from Entrepreneur.com.
If you want to achieve your goals, help others achieve theirs. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, who died Wednesday, did just that, reportedly traveling more than five million miles in his career and touching a quarter of a billion lives. Fortunately for us, he left behind a lot of sound advice.
"You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want," Ziglar famously said. Put his maxim into practice: Next time you're in a meeting, focus on discerning the other person's needs rather than your own. More: 12 Powerfully Inspiring Quotes From Zig Ziglar
Form personal connections with customers.
Customers often buy from the businesses and sales professionals whom they like on a personal level. Do a little research before meeting with your next client and look for common ground, advises sales pro Grant Cardone. More: How to Stop Offering Free Advice and Make the Sale
Find partners to grow your business.
Keep your eyes open for other businesses in your space and how you can complement each other. Education-tech startup InstaEDU has made collaborating with partners part of its growth strategy. More: How InstaEDU Is Tapping the Online Education Market
Don't let your annoyance with angry customers show.
When customers complain on social media, respond quickly and work toward a resolution rather than giving them a piece of your mind. Even negative feedback can be a brand-building opportunity. More: What to Do When Customers Get Mean on Social Media
Set long-term goals to overcome adversity.
Adversity such as serious illness can threaten to knock your entrepreneurial dreams off course. To stay on track, set inspiring long-term goals while focusing on the short-term goals of recovery. More: How Young Entrepreneurs Stare Down Personal Crisis
We’ve all heard stories about the mailroom clerk or janitor who works his way up to senior management.
A new reality show premiering Sunday on A&E puts that premise on fast-forward by giving two low-level employees of national franchises the chance to compete for a promotion. Or so the contestants are led to believe.
Be the Boss, from the producers of CBS reality series Undercover Boss, has a CEO put two employees through a number of challenges related to handling a franchise business. The winner receives an opportunity to become a franchise owner, while the runner-up wins the promotion that the contestants initially were told is the big prize. The show follows two employees from a different company each episode.
Complete Nutrition is featured on the first episode of the series, which also has taped shows focused on Jazzercise, The Melting Pot, Molly Maid, Auntie Anne’s and Signal 88 Security.
Related: Cooperative Companies Offer an Alternative to Franchising
The fast-food industry, long resistant to union organizing efforts, is facing a fresh and high-profile push from workers.
Dozens of employees from leading chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC, reportedly walked off the job Thursday in New York City to picket their employers with demands to unionize and secure better pay of $15 an hour.
That’s more than twice the state’s minimum wage and nearly twice the $7.75-an-hour pay reported by KFC employee Pamela Waldron, whom CNNMoney interviewed. Fast-food workers told the news site they wouldn’t be able to live on their wages if not for other jobs they hold or a spouse’s higher compensation.
New York Communities for Change organized the fast-food protests in Manhattan. The group, which has posted a petition targeting Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, KFC, Taco Bell and Burger King, says it was the largest fast-food labor protest in history.
“History in the making!” Twitter user @MikePrysner wrote under this photo he posted on the social media site.
Twitterers, though, were divided on the walkout.
“Pay them a living wage!” Julia Jedynak (@JCJ417) tweeted, while @TheSoulfulVixen wrote, “Such spoiled brats. I mean, if u r not happy abt ur job, QUIT!”
Then there was ArguingWithDonkeys (@donkeyarguing), who warned: “Here comes the $20 whopper,” and Scott (@WSS_22), who tweeted, “What next, Give me, Give me, Give me.”
Organized labor over the years hasn’t been able to crack the low-wage fast-food industry. Two years ago, labor organizers narrowly lost a vote to unionize employees at 10 Jimmy Johns restaurants, QSR magazine notes.
Whether the walk-off in New York this week has impact remains to be seen. As the “Give me, Give me” tweet reflects, the action occurs in a politically-charged period -- post Occupy Wall Street and post Obama-Romney election fight -- of heightened class tensions.
NYCC organizing director Jonathan Westin told The New York Times that fast-food companies aren’t paying a living wage, forcing many employees to in New York to use public aid.
McDonald’s issued a statement saying, “McDonald's values our employees and has consistently remained committed to them, so in turn they can provide quality service to our customers. We have an open dialogue with our employees and always encourage them to express any concerns or provide feedback, so we can continue to be an even better employer.”
The burger icon said the majority of its restaurants “are owned and operated by independent business men and women who offer pay and benefits competitive within the quick service restaurant industry.”
International Franchise Association President and CEO Steve Caldeira said in a statement: “The franchise industry supports nearly 18 million workers and offers a path to business ownership for tens of thousands of Americans. We respect the rights of employees to unionize, but the playing field should be level to ensure they have all the information needed to make informed decisions while protecting employers’ rights.”
If you talk to startup CEOs about raising capital, you get the idea that they won't give up control of their company to just anyone. If entrepreneurs are going to sell a piece of their company, they want “value added" from their investors.
I learned this from the startup CEOs I interviewed for my new book, Hungry Start-up Strategy. There's a new generation of venture capitalists now populating Silicon Valley.
Entrepreneurs have mixed views about venture capital. They have worked so hard to get their startup to the point where it's attractive to investors that the last thing they want is to give up control when they sell shares to outside investors.
Many businesses use sweepstakes and contests to excite consumers about their products or services. These promotions can be exciting, but when problems arise, it can lead to a messy (and expensive) legal battle.
Take for example, when a consumer tried to buy a Harrier Jet with Pepsi points in 1996. The promotion encouraged consumers to collect Pepsi points in exchange for merchandise such as t-shirts and sunglasses. A Pepsi commercial featured various items and their point values: a leather jacket for 1450 points, and a Harrier Jet for 7 million Pepsi points. Pepsi contended the jet was a joke, but plaintiff purchased 7 million Pepsi points and tried to redeem them for a fighter plane. Pepsi ultimately won, but had several years' worth of legal fees battling the case in court.
To make sure you don’t end up in a similar situation, here are a few tips to keep in mind for running a successful promotion.
1. Is it a sweepstakes or a contest?
A sweepstakes is a promotion of chance (enter your e-mail for a chance to win), while a contest involves skill (write a jingle). It’s important to distinguish between the two because sweepstakes and contests may have different restrictions in various states.
Whether you're convinced that Google+ is a virtual ghost town or not, it can be difficult to refute the social network's stable of unique tools and features for business users. One of the most valuable is Google Hangouts, the tool that allows you to host video chats online.
With Google+ Hangouts, up to nine people can chat face-to-face for free on the network. Participants can watch a YouTube video together, doodle and collaborate using Google Docs.
Business owners can take the chat tool a step further with Google Hangouts on Air, which allows you to host video discussions and broadcast them live to the public. All a viewer needs to do is have a Google+ account and connect with a business of interest by adding it to his or her Circles. The video is broadcasted on the admin of that Page's personal YouTube channel and on the business's Google+ page.
The possible fiscal cliff one of the most debated topics in Washington today, and an issue that stands to impact many small-business owners. In light of this, President Obama and Vice President Biden met with 15 small-business owners on Tuesday to discuss how the fiscal cliff could affect their customers and businesses.
Chris Yura, the CEO and founder of SustainU, an apparel company in Morgantown, W. Va., which uses only recycled material and American labor, was among those invited to the White House. Here, Yura discusses the meeting and some takeaways for small-business owners.
Entrepreneur: What were your concerns going into the meeting?
Yura: I was interested in hearing what the president had to say about the fiscal cliff and more importantly, his stance on small business and how we are going to continue to grow small business as it is such a huge part of our economy. The president and others in the meeting, including myself, agree that extending tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans is a way to keep small businesses moving forward.
Cold and flu season is upon us, and before your office turns into a chorus of coughs and sneezes, consider protecting yourself by stocking up on immune-boosting, nutrient-dense "superfoods" that will help improve your body's ability to fight off disease.
"Nutrient-density refers to the amount of essential nutrients or health-promoting phytochemicals provided per calorie," says Tonia Reinhard, senior lecturer in nutrition and food science at Wayne State University in Detroit and author of Superfoods: The Healthiest Foods on the Planet (Firefly Books, 2010). She recommends these five superfoods during cold and flu season: