Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cool Web Tools for Your Franchise or Small Business

By: Chad Cohen

Are you doing a good job of meeting the needs of your small business or franchise? Networking with the right people? Organized with a plan of attack? Generating leads that translate into sales? Do you even have a marketing strategy?

If you’re running a small business or franchise, then you know that you have to figure out how to keep track of everything and everyone. The smart way to manage everything from finances to human resources is to have the right tools in place to make sure you can be successful, but you better make sure they simple to use and cost effective. After all, you don’t have the deep pockets of Microsoft or Nike, or at least not yet.

With that in mind, below are some of Fish Consulting’s web app suggestions for entrepreneurs who are looking for simple, cheap, and effective solutions to solving some of the massive responsibilities facing their small business or startup.

Who’s knocking on your virtual door?
In today’s fast paced business environment, it’s important to know when those blue chip customers or prospects are surfing around your site. Whether you’re selling burgers or the selling the franchise that makes the burgers; you’re going to want to know where your web traffic comes from. Demandbase is a free real-time ticker that analyzes your visitors' IP addresses and compares them with information from sources such as Dun & Bradstreet and LexisNexis. With that data, Demandbase can tell you the names of the companies at which many of your visitors work. Click on a company name, and Demandbase will sell you the name and contact info for a lead at that company. It’s kind of like the iTunes of CRM, and it's almost as affordable: The average cost per lead is just $1.80.

Ditch the touch tone menu and stop pressing “1” for more information
If you call the bank often, try to change a flight reservation or want to dispute a credit card charge, then you’re all too familiar with the automated phone tree. Press the wrong button and you can end up in corporate phone purgatory talking to some sales rep about a July 4th discount package. Fret no more because Fonolo.com has mapped out the automated customer service phone trees of 200 companies. Pick the company you need, scan through their phone menu visually, and then just click the spot you need to call. Fonolo will automatically dial, navigate their menu and then dial your phone. When you answer, you will be connected to the right spot in the menu. Now that’s true smart phone technology. They even have an iPhone app.

Contact my assistant and I’ll see if I can squeeze the meeting in
As a small business owner, you probably don’t have the luxury of passing off calls to your personal assistant to keep your day organized. But just because you can’t devote hours or dollars to staying on top of things, doesn’t mean it can’t get done. There are a number of 2.0 calendar options out there, but Google Calendar takes the cake because of its ease of setup and use. With the app, you can quickly set up multiple calendars for different projects or clients, as well as link up to public calendars which can help you stay synched with your client’s activities. And for the entrepreneur on the go, Google Calendar even lets you check on your schedule from a mobile phone through SMS messaging.

Who is doing what and when?
I bet you’ve often thought to yourself, “There has to be a better way to get this project done.” Worry no more and make sure your team is working on what’s important to the bottom line. Check out Basecamp by the company 37 Signals and see why so many of the world’s most respected brands, small businesses, entrepreneurs and non-profits are tackling projects from an entirely different angle. No time like the present to get your staff focused on collaboration and communication instead of charts and graphs.

I wonder how much we’re really worth
Want to keep track of your company’s finances as well as your personal net worth with an easy and web 2.0 award winning program? Who wouldn’t? Check out NetworthIQ to track what is really going on with the dollars and cents in your life. Cool feature is that lets you compare your income to other entrepreneurs of the same age or industry, so you can keep track of your company’s success relative to your peers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fish Consulting's Top 5 Cures for the Airport Layover

By: Chad Cohen

Let’s face it, in our inter-connected world you’re going to find yourself in Denver one day, the next day in New York City and probably a week later in Las Vegas for another franchising convention. Thanks to delays, dirty planes, cramped seats, passengers with too much carry-on baggage, people who hog the armrest, lost luggage, short connections, indifferent flight attendants, late departures, and airplane cabins that smell like 3-week old pickles; airports have become second homes for a lot of us in the franchising industry. So if your facing a 4 hour wait for that connecting flight that you couldn’t upgrade for, you could get a little work done – or NOT.

1. Play Video Games – there is no shame in admitting it. Video games are fun. Pack a PSP or if you have a great laptop, fire up a round of Tiger Woods golf or tear through the streets of San Andreas in Grand Theft Auto. Video games are harmless cotton candy for the mind and a great distraction from the every day mundane routine of air travel.

2. Airport Bars – really, is there any better place to pass the time, people watch or start up a conversation with a complete stranger than the airport bar? Heck, even celebrity chefs are getting in on the scene as Todd English even has one of his signature Bonefire steakhouses in Terminal B at Boston’s Logan International. Grilled NY strip and a Napa Cab anyone?

3. Spa Treatments – between the long lines, heavy bags and the sneezing person next to you; air travel is stressful. Fortunately more and more airports are bringing in spa services like massage chairs and full fledged massage therapists. Trapped in Chicago’s O’Hare – well then the Backrub Hub, offering neck and back massages in Terminal 3 is your medicine.

4. Retail Therapy – long trips away from home are stressful on both you and the family. Not long ago, choices for shopping involved duty free fragrances or a carton of Camel cigarettes. Thankfully today you can surprise your spouse or kids with some great gifts to keep everyone happy – iPods, DVDs or gadgets from Brookstone. You can even shop for designer duds like Bulgari, Ferragamo and Hermes in JFK’s Terminal 1.

5. Lounge Away – these days, even those of us who fly in steerage class at the back of the plane can hang out in the airport lounges by purchasing a day pass. The new reLAX Lounge in Los Angeles offers free Wi-Fi and snacks at $25 bucks for 3 hours. If you’re in Vancouver, head over to the airport’s Plaza Premium Lounge for $30 for 3 hours and get a buffet meal and booze included.

So yea, we travel a lot for both clients and agency business, but all is not lost when hanging out in the airport waiting for that flight to take off. Long gone are the days of taking down a hot dog while carving out a spot on the terminal floor because all the seats are taken. Take some time to explore what’s around you because you’ll never know what you might find.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is Commercial Real Estate in Bubble Trouble

By: Chad Cohen

Several years following the collapse of the housing market, which gave way to record breaking home sale and price declines, experts are now warning that the next real estate wave to hit the markets will be the commercial sector.

Until recently, commercial real estate was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary economy. While residential investment plummeted 28.9 percent from the start of 2006 through the end of 2007, investment in nonresidential structures grew 24.9 percent over this period. At the same time that residential investment subtracted almost a full percentage point of gross domestic product growth in 2007, investment in nonresidential structures was adding 0.4 percentage point back. And while the delinquencies on residential mortgages have been on the rise since the first quarter of 2006, delinquencies on commercial mortgage bonds reached a record low of just 0.27 percent this January, according to Fitch Ratings.

The problem is that commercial real estate tends to traditionally lag behind residential just a bit. With 5.7 million jobs lost since the recession began in 2007, nearly 13.7 million Americans out of work and the foreclosure rate double what it was the year before; it’s easy to see why commercial construction is losing its appeal. A depression in residential growth means fewer malls, shopping plazas, offices and other commercial centers that support new homes and economic good times.

There are already signs out there to suggest that the commercial market may have already turned sour. On April 16, the nation's second-largest mall developer, General Growth Properties, filed for bankruptcy protection. The Chicago-based company owns more than 200 malls across the U.S. In addition, there are many reasons out there to suggest that commercial construction was plagued by some of the loose lending practices that eventually unraveled the residential market.

How bad will it get? Well that depends on how fast the economic recovery takes hold. More than likely we’ll see commercial failures start to pile up slowly until they tumble down in an avalanche of bankruptcies and debt like the residential market did. Problem is that if a commercial mortgage wave hits the banks soon, it is likely to prolong our nation’s economic recovery for quite some time. Additional bank losses at a time when they are already depressed by home mortgage and credit card defaults will probably mean more government intervention and taxpayer assistance. Only time will tell.