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Top 5 Best Sellers at K-Fashion!

Miracle Skin Pore Tightening Pack (150ml)
Why it's popular: It's name says it all, this mask is really a miracle! A god-sent product for everyone and anyone who is desperate for better skin. Visible results seen just after one use, no wonder it had managed to be the top seller in Korea for 2007-2008. Though not as well-known or widely publicized as major brands, this mask is indeed a hidden gem which you'd regret for not discovering. Get the sample bottle at $5 each and experience the miracle for yourself ;)
Price: $50

Etude House Collagen Mask
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Circle Lens (click to view the complete range of 100 over designs)
Why it's popular: With the promise of making the eyes appear bigger, these circle lens caught Asia by storm and is still the most sought after accessory by girls. Available in plano as well as prescription.
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Contact Lens Cleaning Machine
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Etude House Princess "Creative in France" Perfume (30ml)
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Your Competitive Advantage

If you are a small business doing business with the Federal Government, specifically with the Department of Defense, then you'll want to be aware of the latest developments in contract procurement.

In a decision on November 4, 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that the Defense Department can no longer use Section 1207 of the Small Business Act to award contracts based on set-asides for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals (e.g., 8(a), SDB, etc.)

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), "the 8(a) BD Program, named for a section of the Small Business Act, is a business development program created to help small disadvantaged businesses compete in the American economy and access the federal procurement market. Socially disadvantaged individuals are those who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias because of their identity as members of a group such as:
  • Black Americans
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Native Americans (American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts, and Native Hawaiians)
  • Asian Pacific Americans (persons with origins from Japan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Samoa, Guam, U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands [Republic of Palau], Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Laos, Cambodia [Kampuchea], Taiwan; Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Macao, Hong Kong, Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu, or Nauru; Subcontinent Asian Americans (persons with origins from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, the Maldives Islands or Nepal), and
  • Members of other groups designated by the SBA.
Last week's ruling stems from a court case that was filed in 1998 by a firm owned by a Caucasian Woman disputing the Defense Department's contract award to an Asian American owned firm even though the Caucasian-owned firm was the lowest bidder. The case has gone back and forth from the District Court to the Appeals Court and was finally decided on appeal.

There are arguments on both sides of the fence as to whether or not government set-asides provide an opportunity for fair competition. There's a tremendous amount of competition in a Federal marketplace that is dominated by large systems integrators, missile defense contractors and aerospace companies. Some say the large companies would take all the business for themselves if not for set-asides. The authorization of contract bundling, implemented during the Bush Administration, has resulted in contracting teams that consist of a large integrator with up to 80 small businesses that are actually performing the work.

Others feel that the country has evolved to the point where ethnicity and socioeconomic status are no longer relevant measures of one's ability to compete. Some site Barack Obama's election to the Presidency as evidence that we no longer suffer from the racial ills of our past and that anyone can succeed if they try hard enough.

When it's all said and done, this ruling sets a precedent that may have a ripple effect on Federal contracting as a whole. If the Defense Department can't use set-aside goals, then there's a strong likelihood that set-asides may be challenged at other agencies as well.

Here's my advice - If you are currently or are considering using socioeconomic status as part of your competitive advantage, it may be wise to identify other methods of distinguishing yourself from the competition.

Click here to read the Court's opinion. Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Are You Using Fillers?

Picture this scene with me. You prepare your research on the prospective decision maker you'll be meeting today. You review your notes, polish your shoes and wear a power business suit. The receptionist knows you are coming and welcomes you with a smile. You are excited about the possibilities as you are ushered into the meeting room. The decision maker that greets you is polished and has a firm handshake. Everything is looking up until the conversation starts and every other word out of his mouth is "um". Crash and burn.

When I was in college, my sorority sisters and I coined a phrase - "great hatred". We used it whenever we had disdain for something. That said, I have great hatred for "um". I find it hard to follow a conversation and stay focused when the person with whom I'm speaking keeps saying "um".

Very often, people use words like "um", "ah", "well" or "and" as space fillers in a conversation. It's like a bridge from one sentence to the next. However, it is an unnecessary bridge. Sometimes people use them when they don't know what to say next or when they lose their train of thought. It is perfectly acceptable to leave a few seconds of quiet time between sentences.

First impressions are lasting. Not only is what you say important, so too is how you say it. If you want to be remembered and respected as an entrepreneur, become a master at speaking properly.

Make it a habit to remove fillers from your vocabulary. Start right now to change the way you speak. New habits can be formed in as little as 21 days. Here are a few suggestions on how to get started:

  • Try listening to what you say throughout the day.
  • Use a digital recorder to record a planned speech or team meeting. You'll be surprised what you learn about yourself.
  • Train your brain to recognize the times when you use fillers and then practice silence during those times when you feel a need to fill the space.
  • Ask a friend to observe your conversations and make note of your use of fillers.
  • Place a rubber band on your wrist and snap the rubber band each time you catch yourself using a filler.
  • Take time to properly prepare for meetings, speeches and sales calls.
If you need something more structured, you may want to consider joining Toastmasters or taking a Dale Carnegie course. Here's to the end of fillers!

The Case for an Employee Handbook

Long before ever starting my own firm, I served as a manager in a variety of capacities in firms big and small. One of the things that made my job easier while managing employees in large companies was that they tended to have detailed management procedures and employee handbooks that documented the company's policies.

In addition to lots of other valuable management advice, I was told early on that it's not a question of "if" a company is going to be sued but "when". So, not long after starting my own firm, I created an employee handbook that includes policies that cover:

  • Equal Opportunity Employment (Important

  • Fraud, Waste & Abuse (What it is and what to do if they suspect it)

  • Proprietary Information - (What it is and how it should be used)

  • Health and Safety Information (Laws applicable to the company)

  • Email Usage (It could be used in a court of law)

  • Safe Workplace (One that's free from sexual harassment and workplace violence)

  • Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace

  • Employee Benefits (Holidays, leave accrual, benefit eligibility, etc.)

  • Time Reporting (Core work hours, time reporting requirements, etc.)

  • Pay and Salaries (When to expect a performance review and potential increase)

  • Disciplinary Actions

I provide the handbook to prospective candidates when I make an employment offer. I do this to ensure the candidate has enough information to make an informed decision about the company's way of conducting business. I require each new employee to sign an acknowledgement that they have received it, understand it and intend to comply with the policies that are outlined therein.

I do use a progressive disciplinary process. It's the kind where an initial infraction leads to a verbal discussion, followed by a written warning and so on until termination becomes an option. Human resource consultants tend to fall on either side of the debate as to whether or not to have a progressive or loosely defined disciplinary process.

In my experience, it's been beneficial to use this method because it creates a paper trail that both you and the employee can refer to, and it eliminates confusion with respect to your expectations as a manager.

I can remember a time when a former employee filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company I was working for. I was surprised to find that I was personally named in the suit along with other representatives from the company. Even though the company had a legal department, I was required to provide a lot of detailed information about my interactions with the employee. The documentation I created along the way from initial warning to eventual termination made it very easy for me to respond factually when preparing the affidavits associated with the lawsuit.

On more than one occasion, perspective candidates have told me that they viewed the employee handbook as a sign of the company's commitment to creating a professional workplace environment, and that it helped to provide a point of reference when they had questions regarding time reporting, leave policies and benefits.

From a business standpoint, the employee handbook has been beneficial because our customer base include the local, state and federal government agencies. When submitting proposals, we are required to indicate whether or not we are in compliance with EEOC and other labor regulations. The handbook is written proof of our commitment.

There's a short guidebook on How to Assemble an Employee Handbook in the August 2008 issue of Inc. Magazine. You should check it out and share your thoughts.

The Rule - Not the Exception

I landed my first Information Technology job about a year after graduating college. I was recruited along with five other graduates by a headhunter. I was really excited about the opportunity to work in my field of study and get paid for it. I thought the salary was great and I would be working with several of my friends from college. I now know that there were pros and cons to working alongside my friends.

One of the pros was that we could carpool together. That was a good thing because this new and wonderful job opportunity was 124 miles round trip from my parents’ house each day. One of the worse things about having been hired with a group of five friends was if one of us did something wrong then we were all chastised as a result. I didn't like being told not to wear open-toed sandals to work in the summer - that was a lesson I had already learned when I got my first summer job working for the Department of Energy at fifteen years old. I also didn't like having to sit in meetings where we were told not to talk on the phone, read the newspaper, wear tank tops or shorts, stand around and gossip. I called this management by exception.

That was the first of many experiences I had throughout my career where I found myself being chastised because someone else decided to break the rules, or management was changing the rules because of someone else’s bad habit or management was afraid that if they gave in to one person’s demands, they’d set a precedence that all others would want to follow.

So, when my turn came to make the rules I decided I wasn’t going to torture some poor soul by confronting the masses instead of addressing issues one-on-one. I established policies and procedures that help employees feel like they are an important part of the company, I made them readily available to everyone and requested acknowledgement of having received and understood them. I wanted them to understand how their efforts fit into the big picture. I thought surely no one wanted to endure what I did. When issues arose, I identified the responsible individuals and dealt with them individually.

But there were pros and cons to that decision as well. You see, rule breakers don’t like being singled out. It’s a lot more comfortable to be lost in the crowd – that way they don’t have to assume responsibility for having wasted everyone else’s time. They prefer to remain incognito and when you single them out, it can get pretty ugly because instead of changing the rules, most often you have to seek changes in the individual’s performance or behavior. I’ve been threatened, yelled at, written up, served resignations and called everything but a child of God.

In the end, I still prefer to manage using a set of rules that are beneficial to the masses and deal with the exceptions on an individual basis. I prefer to praise in public and criticize in private. Clearly communicating expectations by developing written policies and procedures eliminates a lot of confusion and makes it easier to deal with the exceptions.

Women Helping Women

Pink Magazine, in its May/June 2008 issue posed the following question to two female senior executives: Do women have a responsibility to help other women succeed in business? The women weighed in on both sides of the issue, with one stating that "helping other women succeed implies that women business owners need additional help", while the other respondent said "That's what the big guys do with junior men...Why shouldn't we do that for other women?"

Women business owners do need help and there's research data to prove it. I recently participated in a research study conducted by the Center for Women's Business Research. Their studies prove that women business owners, especially women of color, face a number of issues including, but not limited to: getting the necessary connections to decision makers, not being viewed as a standard of success, confronting unstated assumptions about the firm's ability to perform and gaining access to capital for business growth.

The Center's response has been to encourage women business owners to support one another by creating affinity groups to share information and contacts, educate one another, and leverage existing networks and access to decision makers. But, just having a network isn't enough. Studies show that women's networks are smaller and less effective than their male counterparts.

So, what's a woman to do? Women have to begin creating and expanding their own networks like other minority groups. The Asian American community has successfully built a financial network that provides its members with up to 24% of the funding they need to grow their businesses. It's a successful networking model and women business owners should take notice.

Women business owners need to learn how to use networks to their advantage by becoming integrated into networks that are predominately male. It is better to have connections in many networks rather than many connections in one. Women have to seek out seminars, coaching and education to expand your network and grow their businesses.

I think we do have a responsibility to help other women and I think men have set one example for how to do it. The "good old boy's" network is not just a euphemism. It's real and as far as I can tell, it's been pretty effective at building and expanding business. So, if women don't look out for one another, who will?

Security Matters - Part 2

The loss or theft of a laptop that contains sensitive information is called an e-crime - one that threatens some aspect of computer security. Research indicates that a significant percentage of e-crimes are committed by current or former employees, service providers or contractors. According to the 2007 E-Crime Watch Survey, conducted by CSO Magazine, the US Secret Service, CERT and Microsoft Corporation, unauthorized access to or use of corporate information, systems or networks was the most common insider e-crime.

In order to secure critical business information and protect against e-crimes, you need a game plan - an effective security governance program. Generally speaking, the goal of any governance program is to mitigate risks. Other goals include ensuring that your business is in compliance with regulations, setting an example for how business is to be conducted within your company, and protecting the business, its assets and customers against theft. In the case of a small business, establishing an effective governance program is a step towards positioning the business for future growth.

Effective security governance programs ensure that individuals at all levels within the company are well informed about the risks that may impact the business and take an active role in developing and enforcing policies designed to protect against them. As an entrepreneur, it's your responsibility to identify the risks affecting your business, develop strategies to mitigate them and document the game plan. This is just as important for the sole proprietor with an in-home office.

Take a look at your organizational structure, management, operational and computer practices. Your organizational structure, roles and responsibilities need to be defined in a manner that establishes accountability. Have you given a contractor sole responsibility for an area of the business that imposes a risk? Your management practices should support and enforce policies that govern behavior within the company, such as how email and voice mail are to be used, use of company assets like laptops, protection of intellectual property and data sharing policies. Do you always remember to reset voice mail passwords whenever an employee leaves the company? What information within your company requires privacy? Do you have policies in place to limit access to that information? Where is your customer data stored and how is it protected. For those with home-based businesses, do you keep the file cabinets locked? Who else besides yourself has a set of keys? Are you doing all you can to protect your business and your customers?

Look at security from both a physical and technical standpoint. Establish roles and responsibilities to mitigate risks in the following areas:

Legal Compliance - Speak to your attorney and find out what regulations apply to your line of business, how they affect the way you do business and what you need to do if you find that you are non-compliant. Review your contract language and employment applications to ensure that you address regulatory compliance and security. Investigate any suspected security breaches.

Information Technology - Create an inventory of your critical IT assets (software, hardware, network components, etc.) What measures have been put in place to secure your laptop or other computers. What happens if your laptop is lost or stolen? Are you running backups on a regular basis and where are they stored? Who maintains the administrative passwords to your accounting system, payroll system, network, etc.? Do you change the passwords when someone leaves? If you have a home-based business, can anyone use your computer? Do you restrict who can download software and information onto the computer?

Risk Management - Conduct assessments to identify weaknesses in your business security posture. Conduct regularly scheduled reviews to determine whether or not the measures you've implemented are eliminating or minimizing risks.

Management - Use your management team to set the tone for conduct within the business. Use managers to develop and enforce company policies, help identify risks and train employees, service providers and contractors.

Finance - Include security in your budget and allocate funds to support security investments as well as security training and awareness. Determine who has access to your financials. How often do you monitor financial transactions? Do you have written procedures for handling customer financial information? For those in direct sales, do you have a procedure for destroying customer credit transactions once completed?

Auditors - Become familiar with and begin conducting internal audits to ensure compliance with regulations. Vest your internal auditors with the authority to do their jobs. If you don't have staff to perform this role, do your own research and see what other resources might be available to you through small business organizations.

Administration - Ensure that security practices are implemented throughout your hiring and review process. Use your Human Resources (HR) staff to monitor and enforce policies and procedures. Ensure that security practices are enforced in your interaction with vendors, contractors and service providers.

Security - Document your game plan just as you would a business plan. Make security awareness training a priority and an ongoing requirement for employees at all levels of the business. Think about what should happen if there is a security breach. Who is responsible for taking the lead in the event of a problem? Who is responsible for communicating security updates?

You don't have to create in-house positions to establish these roles, nor do you have to hire staff to begin establishing a game plan. As an entrepreneur, you may outsource some of these areas. For example, if you're using an outsourced HR provider, discuss the verbiage you would like included in the employee handbook relative to your security practices. If you outsource your payroll, ask for a copy of their written policy regarding protection of employee data.

Whether you decide to comment or not, at least take some time to reflect on security and start protecting your investment.

Security Matters

Security breaches. You hear about them all the time, like the recent one at Washington Dulles International Airport. A pilot's laptop containing top secret airport access codes came up missing and posed a potential threat to 17 airports across the country. Had airport officials not responded quickly, the recipient of the access codes could have gained access to airplanes with the touch of a few buttons.

Have you ever thought about what it would cost you if sensitive intellectual property, such as your trade secrets or new product information were stolen or made public? What would be the cost to your reputation? How would your customers react if they knew your data had been compromised?

If you haven't thought much about it, I would suggest that you begin to do so. According to the Carnegie Mellon Institute's report on Governing for Enterprise Security, "addressing security is becoming a core necessity for most, if not all, organizations. Customers are demanding it as concerns about privacy and identity theft rise. Business partners, suppliers, and vendors are requiring it from one another, particularly when providing mutual network and information access. Espionage through the use of networks to gain competitive intelligence and to extort organizations is becoming more prevalent."

As an entrepreneur, you need to play an active and committed role in ensuring the safety and security of the information that's critical to the success of your business. You could suffer financial losses, damage to your reputation and decreased market share. Then there are the legal ramifications.

In the wake of prominent security breaches, regulators have responded by passing new laws requiring companies to implement security measures. I'm sure you've heard of some of them - The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). If you're a sole proprietor, small business owner or run a home-based business, you're probably thinking these regulations don't apply to you. You could be wrong.

More than 30 state governments have passed laws that require companies to implement security measures and in some instances, publicly disclose any security breaches that result in the compromise of state residents' personal data. This means that the beauty consultant that accepts credit card payments and the sole proprietor that provides accounting services both have a requirement to protect consumer data. When it's all said and done, customers need assurance that their personal data is being handled in a safe and secure manner.

So, how does one go about securing critical business information and ensuring compliance with state regulations? There's plenty of guidance available on governance and enterprise security. In my next post, I'll discuss security governance along with the goals, processes and roles of an effective security governance program.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear your feedback on what you're doing to address security within your organization.

What Would You Do?

I just read a great article in the April 2008 edition of Inc. Magazine about an ice cream shop in Massachusetts that was seized for failure to pay $177,000 in state and payroll taxes. Toscanini's has been in business since 1981 and developed a following that eventually led The New York Times to proclaim theirs as the best ice cream in the world.

After a few years the business expanded to multiple locations and began wholesaling its ice cream to Whole Foods. One of the owners, Gus Rancatore, says he was overwhelmed by the complexities of managing multiple locations and a wholesale division. He was unable to obtain bank financing. He missed some tax payments (which led to penalties). Commodity prices were increasing and he was constantly faced with the decision of paying taxes or paying the milkman.

When the tax agents padlocked the building in January, the owners set up a Save Toscanini's! website to solicit donations for the unpaid taxes. Within a week, good Samaritans donated more than $30,000 to help save the business. The owners used the money to negotiate a payment plan with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and was permitted to reopen the ice cream shop.

Some visitors to the website cited Toscanini's invaluable contributions to the neighborhood, the niche they served and the role they played in the community as reasons for giving, while others chastised him for being a tax cheat.

So, what are your thoughts? Have you ever missed a sales or payroll tax payment? If so, how did you handle the repayment? What would you do if you found yourself in Gus's shoes? If you have a similar or unique story about business taxes, please do share.

Work Hard and Play Hard

By the time I reached the age of 25, I had become a workaholic. I worked days, nights, and weekends if necessary to meet a deadline. I loved my work and the projects were really “cool”. My team would work round the clock, order conference tables full of food to sustain us through the night, fall asleep at or under our desks, and keep going the next day.

I worked in a building that was all inclusive – a workaholic’s paradise! Our suite had showers, a kitchen and individual offices with doors (none of that cubicle stuff). The building had a dry cleaner, hair salon, shoe store, women’s apparel store, restaurants and a convenience store. We never had to leave.

I could work all night and when I got tired of smoothing out the keyboard imprint on my forehead because I had dozed off at my desk, I could get a few hours sleep, get showered and fully dressed without ever leaving the building. Anything I didn’t have, I could go right downstairs and buy. This was not a happy thing for my marriage, but I hadn’t quite figured it out yet.

At the end of one four day stint, my circadian rhythms were so out of wack that I had to be driven home by a teammate because I didn’t trust myself to shift gears or stay awake long enough to get home safely. Within hours of arriving at home, I was back on the phone with my team - we couldn’t turn our brains off. So what did we do? We planned an all inclusive trip to the Bahamas! As you can imagine, my husband thought we were stark raving mad. We thought we were geniuses! We had worked hard and now it was time to play hard. Did we have fun? Yes. Did we satisfy the deliverable? Yes.

So, what's my point? I didn't share this story to validate the millions of workaholics out there. Workaholism has the potential to destroy your health and your family. I shared this story to remind entrepreneurs that the temptation to become engrossed in the business is ever present.

According to researchers, there's a difference between a workaholic and a person with a strong work ethic. As entrepreneurs, we need to recognize that difference. It's not just the number of hours we're dedicating to the business, it's also about perspective. Do you take your laptop on vacation only to find that you're spending more time online than at the beach? Do your conversations with friends and family center around the business? Are you lying awake at night because you can't stop thinking about your client deliverable?

Also, there are health hazards associated with workaholism such as substance abuse, heart disease, headaches, anxiety and sleep disorders to name a few. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt. After years of pulling all nighters, I was addicted to caffeine. I smoked two and a half packs of cigarettes a day. I suffered from migraine headaches that lasted three weeks at a time and had chest pains that kept me from sleeping at night. I was also divorced.

As entrepreneurs, we have to strike a balance between our desire to build a legacy and our physical, mental, spiritual, social and emotional needs, as well as the needs of our family.

Learn to recognize the symptoms of workaholism - when your family doesn't bother to invite you to Mom's birthday dinner because they don't think you'll show up, you might want to take a closer look at how you're spending your time. Check out Workaholics Anonymous for a list of resources to help put things in perspective.

Admit that you have a problem - This was a hard one for me. I ran up about $13,000 in medical expenses trying to stop my headaches. It took months of doctor's visits and many prescriptions for those unexplained chest pains before I was willing to admit that I had a problem.

Set some boundaries - I started out by making a commitment to do whatever it took to attend my daughter's 2:00 pm basketball games during the week. You could decide not to schedule business meetings after a certain hour of the day.

Find something else to occupy your time - Get into an exercise routine. Take up that hobby that you've always wanted to pursue. Sign up to be your son's cub scout leader. If you are like me, once you've committed to something you'll stick to it.

Work hard and play hard - Start working smarter instead of working longer hours. Don't confuse your strong work ethic with the need to work all the time. Be spontaneous - go on a weekend getaway and don't take your laptop.

Fast forward to today. I work 10 hour days. I haven't had a cigarette in over 14 years. I eliminated caffeine from my diet. My chest pains went away without medication as soon as I developed a healthy work balance. I never sleep in my office. I just returned from a trip to see my daughter play college basketball in Georgia and I'm working on a play date to Montego Bay, Jamaica!

Money Matters

When I made the decision to start my own company, I had been personally debt-free for many years and had no intention of going into debt to grow the business. So my partner and I bootstrapped the business using our personal savings and went about the task of finding new customers and delivering services.

I had no trouble finding paying customers. I figured the company could self-fund any future growth once we became a viable player in our niche. That plan worked well for a few years until several customers started making late payments. By this time, there were plenty of ongoing costs like payroll, employee benefits and taxes.

The company was able to sustain the delays for about 18 months and then we hit a cash crunch. I thought surely a trip to our commercial banker would solve the cash flow problem. We had been loyal bank customers for several years. The folks at the local branch knew me and some of the people on my staff. We had a solid set of financial statements.

Suffice it to say, I got a wake-up call when the bank turned down my request for a line of credit. Why? The company didn’t have a strong enough credit history because I had been careful not to assume any debt. The next bank said the company hadn’t been around long enough. The next bank never really gave an answer, they just kept asking for more paperwork until I grew tired of attempting to comply. I was faced with the fact that I had waited too long to seek financing. Now that there was a real financial need, the lenders weren’t interested.

Now there are folks that will say my financing theory was flawed from the beginning, but there are other woman owned small businesses that were built on the same premise. For example, TransPerfect Translations, has been recognized by Inc. 500 as one of the fastest growing privately held companies in the US.

Ultimately, I sold our accounts receivables to a third party to help with our cash flow. This is commonly referred to as “factoring” and it does come with a small price. Here’s what I learned along the way:

Get to Know the Playing Field – There are many financial tools available to small business owners such as credit cards, lines of credit, commercial loans, equity investment, accounts receivable financing and of course personal savings. Research from the National Association of Women Business Owners reveals that women entrepreneurs typically use more than five sources of capital when growing their businesses. Take time to learn about the pros and cons of each, and how to match the right kind of financing with your business needs.

Get to Know Your Lender – Consider making your banker part of your extended financial team. Meet with your account representative on a regular basis to ask questions about any programs that might be a fit for your business. Make sure s/he has an understanding of your growth plans, discuss which financial tools will help to accomplish your goals and develop a plan on how to get there.

Get Financing Before You Need It – Just because you’ve been a loyal bank customer doesn’t mean your bank will lend to you once you start having cash flow problems. On the contrary, research from OPEN: The Small Business Network from American Express shows that most lenders are risk averse and don’t like hearing that a company is having trouble paying its bills, even if they’ve worked with the customer before. Apply for financing when your cash flow is strong and tap into the funds when a need arises.

Get as Much Money as You Can – Don’t just ask your lender for a line of credit to help you make payroll. Take a good look inside and outside the company and determine the factors that might impact your business down the line. In his book Kiss Theory Good Bye, Bob Prosen suggests using your financial team to anticipate what capital needs are now, what they are projected to be in the future, and how to position the business to best meet those needs now. That may mean asking your lender for a line of credit to maintain payroll and a commercial business loan to fund expansion.

So what’s the moral of the story? Whatever financial strategy you come up with – just don’t run out of money!

Integrity Matters

I've been accused of being too honest. One of things I'm famous for saying is "I'm going to tell on you. Do you want to go with me or wait here until I get back?" It's what I've said many times when others have crossed what I believe to be my invisible ethical line. Once I served on a jury that had been deliberating a case for about a week. Most of the evidence indicated that the defendant was guilty but there was this lingering doubt in all of our minds that something didn't add up. It seemed that the plaintiff had more to do with the crime than she let on.

When it appeared that we might be deadlocked, one of my fellow jurors stood up and addressed the group. He said that he was tired; concerned that he might lose his job if we didn't reach a decision soon and began to encourage the group to find the defendant guilty so we could get out of there by close of business. Now, I too was tired. There were no judicial officials in the room, the tags on my vehicle had expired while I was in court; and since I'm self employed, I was losing money for each day that we continued to deliberate. However, I wasn't too tired to give the case my full and undivided attention. His concept of finding the defendant guilty wasn't in the slightest bit tempting to me. We were talking about sending a human being to jail for a crime that we weren't sure he committed. I couldn't go to sleep at night knowing that I had made a decision about someone else's life based on the fact that I was fed up. So, being the jury foreperson that I was, I asked the group to disregard his comments and continue to deliberate the case. When he persisted, I said those famous words..."I'm going to tell on you. Do you want to go with me or wait here until I get back?" Well, you can imagine he wasn't too pleased with my statement but when it was all said and done, we got back to the business of deliberating.

Take a Stand

Someone once said if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. I believe in standing up for what's right, even if it means my decision won't be a popular one. I am not afraid of what people might think of my decision to do what's right, which is why I offered my fellow juror the opportunity to accompany me to an authoritative source once I made my decision.

Too often business owners find themselves in a position of deciding between making a sale and doing what's right. When I started Ex Nihilo I established a set of values that would govern the way we conduct business. We are committed to providing professional services with a commitment to:

Continuous Improvement

It felt good to have a solid basis for decision making. Those values were tested within our first year of business, and it meant walking away from a client that was offering follow-on business at rates that were very profitable for us. The ability to make honest, professional decisions has been one of the most satisfying facets of owning my own business.

I don't know what ultimately happened to that defendant. We found him not guilty on some of the charges and we finished deliberating by close of business that day.

Happy New Year!

Every year I take time off during the holidays to decompress and look forward to the year ahead. It's something my children have looked forward to for years and it's just what I need after the final push towards the end of the year.

It's always a good time to renew relationships, continue family traditions and decide where I need to focus my energy in the new year. So, I wake up early in the morning before the rest of the family and spend some quiet time reflecting on what I want to be when I grow up.

Goal Setting

I guess some might characterize this as setting New Year's Resolutions, but it's much more than that for me. I'm a workaholic by nature, so it's important for me as a businesswoman to make a conscious effort at setting aside time for family, personal and professional development. Here's what I do to make sure I don't miss the priceless things in life.

Write Them Down. I write down 1-3 family, physical, spiritual, financial, relationship, and educational goals. There's no magic number or category. It just depends on what areas need the most attention and what I believe to be achievable. Once written, I keep a list of these goals in my purse, on my desktop and in my task list.

Make Specific Goals. If my goal is to complete a professional development course, I register and pay for the course during my goal setting time. It's difficult to back out of a commitment once there's been a financial investment. Instead of saying I'm going to take better care of myself, I commit to scheduling an appoint with a physician by a specific date.

Set Realistic Deadlines. I use my calendar to come up with realistic time lines and commit to actual start and end dates. I rearrange my schedule where necessary and add the appointments directly into my calendar. I'm less likely to miss my daughter's basketball game if I have it on my schedule.

Inspect What You Expect. As often as possible, and preferably once a day, I review my goals. It's like creating top of mind awareness for my goals! It might sound like a lot of work, but since I have them written down in several convenient places that makes review time pretty easy.

Share. If I tell someone else what I'm planning on accomplishing, I'm much more likely to succeed. A fellow female entrepreneur and I have committed to holding one another accountable by checking in and checking up on our progress on a regular basis. We've already started encouraging one another to stay the course.

Best wishes for a prosperous New Year!

2008 Business Trends

I’ve often been asked how I was able to start a consulting business on the heels of the dot-com bust when other consulting companies were licking their wounds. The year 2000 had been a year of turbulence in the information technology arena. For once the IT folks had done something right and avoided a major catastrophe - but that success came with a price.

You see, IT companies had raised their pricing in anticipation of the year 2000 crisis and weren't willing to lower the prices once the crisis had been avoided. Corporations felt they had been raked over the coals during the lead up to the year 2000 and were pushing back. The telecom industry and the dot-coms went bust. Corporations around the world started downsizing the gluttonous IT staff they had built leading up to the year 2000. Hardware and software maintenance contracts were being slashed or canceled.

It was in the midst of these trends that I made the decision to start my company. I had generated and/or managed upwards of $40 million in professional services business. Through it all, my direct reports kept asking me to start my own company so they could come to work for me. I was being offered independent contracting opportunities. Others began telling me that they would do business with me if I started a company. So it was with a great business idea, market analysis and a sound business plan that I started my journey.

If you've thought about starting a business but just aren't sure whether there's a market for your product or service, check out this article in Entrepreneur Magazine on Hot Trends in 2008. They've compiled a list of the hottest industries, trends and business ideas for 2008. Perhaps there's one that fits your style!