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Poker players who know the game well often talk about "tells"-- those unintended expressions, tics or mannerisms that other players exhibit, often without realizing they’re doing so, which offer clues to the quality of their hand.

And while it's not possible to know for sure whether the prospective employee sitting in your office is going to be your next superstar, management consultant Lynne Curry, founder of Anchorage, Alaska-based The Growth Company, offers five ways you can get beyond the standard answers and find out more about the interviewee.

1. Ask the unexpected. Curry says interviewees pore over sites that tell them the predictable interview questions, like "Tell me about your greatest weakness" or "Why did you leave your last position." Those can yield important information, but you’ll likely get less rehearsed and sanitized answers if you go beyond the obvious. Instead, ask them what their three greatest weaknesses are or ask the individual what led him or her to leave the first job on the resume. 

Related: How to Know When You're Ready to Hire

The cost of shipping has gone up across the board, and retailers who depend on internet purchases should take note.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) -- currently operating at a loss of more than $15 billion for fiscal year 2012 -- raised the prices of 15 shipping services yesterday, including Express Mail and Priority Mail. On average, the cost of Priority Mail has increased by 6.3 percent and Express Mail by 5.8 percent. Parcel Select prices have gone up even more, by 9 percent. Packaging and shipping costs quickly add up for ecommerce businesses, with online consumers expected to spend $226 billion this year, according to advisory firm Forrester Research. The USPS rate increases followed recent price hikes by FedEx and the United Parcel Service (UPS).

Although shippers can't do anything about the price increases, they should do their homework to figure out the most cost-effective shipping solutions for their businesses, says Harry Whitehouse, chief technology officer of Palo Alto, Calif.-based mailing services company DYMO Endicia. As an example, he says, USPS offers the best value for packages under five pounds. Items weighing less than 13 ounces, including many beauty products, can also be shipped most cheaply with USPS, in this case its First Class Package Service. But depending on a single carrier for all your needs is rarely the best solution.

The infographics below serve as a handy reference for shipping options, comparing the offerings of USPS, UPS and Fedex so that you can get the best deal.

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Confused about what Obamacare means for you and your business? The U.S. Small Business Administration launched a website and blog worth bookmarking.

The SBA's new website breaks down the health-care law's new provisions by business size: the self-employed, employers with fewer than 25 employees, employers with fewer than 50 employees and employers with 50 or more employees. It also links to other tools, including an interactive map, where you can find out information specific to your state, and a glossary of health-care-related terms.

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Editor's Note: Entrepreneur Richard Branson regularly shares his business experience and advice with readers. Ask him a question and your query might be the inspiration for a future column.

Q: Is self-motivation an innate quality or is it something that can be learned and improved upon?
- Chris Prior, Liverpool, England

If you aren't good at motivating yourself, you probably won't get very far in business – especially as an entrepreneur. When you're starting up a company and for the first couple of years afterward, there are a lot of long nights and stressful days, and the workload is heavy. You have to be able to give the job everything you've got every day, or it will easily get the better of you.

The ability to tap into your determination and grit is not just an innate skill. You can teach yourself to get up every day and try to keep a new business going despite long odds, partly by structuring your life and job to make sure you are working toward your larger goals.

I learned a lot about this from my mother, who is a very energetic and strong-willed individual. As I wrote recently, I'm thankful for the life lessons she taught me, without which I would probably not be where I am today.

I always wanted to go out there and prove myself, but I was very shy when I was young, and it was clear that I would have to master this if I was going to succeed. My timidity could have easily held me back if she hadn't helped me come out of my shell. She feels that shyness is very selfish, as it means you are only thinking of yourself, and so she was very insistent that I look adults in the eye and shake their hands, and carry on conversations with guests at dinner and at parties -- no excuses.

Related: Richard Branson on Dealing With Setbacks

My mother also taught me to dive into situations even if I wasn't completely sure about my own abilities, and then solve the problems that came up as I went along. When I was almost 12, she once sent me alone on a long bike-riding expedition to another town, knowing that I would be fine, but also that I'd have to find water and ask for directions along the way.

Before I left school at 16, I was already working on launching what became one of my first businesses, Student magazine. Then when my friends and I put ourselves in a position that forced the issue, by moving into a basement in West London that served as both our office and our living quarters, we really gave our magazine everything we had.

There were times when we struggled to pool together enough money to afford a proper meal -- that in itself was a great motivator to follow through on calls to potential advertisers. In the larger picture, we were willing to live with such uncertainty because we wanted to give our generation a voice on issues that we felt strongly about, such as the Vietnam War; this shared goal meant a great deal to everyone involved.

It's important to understand what your main motivation is so that you can focus your efforts on reaching those goals. Then structure your job – perhaps by delegating some work – so that you can spend as much time as possible turning this energy to your company's advantage.

These days, one of my goals is to keep challenging myself. I see life as one long university education, in place of the one I never had -- every day I learn something new. And perhaps I didn't miss out, since there's only so much you can learn sitting in a lecture hall. I've found that I often learn a great deal from the people I meet, and some of them have inspired me.

Meeting Mick Jagger and Steve Jobs had a big impact on me. They accomplished so much in their respective fields that spending time with them made me think about what I might do in mine. Afterward, I was more motivated than ever to do the best possible job in my own business.

Related: Richard Branson on the Art of Brainstorming

Above all, you should work on building a business you're proud of. This has always been a motivator for me, from my Student magazine days, through to our latest startups today. I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If money is your only motive, then I believe you shouldn't launch the business at all.

Once you know what your own motivations and aspirations are, talk to your employees and colleagues about theirs, if you haven't already. Then structure their jobs in a way that allows them to tap into this energy, too. With you and your employees approaching your work with renewed energy and commitment, you'll find that there's little that you can't accomplish together.

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For many small-business owners, big data analysis has either been too expensive or too complicated to consider. But times have changed, and if you're relying solely on web analytics -- how many clicks your web pages receive, for example -- your company might be dangerously behind the times.

A flurry of new marketing analytics tools can help small-business owners understand how effectively their marketing turns browsers into buyers. "There is no excuse now for not having basic marketing analytics on a website," says Elea McDonnell Feit, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative, a research center that focuses on applying big data to corporate decision-making.

Here are three steps to revamping your marketing analytics and choosing the software that's right for you:

1. Choose a new e-commerce platform: Online store-building services such as Shopify, Magento and Highwire now also offer users the ability to analyze user-engagement. The interfaces are simple enough for the non tech-savvy, and can help design customer rewards programs, discounts and gift cards.

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Every business leader has trouble staying focused, but some find that distraction is a constant that gets in the way of productivity. 

Symptoms like inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity can get in the way of a productive, focused work day, and in extreme cases are linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The key to success is learning to work with those symptoms, not against them.

"It's about figuring out how to work with your strengths and downplay your weaknesses," says Abigail Levrini, psychologist and author of Succeeding with Adult ADHD (APA, 2012).

Related: How to Train Your Brain to Stay Focused

The tasks you don't enjoy or want to do require thought and planning if you have trouble focusing. Sometimes, you can easily offload a task or hire someone with the skill set you lack, but when that's not possible, you need to develop coping strategies to make sure you can focus when you need to.

Whether you have been diagnosed with ADHD or not, these four techniques will help you stay on task and focus your attention.

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A while back I wrote a post on the best social media management tools for small-business owners. I researched and reviewed a handful of the least expensive, most versatile options, but the comments included some lesser-known alternatives that seemed worth investigating.

I checked them out, using the same parameters I used to gauge the initial set of tools. Any tool I considered must enable you to:

  • Schedule posts.
  • Connect numerous social media accounts.
  • Provide analytics.
  • Shorten URLs.

Here are some additional options for small-business owners in need of a cost-effective social media management tool:

Kevin Smith/Business Insider

We've been testing a lot of iPhone 5 cases lately.

While we picked out our favorite one here, there's another worth singling out for those of you who want complete protection for your phone, including against spills and liquids.

After sifting through several different companies, styles, textures, and sizes it was easy to select LifeProof as the most protective case out there. 

LifeProof's iPhone 5 case fully protects your phone without adding any unnecessary bulk, drastically improving on its model for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.

If you are thinking about starting your own business, you will have to be persistent in the face of challenges and failures.

Check out this infographic (below) from the startup organization Funders and Founders with recommendations on how to never give up on becoming a successful entrepreneur. For example, if it takes three months to field test an idea, then a 30-year-old who lives into old age has more than 200 opportunities to try out a concept for a company, Funders and Founders points out. Also, keep your expectations realistic. Even the legendary Michael Jordan missed over 300 crucial shots. Most of the time, success does not happen overnight or on the first try.

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A roundup of the best tips of the week from

Painful though it may be, failure isn't final. Many successful business owners have pivoted away from a failed endeavor and in so doing struck gold or found their true calling. Tim Ogilvie, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based innovation consultancy Peer Insight, switched to consulting after a previous business failed. "That first business was the scaffolding we put up to build a reputation in the market and a body of knowledge around innovation," he says. "And the scaffolding is always ugly. You have to say, 'Wait, behind this is something that's really beautiful.' "

It isn't always easy to embrace the value of failure. Entrepreneurs often dream of achievement, triumph and a big payoff. But visionaries from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs have failed over and over again in the pursuit of their goals. If they didn't get it right on the first try, you might not, either. But that doesn't mean you won't get it eventually. More: How Your Failures Can Help You Succeed

image credit: CNET

The week's need-to-know social-media news.

Twitter has released a new video-tweeting app called Vine. Currently available only to iOS users, the app allows you to record six seconds of video which, when uploaded to Twitter, are viewable directly in a user's Twitter stream.

While Vine could eventually become a useful way to drive engagement with followers through multimedia, the app's launch was marred by a technical glitch that caused some users to be logged into other users' accounts -- apparently giving them access to confidential personal information such as unlisted email addresses and phone numbers. In response, Twitter disabled video sharing to Facebook and Twitter while it worked on the problem. At the time of writing, the glitch appears to be fixed and the app is fully functional again. -- AllThingsD

The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) rolled into Detroit this week and turned its high beams on one of the country's largest industries. From electric to hybrid, high-performance to utility, the best ideas in motor vehicles drew hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts to the show, which is open to the public through Sunday January 27.

While automotive companies are large-scale businesses with large-scale marketing budgets, the customer engagement techniques they used are appropriate for small businesses, too -- on or off the trade show floor.

"The single most important element in effective marketing is the story -- people love to hear stories," says David Varady, chief marketing officer of EEI Global, a Rochester Hills, Mich-based marketing firm that designs and implements trade show displays for companies such as BMW and Mini Cooper. "If you can engage customers with the story of your brand, success will come much easier." 

Related: How to Add Personality to Your Loyalty Program

Here are four lessons in customer engagement that entrepreneurs can learn from the Auto Show:

We've all heard of the elevator pitch: Explain your business in 30 seconds or less, the time it takes to get from the lobby to whichever floor your prospect is going. But what if your pitch is, shall we say, a little dull?

Kambri Crews is a renowned storyteller, and the owner of Ballyhoo Promotions, a New York City public relations company that specializes in stand-up comedy. In her memoir, Burn Down the Ground (Villard, 2012), she recounts her chaotic upbringing in rural Texas as the child of deaf parents. Crews began performing in storytelling events in New York City as an opportunity to work on her book and to practice what resonated with an audience.

We caught up with her to find out which storytelling tips can help small-business owners engage with prospective clients and secure the sale.

Related: 5 Foolproof Ways to Boost Your Public-Speaking Skills

By now you've most likely heard of Facebook's new Graph Search, which essentially allows you to search for things based on the interests and recommendations of your friends, as well as their friends. While the tool should potentially be useful for searching for specific pieces of information on Facebook, it is, at least in its beta version, seriously flawed.

I've spent the last week testing Graph Search, and I'm disappointed with it. Sure, it performs well when telling you who your friends are, what categories they fall under, where they live and what they do, but as of now that's about it. Instead of developing an innovative search tool that gives us a new way to search and offers an information alternative, Graph Search is your same cookie cutter search engine. If you ask former Facebook executive Dave Morin, this tool is nothing new at all -- it's a product that existed as far back as 2006, but was eventually eliminated. 

Here are the three big problems I see with Facebook's Graph Search: 

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For more than two decades, Michelle van Schouwen and her husband, Steve, partnered successfully in business and life. Together, the couple founded Van Schouwen Associates, a business-to-business marketing agency in 1985. Over the years, they grew the business and had respected name in the industry. Then, in 2006, Steve -- a healthy, fit 49-year-old died suddenly of a heart attack. In an instant, Michelle had lost her business partner and her husband.

Recovering from one or the other would have been a Herculean task. But Michelle could barely mourn before she had to face reality. With eight employees and two children to support, she was going to have to make it work. Coincidentally, she had read an article about overcoming the loss of a business partner the previous year. That had led the couple to take actions that made the transition a bit easier.

Related: Your Business Without You: 4 Steps to Finding Your Successor

She shares her insight for bouncing back from such an overwhelming loss. 

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