10 Premium Tips to Kick-start Your New Business

By Michelle McIntyre

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October marks the two year anniversary of my public relations consulting business. Since I left my corporate job and started working for myself, I have produced results for 10 clients. They have included consumer and B2B software app start-ups, engineering services and clean tech firms and the third largest technology company in the world.

If you are thinking of starting your own consulting business, here are tips. These are things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Set a goal and make it realistic! You’ll need a few months to set up a website, figure out your finances, and develop your brand. Don’t plan on getting a customer during that time. I achieved my goal of acquiring my first customer less than a month after I launched my website. In fact I got two customers during that time.

2. Legally define it early. For example, is it going to be an LLC, single member LLC, or S-Corp? An LLC allows you to own your company name and generally protects your private property from being taken should someone sue your business and you lose. Read up on the definitions and consult a lawyer before finalizing the plan.
Be aware that in California, LLC’s have an annual $800 fee-tax on top of regular taxes.

3. Figure out your formal business name. If it’s an LLC, you can choose to add “,LLC” or just “LLC.” If you choose to freelance consult without forming an LLC or S-Corp, etc., be ready to put your social security number on W-9s that you need to fill out for some clients. I have an LLC and just put my EIN number on forms, instead of my social security number.

Unfortunately different lawyers and tax experts may give you conflicting advice on this topic.

The best thing to do is call the IRS or your state tax board directly for information.

4. Order business cards and have a nice head shot taken early on. People ask for cards as soon as you tell them you’re starting a business. Your professional head shot is for social media sites like LinkedIn. You must be on LinkedIn. Wear business attire in the picture or people may not take you seriously. Make sure the same professional photo is used across all social networks for consistency.

5. Set up a website and get social! People will not take you seriously without a website and social media presence. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ are all the main places to be. Pinterest and Instagram are important in some markets, for example, if you are selling clothes, Pinterest is important.

Pick a couple of social networks to focus on at first but put a profile on all of them.

6. Network a lot. Meet-ups work well and are usually cost-effective. Join for free through Meetup.com. When you are not helping clients, you are networking. Meeting new people face to face to get business works! A popular one is Idea-to-IPO in the Silicon Valley.

7. Have a positive attitude always. Meet regularly with people who support what you are doing. Note some people may never support your plans. That’s okay.

8. Define exactly what you will do in your business and stick to it. If you keep adding services or changing the definition of your value-add, you may confuse prospective clients. When they are confused, they will not hire you.

9. Be a LinkedIn stud. Speak at an event and list it on your profile. Get several quality references and make sure they are on your profile. You are not on LinkedIn? You better get on it today then. Everyone in business is on that social network. Also make sure you have references in your line of business.

People will research you online before hiring you for a service so strategic references are gold.

10. Consult with mentors as much as possible. In addition to pointing out mistakes and boosting your morale, mentors can bring new business by referring you to others.

Good luck!
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Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC PR, director of marketing communications for SV-IABC, and on the executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA. Follow her on Twitter at @FromMichelle. [Photo credit: iStockphoto.com]

8 Notorious Mistakes Made in Naming Start-ups

By Michelle McIntyre

Naming start-ups can be fun. When I advise clients on name ideas, I just let them know what sounds good and what makes sense based on their target market and growth plans.

However, the biggest mistake they make is naming for the present and not for their business climate many years down the line.

Here’s an example. International Business Machines (also known as IBM) has a name that lends itself to global expansion. It’s more than 100 years old and top investors like Warren Buffet like it. (It’s public knowledge that he owns a lot of stock.)

The name isn’t as exciting as Uber but it makes sense and the acronym is nice.
I love the name Uber. It’s short, cool, easy to say and easy to spell.

After using it recently I’m a huge fan of the private room-or-house-for-rent service Airbnb. But when I tell people to download the Airbnb app to look for their own dream getaway cabin or bargain business trip room, I have to explain how to spell it five or six times before they get it. By the way, you can also rent a houseboat, yurt, hammock or tree house through the service.

Naming a company after its headquarters city may not sound great when it expands globally, especially if that name is hard for someone elsewhere to spell or say.

Or what if the city has a negative connotation somewhere? Suppose I named a store Moscow Chocolates but I wanted to sell them online to the U.S. President? That may not work at this moment.

In any case, whether you are planning to sell software apps or chocolate bars, it’s good to put some careful thought into your new company’s name.

Here are eight of the biggest mistakes start-ups make when choosing a name.

1. NOT SECURING OWNERSHIP. It costs both time and money to take ownership of the new name. Make sure you take care of this early on or you might be sorry later. That doesn’t mean you have to shell out $80,000 to a naming firm although some of them do a great job. A 2013 Mashable article recommends checking your company name here first: http://namechk.com/

2. STEALING SOMEONE ELSE’S. This mostly applies to companies in the same market. If two companies have similar names but sell completely different things, it typically is not a problem. Did you know the game Angry Birds is being sued because there allegedly was already a stuffed animal company named “Angry Birds” in Europe formed years before the popular app came out? Granted the video game came before the “new” Angry Birds stuffed animals came out but if they are both plush toys, it’s definitely a conflict.

3. MAKING IT HARD TO SAY. Do you want people to muck it up when they introduce the speaker from your company at an awards ceremony? Of course not!

4. MAKING IT HARD TO SPELL. This is especially true in the age of social networking when everyone posts news stories and tidbits so quickly. If you are start-up CEO speaking at a trade show and you want people to tweet your awesome quotes and attribute them to you and your company, then make its name clear and easy to spell. When I’m live tweeting at a SVForum event, I get frustrated when I have to leave out a speaker’s company name because it takes too long to look it up.

5. THERE’S CONFUSION BETWEEN THE COMPANY NAME AND THE PRODUCT. The company Facebook is called Facebook but then the company has an app called Facebook and another one called Instagram. Thinking back, maybe Mark Zuckerberg should have made the company name different than the app to avoid confusion. As widely popular as Facebook and Instagram are, “Facebook’s Instagram” still doesn’t roll off the tongue. Same goes for Google’s YouTube. When I think of Google, I think of Google search. Google’s YouTube sounds awkward to me still.

6. IT MEANS SOMETHING AWFUL TO ANOTHER CULTURE. Again, plan for global growth! Most experienced business people know the number or word four is unlucky in several Asian countries. It’s because it sounds like the word death in some East Asian languages. There are a few of these zingers out there. Here’s a great Mental Floss article about this topic: http://mentalfloss.com/article/31168/11-product-names-mean-unfortunate-things-other-languages

7. NOT THINKING ABOUT INTERNET SEARCH ENGINES. Make your company name easy to find when people are searching for that topic. “Quality Dog and Cat Grooming” will likely come up first when people search for that service.

8. MAKING IT EASY TO LOOK SILLY. This story “50 of the Worst Business Names” at http://bestonlinemba.net/50-of-the-worst-business-names has some hilarious but sad examples of naming gone wrong. No offense to the person who owns Hooker’s Funeral Home but don’t they know what the word means? Is this a place for ladies and gents of the evening to be put to rest? Or is Hooker a highly respected family name? Probably the latter.

In any case, tell your name to a few different people before solidifying it. If at least three of them tell you it’s awful, believe them.

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Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC PR, on the executive team of TEDxSanJoseCA and director of marketing communications of the Silicon Valley International Association of Business Communicators. Follow her on Twitter at @FromMichelle.

Crowdfunding Secrets Indiegogo and Kickstarter May not Divulge

By Michelle McIntyre

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I recently met an entrepreneur named Kitae Kwon who had raised $84,000 three years ago on Kickstarter for his unique docking station called Landing Zone.

This is pretty amazing considering the average amount raised is around $5,000.

There are some other exceptions.

Scanadu, maker of the super cool Scandadu Scout personal health monitoring device, raised more than $1.6 million using Indiegogo.

If you are not that familiar with the concept, here is the definition:
Crowd funding or crowdfunding (alternately crowd financing, equity crowdfunding, or hyper funding) describes the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. Crowd funding is used in support of a wide variety of activities, including disaster relief, citizen journalism, support of artists by fans, political campaigns, startup company funding, movie or free software development, and scientific research. (Source: Mashable.com)

From a technology perspective, usually people who sign up to use the crowdfunding services of say a Kickstarter or Indiegogo ask for monetary donations, not for equity in the company, and in return, send donors a gift. It’s usually their product.

It’s nice because it forces the founder to get his or her marketing act together. This could mean getting professional photos and videos made or simply writing sales messages.

It could also mean a slew of new customers, if the donor gift is in fact the product.

The third benefit is that it’s organized way for friends, families and of course, new contacts to donate to your company.

Crowdfunding typically works better for B2C products by the way. B2B’s should probably just tap angel investor friends directly for funds.
There are some downsides though. Kitae Kwon says watch out for people who make your product look bad by posting terrible reviews which can often be fake. For example, someone posts a negative review before actually receiving the product.

Kwon said they probably come from competitors or random people who just like to write bad reviews.

He added that you have to be strong and confident when crowdfunding. If it doesn’t go as planned, your company could still be successful. Sometimes the campaign was just not planned or executed well.

Additionally, said Kwon, you could have a successful crowdfunding campaign but the product fails.

The net is, says Kwon, don’t let the campaign define your startup’s future.

However, Kwon adds, there are many crowdfunding benefits. For example, when people donate to get your product as a gift, it shows a bigger prospective investor, like a venture capitalist it is in demand.

Since he raised $84,000 for his docking station for the Apple Macbook Air, which is 10 times the average amount raised, Kwon must have had a huge demand.

For more unique crowdfunding examples, check out this story on the website Hooked on Social Networking. For information about Kwon’s company Landing Zone, visit: http://landingzone.net/
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Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC high tech PR, on the TEDxSanJoseCA executive team, and director of marketing communications for SVIABC. Follow her on Twitter at @FromMichelle  [Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com.]

 

Two Simple Tricks to Increase your Retweets

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By Michelle McIntyre

Twitter’s usage facts are impressive. According to the company, there are 255 million active users monthly and 500 million Tweets are sent a day.

Twitter is an important tool used by companies in conducting social business. According to Gartner, businesses leverage social media to drive growth, improve business processes and drive innovation. Marketers use it to gain valuable insight from customers and prospects.
Let’s face it. Twitter is important so community managers want more followers and tweet shares.

Retweets are definitely sweeter than being ‘favorited,’ especially if the retweeter has more followers than you, or at least a list of followers strategic to your business. Sometimes 50 strategic followers are better than 5k random ones.

I’m proud to say that when I Tweet about entrepreneurship or tech trends, I have been retweeted more than once by @SVForum, the top Silicon Valley organization for tech startups and their investors. My client prospects follow SVForum on Twitter. This is a good thing.
I noticed I am more likely to be retweeted if I do these two simple things.

1. AIM FOR 100 CHARACTERS OR LESS. People are more likely to retweet a shorter Tweet. Twitter rules say your tweet needs to be 140 characters or less, but Twitter users actually like 100 characters or less.
Use these free and easy services to shorten your URL links: TinyURL.com and Bitly.com. To use the services, copy paste your long link and make a short one. You should not have to register, sign in or pay for either service.

2. USE TWO HASHTAGS INSTEAD OF ONE. When I am managing the Twitter handle for @SVIABC, I like #communications and #pr since the organization promotes quality in the communications field. Sometimes I add #social, #socialmedia or what the social studs use, #SoMe. What a hashtag does is it includes your tweet in the ongoing group conversation on that topic. Many more people can then see your tweet even if they are not follow you. Pretty cool, huh?

What other tips do you have to increase retweets?
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Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC high tech PR. @FromMichelle on Twitter

 

Guy Kawasaki says Entrepreneurs Make these Top 10 Mistakes

ImageGuy Kawasaki spoke at The Startup Conference this week. (Photo credit: Guy Kawasaki)

By Michelle McIntyre

Investor, TED Speaker, startup expert, former Apple evangelist and author of nine books, Guy Kawasaki gave a talk called “The Top 10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make” at The Startup Conference in Redwood City, Calif., Wednesday. He is currently chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool.

Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

As a PR and business strategy consultant to many startups, nothing he said shocked or amazed me but his side comments and answers to audience were very funny. He has always had a way of giving business advice in an entertaining and highly digestible fashion.

Here is his list of 10 top entrepreneur mistakes:

Mistake 1 Multiply big numbers by one percent to calculate market size.

Solution: Entrepreneurs should calculate from the bottom up and have realistic expectations.

Mistake 2 Scale too fast.

Solution: “Eat what you kill.”

Mistake 3 Form partnerships, or just focus too much on them.

Solution: Focus on sales. Kawasaki says, “Sales ‘fixes’ everything!”

Mistake 4 Focus on the pitch.

Solution: Focus on the prototype. Code writing software is more important than Microsoft PowerPoint.

Mistake 5 Use too many slides.

Solution: Use the 10-20-30 rule. It is 10 slides or less, 20 minutes in length and no smaller than 30 point type. I agree with this. In fact, I tell clients no more than six slides.

Mistake 6 Make serial progress.

Solution: make “parallel progress.” Startups need to multitask and be flexible instead of deciding that everything must be done in an exact order.

Mistake 7 Try to retain control. It’s a mistake to think that if you own 51% of the company, you can call all of the shots. Most decisions voted on in the board room are decided ahead of time.

Solution: Instead of focusing on how much of pie you have, focus on “making a bigger pie.”

Mistake 8 Use patents for defensibility.

Solution: Use success. He cautioned against mentioning patents more than once in a pitch.

Mistake 9 Hire in your own image.

Solution: Hire to complement. If you are a male founder, look for a female to round out the management team. Diversity is good for business.

Mistake 10 Befriend your investors.

Solution: Simply exceed expectations.

ImageEnchantment is one of nine books by Guy Kawasaki. (Photo credit: Guy Kawasaki)

My key takeaway was that early stage startups need to make their top two priorities developing a quality product and building the user base. Nothing else is as important.

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Michelle McIntyre, @FromMichelle, is a PR consultant for tech startups, an IBM vet, on the executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA and director with Silicon Valley International Association of Business Communicators.

 

 

 

What Prospective Employers Find Out about You on Social Media

According to a story, “Should Companies Monitor Their Employees’ Social Media?” in the May 12, 2014 edition of The Wall Street Journal, job candidates need to beware that prospective employers are tracking their social media networks to get a glimpse of what they are like.

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The story covered results of a survey sponsored by Careerbuilder.com.

Although the article doesn’t refer to consultant candidates, there is no doubt they use similar research methods to check them out as well.

Here are the sites that employers are using to research candidates:
Facebook: 65%
LinkedIn: 63%
Twitter: 16%

Here’s what employers look for when they research a candidate using social media:
To see if the candidate presents himself/herself professionally: 65%
To see if the prospect is a good fit for company culture: 51%
To learn more about the candidate’s qualifications: 45%
To see if he or she is well-rounded: 35%
To look for reasons not to hire the candidate: 12%

Not surprisingly, here is what survey responders said hurt candidates:
Candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photos or info: 50%
Got a good feel for candidates personality: 50%
Candidates showed a wide array of interests: 50%
Background supported professional qualifications: 49%
Evidence of creativity: 46%
Excellent communication skills: 43%
Great references: 38%

Prospective employers need to be careful as well. The story says that these searches put the employers at liability. The story says that “An employer who learns than an applicant is gay, Moslem, disabled, or over 40 years old, and then hires someone else may face discrimination charges.”

To read the entire article, visit wsj.com.  The most interesting stats are on page R2 of the print edition.

If you haven’t bought a hard copy of The Wall Street Journal lately, pick up a copy at Starbucks or at a neighborhood store. It’s nice to read an actual “print edition” newspaper every once in a while.Of course you could also subscribe and get it at home or at the office.

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Michelle McIntyre is president of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC, on the executive team of TEDxSanJoseCA, and director of communications for SVIABC. She’s @FromMichelle on Twitter.

Software Experts Advise Startup CEOs to Build those Ecosystems

Facebook recently announced it was buying WhatsApp for a whopping $19 billion. WhatsApp is valuable because it has 450 million users and is adding one million new ones per day according to the company.

The app allows people to send each other text and photo messages via the Internet, and will help Facebook grow stronger in the mobile market. A Time article described the deal as “epic” due to the humongous price paid.

Many billion dollar companies have blossomed recently because their apps have been adopted by a huge amount of people.  

And when an app becomes very popular, it can turn into a platform. Facebook, Salesforce.com and Twitter are all platform companies. Other companies make apps that work with them, making them even more popular and innovative.

Developing, building the ecosystem for and monetizing apps and platforms were topics discussed at the SVForum event “Apps to Platforms” Thursday, February 20th, at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose.

About 150 people made up mostly software start-up founders and developer relations executives from large companies like Dell, IBM, Google and Microsoft, and a few consultants like me attended.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed gave the opening remarks, stating more than once that San Jose is the capital of the Silicon Valley. To me, the Silicon Valley is mostly the South Bay and San Jose is the largest city here so I agree with him. Sorry, San Francisco.

Here are some of the other comments from the panelist and keynote speakers.

In the first panel, Adrian Cockcroft, technical fellow, Battery Ventures and Netflix’s former cloud architect said, “There are three questions to ask when developing a killer app. They are, ‘Is it easy to use? How will it spread, and how do you monetize it?’”

Randy Heffner, vice president, Forrester Research says that the granddaddy of APIs, which are tools that help the software programs talk to eachother, Amazon.com took off because it opened its API to mom and pop and boutique websites and blogs. He emphasized the link between APIs and the concept of the internet of things, or how many automated things in our lives are connected.

However, Heidi Williams, director of platform engineering at Box, cautioned, “If you give people all the control in the world, it can lock you in later.” She added that Box’s platform strategy is to build, distribute and monetize.

Saad Khan, Partner, CMEA Capital, who started as an intern at IBM alphaWorks team in the late 90s when I was also working at Big Blue, elaborated on the importance of connecting the software dots. “We’re going to an automated world where everything is modular and connected,” said Khan.

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Another keynote speaker stressed the importance of ecosystem in creating innovation. “A platform is a lot more powerful when you can get someone else to build it,” added Matt Thompson, general manager, developers and platforms, Microsoft.

John Wolport, IBM’s Seeker of Awesomeness (his actual title), and creator of its unique Extreme Blue internal incubator program says that a company like Big Blue adds integrity and helps with partner engagement.

ImageAn audience member asked him, “How can start-up founders and big company workers get along? Their situations are so different.”

Wolport said that there are a lot of entrepreneurs within IBM they are not so different after all.

John Sheehan, CEO, Runscope, stressed the importance of platforms saying simply, “They bring you an audience.” Sheehan used to work for Twilio, which started as platform which is uncommon.

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SVForum is an organization that fosters networking and best practices among members of the technology startup community. The group recently moved its office to San Jose from the North Bay. Its new CEO is Ms. Adiba Barney. @SVForum on Twitter.

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Michelle McIntyre is a public relations consultant, executive member of TEDxSanJoseCA, director with the Silicon Valley International Association of Business Communicators, and an IBM vet. @FromMichelle on Twitter

The photos were taken by Michelle McIntyre. They are of, in this order, Saad Khan, Partner, CMEA Capital; John Wolport of IBM; and project managers at the uTest booth.