Opening Doors Blog

10 Ways to Recognize Employees for Free

Friday, May 26, 2017

10 WAYS TO RECOGNIZE EMPLOYEES FOR FREE

Article by Reagan Freed, Solvere HR Consulting


Reward and recognition should be individualized to be effective. What motivates one team (or person for that matter) won’t be as effective for another. It’s worth the effort to find what motivates each of your people. Further, consider that not all employees appreciate a public display of recognition. It’s equally as important to find out HOW they like to be recognized in addition to learning WHAT type of rewards motivate them. Asking these questions in the form of a survey is a very effective method to gather the intel you need.

Reward and recognition doesn’t have to be expensive! In fact, sometimes it’s the most basic forms of appreciation that make the biggest difference. When crafting your rewards and recognition programs, also consider what is in-line with your company values. Some types of rewards will map directly back to your company culture. And the way you recognize your employees should line up too.

Here are 10 effective and FREE ways to recognize your employees:

  • A sincere “thank you” and handshake face-to-face.
  • Write a personal note specifying exactly what the employee did that you want to recognize.
  • Recognize a job well done in a meeting or get others involved in applauding the great work.
  • Send a shout-out around in your company’s private social site or other public social media channel.
  • Mention an employee’s success story in a presentation, webinar or even in the company newsletter.
  • Give a long lunch, an extra break or a get-out-of-work-free day.
  • Offer a stretch goal or even let an employee take on a more managerial role—like a team lead.
  • Arrange for the CEO or other top manager to stop by and say, “Great job on _________!”
  • Offer extra flexibility or more chances to work from home if desired.
  • Create a “Wall of Fame” or white board where you display what employees do that’s extraordinary.

 

Solvere HR Consulting provides powerful HR solutions that optimize your organizational capability and profitability through your most valuable asset -- your employees. Learn more at www.solverehr.com.


Reagan is an accomplished HR executive with extensive experience supporting small, mid- and large businesses develop people strategies that support organizational goals. Her experience ranges across a wide variety of industries including engineering, construction, telecommunications and business process outsourcing (BPO).


She has experience working in the United States and internationally in Europe, Middle East, Australia/New Zealand, Liberia and many countries in Asia.


She is recognized for being a multi-talented and versatile problem-solver with a proven track record of increasing employee engagement and enhancing leadership capabilities that directly impact bottom line results. Reagan’s broad knowledge of business disciplines enable her to develop unique people strategies designed to contribute to overall strategy.


Reagan earned her Bachelor's in Business Management from the University of Colorado, Denver and is a certified SHRM-SCP. She is passionate about advancing the HR profession, and serves as a volunteer for the Boulder Area Human Resources Association (BAHRA) as the Director of Communications & Marketing.




How To Focus Your Marketing Budget

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Not all customers are created equally.

No matter how advanced we get with technology, we’ll never be able to predict how much a specific customer will spend. However, there are ways to analyze existing data to help profile customers and determine where your marketing budget should be focused.

The fact remains, not all customers are equally profitable, nor do they all have the potential to become your most profitable customers. This is a fundamental tenet of marketing, which is why it’s critical to continuously improve the impact of every marketing dollar spent. 

By utilizing your database to communicate the right offer, to the right person, at the right time, you can effectively influence customer decisions. It all begins with segmenting customers to deliver the right message at the right time.

Your budget will likely dictate how sophisticated you can be in your data segmentation. The three most basic forms of data segmentation are:

1) Demographic – Age, Income, Net Worth

2) Attitudinal – Psychographic, Clusters

3) Behavior – Lifestyle, Buying History

Once you’ve developed your segmentation, RFM analysis, and cluster analysis, predictive modeling can be used to measure and identify segments with the most relevance.

RFM looks at customer history to determine recency, frequency, and monetary value.  Customers are then scored and a contact strategy can be developed.

A cluster analysis can assist you in developing “clusters” or groups of customers with similar characteristics, but who are different from members of other clusters. By differentiating, messaging strategies can be better developed.

Lastly, predictive modeling identifies multiple variables that may or may not relate to buying behavior. Variables are fed into a statistical program and the output provides a score for every record. When compiled correctly, this is a powerful tool that can improve customer acquisition and decrease customer attrition. 

In the end, knowing your customer can be a critical aspect to developing a loyal base from which your business can grow.

Let me know your thoughts.

No matter what your business is or who your customers are, The Contrino Group team can help you in all facets of communication. From acquisition and retention strategies, to segmentation, formats and touch strategies – we’ve done it all and have some great success stories to share.


Joe Contrino is CEO of The Contrino Group, a direct marketing agency located in Lafayette, CO.

Joe is an award winning direct marketer with over 32 of years of experience.   Prior to founding The Contrino Group, Joe was a Senior Partner at Suite 700 Direct, Integrated Marketing Solutions Manager at Henry Wurst, Inc., and CEO and owner of Contrino Direct Marketing, Boulder, CO.

Joe is a Direct Marketing Association Certified Direct Marketer Professional, Industry Co-Chair of the Denver Postal Customer Council Board of Directors, and speaks regionally and nationally on direct marketing topics and trends.



Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Tradeshow

Friday, May 12, 2017

Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Tradeshow

Tradeshows are great for any business. Not only are they an excellent place to display your business, but they make networking easy and they’re fun. If you’re new to the tradeshow circuit, the idea of presenting your business at such a platform can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips to help you get started and make the best of your tradeshow experience:

1.     Have at least two people from your business attend if you can

One person will need to attend your booth at all times to talk about your business and answer questions anyone might have. The second representative will be responsible for networking: they should explore the tradeshow with business cards in hand, meet people, and try to acquire some clients or business partners. They can also attend any lectures or workshops at the show. Both of your representatives need to be knowledgeable enough about your business to answer any questions and thoroughly explain what you do.

2.      Pay attention to aesthetics

Your booth needs to be attractive, since that’s what initially attracts attendees. Use colorful banners and large printed photos. Use technology if you can: running slideshows or videos on a TV always creates a crowd. Make sure your company’s logo is clearly visible. Also make sure your representatives are dressed nicely and in a way that represents the attitude of your business (however, sweatpants are never acceptable). Just being there isn’t enough: your display needs to be noticeable.

3.     Prepare your people

As previously mentioned, whoever is representing your business at the tradeshow need to be well versed in all aspects of your business. If you are featuring specific products, write a short script for the person/people presenting it at your booth. Rehearse a quick introduction for your booth and for networking. You can also create a spec sheet for any details that are important or any questions that might be asked. Just make sure your representatives don’t say the wrong thing.

4.     Bring your products

If you have a product, it needs to be presented at your display. If your product is small enough, bring a lot. If you have a larger product, like a piece of equipment, ask for some outdoor space to do a demonstration or film it working and have the video rolling at your display. There is no point of presenting your business if you don’t have your product clearly visible somewhere in your display.

5.     Have fun

Tradeshows are fun. They are a meeting of people and businesses with similar interests. They are a place where you can get excited about what you do and show off your business. Networking is important, but being personable and having fun with the experience makes it easier to talk to people. The same goes for presenting your business at your booth: being confident in your knowledge and expertise will make people feel more comfortable interacting with you. Explore and smile, and you will certainly get the most from your tradeshow experience.

Tradeshows are a great opportunity to humanize your business and get your company more facetime. Tradeshows cost money, and they aren’t always cheap, so make sure you take full advantage of the opportunity.

What kind of return do you expect from your marketing campaign?

Thursday, May 04, 2017
Return on investment (ROI) has been the gold standard measurement of a marketing campaign’s success. But these days, when sales conversions take more time, a return on objective (ROO) may be a more realistic standard – at least to start.


It’s true – marketing is all about results. And at the end of the day, the goal of marketing is to drive sales. However, instant sales could be a thing of the past. In fact, many businesses – especially software as a service (SaaS) based businesses – have created “freemium” versions to let prospects test-drive the product prior to purchasing. In hopes they can’t live without, the theory is that prospects will eventually convert to paid users. A trend that suggests ROO is becoming equally important as ROI.


ROO enables teams to prove campaign impact when it’s not possible or feasible to tie them directly to sales. Common marketing objectives include increasing factors like awareness, brand favorability and purchase intent. By starting with these objectives in mind, campaigns can be better designed to measure these factors. 


Be sure your marketing strategy includes multiple marketing channels with specific objectives. By looking at things from a (ROO) perspective, you’re forced to take a closer look at the effectiveness of all your marketing methods and how well your tactics work with one another. In just a short time, and with the proper analytic tools to differentiate the efforts and measure the program, you’ll know what’s working – even if sales don’t spike instantly.


The point is, you have to look at your marketing programs holistically. Does your marketing program have follow-up by a sales rep? Do you add your new leads to an email campaign and/or newsletter list? Does your marketing plan have accountability for all leads? Recent studies show that it typically takes anywhere from 12-25 marketing “touches” to get that customer to pay attention to your brand. It used to take only 3-5 marketing “touches” before you could close a deal. 


Regardless of whether you take an ROI or ROO approach, integration of all channels is crucial. The Internet has changed the way people consume information and mobile technology has disrupted that. Buying behaviors continue to change and the market is growing more complex as new channels and technologies emerge.


A lead is a lead is a lead. And a customer, whether paying or not, is now in your lifecycle. Treat them as if they matter and they will likely respond as so – eventually adding to your revenue.


Let me know your thoughts.


No matter what your business is or who your customers are, The Contrino Group team can help you in all facets of communication. From acquisition and retention strategies, to segmentation, formats and touch strategies – we’ve done it all and have some great success stories to share. 


BIO 

Joe Contrino is CEO of The Contrino Group, a direct marketing agency located in Lafayette, CO.

Joe is an award winning direct marketer with over 32 of years of experience.   Prior to founding The Contrino Group, Joe was a Senior Partner at Suite 700 Direct, Integrated Marketing Solutions Manager at Henry Wurst, Inc., and CEO and owner of Contrino Direct Marketing, Boulder, CO.

Joe is a Direct Marketing Association Certified Direct Marketer Professional, Industry Co-Chair of the Denver Postal Customer Council Board of Directors, and speaks regionally and nationally on direct marketing topics and trends.



Employee Handbooks Aren't Just About Policies

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Employee Handbooks are the backbone of an organization’s culture and guiding principles. More than just policies, they should tell the story of who you are and describe the motivations and priorities that drive your business. Many employers mistakenly think a Handbook only serves the purpose to ensure legal compliance….but that’s not what is most important about a Handbook!


The policies you establish are what align your employee behaviors, organizational philosophy and leadership expectations. An Employee Handbook is like having a rulebook for sports. It defines your company’s boundaries, gives ground rules and explains what is and is not considered acceptable behavior internally and externally.

Legal protections. Of course, Handbooks also protect the company and ensure your policies are compliant with federal and state requirements. While a handbook can’t protect you from being sued, it can provide documentation that can help protect you if you are. For instance, if your handbook explains how overtime is calculated you may be able to use your policy as documentation to help protect yourself and your company in the event of an accusation.


Review contents annually. The employment landscape changes frequently, as such employers are encouraged to review and update their Employee Handbook every year. Avoid creating such detailed policies that require more frequent updates to the Handbook making the process overly burdensome.


It’s not enough to just update the contents each year. You must make sure your employees are aware of your policies and that you review them with your employees every year. Employers are encouraged to provide employees a copy of the Handbook upon hire and every time you update it. Always have them sign an acknowledgement that it was received.


Don’t have a Handbook? It’s time to build one. Think there is a stigma with the name? Call it something fresh, like a Culture Book. No matter what you call it, having a documented set of guidelines that direct your employee’s behavior and allows you to hold them accountable is a win-win!


Solvere HR Consulting provides powerful HR solutions that optimize your organizational capability and profitability through your most valuable asset -- your employees.

Learn more at www.solverehr.com.


BIO

Reagan is an accomplished HR executive with extensive experience supporting small, mid- and large businesses develop people strategies that support organizational goals. Her experience ranges across a wide variety of industries including engineering, construction, telecommunications and business process outsourcing (BPO).

She has experience working in the United States and internationally in Europe, Middle East, Australia/New Zealand, Liberia and many countries in Asia.

She is recognized for being a multi-talented and versatile problem-solver with a proven track record of increasing employee engagement and enhancing leadership capabilities that directly impact bottom line results. Reagan’s broad knowledge of business disciplines enable her to develop unique people strategies designed to contribute to overall strategy.

Reagan earned her Bachelor's in Business Management from the University of Colorado, Denver and is a certified SHRM-SCP. She is passionate about advancing the HR profession, and serves as a volunteer for the Boulder Area Human Resources Association (BAHRA) as the Director of Communications & Marketing.


Colorado Small Business Week Highlights: Shared Website, Boulder SBDC Events

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
The Colorado Small Business Development Center (COSBDC) Network along with several statewide small businesses, community organizations and financial institutions, launched a website in honor of National Small Business Week in Colorado.

Coloradosmallbizweek.com is where Coloradans can find all the events and celebrations in honor of small businesses in specific communities across the State. Celebrated during the first week of May, this year the US Small Business Administration's National Small Business Week occurs during April 30 - May 6, 2017. 

"Small Business Week highlights the impact of entrepreneurs and small business owners across communities and the Colorado economy," said Stephanie Copeland, Executive Director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. "With over 560,000 small businesses in Colorado and half of our workforce employed by small businesses, this week will celebrate their critical contributions with workshops, events and festivities to celebrate Colorado's entrepreneurial spirit."

The www.coloradosmallbizweek.com website features a calendar of the events, workshops, webinars and celebrations that will take place throughout Colorado during small business week. Events will continue to be added by participating organizations leading up to National Small Business Week. Additionally, Coloradans can submit their own small business training events and celebrations to the website.

Every year since 1963, the President of the United States has declared a National Small Business Week to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs and small business owners across the nation.

Join the national conversation with the hashtag #SmallBizWeek. 

The Colorado Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network is dedicated to helping existing and new businesses grow and prosper in Colorado by providing free and confidential consulting and no-or low-cost training programs. The SBDC strives to be the premier, trusted choice of Colorado businesses for consulting, training and resources. The SBDC Network combines the resources of federal, state and local organizations with those of the educational system and private sector to meet the specialized and complex needs of the small business community.


The Boulder SBDC is hosting a variety of events in during Colorado Small Business Week as well. From marketing your small business to discovering grant opportunities, the Boulder SBDC will be hosting events for business owners at all stages of development. For a complete description or to register, click on the event name.
  • CEV Breakfast (May 2)Are you in need of financing for your business but unsure of the best course to take? This workshop features a panel of representatives from various funding categories that will explain typical criteria a business needs to meet to qualify and how it works so that you, as a business owner, can understand where you may fit in the financing landscape and reasonable avenues to pursue.
  • Should You Invest in a Franchise? (May 3): A presentation on the ins and outs of buying and owning a franchise. Learn about the process of due diligence, the steps in the award process, the fees you will incur, the unique language - and what those terms mean. We'll also cover the why's and where's of locating your bricks and mortar location and how to find the money! Participants will be able to take a free business assessment tool used by franchisors that can help shed some light on what kinds of businesses would be a good fit for them. 
  • 50 Ways to Market Your Small Business (May 4): Most companies only need 3 or 4 really good marketing tactics to propel their businesses. The hard part is figuring out which ones will be most effective for your business, your style, your brand and within your budget!This workshop is designed for new and seasoned small business owners, home-based businesses, professional service businesses, consumer product companies and anyone who wants to refresh the way you market. You will experience a fast-paced and interactive review of 50 ways to market your business with descriptions of what each tactic is and what each is meant to achieve. You will leave with some good ideas of what you can implement the next day.
  • Innovative Business Road Trip - SBIR Grant Opportunities (May 5): Colorado SBDC TechSource is presenting this program to help your small to mid-sized business improve award success on Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grants. Additionally, we will have a special guest from the RoadX program of CDOT, Peter Kozinski, talk about a new opportunity for innovative companies to get involved with CDOT.

Colorado Small Business Development Center Network Receives National Accreditation

Friday, April 14, 2017

Denver (April 6, 2017) - The Colorado Small Business Development Center (COSBDC) Network is not only celebrating 30 years of supporting small businesses in Colorado, but has earned full accreditation from the Association of Small Business Development Centers, the national accrediting body for Small Business Development Centers under contract from the U.S. Small Business Administration.


The America's SBDC Accreditation Committee voted to fully accredit the COSBDC program with commendations and announced this at the America's SBDC semiannual meeting in Washington, D.C. in February.


"This seal of approval is the result of the skills and expertise of the network's staff and the impact of their work in helping small businesses grow and prosper," said COSBDC Network director Kelly Manning. "The entire Colorado team does a truly outstanding job supporting small businesses and making Colorado's economy the best in the nation."


The COSBDC also received accreditation in technology and is now a "T" designated state, one of only a handful in the country. This enables the COSBDC to focus on businesses with less than 25 employees on the use of technology and technology companies to commercialize, apply for SBIR/STTR grants and strategize on growth opportunities, to mention a few offerings.


"Colorado's tech scene is thriving and the State is becoming an innovation hub. We are in the top five US states for entrepreneurship and innovation with an influx of top tech talent as of late," said Manning. "Having a "T" designation only further allows us to support this growing community of start-ups based within the State."


Federal statute mandates that every five years, SBDC programs undergo a robust review to continue program eligibility and funding. This review process is based on the Baldridge Performance Excellence Program that ensures effectiveness and efficient program delivery.


Reaching full accreditation helps to eliminate inconsistencies between the nationwide network of 1,000 SBDC locations and over 4,000 SBDC business advisors, and creates a standard that defines excellence while providing an approach to achieving the highest performance. No other publicly-funded program undergoes the accountability examinations and reviews that SBDCs receive.


To learn more about the COSBDC and its no-cost, confidential consulting services go online to coloradosbdc.org or call the Small Business Navigator at 303-592-5920.



The Boulder Small Business Development Center is the lead statewide for the SBDC TechSource Program. The SBDC Technology Program (SBDC TechSource) is a multi-faceted program maximizing the economic potential of Colorado companies through direct assistance to technology ventures as well as assistance in utilizing new technology available to business owners. To learn more about the TechSource program, visit coloradosbdc.org/techsource.


How to Write a Value Proposition

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Communicating value is one of the most crucial components of any brand-building or repositioning effort. While yes, the proof is found in its proverbial pudding, consumers need a little bit more to go on before definitively choosing your product or service. This is where a well-written value proposition comes in handy. It’s the hook, the promise that reels your buyer in, and when effectively executed, captures their long-term attention.

Ok, so, what is a value proposition? 
A value proposition is a clear, concise, compelling statement of brand value. A promise of quantifiable qualities and benefits geared toward easing your consumer’s greatest pain. Well-written value propositions paint vivid, easily understood pictures of what a brand has to offer, consistently, time and time again. Value propositions are not slogans and should require no additional explanation. Often, your value proposition is the first big chance you’ve got to impress your consumer—and as we all know, you never get a second chance to make that favorable first impression.

Got it. Now what?
Now that you know what a value proposition is, let’s talk about how to write one. Before getting started, you’re going to want to do some preliminary work. You’ll need to figure out exactly who your buyers are, where their pain points lay, and in what ways your product or service quells them. Once you’ve got that data nailed down, take inventory of all the ways in which your brand surpasses promises made by your competitors.


And now you’re ready to write. Here’s how:

1. Find your raison d’être.

Why did you even go into business in the first place? What initial spark of inspiration led you to action? What’s kept you going all this time? What’s gotten you to where you are right now? How does the product or service you’ve constructed reflect this? What words or phrases can you use to describe your x-factor? How do these chosen words or phrases align with the needs and values of your consumer? Jot down your answers and see which ones stand out. 


2. Identify optimal consumer benefits.

Is your product the most efficient? The most powerful? The most user friendly? Cost effective? Do you have a hold on some patent or other intellectual property differentiating you within your market? Is your brand trustworthy? Does your product or service enhance the buyer’s quality of life in some significant way? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, make a list. Be specific.


3. Link your raison d’être, consumer benefits, promised value and competitive edge.

Take your findings from steps 1 and 2, and use them to create a few simple sentences that connect into one cohesive idea. Bear in mind that the best value propositions avoid trendy or overused marketing buzzwords and clearly communicate what they have to say within 5 to 8 seconds, tops.


4. Write your headline.

All successful value propositions start off with a memorable headline, showing your consumer in no uncertain terms, exactly the kind of value your brand offers. Short and sweet wins the race here, so choose your words wisely. And it’s ok if your headline isn’t the most creative thing ever written in the history of humankind—just make sure it’s clear, honest, and written in words you can live by. 


5. Write your sub-heading.

Your sub-heading should consist of a short 1 to 3 sentences which expand upon the idea presented in the headline you just wrote. Provide specific examples of how your brand delivers value, either in mini-paragraph form or using bullet points. Generally speaking, your value proposition will be displayed on the landing page of your website and in easy-to-spot spaces on other relevant consumer touch points (like postcards, brochures, email newsletters, banners, et cetera) with the subheading displayed directly below its headline. 


6. Publish. Test. Iterate.

Once you’ve come up with something you feel good about, test it out. Show it to your partners, colleagues, advisors, employees, and show it to your most loyal, trusted brand advocates. See how they respond. Tweak or rewrite as deemed necessary.


So there you have it, your own unique brand value proposition in 6 easy steps. Let your consumer know exactly what your brand is worth by communicating its very most outstanding benefits and offerings. Don’t forget to keep your target customer in mind when choosing appropriate copy style and vernacular. Give them what they want, say it in a way they’ll rally for, and see how your brand buzz energizes. 

Happy writing everyone!!!


BIO

Veronika Sprinkel was born into this world with ten fingers, ten toes, and a twinkle in her wide precocious eyes. She is the Founder of Veronika Sprinkel Ink., a Boulder-based brand storytelling and copywriting boutique. VSI clientele includes The Kitchen, Atomic20, Colorado Haiti Project, Boulderganic Magazine, Clean Eating magazine, and countless others looking to accelerate professional growth through effective narrative messaging. Veronika is a graduate of the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship’s Ideas2Action bootcamp and the Interlochen Arts Academy. She is a One World Summit Contributor and holds a donor subsidized Artist’s Membership at MCA Denver. Veronika’s blog, The World According To Veronika Sprinkel, is read widely across six continents. In spare time, Veronika works on fine art photography projects, studies old-world natural wine production, takes long, deliberate bike rides and strolls around Boulder with Pablo, her beloved, formerly-stray New Mexican rescue hound. Check out her LinkedIn profile here and her website here.



How to "Reply But Not Accept" a LinkedIn Connection Request in the New UI

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Do you have the new desktop user interface (UI) on LinkedIn yet?

They’ve been rolling out the desktop redesign slowly and I just received it on my profile. While there are several changes, one I want to address here is your ability to “reply but not accept” a LinkedIn invitation.

I’ve always been of the mind set that, when you receive an invitation from someone you don’t know or recognize, it’s not an immediate reason to ignore their request. Rather, visit their profile, see who they are, if you have colleagues in common, etc. Then, if that person looks like a worthwhile contact, you still don’t have to accept their request YET. Go back to the connection request and message them first.

Reach out and ask them how they found you. They may have been referred by a colleague or maybe they were simply searching LinkedIn. Keep in mind that this is an opportunity to begin a conversation and engage!

However, LinkedIn doesn’t make this process very intuitive in the new desktop UI. So here are the three steps to take to reply, before you consider accepting a LinkedIn invitation to connect.

1. Click on the “My Network” tab at the top of your profile screen and you’ll be taken to your “Received invitations.” If that person had written you a personalized connection request, you’d see it here. You’ll also notice, LinkedIn only offers “Accept” or “Ignore” here. Don’t click either. Instead, move on to Step #2.

2. In the upper right hand corner of the “Received invitations” box, you’ll see “Manage all.” Click on that.




3. Now you’ll see “Manage invitations” and below each person’s name and title, you’ll see a link to “Message” each individual. Click on that (don’t click on “Accept” or “Ignore”).




4. VOILA! A “New message” box appears. Now you can send a short note asking why that person is reaching out. Were they referred by someone or simply searching LinkedIn?




Just because you don’t know a person it doesn’t mean that he/she isn’t worth starting a professional relationship with on LinkedIn. After all, this platform is designed for building relationships and marketing is about nurturing those relationships so that you strengthen the KLT Factor (know, like and trust).

Ideally, personalizing a connection request is the first step any professional should take after hitting the “Connect” button and before sending an invitation off to you.

When you don’t know someone (or don’t know them well), but you’re interested in connecting with him/her on LinkedIn, don’t make the mistake of sending LinkedIn’s generic invitation. Take the extra moment to personalize the invitation, explain why you’re reaching out and start a conversation. Maybe you met briefly at an event or have colleagues in common, etc. Whatever you do, ENGAGE!


Want to learn more about using LinkedIn to generate leads for your business? Register for Debra's April 20th workshop here.


BIO

A recipient of the “Creative Person of the Year” award, Debra Jason educates and empowers creative solopreneurs and enthusiastic business owners to create a lifestyle business that provides them with the flexibility, fun and freedom to do what they love. She also inspires you to communicate your marketing message in a way that captivates and converts your prospects into loyal, raving fans - even if you have been struggling with how to transform your ideas into words in the past.

Connect with Debra on LinkedIn or visit her website here.


How to Spend Your Limited Legal Budget for Your Startup

Thursday, March 30, 2017
You've got a shoestring budget for your startup and, you're being pulled in a million directions to quickly develop your product, find customers, and raise capital, all while ensuring you won't get into legal trouble now or in the future. Sound familiar?

Like any decision involved in running your business, how much to spend on legal expenses should be a conscious and thoughtful decision based on careful consideration of the pros and cons of the expenditure. Too often, such decisions are made on the fly as emergencies arise, and entrepreneurs end up spending much more than they should for legal services.

If you are feeling the pinch, let's look at the possible legal expenses you may be facing, so that you can anticipate the essential items for which to allocate your limited funds.

1. Early stage corporate documents:

These are legal documents that you want to get done correctly the first time. You don't want to skimp on these documents and have to try to correct them after something has gone awry. Some examples of such essential documents are:
  • Incorporation papers and corporate bylaws
  • Founders agreement: I've horror stories about startups that used a generic template from the Internet and found themselves in a pickle when founder disputes arose later.
  • IP assignment agreement: a lack of these documents can raise serious red flags during investor due diligence.
  • Other routine agreements, such as non-disclosure agreements, employment/contractor/supplier agreements, shareholder agreements, and sales agreements.
Here's a nice overview of the necessary corporate documents (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/253997) on which you should consider spending at least a portion of legal budget. There are attorneys that specialize in drafting such corporate documents for early stage startups, so seek out those specialists for your most knowledgeable and cost effective options.

2. Financing expenses

When you are launching into fundraising activities -- in fact, before you start thinking about fundraising -- you should consider spending some quality time (and money) in finding a good, experienced lawyer to help you navigate these potentially treacherous waters. As experienced investors will tell you, there are few things more likely to kill a deal than having an inexperienced attorney representing the startup in a term sheet negotiation. You know that the investors and their attorneys have gone through many transactions, even though this one deal may be the only and most crucial one for you. The lawyer that represents you will be a reflection of you as an entrepreneur, so choose your counsel carefully. 

Some items for which you will want to budget are:

  • Due diligence preparation: Here's a classic post from AskTheVC.com regarding this process (http://www.askthevc.com/archives/2007/06/merger-and-acquisition-due-diligence-what-to-expect.html)
  • Negotiation of terms and agreements: A bad attorney can get you entrenched in a quagmire over trivial clauses and non-essential terms that don't affect the economics and control aspects of the deal; a good attorney will focus on those essential terms and pick only the battles worth fighting. 
  • Legal fees for your investors: You don't want this one to come as a surprise -- Check out another AskTheVC.com post by Jason Mendelson (http://www.askthevc.com/archives/2007/07/how-much-should-i-pay-lawyers-to-complete-my-financing.html)
3. Intellectual property protection

Intellectual property (IP) is one aspect that you will want to weigh carefully. It's easy to overspend on IP attorney costs and filing fees, if you don't have a cohesive IP strategy. For some companies, Their business strategy may center around obtaining patent protection around a unique technology. For others, the speed of execution of the product plan and first mover advantage may be more important than waiting for your patent applications to wind their way through the patent office. A thoughtful IP strategy should consider the business goals of the startup company and the types of IP protection, whether patent/trademark/copyright filings or trade secret procedures and invention disclosure process, that will maximize the value of the business. In many instances, as long as you can demonstrate some way of protecting your competitive edge and keep competitors at way, you may not need to spend a lot of money on IP.

Some factors to consider in budgeting for IP protection are:

  • Type of product: IP tends to play a larger role in hardware product companies than in software sales in many cases.
  • Stage of company: Will spending money on IP before you have even defined your target customer segment and a minimum viable product make sense for an early stage company? Oftentimes not. 
  • Exit plan: Has IP played an important role in comparable deals in your technology space? Do you plan to use the IP to monetize your technology even if your company were to falter?
  • Attitudes of stakeholders: Are the company founders, investors, and/or advisors IP savvy? Conversely, how much emphasis do your competitors place on IP protection, both offensively and defensively?
Specifically regarding IP protection, the Boulder SBDC will be hosting a workshop on IP considerations for startups on April 27, 2017.  Be sure to attend for further discussions of the nuances of IP decision making on a budget.

In all of the considerations above, recommendations from other entrepreneurs that have been in your shoes are your best bet to finding a good legal service provider. You're talking about the life of your company here -- you want to give it the best chance to flourish, without having legal troubles derail it prematurely. A lawyer experienced in working with startups can help you plan what legal expenses are absolute necessities, and which expenses can be budgeted for a later stage of the company. That adage about a stitch in time saving nine? That certainly applies here, and you don't want to be scrambling at the last minute when attorney bills can REALLY add up quickly.


BIO

Yoriko Morita is Founder and President of Patents Integrated, based in Louisville, CO. After earning her Ph.D. in electrical engineering, Yoriko left her life in the lab and combined her science and technology background with her business side. Since 1996, she has been creating and commercializing patent portfolios by combining her Ph.D. and MBA with the legal training she earned under the tutelage of a group of highly regarded Patent Attorneys at the Pritzkau Patent Group. Yoriko is a Registered US Patent Agent and Certified Licensing Professional (CLP). Part psychoanalyst...part secret agent...part corporate warrior. In the world of intellectual property law, Yoriko has built alliances and bridged the gap between organizations and negotiated contracts that have generated millions in revenue. After forming her own IP consulting company in 2014, Soumei Consulting, Yoriko put a variety of clients on a concrete and strategic road to commercialization. Her specialties include intellectual property (IP), patent licensing, IP strategy, patent portfolio management, IP law, patent prosecution, standard-essential patents, due diligence and patent standards.