According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Intellectual property refers to “creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs and symbols, or names and images used in commerce.” Whether your company creates or uses what others have created, intellectual property rights should be a major concern, regardless of your business’ size.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

For up-and-coming small businesses in particular, even common intellectual property mistakes can be detrimental. To help safeguard your business from fines and or other legal costs, understanding intellectual property rights is paramount. A great first step towards protecting your business is recognizing the myths surrounding intellectual property.

The following are David G. Oberdick of Entrepreneur.com’s 7 Persistent Myths About Intellectual Property‘:

Myth 1: Businesses Automatically Own Intellectual Property Created by Employees or Contractors.

While it makes sense to think you have rights over the work created by your employees or vendors, this is only the case if their contract explicitly states this. Without such a contract, entrepreneurs actually have limited or no rights at all to employee’s creative work.

Myth 2: Patents Grant Worldwide Protection.

If you are a company that conducts business abroad, you must file for a patent in each country that you operate in. Obtaining a patent from the U.S. Patent Office will only protect your intellectual property in the U.S.

Myth 3: If it Sounds “Official” it is.

Don’t be tricked by scammers asking for money to protect your intellectual property. Even if an email or invoice looks legitimate, there is a good chance it is simply not real. Some common examples of fraud include emails asking businesses to pay a fee to protect trademarks or domain names, or invoices for “protection services.”

Photo Credit - JordanHill

Photo Credit – JordanHill

Myth 4: If it Doesn’t Have a Copyright Symbol, Anyone Can Use it.

While that may have been the case decades ago, the laws have changed. Just because a photo doesn’t have the copyright notice or (c) symbol on it, that does not mean it is free for public use. This rule is especially important for you and your employees to recognize when using images from the internet, such as from Google. It is good practice to assume any material found on the internet is copyrighted and that you should ask permission from the owner before using it.

Some great ways for your business to safely use images without risking the fines is to start an account on a stock photo database such as iStock, or simply use the Creative Commons search for high quality and royalty-free images.

Myth 5: Trade Secrets Provide Easy Catch-all Protection.

Another common mistake young business owners make is assuming information not covered by a copyright or patent can be protected as a trade secret. A trade secret, as Entrepreneur.com defines it, is “information used by a business, which can be legally protected, that is secret to the general public and is critical to the livelihood and success of a business.”

The problem with trade secrets is that they are difficult to enforce in court. To be successful, a company must prove 1. the information gives the company a competitive advantage because it is not known by the public, 2. the company took reasonable measure to protect that information, and 3. the information is not generally known to the public or competitors.

Myth 6. The Markings Don’t Matter.

Many business people misuse the intellectual property markings on a regular basis, either by overusing them or not using them when they should be. A few examples include marking a patent number on items that don’t actually have patents or don’t bear the exact patented design. This simple mistake can result in fines as high as $500 per mislabeled item. However, if you do not use trademark markings like TM or (R) when you should, you also run the risk of letting your brand name become generic, as was the case for aspirin, zipper and thermos.

Myth 7. I Can Wait to Figure out my Intellectual Property Strategy. 

Just last year, the laws about who own intellectual property changed from the “first to invent” system to a “first to file” system. This means that 1. just because you thought it first does not give you the automatic right to the patent, and 2. that your company has no time to waste in acquiring the rights to your intellectual property.

What Should I Do?

While intellectual property mistakes are all too common for small businesses, they don’t have to be for yours. There are a number of practical steps your business needs to be doing to protect itself:

1, Create an intellectual property strategy for your business.
2, Find a trusted intellectual property consultant for your business to help you create this strategy.
3, Be careful when using images you find online. Use Creative Commons search or a database like iStock whenever possible.
4, When it doubt ask the property’s owner.
5, Make sure your employees are aware of your company’s strategy and rules.

Following good intellectual property practices is the business smarts thing to do, saving you time and money in the long run. Make intellectual property rights a top priority for you and your business!

Launching a new product is one of the most exciting AND most stressful times for your business. It’s no secret that there is an inherent risk investing the time and funds that goes into creating something new to be sold. Before putting your product on the market, however, there are a few steps you should follow to help ensure your business venture will be a success. The following tips are Fish Sharee of AllInCareer.com’s Six Steps to Promoting a New Product.

1. Set a Launch Date: Many people work far more effectively when they have a deadline. Even if this doesn’t apply to you, it is likely that your employees will be better motivated with a set timeline. Create a step-by-step guideline for what needs to be completed before you share your product with the public, preferably with individual checkpoints along the way. Once you have reached this final deadline, it is time to start promoting your new product.

2. Spread the Word: Even with the increased popularity of online promotion, word of mouth is still a great way to start building hype for your product. Create a short “elevator speech” that will overview the product, including what is does, how it works, and how buying your product will benefit the owner. Then promote your product to friends, current customers, business partners, and so on.

Product Launch 13. Create a Website/Blog: It is always smart to have multiple channels of promoting for your product. Even if your business has a website, it is a good idea to have a dedicated page or blog for important products. This also allows you to write a larger amount of information about the product for your potential consumers, as the details often get lost through word of mouth. You can refer people to your website, where they can get product specs, updates, new deals, etc. A website or blog is also a great place for your customers to leave comments and suggestions about your product and how it can be improved.

4. Launch Party: After you have established your release date and started promoting the product, host a party dedicated to its launch. This should include food and beverages, and an area showcasing your products with knowledgeable employees explaining them. Having a greater number of individuals who are excited about your product and able to explain it should lead to greater word of mouth and online promotion.

5. Freebies: Giving away free trials or free samples is always a great way to promote your product. Once individuals are committed to the sample of your product, they will be far more likely to both buy and promote your stuff. The launch party would be a wonderful time to hand out freebies.

6. Keep a Positive Attitude: After you have gone through all of the other steps, the last thing you must do is simply be positive, be patients, and believe in your product!

Please visit Louise Balle of Demand Media’s article on Planning your Product Release for further information on getting the most out of your product launch.

Many people have been commenting on Twitter’s new Facebook-esque profile layout, but what do these changes mean for your business? For any company that currently maintains a Twitter account, it is important to keep up with these changes to understand how to best use this medium to their advantage.

What’s New?

According to America’s SBDC, there are a number of changes that have led to the new look and feel of Twitter profiles, as well as some new features designed to help users sort and find content. These changes deal mostly with the aesthetics of your page, allowing for businesses to catch the attention of potential consumers. Each update has its own particular set of advantages that should be utilized for your business’ account profile.

Changes and Tips for Each:

twitter-phoneNew Header Image: Much like the cover photo currently used on Facebook and Google+ pages, Twitter now allows users to insert a banner image across the top of their pages. This large section of digital real-estate is the perfect place to push your brand, logos, special offers, contact information, and so forth. This is the first part of the page any potential consumer will see, so be sure to make it eye catching.

Larger Profile Picture: The sizes of Twitter profile pictures have also been increased. Because Twitter has automatically resized everyone’s current profile photos, be sure that your photo hasn’t been stretched or pixelated. Even if your photo looks the same, you can still take advantage of this increased space with a higher resolution photo.

More Visible Page Information: All of your business’ important information, including name, handles, descriptions, and links, have increased in size to become more prominent on the page. This is a good time to update your information and make sure it is accurate, professional, and most of all worth reading. As America’s SBDC put it, “having an informative and accurate bio is essential.”

Pin Tweets: Just like the Pinned Posts function on Facebook, Twitter users can now “pin” a tweet to the top of their page. This essentially allows you to choose what tweets individuals will first see when they visit your page. This should be used to promote important messages or links, such as upcoming events for your business.

Best Tweets: Another creative spin Twitter has implemented into their business pages is the use of Best Tweets. This works by enlarging tweets that have received more engagement, allowing users to quickly find the best content on your profile.

New Content Filters: Twitter has also allowed users to better sort what they are viewing. When you are visiting another profile, for instance, you can choose to view the content by Tweets, by Tweets with photos or videos, or by Tweets and replies. This added convenience emphasizes the importance of Tweeting interesting photos for your followers to see.

twitter-redesign-fb

Example of the new Twitter layout, photo courtesy of Mashable

So What Does This All Mean for My Business?

Twitter has always been a wonderful tool for quickly spreading short and interesting content from a company to its publics and vice versa. With these recent changes, Twitter can now more than ever help showcase your brand and make more meaningful impressions with the people that visit your page.

Remember, the secret to a successful Twitter account is still valuable content, regardless of how great your cover photos look or how many links you publish. Use these updates to help visitors learn more about you, and use your content to keep them coming back!

For more information about Twitter’s new layout, visit Samantha Murphy Kelly’s post, ‘Twitter Testing Major Profile Redesign That Looks a Lot Like Facebook‘ on Mashable.

According to a recent article on GrowThink.com, the popular crowdfunding platform Kickstarter has officially surpassed an incredible $1 billion (with a B!) in pledges. With over 5.7 million individuals investing in thousands of different projects and campaigns, it’s no wonder crowdfunding has caused quite a bit of buzz in the business community.

GrowThink.com
Kickstarter

What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding really is what it sounds like – a crowd of people funding projects, campaigns, etc.. It is a technique, usually online, that allows the consumers or supporters of a product or company to back them up financially. The possibilities of crowdfunding are only growing, as it has already been used by nonprofit campaigns, political campaigns, charitable organizations, and now startups and other commercial ventures.

Through crowdfunding campaigns, your average Joe or Jane can now become a true investor for whatever they would like, whether it be new technology like the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift, a video game like Broken Age, or a business like the data-monitoring company Bitvore Corp. According to the SBA’s helpful article, the fact that crowdfunding spreads the risk among many individuals allows your business to create a strong network of early investors and, hopefully, ambassadors for your brand.

What is a Platform?

Crowdfunding CycleEach crowdfunding campaign involves three distinct entities: the business or project initiator (that’s you), the audience or “crowd” (your customer), and the platform. This “platform” is the organization that brings the project initiator and the “crowd” together. The platform is your middleman that will help you reach your audience. You should remember, however, that these third party sites will ask for a fee for their services, and it is important to have an accountant and a lawyer there to protect your interests.

As we said above, Kickstarter is one of the most popular crowdfunding platforms. However, there are several online crowdfunding platforms that can help you reach your investors and keep track of your progress. Each platform has a different focus, and it is important to pay attention to which would be the best fit for you. For instance, smaller platforms like Wefunder and Rock the Post are dedicated solely to helping business startups, while Crowdfunder focuses on connecting international entrepreneurs.

The different platforms also have varying rules about how their funds are gathered, which you must pay attention to. For example, Kickstarter requires you to raise your entire financial goal before receiving any funds, while others do not. It is important to read all of the information carefully before choosing the platform that meets your needs and the type of project or venture you are embarking on.

The JOBS Act, 2012

While the process of collecting loans and early investors is the traditional and tried and true method of starting a business or commercial campaign, crowdfunding offers an alternative that has become popular, particularly with the recent economic decline. For small businesses especially, crowdfunding is only going to become more viable with the JOBS Act law that was signed by President Obama in 2012.

According to the SBA article, the JOBS Act now allows anyone, regardless of whether they are SEC-accredited, to help finance a small business. The rules are still being worked out with the SEC, however, and are subject to change. For example, some companies can raise as much as $1 million in a year without having to do a public offering, though there are still regulations that must be carefully watched. The bottom line is that you must consult a CPA and attorney before launching your crowdfunding effort.

So is Crowdfunding Right for my Business?

Crowdfunding-2It is up to each small business to determine whether incorporating a crowdfunding plan is right for them. There are a few things to consider before starting a campaign. Do I have a clear idea and strategy for what it is I want to accomplish through this campaign? Do I have the network in place to create buzz for my product or company? Will my idea connect with target investors? And do I have the commitment it takes?

It is also a good idea to study other successful campaigns and take note of their strategies, what they were funding, how they created buzz, and so on. Find local businesses that have used crowdfunding for part or all of their startup finances, and talk to them directly for helpful suggestions. You can also talk with your local SBDC office to help sort out the nuts and bolts of your crowdfunding campaign.

Please check out the SBA article for more information about how to prepare your small business for a crowdfunding campaign and tips for how to make your campaign successful!

You can also learn more about how your business can incorporate crowdfunding at the BIG Small Business Event during the ‘Where’s the Money?’ panel discussion. Thanks again Valarie Smith of Larkin Arts!

People are more productive when they’re feeling their best.  It’s simple, common-sense that our performance, concentration and overall demeanor are better when we are healthy than when we’re under the weather.  This holds true for all dimensions of wellness – not just physical, but mental and social.  Wellness programs increase employee retention and health which translates to lower absentee rates and gives your company a competitive edge in recruiting the talents you need.  The CDC has developed the Work@Health Program which provides resources to businesses on how to implement employee health programs.  View their W@H_brochure, or visit their website for more information.

We can help you tailor a program and address other HR-related needs.  Contact us to start a conversation.

 

 

As we dive in to festival seasons, our artisan and crafting community must make some pivotal decisions.  Perhaps most importantly; How much should I charge?  Brian Hinson outlines two simple models that take into account the cost of materials, time and overhead so that you can figure out a fair and profitable price to sell your goods. Read his article, Pricing Handmade, or Why Your Prices are Too Low for some great insight.

Setting the price is one piece of the sales game.  Contact us to learn more about how to market your goods and reach your customers or a variety of platforms – festivals, storefronts and online.

Comparing your employees to animals might not be the most flattering analogy – but Michael Kerr’s “Serengeti Management” is a vivid way to consider the personality types of your staff.  In any organization, you need leaders and followers; you need go-getters and yes ma’am-ers; you even need a little playfulness.  How can you spot the gazelle, monkey, hyena, lion and rhino in the interview? How do you manage them in the workplace and keep them from “struggling for survival at a watering hole?”  Read Kerr’s full article; The 5 Types of Employees You’ll Find on Your Start-Up Journey (and How to Manage Them)

…well sort of.  The algorithm that Google uses is top-secret, but Eric Spellmann explains that it’s all about relevancy.  Keywords aren’t enough anymore.  Content and context are more important to show that a website is relevant for a human (not just the spider-bots looking for words and phrases).  The best way to stay relevant? Have a content-rich website.  Be conversational, add content frequently and stay relevant.  Check out Eric’s video below and transcript here.

Questions on creative ways to support your business’ web presence?  Ask us!

What is a hashtag?  What does it mean?  How can your business use it for marketing? Learn this and so much more from this introductory video by America’s Small Business Development Center

 

Want to learn more?  Read Learn to use hashtags like a pro from the ASBDC, and contact us.

Is your business still running on Windows XP and Office 2003?  You may want to think seriously about upgrading.  Microsoft has announced that they are discontinuing technical assistance for these 2001 packages – including automatic updates.  They warn that this could leave your computer unprotected.

Some FAQ’s from Microsoft:

What does this mean for your business?

1.     There will be no new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options, or online technical content updates.

2.     Without critical security updates, PCs could become vulnerable to harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software which can steal or damage business data and information.

3.     Anti-virus software will not be able to fully protect PCs running Windows XP once the OS is no longer supported.

4.     Businesses that continue to run Windows XP after support ends may be exposed to potential security threats, and may even risk breaching compliance standards depending on the industry in which they operate.”

 

“How do you stay protected?

To stay protected after support ends April 8, you have two options:

1.     Upgrade your current PC: Very few older computers will be able to run Windows 8.1, which is the latest version of Windows. You may want to download and run the Windows Upgrade Assistant to check if your PC meets the system requirements  for Windows 8.1 and then follow the steps in the tutorial to upgrade if your PC is able. For more detailed information, read the FAQ.

o    Download and run the Windows Upgrade Assistant

o    Tutorial: Upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Windows XP

2.     Get a new PC:   If your current PC can’t run Windows 8.1, it might be time to consider shopping for a new one. The average price of a PC is considerably less expensive than the average PC was 10 years ago.”

What does it mean if my version of Windows is no longer supported?

Which version of Windows am I running?

For more information, visit Microsoft.

We’re no techies – but we can help you organize your finances to budget your upgrades to your business’ tech backbone.  Contact us if you have questions.