What small technology businesses want most is face time with large businesses. So says Marsha Stoltman, who is helping to organize an event that is being carefully orchestrated to bring the two types of companies together.
"Contacts for Contracts" takes place on Thursday, November 6, at 1 p.m. at the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village. The event is sponsored by the New Jersey Office of Information Technology and co-sponsored by Government Technology magazine, the New Jersey Commerce and Economic Growth Commission, the Department of the Treasury, and the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers. Cost: $25. Call 609-588-8703.
The event is geared toward companies in the information technology industry. There are 100 slots for large companies, and 100 slots for small companies. Already, says Stoltman, the large-company slots have been filled. As of press time, there was still room for small companies. Businesses owned by women and by minorities are especially welcome.
Stoltman, principal in Mercerville-based corporate event planning company the Stoltman Group (609-588-8703; www.thestoltmangroup.com), knows the importance of partnering with large companies and with government agencies. She recently obtained certification as a small business and as a women’s enterprise and says "it was definitely worth it" to go through the process.
Becoming certified, she says, involves producing lots and lots of paperwork — including tax returns, office leases, a business plan, and a resume — and filling out a lengthy questionnaire. The process is being simplified, but even with the hassle of digging around for records, certification is worth pursuing, in her opinion. This is so, at least in part, because New Jersey is required to set aside some 25 percent of its contracts for small businesses.
After obtaining certification, small businesses need to get their names on state and corporate databases. Stoltman says that many corporations now make the process relatively easy by accepting certification information through their websites.
The big questions small businesses have about obtaining work from larger entities, says Stoltman, revolve around how to obtain work from private and public organizations. The event attempts to answer these questions in a series of roundtables addressing the role of small business development centers, looking at how the state certification process works, and giving details on how to obtain contracts with county government, municipal government, and the judiciary. The final workshop looks at the general procurement process, including the bidder’s mailing list, types of state purchase awards, requests for proposals, bid evaluations, purchase order and contract awards, and vendor payments.
Attendees are free to move among the roundtables as they wish.
After giving attendees a grounding in these basics, the procurement fair veers into uncharted waters. "At most procurement fairs," says Stoltman, "you have to stand in line." Large employers and government agencies typically take tables and owners of small companies queue for a chance to present a business card.
This event is different. Small business attendees, in two groups of 50, enter a room at which representatives of 100 large companies are waiting. Each small company gets two minutes to make a pitch to each large company, or just to find out what sorts of vendor needs the large company has.
"At the end of the two minutes, music starts up," says Stoltman. That is the signal for the small business owners to rotate on to the next table. The method has yet to be tried, but Stoltman has high hopes that this version of musical chairs will be orderly — and productive.
#h#Use Events to Inflate Your Company’s Success#/h#
Here’s a creative challenge. Come up with an event that gets press for port-a-potties by making them look cute, and that brings in new business — and higher revenue — for the port-a-potty company. Howard Freeman, an entrepreneur who says he "proudly sells hot air for a living," came up with a unique campaign for Mr. John port-a-potties as a part of his main business, organizing the largest hot air balloon festivals in the country.
He speaks on "Reality Isn’t Real: Perception Is: Using Creative Publicity to Maximize Brand Impact, and Move Product" at the Star-Ledger/Commerce Bank Financial Series on Friday, November 7, at 10 a.m. at Rutgers University’s College Avenue Gym. Cost: $75. Call 973-392-7940.
Freeman’s West Caldwell-based shop, Promo 1 PR, is organizing the event. He had worked with the Star-Ledger before, on the mammoth New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, the biggest event on his agency’s calendar, and the newspaper asked him to set up the business conference. A fan of Jet Blue airline, which he has been flying frequently since becoming involved in organizing a ballooning festival in Burlington, Vermont, he cold called CEO David Neeleman, and asked him to give the keynote. Other speakers include Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks, Joseph Nalback, regional vice president of Commerce Bank, and Peter Minck and Anthony Zecca of JH Cohn, a major sponsor of the event.
Freeman grew up in Yonkers, the son of a textile salesman who worked hours that frequently made him MIA from the family dinner table. When Freeman asked his mother why his dad wasn’t around more, she told him "`your father works for someone else, and that’s the deal. If you want something different, have your own business.’"
He took the message to heart, selling lemonade to commuters filing down bus steps, and dreaming of owning a sports-related business. He graduated from the State University of New York at Albany in 1975 with a pre-med degree. He had planned to become a sports orthopedist, and started to apply to medical schools, but balked at the last minute. "It would be 12 years," he says of the training required, "and I really wanted to get into sports."
Right out of college, he got a job promoting the New York Apples, a tennis team that featured Billie Jean King. He went on to do more athletic promotion, and built a client list that included the New York Nets. Soon, however, he had had enough of sports stars.
"I got sick of athletes not showing up, not being cooperative," he says. "I wanted an event where the festival was the star." In hot air balloons, he found egoless, generally well-behaved stars. "No balloon ever gets accused of rape," is how he sums it up.
His first, and biggest, balloon festival began with a chance meeting with Bill Lewis, who along with a few friends, including Malcolm Forbes, had been bringing the 10 or 11 balloonists in New Jersey together on a summer’s day each year. When Lewis and Freeman met, the festival had grown to 20 balloons and 25,000 spectators. It now draws some 125 balloons and 165,000 spectators.
Organizing the festival is a year-round job for Freeman’s agency, which has seven full-time employees, and brings on eight or nine summer interns to help. "It amazes me to hear people say `What do you do for the rest of the year?’" he says. There are sponsorships to sell, side events including alligator wrestling, Beach Boys concerts, lumberjack contests, air shows, and juggling acts, to organize, tickets to print, and parking shuttles to order.
And while balloons rarely have the temper of a John McEnroe or the legal issues of a Mike Tyson, festivals featuring these lofty stars can run into trouble. There is weather, for instance, and not just the weather on the days the balloons need to ascend. Freeman recalls the year that the New Jersey Festival was preceded by weeks and weeks and weeks of rain. In a last ditch attempt to prepare the fields to support humans and their vehicles, Freeman dashed out to Long Island, and spent "six figures" on gravel. "I say my son’s college education is in gravel in Solebury," he quips.
Congenitally upbeat, "a half-full guy," Freeman says the "year of mud" was not without redeeming value. Prior to the floods, visitors had been loathe to leave their cars in remote lots and take the shuttles. But the mud changed their minds, and their entrenched parking patterns. The shuttles, which once traveling back and forth nearly empty, have made their rounds nearly full ever since.
In addition to the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, Freeman’s agency organizes ballooning festivals in Ohio and Boston and on Long Island. Remaining on the fringes of sport, it also organizes a touring indoor beach volleyball tournament, and golf tournaments. Freeman incorporated his event management business as Promo 1 in 1981, and added PR to the name last year, creating Promo 1 PR, as he saw the opportunities for synergy between events and public relations. The combo, he says, beats straight advertising, hands down, because:
You can’t buy the front page of a newspaper. People trust newspaper articles, says Freeman, but they no longer trust advertisements. Getting editorial space in a newspaper or magazine or airtime on television or radio is not as easy as buying an advertisement. One way in, however, can be participation in an event.
"Quick Chek couldn’t buy the front page of the Star-Ledger," he says, "but a picture of its gigantic American eagle balloon made it above the fold."
Macy’s never fails to get its floats — and its name — into any number of major media outlets not only on Thanksgiving Day, but also on the days leading up to the holiday, when crews are blowing up Snoopy and Big Bird. No, small businesses can not match the giant retailer’s draw, but even an unusual, well-thought-out booth at a community fair has a good chance of making the front page of the local papers and the evening news on the local cable television channels.
You have a chance to make an off-putting product appealing. This was the case with the port-a-potties. "Look," says Freeman, "they’re the unsung hero of every event." Yet the stopgap toilets get little respect, let alone affection.
Freeman created an art contest to change all that. He invited contestants to submit designs to decorate the outdoor toilets. The 10 winners went to work on 10 port-a-potties set up in a Quick Check parking lot in Ewing. The event attracted lots of attention for the Mr. John company during the painting, and afterwards.
During the festival, "people lined up to use those units," says Freeman. "Now," he says, "Mr. John can charge a premium when it rents them out."
Soon, even the decorated Mr. Johns were upstaged at the ballooning event, as another unglamorous product came up with an event-related idea of its own. The Charmin toilet paper company, says Freeman, now rolls an 18-wheeler into events like his ballooning festivals. Fitted out with 27 toilet stalls, and over-the-top amenities, including high-end vanities, televisions, and hostesses, the temporary toilet truck attracts lots of attention.
You can use an event to introduce consumers to your product. Ticket for the New Jersey Balloon Festival can only be purchased in Quick Chek stores. This approach guarantees foot traffic and a chance to earn new customers. During the festival, Quick Chek serves its coffee all day. In Freeman’s opinion, the coffee is good enough to bring still more customers into the stores, giving the chain a chance to introduce them to its submarine sandwiches, well-stocked magazine racks, and baked goods.
You can demonstrate your commitment to charity. A portion of the profits from the New Jersey balloon festival goes to the Children’s Miracle Network. The tie-in appears in promotional materials and in sponsors’ stores, letting customers know that they are civic-minded enterprises.
A company considering launching an event, says Freeman, should go all out. "In year one, make it look like year 10," he advises. "It’s just as easy to start big."
Inflation, then, is a major theme in Freeman’s very happy life. "To make my mother proud, I put D.H.A. on my business cards," he jokes. "Doctor of Hot Air."
#h#Start Saving Now#/h#
Americans are optimistic by nature," says financial planner Sheryl Garrett, "that’s what does us in." Thinking that good fortune of some sort is just around the corner, few Americans worry much about tomorrow. The result, in her opinion, is going to be a generation of Americans who will still be riding the commuter train at age 95. "We’re never going to be able to retire," she says.
Garrett speaks on "The 10 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make with Your Money" on Saturday, November 8, as part of the Star-Ledger/Commerce Bank Road to Personal Wealth Financial Conference, which takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Rutgers University. Other speakers include author and television personality Suze Orman, Jim Cramer of the television program Kudlow & Cramer, and Joseph Battipaglia, executive vice president of Ryan Beck & Co. and frequent guest on CNBC.
In addition to her own consulting business, Garrett, who is based in Kansas City, is the founder of the Garrett Planning Network (www.garrettplanningnetwork.com), a nationwide network of fee-only financial planners. A graduate of Friends College in Wichita, Kansas (Class of 1986), Garrett came to financial planning only gradually.
Her first job out of college was heading up a business college her family was in the process of selling. The new owner was supposed to pay for the business out of profits. He claimed there were none, and, seeing a steady stream of students marching through the doors, Garrett became suspicious. "He was cooking the books," she says. With the would-be purchaser chased away, she ran the school until a more solid buyer could be found.
After a couple of years, she was more than ready to move on. She had met an IDS/American Express representative at a cocktail party and decided to give the career a try, despite the fact that she found business "boring," and didn’t much care for math or for selling.
Not a big success at sales, she retained a love of personal finance that had seized her as a teen-ager. She had been putting $25 a month into mutual funds forever, and counted Money magazine as her favorite periodical. What she really wanted to do, she concluded, was to advise people on all facets of their financial life, not sell them investments.
She took courses to become a certified financial planner, and went to work in a small practice. The fit was better, but not perfect. The practice catered to high-net worth individuals, and says Garrett, "I was from a working class background, a middle income mindset. We were middle class, no better, no worse. We couldn’t have everything we wanted. We had to prioritize."
She sought clients that fit that mold, and decided that charging by the hour was the way she wanted to go. She was advised against that course. She learned that nearly all financial planners charge based on the sale of financial products or on a percentage of assets managed. "The majority of financial planners are chasing the top 1 to 3 percent of households," she says.
Yet, she reasoned that other professionals charge by the hour, and make themselves accessible to everyone. If doctors, lawyers, and accountants can prosper by charging fees, why not financial planners?
She started her practice in 1998, and immediately attracted the attention of other financial planners, who thought that tapping into a larger network of clients could be profitable. At the same time, she was receiving inquiries from potential clients in other states. She decided that it would be too difficult to obtain licenses to operate in many states, and so, in 2000, she formed the Garrett Planning Network. It provides training to financial planners, who gain referrals and pool their expertise to help one another, and who pay Garrett a licensing fee.
Garrett’s clients make as little as $13,000, and as much as $550,000. Some have a net worth in negative numbers, while others have a net worth of up to $5.5 million. Some are doing everything right, but others, like many of their countrymen, are slowly sinking. Here is Garrett’s advice for getting on a healthy financial course:
Start saving now. Repeated again and again, this is her mantra. "I’m getting out my slide calculator," she says during a recent phone conversation. If a 41-year-old puts off saving just $600 for one year, he will have $16,881 less at age 65, she says, figuring compounding at 8 percent. "That could be a year’s worth of retirement cash flow," she declares. That same figure, just over $10 a week, could provide a decent Social Security supplement for three or more years if the hypothetical 41-year-old had started to save at 21.
Time truly is money, yet few years do not come with a plethora of excuses for putting off savings. A new car, a root canal, an anniversary trip, a bedroom addition, any or all are excellent excuses for putting off even modest savings.
Find $100 to $300 a month. Look at purchasing patterns, including those that involve no paper money, checks, or even plastic.
Do you really read all the magazines to which you subscribe? How much do you enjoy premium cable channels? Do you ever consider borrowing a book from the library instead of logging onto Amazon for one-click purchasing? How many of your phone’s extra features do you really need? Could you pack a lunch once or twice a week?
"Average Americans could save $100 to $300 a month real easily," declares Garrett.
Don’t call an "expense" an "investment." Rationalization is one of the biggest money traps of all. "A house is not an investment unless you sell it," Garrett gives as an example. It is an expense. "A car never is an investment," she says. "It’s a depreciating asset." The same is true with timeshare vacation ownership. It is often sold as an investment, providing decades of "free" vacations. Add up yearly fees, transportation to and from the timeshare, and sightseeing costs, and the "investment" quickly becomes an "expense."
The same is true for computers, clothing, and pre-school. Sold as investments in a brighter future, they are first and foremost expenses.
Watch out for lifestyle creep. Many people don’t worry about retirement because they assume that they can more-or-less painlessly downshift to a less expensive lifestyle. Wrong, says Garrett, who finds that "it is very, very difficult to change lifestyle."
This is true, surprisingly enough, at both ends of the scale. She has wealthy clients who cannot be persuaded to travel more or to give more to charity. Their children and financial planners may urge them on, assuring them that they will never run out of cash, but they refuse to spend more than the sums they have become accustomed to laying out for years.
While hanging on to long-held spending habits is not generally a big problem for the wealthy, it is for middle-class people who have been spending every dime they earn in their pre-retirement years. Without a good-sized nest egg, many will find a lifestyle slide devastating.
To avoid getting caught, says Garrett, don’t keep pushing into an ever-larger lifestyle.
The popular HGTV program House Hunters portrays 30-somethings with two children rejecting houses out of hand because they lack a fourth bedroom, a kitchen large enough for roasting six pigs simultaneously, or a yard full of fruit trees artfully planted around a tiered swimming pool.
Expectations are up, says Garrett, who foresees dire consequences down the road.
Don’t finance junior’s college. Garrett realizes that this pronouncement is controversial, yet she says, "if a kid wants to go to college, he will find a way." She is so serious about the retirement shortfall that she advises parents against using their retirement funds to put their children through college.
As for private college, she says, "I know few people who can afford to send their kids." She advises against doing so, unless "you’re ready to move in with junior after he graduates."
Nobody’s knocking optimism, but "unless we all want to be Wal-Mart greeters," says Garrett, "we need to get serious about saving."
#h#When Writing, Think Like Your Intended Reader#/h#
When writing a report, pull out a thesaurus, look for words whose letters ascend into double-digits, add some savvy, insider-only jargon, sprinkle acronyms everywhere, and prepare to dazzle the boss and impress co-workers.
Many pieces of business writing follow this formula. The sorry result creates work for communications consultants Ellen Jovin and Brandt Johnson. The couple operate New York City-based Syntaxis, through which they teach corporate employees how to create reports, letters, and E-mail messages that a breathing human actually will read.
Jovin and Johnson lead a workshop, "Create More Powerful Business Communications: Common Writing Problems and How to Solve Them," on Tuesday, November 11, at 11:30 a.m. at a meeting of NJ CAMA at the Doral Forrestal. Cost: $45. Call 609-799-4900.
The pair’s background is a mix of language and technology, with teaching and theater thrown in. Jovin, a West Coast native, earned a degree in German studies from Harvard (Class of 1987), and a master’s in comparative literature from UCLA. "After grad school, I worked as an adjunct professor in colleges all over the New York area for four-and-a-half years," she says. She taught writing, literature, speech, and critical thinking. She chose New York because she likes big cities. Besides, she hates driving, and loves walking. A five-time marathoner, she also loves running.
Johnson studied mathematics at William and Mary (Class of 1987) and earned an MBA from NYU while working for Merrill Lynch. Then he left New York to play basketball in Europe, participating in a summer tour against the Globetrotters.
Upon returning to New York, he started acting Off-Broadway and writing, mostly for financial publications. He also wrote speeches for corporate clients.
He and Jovin met in 1994 and married about five years later. They formed Syntaxis in 1999. Initially the bulk of the company’s revenue came from writing services, but now training is the bigger part. Good business writing is like any good writing, the pair insist. It needn’t be tortured, nor need it bore its readers into a stupor. Here are some of the routes to effective business writing:
Never forget your audience. Remember that actual people will read your business prose. Think about them before you put fingers to keyboard. Are they industry insiders, people who are intimately familiar with your product? Or are they in an unrelated business? Are they co-workers? Superiors? Are they just out of college? Near retirement age? Tailor your language and presentation accordingly.
But no matter what the demographics of your audience, always remember that they are likely to be busy people. Write with an eye to grabbing, and holding, their attention.
Be authentic. Jovin and Johnson find that business writers often write by imitation. They see documents that appear impressive, and copy. The result can be stultifying. "If you want to make an impact," says Jovin, "you want to knock the reader on the head." The reaction should be "this is fresh. This is new." Copying others’ style will never lead to this result.
Get right to the point. Let your readers know the purpose of your letter or report. Summarize the reason for the communication high up, perhaps even in the first sentence, Johnson says.
Ratchet up the action. "There is an overuse of linking verbs," says Jovin. Verbs such as is, are, was, and were "lie flat on the page," she says.
One of the quickest ways to perk up business pose is to look through it for linking verbs. Replace as many as possible with action verbs, and the report or letter instantly takes on new life.
Ditch the executive summary. "People write a four-page report and then add on a one-page executive summary," Johnson finds. That increases the length of the report by 20 percent, he points out. "If it’s that easy to summarize," he suggests, "just make it a two-page report."
Banish jargon. Jargon is off-putting to people who miss its meaning. It makes them feel like outsiders. What’s more, says Jovin, "jargon and cliches are verbal sedatives."
Stick to actual words. Told that a New Jersey group is about to host a seminar on how to "actionize" ethical behavior, Jovin asks, "Is that a word?"
"Look at a dictionary," she says, "there is plenty of language in there." Pick a real word. Avoid the tendency to create your own, unless you can come up with something considerably more interesting and original than "actionize."
Watch the acronyms. A chorus in the 1960s musical Hair sang "LBJ took the IRT down to 4th Street USA. When he got there, what did he see? The youth of America on LSD." The chorus then went on to chant "LBJ, IRT, USA, LSD."
Some things don’t change. Just as this anthem was embraced by the 50-somethings who were teenagers when it debuted, so too are 21st century youths taken with acronyms.
But what worked well on Broadway is liable to be less of a success in the office. Acronyms tend to slow down a reading of business prose, as recipients stop to puzzle over just what NJSBDC stands for. Unless the acronym is universally recognized, or well-explained, spell it out.
Be concrete. Give your readers something to hang on to. Don’t tell them that you sell "scalable, state-of-the art solutions for enterprise-wide applications." Any number of Internet companies described their businesses just so. And, as Jovin points out, a good many are now extinct.
Realize the E-mail is real mail. Johnson and Jovin find scores of communications infractions in E-mails. Given the casual, no-real-paper-or-pen needed nature of the medium, writers often leave out basic components of sound business writing. They don’t state the purpose of the E-mail, and they don’t make it clear what they are asking of the recipient. This is a serious problem, Jovin points out, because the bulk of business writing has shifted to E-mail. Business is being lost because of these hastily-composed communiques.
Another E-mail problem, she points out, is hurt feelings. Not too long ago, she gives as an example, "if you needed a report from Bob down the hall, you would walk down and ask him for it." Bob would shuffle papers on his desk while you made small talk. You would smile and walk away if he found it, and would probably indicate that it was no big deal if he needed more time to dig it out.
Strip out the body language and small talk, says Jovin, and there is a good chance that a request for a report will look brusque. Rude. Office workers need to learn how to soften E-mails in these circumstances — and when it is better to just skip the E-mail, and get up and walk down the hall.
"You have to think like the reader," says Johnson. That is the key to good E-mail, and to all effective business writing.
#h#For Small Tech Businesses: $1.5 Billion Fund#/h#
The Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) is the federal government’s largest R&D grants program targeted to the small business community. It has more than $1.5 billion available, and is the best source of risk capital to help fund the development of promising new technologies. Furthermore, it can lead to equity funding.
The SBIR program is discussed in detail at the Third Annual New Jersey Small Business Innovation Research Program Conference on Wednesday and Thursday, November 19 and 20, beginning at 7:30 a.m. on each day. The conference takes place at Rutgers Cook Campus Center, and is sponsored by the New Jersey Small Business Development Center, the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, Rutgers Business School, and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Cost: $150 for both days, or $90 for one day. Call 800-432-1832 or visit www.NJSBDC.com/SciTech.
The first day is devoted to Phase I proposal development, and addresses the basics of SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR) programs, covers recent changes in each program, and goes through a simple four step process for writing a competitive Phase I proposal. The process includes strategizing, drafting the proposal, obtaining a pre-submittal review, and getting a debriefing afterwards.
The second day focuses on cost proposals and government accounting requirements for SBIR and similar projects. There are discussions on indirect costs, audits, and recordkeeping requirements.
Speakers include Randy Harmon, NJSBDC director of technology commercialization, and Bernadette Tiernan, NJSBDC associate state director. The programs are delivered by Gail Greenwood and Jim Greenwood, whose company, Greenwood Consulting Group, teaches firms how to write competitive technical and cost proposals for SBIR funding.