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2012

When you own a business, security is of prime concern. For instance, if you have a shop, you lock it up every night and likely have an alarm system. You also secure your dataSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png and computer systems – from hackers, from malware, from phishing scams and all the rest.

 

But do you do everything you can to protect your intellectual property, which is, your proprietary trade secrets, your inventions, your logo and catchphrase? If you take great pains to protect your physical property, but like many small businesses, fail to take the same efforts to protect your intellectual property, you can be making a very costly error.

 

Case in point: In 1972 an entrepreneur by the name of Nolan Bushnell invented what is widely considered the first successful video game– Pong. Pong was a smash hit and that in turn created a ripple effect: Within a year, a slew of Pong imitators hit the market.

 

As such, Bushnell’s once small business, Atari, suddenly had a heap of legal problems, much of which stemmed from the fact that it had not gotten its patent approved in time to ward-off the copycats. Said Bushnell in an interview in 2007, “I filed for a patent, but in those days patents took 3 years to issue. I don’t think my patent issued until 1975 or 1976.” Atari’s copycat problem became so significant that when the company entered into a licensing agreement with Magnavox a few years later, the deal required that Magnavox handle all of the Pong infringement lawsuits.

 

So clearly, properly protecting your intellectual property is critical, and given that, let’s look at how you can protect yours. Here are the basic tools I’ve learned from my experience:

 

Non-disclosure agreement (NDA): There are times when you want to share proprietary business information with someone else. In that case, you can have people sign an NDA, which essentially says that you are sharing confidential business information with the other party and they cannot use it without your prior, express written permission.

 

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Copyright: A copyright protects written expressions in tangible forms – things like an article, book, manuscript or photograph. A copyright gives you the exclusive right to reproduce the work.

 

There are basically two ways to create a copyright. The first is simply by creating the work – this sentence is being copy written as I compose it by operation of law. The second is to register your work with the United StaJuly 31 Pull Quote.pngtes Copyright Office. Having a registered copyright (©) gives you extra legal protection.

 

Trademark:  A trademark is a phrase (“Just Do It”), name (McDonald’s) or symbol (The McDonald’s golden arches) that denotes a name or business that is unique in the marketplace. There are two ways to create a trademark. The first is to simply attach a trademark symbol (™) next to your intellectual property. The other is to register the trademark with the Unites States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO.gov) and then get a registered trademark (®).

 

Patent: A patent protects an invention. Unlike a copyright or trademark, patents are not created by simply affixing a common law symbol to the product. Instead, a patent must be applied for (“patent pending”) and then obtained through the USPTO. Unlike a registered copyright or trademark which can typically be obtained without the assistance of a lawyer, getting a patent definitely requires legal help.

 

Trade secrets: Trade secrets are a formula, list, pattern, device or compilation that give you some sort or proprietary business advantage. A customer list is a good example. For a trade secret to be considered as such it must be useful, proprietary and also something secret. You can share a trade secret using an NDA.

 

You work hard to create your intellectual property, and so it would be wise to work equally hard to protect it. Are you concerned with protecting your intellectual property? Are there any specific ways that you’ve found works best? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

Do you want to generate new customers? Do you want to make sure your current ones stick around? Do you want people to love your business? Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

Of course you do. So then the question is – how do you do it? I have a one-word answer for you.

 

Free.

 

Studies show that the most powerful word in advertising is “free.” It turns out the same is true in both customer acquisition and retention. Offering both current and potential customers something extra or something for nothing is the sort of value-added bonanza that creates and cements relationships.

 

Let’s consider all of the ways this kind of offer can benefit your business:

 

1. It creates interest: Let’s say you are a new business and you want to generate attention. Offer something people want for free.  That will surely capture their attention.

 

This sort of loss-leader strategy is tried and true and works because:

 

  • It allows people to try out a product or business with no commitment
  • It gives them a chance to get a feel for the goods
  • It makes them feel like they are getting a deal

 

Back when I first started practicing law, I never charged for initial consultations. This proved to be an excellent way to get people to give me a chance.

 

2. It gives people a reason to switch: While customer loyalty is not what it once was, it is still real; people tend to find products and businesses they like and stick with them. So you have to give people a reason to leave their comfort zone and choose you when they do.

 

Freebies do just that.

 

First, because there is no commitment involved, offering something for nothing makes it easy for the potential customer to check you out. And second, free creates a good vibe. As the saying goes, you really do not get a second chance to make a great first impression and giving something for nothing helps foster that great first impression.

 

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3. Free makes current customers want to stay your customers: This may be the most important reason. We all know we are supposed to appreciate and reward our best customers, but how do you really do that? Maybe the most powerful way is to give them extra products or services at no extra cost. It is especially useful if you give your customers something they need and are not expecting to get for free.

 

Let’s say you are a landPull Quote-7_24_12.pngscaper. You might offer to build a raised garden bed for some of your best clients. The hairdresser can refuse payment the next time her best customer comes in. The virtual assistant can send a $0 invoice after the next project.  Do you see how powerful this is? It is a very real and tangible way to show your appreciation for your clientele, and it does so in a way that resonates in this economy.

 

4. Free generates sales: When you offer value-added extras for no cost, customers tend to want to thank you in return. And they do that by buying more from you. Those “buy 10 and get one free” cards do just that. First, it makes people want to fill up the card, and second, it makes people want to come back and start again after they get the free meal, car wash, etc.

 

5. It is great branding: Offering new and old customers something extra at no cost has long-term benefits as well. It reinforces the image that shopping with you is smart, that you offer real value and that you sincerely appreciate their business. Is there a better brand to have than that?

 

So the question is what can you give away? The answer is what your customers would appreciate. The dentist can give away a free exam. The florist can give a free bouquet. And the columnist?

 

He can give away a great tip:

 

Free really works.

 

Do you ever offer free services? What have you found resonates best with prospects and current customers? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

Back when I was an undergraduate in college, I got a speeding ticket and needed the assistance of an attorney (yes, I was really speeding). So I hired my cousin, a lawyer, and he ended up representing me quite well. To be expected, I later received his bill, and it was, in retrospect, both fair and appropriate. But at the time I was dumb and made a stink about the bill — “but we're family!” I whined.

 

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The whole mess eventually got cleared up, but I will say that years later, when I practiced law myself, I remembered my youthful mistake and made it a point to avoid representing family members.

 

So this then begs the question: Should one work with family and, if so, how do you do so without going crazy? Some people love working with family members while others can’t bear the thought of it.

 

Let's consider both sides.

 

On the positive side of the ledger, one of the best things about working with family is the familiarity you have with one another. There is a connection that you have with family members that you do not necessarily have with the world at large, and when you get along well with that person, that can really work to your benefit. Plus, working with a family member you like can really be fun.

 

By the same token, family members know your strengths and weaknesses, and that too can come in very handy in the workplace, especially if you work with a family member who has different strengths than you. That give and take can save time and hassle.

 

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Another great thing about working with family is that you have someone around whom you can really trust. Not that you cannot trust your regular employees or partners of course, but there is just something about family that kicks that to a higher level.

 

Now let's consider the downsides.

 

The first is that mixing business and family can hurt both entities. On the business side, if things don't work out with the family member, having difficult conversations regarding performance (not to mention if it leads to a firing) can result in a very difficult situation. Similarly, your loved one may not show you the level of respect that you deserve and need in the workplace. They may see you as jolly Uncle Joe at work instead of their boss. And that, in turn, can either hurt morale or invite similar disrespect among others in your small business.

 

In fact, family members may feel that the normal rules do not apply to them. They may resent your authority, goof off or not understand when you can't or don't give them a raise. Or what if they miss too much work, or call in sick when you know that they are not sick? Of course you will have to take action, and that is when working with family becomes an issue. Family relationships can be difficult to mend after a rift at work.

 

So what do you do about all of this? How do you work with family and make it work? The answer is three fold:

 

  1. Establish uniform hiring criteria: The rules you use to hire every other employee should be the same for family. And they need to know that.
  2. Establish workplace policies: Apply them equally across the board.
  3. Create rules for discipline and discharge: These rules should be – yes, you guessed it –uniform as well.

 

The bottom line is that, unless you have an incredibly solid professional fit, and everyone understands and complies by uniform policies and guidelines, working with family could lead to damaging relationships if thingPull Quote July 17.pngs go south. And, unlike a disgruntled employee who leaves, a disgruntled family member will be around for the long haul.

 

Have you ever worked with family before? Do you have any lessons learned that you could share with the SBOC community below?

 

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

 

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

There seems to be a lot of complaining these days about the state of business travel. I guess I am in the minority because I find this to be a fairly amazing time to travel. Not only is it more affordable than ever, but there are a lot of great tools out there to make it both productive and enjoyable.

 

I travel a fair amount around the country and internationally, mostly speaking about small business and making media appearances, so business travel is sometSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pnghing I take seriously. Not only have I learned a few tricks along the way, but I also picked the brain of my colleagues to compile a list of business travel tips.

 

Here are five of my favorites:

 

1. Get elite status: Nothing beats becoming an elite member of an airline because the perks are just great: Faster lines, you can check in more bags, first-class upgrades, the ability to use their lounge in the airport, etc.

 

So, how do you get that elite status? Of course the obvious way is to travel a lot with a single airline. There are other ways as well:

 

  • Use your frequent flier mileage number when you rent cars and check into hotels. For instance, a hotel that I stay in a few times a year gives me 500 miles toward my airline of choice every time I check in.
  • Use their credit card. This is probably the easiest way to get to an airline’s elite status because every time you charge, you get miles. I have a pal who goes to Hawaii twice a year and hasn’t paid for an airline ticket in years because he uses his airline credit card to pay for everything the rest of the year.

 

2. Get a great four-wheeled rollaway: This is vital for two reasons. First, learn how to pack efficiently so you don’t have to check bags. Second, a great rolling bag makes travel so much easier since a rollaway with four wheels can stand without you having to touch it, thus freeing your hands. Mine looks like any other two-wheeled rolling carry-on bag, but when needed, you can hit a button and two more wheels pop out, thus effectively turning it into a cart that cannot tip over.

 

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3. Get some noise cancelling headphones: No, they are not cheap, but they are worth it. Having the ability to shut out distracting noises can’t be beat, especially when you have work to do.

 

4. Bring along some external backup batteries: For your laptop, yes, but did you know you can buy an external backup battery for your iPhone. On a long trip, it’s worth it. Also, double check to make sure you have your business essentials before leaving home. This will help you avoid paying inflated airport prices for items you forgot, or running errands once you arrive to your destination.

 

5. App up: It would be impossible to list all of the great apps that are out that make travel better and easier, but here are some of the top ones:

 

  • TripIt: easily turns flights, hotel and car reservations into a simple itinerary. Additionally, the app allows you to get flight status, driving directions and more.
  • SeatGuru: gives you detailed airline seat analysis, comments about seats which have limited recline (yes!), less legroom, bad windows etc.
  • HotelTonight: Book same-day, last-minute hotel rooms for less.
  • TripAdvisor: When going to a new city, TripAdvisor’s crowdsourcing reviews of hotels, restaurants and more are invaluable. TripAdvisor is the world’s second-most-popular travel app (Google Earth is #1); it is estimated that it is downloaded 25 times per minute.

 

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What have you learned from your business travels? Do you have any recommendations to add to the list? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

 

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

It’s widely known that public speaking is one of the biggest fears for many people. In fact, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety. And that is completely understandable – getting up in front of a group of people and being smart, articulate and engaging can be a tall order. Many small business owners may underestimate how frequently they give presentations for sales, conferences internal meetings, etc.

 

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The good news about giving a presentation is that it can be an acquired skill. Sure, some people are naturally great salespeople and speakers, but there are plenty more who have learned to do it, and do it well. There is an entire industry dedicated to teaching people how to speak and sell, so don’t worry if it’s not easy right now.

 

As I always tell my daughters: Almost everything is hard before it is easy.

 

If you want to become good as presentations, whether it is a sales pitch, a speech or conference call, keep these tips in mind:

 

1. Don’t wing it: The very best speakers know what they are going to say and then they practice, practice, practice. They may even write down the speech and memorize it. Their skill is that they make it sound fresh every time.

 

At a minimum, create a PowerPoint and know what you want to say for each slide. Then present the speech or slide show alone or with someone you trust, and give it again.

 

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One group that really understands this concept is stand-up comedians. Comics go on stage almost nightly and figure out what works and what does not. You can see this process in the movie “Comedian.” In it, Jerry Seinfeld creates a new act, and we watch him refine it on stage, and then refine it some more. The detail is impressive, as is the willingness to make mistakes along the way.

 

George Carlin worked and re-worked every bit. He wrote and re-wrote.

 

You can also read about the same process in Steve Martin’s great book, “Born Standing Up.” In it, Martin relays what it took for him to become the first “rock star” comedian back in the late 70s. What it took (aside from impeccable timing and gut-busting humor of course) was precision. He was incredibly precise about his act – continually refining and adjusting it along the way.

 

Of course I am not asking you to be a comedian.  Instead, I am suggesting that any salesperson or speaker puts in the time and effort, constantly looking for ways to improve.

 

2. Don’t be boring: There is no right way to give a presentation. Of course you have to be professional and knowledgeable, that is a given. But too many businesspeople end up being far too stiff because they try to fit into some preconceived notion of what they should be doing or how they should sound like.

 

Instead, just be yourself. Be personable, humorous if possible (that almost always helps), smart . . . whatever it is that makes you, you.

 

3. Make sure your slides convey what’s most important: Of course, you do not want to just read your slides, but almost as inexcusable is having too many slides, or slides with way too much information. A few key bullet points usually will suffice, and even better – use visuals. People absorb information either visually, through words or audibly so be sure to use all three approaches.

 

Here are two books that can help you a lot:

1) Brain RJuly 3 Pull Quote.pngules: What Every Presenter Needs to Know by John Medina. There are a lot of excellent lessons to be learned in the book, but a main one is that visuals are a better use of PowerPoint space than words.

2) The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo. Jobs was famous for his great addresses at Apple events. One key was that his speeches told a story – beginning, middle and end.

 

4. Say something different: It could be a surprising statistic, an unconventional quote, or a personal story. The important thing is that you offer information that listeners would otherwise not have known. That will make you and your presentation memorable.

 

5. Know when to stop talking: Don’t you hate those salespeople who never know when to shut up? Don’t be one of them. It’s like knowing when to end a column.

 

Like now.

 

Do you have any go-to presentation tricks? Or, do you have valuable “lessons learned” that you’d like to share with the SBOC community? Leave your comments below. 

 

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

 

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

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