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// by Peg Corwin / Dec. 9, 2008 1 comments


Many businesses are living in the old media world, but other businesses, which already have a social media presence, see customers and markets in an added dimension. So said Dave Friedman, president of the central region of Razorfish, which helps companies build great brands by creating great experiences for customers. I heard him speak recently in Chicago. He's got 4 steps a company can take to move into social media, into that new dimension.

1. Give customers a voice.

Your customers are talking about you. It's either behind your back or to your face. How do you find out what they are saying? He mentioned subscriptions to Neilson's Buzzmetrics and JD Power's Umbria. Another example which I just set up for SCORE is the CompanyBuzz application in Linkedin. But what Friedman really means is to create ways for customers to talk in your space -- on your website, in blogs, maybe in your own social network.

2. Set your content free.

Let customers rate your products, the editorial content on your website, your videos, your ads, everything. Fix items with the lowest ratings, the 1's and 2's. And show ratings, both individual and consolidated, to everyone. One of Friedman's examples was something I had not noticed -- the New York Times encourages readers to add social bookmarks to articles and incorporate the headline and first sentence on blogs and websites. The Times also lists articles most emailed and most blogged.

3. Enable customers to talk to each other.

In his view, 50% of a new media budget should be spent to empower and facilitate conversation between your best customers, your enthusiasts. (Friedman quoted statistics to show that buyers have far more trust in a third party whom they have never met than in any experts the company puts forth.) As an additional benefit, when you enable your customers to market for you, you can also listen and use comments to maintain qualify.

4. Engage customers in conversation.

Solicit customer ideas and feedback on an ongoing basis. Let them tell you how you should fix your products and services, what they need that you do not supply. Then maybe pre-sell this product to them. Friedman's example here was Threadless, which lets potential buyers vote on designs they might like in t shirts and then uses that data to create and presell the popular ones. Dell's Ideastorm page for product feedback was another example.

I know from trying to introduce some of these ideas at SCORE Chicago that they make organizations uncomfortable. Managers resist the idea of having products and services publicly rated, of listening to and even showcasing unfounded criticism, of giving away content they paid to develop. This is a very open way of operating and sharing. But, Friedman says, your customers are already living in the new dimension. You'll loose touch if you don't move some of your marketing resources there too. 

-Peg CorwinSCORE Chicago View more posts by Peg

Peg Corwin
// by Peggy Duncan / Dec. 4, 2008 1 comments

Search engines love blogs and having one with great content is probably THE best way you can boost your search engine rankings (see a previous post with more ideas on how to get found online). To make your blog more popular, take some time to explore the following enhancements (depending on your blogging platform, you may need a self-hosted blog in order to add code/scripts for more functionality. I wrote a previous post about this).

Make posts easy to share. Add a plug-in that automatically puts a set of icons at the bottom of each blog post. The icons represent communities such as Digg, StumbleUpon, etc., and with one click, a reader can share the entry. Three free technologies: Bookmarkify (, AddtoAny (, and AddThis (

Add related articles after each post. Use the plug-in, "Yet Another Related Posts Plugin" that automatically adds related entries at the end of each post based on keywords. The entries show up on single posts only,

Create a blidget (a widget of your blog). At, you can create a blidget that lists your latest blog entries (much like an RSS feed but neater and cuter). Once you create your blidget and insert it into your blog or onto your Website, others can click to Get Widget and add it to their site or blog. Every time you write a new post, blidgets everywhere are automatically updated (check out this blog's blidget and add it to your Website or blog). These are just a few ways to improve your blog's popularity, virability, and stickiness so stay tuned for Part II's post coming up next week. In the meantime, if you have ideas to share, please leave a comment.

-Peggy Duncan, SCORE Atlanta View more posts by Peggy

Peggy Duncan
// by Peg Corwin / Dec. 2, 2008 4 comments

For paid lists, Keaton suggests Mondo Times, Burrellesluce, PRNewswire and its PRToolkit and PRwebdirect.  He observes that Mondo Times and PR Web are "great inexpensive options. "At a minimum, Mondo Times will list all the media in your area and link to their Web sites, so it can be good place to start your research if you do it on your own."

In Illinois, Mayer rightly claims CMW's Getting On the Air, Online and In Print "happens to be the best for the Chicago market (and we're working on the rest of the Midwest, as much as we can)..."  He also mentions: "Vocus, Cision, FinderBinder and Newsclip."

If you plan to pitch a fair amount, Mayer recommends that you budget some money for up-to-date contacts. "It's a cost of doing this type of business."

2. Use Google. (Cheap but it's work.)

If you can't afford to buy a directory or online access to names, Keaton suggests that "You can find other options by searching with terms like "media lists" on Google."  Be sure to use the quotes around the words "media list."

I tried this with Chicago and Lake County, but needed IL to get lists of Illinois media.  For Chicago, a very competitive market, I got links of lists to purchase and some print websites, but no journalist names.  For Evanston, a larger town, and Cook County, I got library links, paid links, and public television websites, places where I might have to dig for names and editorial areas.  But when I tried "daily herald IL lifestyle editor" I hit a jackpot--a link to "Illinois features editors and education editors" on a site called  Names might be stale, however.

3. Check a particular paper's website.  (Cheap and one-by-one effort.)

Looking at particular websites is, Keaton thinks, "the fastest way, since it's immediate and usually the Web sites are up-to-date with their contact information.  Many newspapers will try to "hide" this information by making contact pages hard to find, so it may take a few minutes of sleuthing per Web site."  Along these lines, Mayer recommends that you look for journalists' names at an "About Us" link.

Rather than hunt through the site, I Googled "chicago tribune lifestyle editor" and emails of all the editors came up, including three assistant lifestyle editors.  At least I have confidence that these names are current.

4. Read the local press and note journalists bylines and emails. (Cheap and an ongoing project.)

Says Keaton, "Some newspapers include the email address of the staff writer for each article, and that's often all you need"  Mayer adds, "TiVo the credits on your 10 o'clock news" to get contacts.

When you have your name and are ready to send the release, Keaton reminds us that "Most journalists prefer email pitching, or fax. Editors and writers can copy and paste the text and re-write it to fit their style. Mail or fax releases require someone to re-type them, which is more effort on the part of the newspaper, and thus less likely to be picked up."

5.  Get Journalists to Contact You!!  (Way easier, if you want to pay) Productivity and Communications Expert  Peggy Duncan say: "The newsrooms are changing too rapidly every day to get a solid list. The best way is to get journalists to contact YOU instead of your trying to find the right one to pitch to about something that by some miracle they'd be interested in. And you can sign up for free/inexpensive services that send journalist queries to you."  These include and    To learn more, check out her slideshow "Shameless Self-Promotion: Do-It-Yourself PR" seminar, There you have five ways to track down journalists in your niche.  Build a list, get to know these people and your release just may get picked up or spark an article in their publication. What's your experience tracking down journalists in your niche?  Please leave me a comment. Related Posts Pitching Products with Press Releases Online Press Releases: Intro, Video and Links See all posts in my Online Marketing Series -Peg Corwin, SCORE Chicago View more posts by Peg

Peg Corwin
// by Peggy Duncan / Nov. 27, 2008 4 comments

Choosing the right holiday gift for your colleagues, your boss, or your clients can be one more overwhelming task to add to your plate during the holiday season. That’s because gift-giving in the business environment has its own set of rules and guidelines. Author and etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore has put together the business gift-giving tips and advice you need to know before beginning your holiday shopping. Below are Whitmore’s “Whit-Bits” that every businessperson should keep in mind this holiday season.

Set a spending limit for gift-giving exchanges. Once a price limit is set among coworkers or for your office’s holiday gift exchange, make sure you stick to it. Limits help participants select an appropriate gift at an affordable price. Whenever you overspend, you run the risk of looking like a show-off. On the other hand, spending considerably below the norm might come off looking stingy.

Give thoughtful and useful gifts. Whether it’s for your boss, colleague, assistant or client, gifts that lend both organization and style to an office environment are always appreciated.

Tailor your gift to the taste and personality of the receiver. Keeping track of your clients’ and colleagues’ likes, dislikes, interests, and hobbies is always helpful at gift-giving time.

Consider corporate culture. Before sending any gifts to clients or vendors, it is best to check the receiver’s corporate policy guidelines on gift-giving. Otherwise, a well-intended gift may be returned to you.

Bring coworkers together to get your boss a gift. Brainstorm gift ideas with your colleagues and have everyone chip in on one group gift for the boss. If you work in a small office or know your boss well, it’s acceptable to give a smaller but personal gift, like a gift card, book, CD, or gift for his/her family or pet.

Personalize but don’t get too personal. Personalizing your gift shows your creative side while letting your recipient know that you’re an attentive listener. Just be careful to stay away from items that are too personal in nature, such as perfume, clothing, red roses, alcohol, or tobacco products.

Beware of humorous or gag gifts. Avoid giving a humorous gift if you don’t know a person well. What you might think is cute or funny may be offensive or insulting to someone else and could quickly damage or even sabotage a business relationship.

Always remember a personal note. The hand-written note adds a nice touch to any gift. Those deserving a note of thanks include anyone who’s given you advice, their time, or a helping hand this year. Appropriate wrapping paper and presentation are also very important, and whenever possible, try to give the gift in person. Jacqueline Whitmore is the founder and director of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, the author of Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work, and the gift giving etiquette expert for Sam’s Club. To subscribe to her monthly e-newsletter, visit her Website at -Peggy Duncan, SCORE Atlanta View more posts by Peggy

Peggy Duncan
// by Peg Corwin / Nov. 18, 2008 5 comments

Raman Chadha Executive Director Coleman Entrepreneurship Center DePaul University

We typically tell entrepreneurs that a business plan should be about 25-30 pages max, without title page, table of contents, financials, and appendices. Any shorter, they've likely short-changed one of the sections. Any longer, they've probably gone overboard on something (usually product, industry and/or market). Once they have that, they can then edit down for special requests...anything from a 1-2 page executive summary to a 3-5 page venture summary.

Bob Paul, SCORE Chicago

One thing missing on the length issue is the purpose of the plan. Looking for $5 million venture capital will require more detail and length than a $75k bank loan. I don’t worry about number of pages. For internal use, eliminate all the “fluff” and “sales points.” I’d think 10 pages plus appendices seems plenty. Some can even be less.

Esh Noojibal, SCORE Chicago

I generally recommend that entrepreneurs aim for about 30 pages, including appendices.

Stephen Konkle, SBA Economic Development Specialist

The major deficiencies that we at the SBA notice when reviewing business plans are qualitative in nature, and not quantitative. In other words, I have seen good plans that were only 15 pages long, and bad plans that were 30 pages long.

And From The Books:

Portable MBA in Finance and Accounting, p. 261-2 For a business plan to raise debt or equity, 25-40 pages, and "less is more." For a "dehydrated business plan, the purpose of which is to provide an initial conception of the business," no more than 10 pages.

How to Write a Business Plan, p. 159 15-20 pages or more, especially if you provide several appendices

Anatomy of a Business Plan, p. 6 Average length 30-40 pages

Small Business for Dummies p. 62 Simple short-term plan, or one for home-based business "10 pages or so" Larger business or longer-term plan, 20-50 pages

The Successful Business Plan p. 37 15-30 pages, excluding financials and appendices "20 pages are enough for nearly any business"

Abbreviated table, where page numbers exclude appendices.

Purpose of Plan

Plan Type

Approx Pages *

Internal/ personal use



Raise bank loans



Seek venture capital/ equity



Assess viability of business



Secure approval from shareholders/ directors



Link to table with recommended page length by plan section.

Any comments or questions on plan length, entrepreneurs? Comments on length from your end, bankers, angels or VCs?

A One Page Business Plan?

Check the controversy over a One Page Business Plan at this link. Consider the pros and cons and then come back and take our poll.

[polldaddy poll=1105836] -Peg Corwin, SCORE Chicago View more posts by Peg

Peg Corwin
// by Peggy Duncan / Nov. 13, 2008 5 comments

Hopefully you're not keeping receipts in a shoebox and have to scrounge around at tax time to get everything in order. And I hope you won’t have to pay your accountant for the extra hours it'll take to get everything organized. When I started my business almost 11 years ago, as part of the Accounting section of my filing system, I had a folder for each vendor I spent money with regularly (e.g., gas, light, Office Depot, etc.). When I found myself sticking receipts in a To Be Filed folder, I knew my system was too tedious. Because I was procrastinating about filing everything, I knew I needed to simplify my system. Here is a simple solution that works for me.

  • Create a home for all receipts for the current month. This can be a file folder, tray, basket, or whatever works for you.
  • Create a home for all pay stubs from clients. For all checks you receive for the month, keep these pay stubs separately and near your receipts.
  • Keep everything with that month's bank statement. When the bank statement arrives, use a jumbo paper clip to keep all receipts and pay stubs for that month behind it.

This system is simple so it's easy to maintain. One thing though, I had to figure out a way to quickly find receipts for higher-priced products in case I needed repair, etc. I created a contact in Outlook called “Big Ticket Items.” In the text area of the contact I have a 2-column table that is similar to the one below. If I ever need to find a receipt, I'll know which month/year bank statement to pull. (To create the table: if you use Outlook as your email editor, create the table in Word and paste it into the text area of the contact. Once it's there, you can click inside the cells and type as you normally would. When you need a new row, click inside the last cell of the table and tab. Once this table fills up, you can quickly find what you need by using Find. Open the Big Ticket Items contact, click anywhere in the body, then press F4. Type whatever you're looking for in the resulting Find what box and press Enter.)

Date Purchased Description
5/15/2008 HP Laptop, Best Buy
5/29/2008 Office Telephone, Office Depot - ATT
8/6/2008 Luggage at TJ Maxx
8/23/2008 Headset for ATT phone, Office Depot
8/29/2008 Took iPhone back and got BlackBerry, AT&T

  What system have you developed that works for you? Let us know. -Peggy Duncan, SCORE Atlanta View more posts by Peggy

Peggy Duncan
// by Peg Corwin / Nov. 11, 2008 2 comments

"Revise your credit policy now to avoid problems associated with extending credit later" says SCORE counselor Bob Paul.  (He was vice president of credit and collections at John Deere for a multi-billion portfolio of loans to businesses and individuals.)  Here are his 4 keys to extending credit.

1) Avoid extending credit if possible. Get paid on delivery, in advance, or at specified milestones during a project. Accept credit card payments where possible. Extend credit only if it is demanded in your industry. Providing credit to your customers eats up your cash and costs you money in terms of added expenses and a higher level of debt. Be sure you are appropriately compensated either through interest collected or through your pricing strategy.

2) Develop a credit policy which defines procedures to approve credit and authority levels within your organization. The rules may vary for granting larger credit amounts. The procedures may include requesting and reviewing the customer's prior years tax returns, historical balance sheets and income statements, credit references, and credit reporting agency data. Higher levels of credit require greater scrutiny. Know how to evaluate creditworthiness. Be aware of all credit extension laws that are applicable to you and your customers. Follow them carefully. Failure to do so may result in you losing your claim to the account (and you may also be liable for punitive damages).

3) Develop a collection strategy. This should detail precisely the action(s) you will take at 10, 30, 60, 90, and 120 days past due. The strategy should also delineate small versus large past due amounts. The strategy may begin with a friendly reminder or courtesy call and escalate up to and including credit restrictions, 3rd party collectors, repossessions, liens and court judgments. Follow your collection strategy precisely for all customers. Be aware of all debt collection laws that pertain to you and your customers. Follow them carefully. Failure to do so may result in you losing your claim to the account (and you may also be liable for punitive damages).

4) Be sure that detailed invoices are sent out promptly. The invoice should be accurate and have sufficient detail for the customer to understand what they are being charged for.   Include credit terms on the invoices.

If your business is having credit problems, get advice from a SCORE counselor like Bob Paul.Find a counselor near you.



Have an observation or question on credit?  Please comment.





Peg Corwin
// by Betty Otte / Nov. 10, 2008 4 comments

At SCORE we love mentoring our clients, but on a bus? Yes and no. I was on a shuttle bus going from the airport to a conference hotel when the woman next to me started talking about her business concerns. I starting asking her probing questions to help her think through what she was saying and suddenly a light bulb went on and she thanked me for my help. This I call short term mentoring. There are many kinds of mentoring situations, but we often just think about the long term formal mentoring situation. Sometimes we just need a mentor for the moment as in my example above, sometimes we need long term mentoring (which is my favorite kind of SCORE client mentoring) and sometimes we need a secondary mentor. 

Example: At SCORE I often get clients with marketing or franchising needs, but as we work through their business concerns, the financial portion of the business plan always pops up. This is where we call in what I call a secondary mentor. Someone with a financial background. As a business owner, your job is to find good mentors -- someone who has been there done that and sometimes just talking things through with another person solves the problem. A good mentor keeps you on a positive track both mentally and businessly. (Yes, I know there is no such word as businesssly, but can you think of a better substitute?) Isn't it fun to be a mentoree after you have been mentored? We are constantly on both sides of the mentoring fence as we change and grow. What mentoring experiences have you had? I hope to see you on my next bus trip. -Betty Otte, SCORE Orange County View more posts by Betty

Contact your local SCORE chapter to learn more about mentoring on a bus.

Betty Otte
// by Peg Corwin / Nov. 4, 2008 0 comments

It's hard to estimate expenses for a startup business. Yet those numbers are critical to your success. They are also necessary to convince investors or bankers that your startup will be profitable.

First, a couple of assumptions. I presume you have identified all major expenses. Use a checklist of expense categories like those on the website, so you don't miss anything. And while some costs are fixed, many expenses depend on your sales projections. We'll assume you start with reasonable projections for the first two or three years and now just need to identify the related business costs. Let's talk about three ways to make the numbers reasonable and believable: competitive quotes, breakdown/roll up, and industry sources. Finally we'll take a quick look at "free" activities.

1. Competitive Quotes Researching quotes for outside products and services is THE best way to estimate your costs.  Examples of "researchable" costs are rents, build-outs of space, equipment, insurance coverage, attorney fees, outside marketing, PR, software consultants, raw materials, shipping costs, even internet and phone services. I strongly suggest three competitive quotes for large costs.  You will learn about features, and more importantly about exclusions, in the process.  The first estimation method, then, is to get competitive quotes.

2. Break It Down and Roll It Up The second method is to estimate the pieces and then build up your costs.  I call this "Break It Down and Roll It Up."  Let's take travel.  You might be tempted to pull $1,000 out of the air for travel.   But we can put together a simple formula.  For example, you might have three people taking two cabs per week with an average charge of $20.  If all three work 50 business weeks a year, you project $6,000 for travel expenses. This method is scalable, up and down.  If you have more or fewer salespeople, you can recompute the expense.  Use the same method for shipping and other variable costs.  The second method is to "Break It Down and Roll It Up."

3. Industry Feedback You network, don't you?  Attend trade and industry meetings, exchange business cards? Send an email to friendly contacts and ask a simple question, like "what percentage of revenues does a successful retail store spend on sales and marketing?"  Or buy dinner for somebody in the industry, but outside your market area, and ask specific questions. If you're a member of Linkedin or online business networks, post a query in their forums. You'll be surprised, but consultants and experts are hanging around to answer your questions, in hopes of building relationships and getting your business down the road. Franchise documents are also a good source of industry estimates if franchisers are in your niche. Even if you aren't buying a franchise, you can request franchise materials and see what costs and cost ratios they project. Industry ratios are also available, although percentages vary with region and business strategy. (See links at end of post.)   At SCORE, we see many clients selling retail fashion accessories. So I checked for sample P&L ratios and found "corporate clothing accessory stores." Cost of sales are 51% of gross sales, rent are 7% and sales and admin combined are 12%.  Remember that these are ratios from ongoing businesses, so percentages are most relevant for years two and three of your projections. Startup year percentages may be different.  Trade associations and publications also have industry data. Estimation method three, then, is to learn from industry sources in networking, franchise documents and published ratios.

Let's Look Briefly at Free Be forewarned that "free" activities often have costs. Your time has an "opportunity cost." That's what else you could be doing with your time that might be more productive. For example, you may bring in more revenue if you call prospects and close sales than if you write press releases. So you decide to pay someone else to do PR. Clients often talk about email marketing as free. Who's writing all those emails to prospects and customers? Who will handle the email database, analyze results, refine the lists, deal with bad emails? This takes time and has costs. Don't wave your hands and say free viral marketing or word of mouth. These are not as easy as they sound. Writing articles, creating products to give away, setting up affiliate programs and the like all take someone's time. Activities that seem free may cost you or an employee in time.

In Summary Bankers, investors, and SCORE counselors -- all of us readers of your business plan -- don't expect precision. We know you are a startup. But we want to see your business succeed. And one key to success is cost control. So we want to know that you have thought through potential costs and made reasonable estimates. Use my three methods: competitive quotes, breakdown/rollup, and industry sources to make sure your estimates are solid. We don't want to see these quotes and rough calculations in the business plan itself. But we want to know you have them to back up your estimates. Furthermore, after the first year, you can examine how actual costs differed from estimates to understand and improve your profitability going forward.

Industry Ratio Links:

Comparative IRS industry data

Valuation Resources Financial Benchmarks

CAPS Research Benchmarking Reports

Fintel Business Scorecard

Startup Finance Links:

Estimating Startup Costs for a New Business Startup Nation

Small Business 101: Pay Yourself First Tips from SCORE

Financial Projection Model (SCORE's Excel sheet.  it's complex, but complete)

Estimating Unknown Expenses by Tim Berry,

Estimating Realistic Startup Costs by Tim Berry,

What problems have you run into in estimating expenses?  Please leave me a comment.

-Peg CorwinSCORE Chicago View more posts by Peg

Peg Corwin
// by Peg Corwin / Oct. 21, 2008 5 comments

Maximize Cash In

  • Whenever possible, avoid accounts receivables. Get payment in advance or upon delivery.
  • Send statement out quickly. Delayed statements delays payment.
  • Have a solid collection strategy and follow it. Let the customer know you care about payment.
  • Review credit policy, especially on larger customers.  Sales do not help if you don't get paid.

Minimize Cash Out

  • Pay accounts payable on time, but not ahead of time.
  • Use electronic payment to avoid early payments.
  • Compare the costs of renting or leasing to buying.
  • Negotiate everything.  Your vendors are also anxious about the economic climate. This can be a good time to renegotiate prices, terms, and delivery schedules.
  • Consider temporary and flexible hours for employees. Lay off staff when necessary. Keep your employees informed.

Watch Inventories

  • Find vendors who can supply smaller quantities quickly. This will reduce overall inventory levels.
  • Dispose of obsolete inventory - even at a loss. Holding worthless inventory uses up your cash.
  • Keep inventories and assets (such as computers) secure. Have appropriate processes to avoid theft and fraud.

Stay on top of cash

  • Have a solid process to verify daily cash receipts. Don't tempt your employees with poor processes.
  • Take complete control of check writing. Personally evaluate every penny being spent. Eliminate or delay expenditures where ever possible.

Keep your banker informed of your status. Make him or her comfortable that you are doing an effective job of managing the business.

Evaluate your personal budget along with the business.  Avoid and reduce personal expenditures and lower your withdrawal from the business. Meet for a free, confidential talk with a SCORE Counselor like Bob Paul if you run into cash flow or debt problems.

Related postsThe 3 C's of Cash -Peg Corwin, SCORE Chicago View more posts by Peg

Peg Corwin