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HiringFranchise_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

For a small business, hiring employees can be a challenge. Though it may sound easy on paper, the quest to find staffers who are reliable, capable, and hard working is often difficult in practice.

It’s even more so when it comes to a franchise. In this instance, you’re not only looking for exemplary employees, but people who can act as ambassadors of an established national brand. As was demonstrated by the infamous incident from a major pizza chain three years ago—in which two rogue employees caused a national furor by making a video prank and then posting it on YouTube—the impact of poor hiring decisions can be catastrophic to the image of a franchise.

Just as finding the right fit for a position is a key ingredient to the success of a standalone small business, the same applies for a franchise. However, there are some slight differences that you, as a franchisee, might want to keep in mind when hiring employees. The following are several important tips:

Look for people who want to be part of a bigger picture

Being dependable is a virtue for job candidates; so is having experience. But sometimes hiring staffers who are willing and eager to collaborate with others while working for a larger corporate system can be problematic, particularly if the job candidate is used to working as a self-employed contractor or freelancer. 

This was a major lesson learned for Erin Mellinger, a 29-year-old certified personal trainer and owner of two Fitness Together franchises in Ohio.

“I did hire someone once who came to us with 16 years of personal training experience,” recalls Mellinger, who entered the franchise world five years ago after learning about Fitness Together through a client. “I learned very quickly that it wasn’t a fit because he was so used to looking out for himself. I could tell during his sessions that he was all about promoting himself and trying to be the favorite trainer because he had that mentality: he had to do it to survive. As much as I tried to get him to buy into the bigger picture, it didn’t seem to work out. But that’s the thing—he was a great trainer. He was the kind of guy that did better on his own instead of in a business like this.”

Follow the franchisor system

There’s a reason why the franchise has lasted. Whether it’s in the fast food, beauty, or home supplies sector, the franchisor has built and honed from the ground up a series of rules and best practices to make franchisees successful. Trust this model.

HiringFranchise_PQ.jpg“Don’t get into the business and think you have to reinvent it,” advises Rick Bisio, a franchise consultant and former director of international development at AFC Enterprises, which owns and operates several fast-food chains, among them Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits. “When you buy into a franchise, you buy the rights to use their system. If it’s a business that requires a bunch of employees, they better have an employee hiring system.”

Bisio, author of “The Educated Franchisee,” further adds, “Lean on the franchisor and use their system, knowledge, and experience.” This means closely following a job description for a position, even if it was originally written in corporate headquarters. This also applies to having prospective employees take personality assessment tests. Not only can they be excellent tools for screening and vetting candidates, but they can also help determine if someone’s temperament is well suited for a position.

Nicole Siokis, president and owner of the Atlanta branch of the Mom Corps franchise, a nationwide flexible staffing firm, has used personality assessment tests such as DISC and Birkman, when interviewing potential employees. They came in handy when Siokis, who currently has two part-time employees, was seeking to add a second recruiter to her staff. But unlike the other recruiter, this employee would also perform marketing and social media duties.

After getting a referral from a trusted source, Siokis, a onetime Army captain, met several times with the prospective employee. Although the job candidate’s credentials and references were glowing, Siokis was unsure about how the woman, who formerly worked at ABC, the television network, would be able to adapt to an unstructured environment. To make sure this was a good fit, Siokis had her potential employee take a battery of tests, including the DISC assessment, which analyzes and reviews several work-related personality traits, among them communication style, preferred work environment and ideal supervisor.


According to SIokis, her applicant’s test results showed that she could interact with many people, work independently and adapt to a work environment that changed regularly. Feeling reassured that the prospective employee would thrive in an unpredictable small-team environment, Siokis hired her.


“It's been 8 months and things are working out well,” says Siokis. “I feel I better understand how to work with her based on the assessment.”


Be specific about what you’re looking for 

Conducting job interviews with candidates when there’s no corporate guidance or you’re unclear as to what you’re looking for is counterproductive and a waste of time. Know what kind of employee you want and the kind of skills set you need to fulfill the job responsibilities.

Bisio strongly advises all franchisees to subscribe to this precept when hiring. “Don’t put an ad out there and say I’m looking for anybody,” he says. “Target. Have a purpose and a strategy to your interview process. It’s not a conversation. It’s not a get-to-know-you meeting over coffee. It’s a specific process you’re going through in order to identify the right individual otherwise you’ll just end up with an accident.” 


When hiring staff, a franchisee should never unduly complicate matters by trying to figure everything out on his or her own. “That’s one of the biggest mistakes franchisees make,” notes Bisio. “The franchisor has people who have expertise and are trying to help you. Rely on your franchisor.” 

I have a friend, Jeremy, who has always impressed me with his skill as an entrepreneur. No matter the venture, he almost always Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngmade money and the venture did well.  So I was surprised when he told me about one of his failures - that his mentor relationship had turned sour.


Now, maybe you are thinking that a guy with Jeremy’s skills did not need a mentor. You would be wrong. Jeremy always had more than his share of free advisors, most of whom gave him, not only valuable advice, but connections as well.

But for whatever reason, this time Jeremy blew it. Jeremy had created a board of advisors for one of his ventures, using his mentors’ knowledge and connections to help grow his business. In return, Jeremy offered them free weekend trips and other gestures of gratitude. The advisors never expected to be hit up for money, and that is where Jeremy went wrong. At his most recent board retreat, he had approached one of them and asked for a significant loan. The guy was incensed, feeling that he had been played, duped. He was interested in helping not investing, he said. He left the event that day, and Jeremy’s board meeting crumbled when he had to explain what happened to everyone else.


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss



It’s a good lesson for anyone who gets involved in a mentor – mentee relationship. Not long ago, I wrote an article entitled 5 Ways to Find a Mentor, and in it I shared some strategies for finding people who might be willing to mentor you. But Jeremy’s story is a reminder that finding a mentor is only part of the story. You must handle that relationship intelligently if it is to bear fruit.


Here’s how:



Be clear: Of course, this was Jeremy’s fatal flaw. What he thought the relationship was about was very different than what the mentor thought was going on. So it is vital from the get-go to set some ground rules with mentors and be clear about what you expect, and what it is they expect.


Set reasonable exFeb 26 pull quote.pngpectations: As part of the discussion above, let me further suggest that you find out what the mentor hopes to gain from the relationship. Is it merely to mentor you in the traditional sense, or are other things – like connections, experiences, and finances – going to be involved? You better know.


Make it easy: Jeremy almost hit this part out of the park, until his fatal error. The important thing is that a mentor is doing you a favor, and it is therefore incumbent upon you to make it as easy as possible on them. Work around their schedule. Take them out to lunch. Say yes.


Make plans: Mentor-mentee relationships fade away most often because the mentee fails to take responsibility for keeping it going. Mentors usually are busy folks and helping you for free is not at the top of the list of things you think about. As a mentee, the relationship is likely far more important to you than to the mentor.  As such, be sure to keep it going:

  • Take responsibility for scheduling lunches or dinners or other entertainment
  • Drop your mentor an email with a quick update
  • Call just to say hello


Show your appreciation: A mentor becomes a mentor because he or she thinks they can make a difference; so first of all, it is your job to show them that their time and efforts are paying off. Share your successes and lessons learned with your mentor.  Also be sure to share your appreciation in tangible ways – send a holiday present. Drop a thank you card in the mail.


Give back: What can you do to make things easier or better for your mentor? Do that.


And Jeremy? You can bet he won’t make the same mistake twice.


How do you maintain a relationship with your mentor or mentee? Share your story 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.

by Mayra Jimenez

Yes, size matters. But it's not the only thing. An ecommerce entrepreneur shows how to compete when you're outmanned and out-spent.


If your competitors have a head start in your industry, they have the upper hand. Not fair, maybe, but true. Despite what may be an average product or service, seasoned competitors have a simple leg up when it comes to branding and recognition: age.


In internet commerce, for example, age gives you extra 'cookie points' with search engines, as seniority is a factor in page rank, authority, link building, and more. Perhaps your senior competitors had it easier when there was less competition, ranking at the top without much effort, and reaping the benefits of limited options.


You might feel you got the short end of the stick because your company was founded in an era of massive competition in your industry. Here are a few tips to position your company among the top players:


Separate "professional" from "robotic"

Larger companies tend to present themselves in a rather corporate manner. Their frosty approach gives you a chance to charm the market with your personalized company story. Clients want to feel they are shopping with a company that cherry-picks their products or personalizes their services in some manner. Casualness and customization are not your enemy! Take advantage of the fact that your ideas don't have to go through a string of departments to get approved, and make it as personal as you can.


React quickly to industry trends

The most important advantage that you have over your competitor is your ability to react quickly. The bureaucracy of large teams and approval processes are tedious and time-consuming. While your senior competitor moves like an elephant, you're a vibrant cheetah running rapidly towards your next milestone. Stay abreast of innovative strategies and implement them. This is especially important in ecommerce, as blogging, videos, and social media have changed the rules of converting browsers to customers.


Push the boundaries of your industry playbook

Let yourself think outside the box. Way outside the box. Be bold. As long as the end goal is increasing profit or branding, go for those ideas that sound crazy. Monitor the results closely, and if it's not working, change it, cheetah.


Bottom line: you have more going for you than you think. Your competitors have paid researchers looking for the next big thing in the industry, and watching what new strategies are out there. They know you exist. So outsmart them. Give them a run for their money.


Article provided by ©Inc.

How to Win When You're the Underdog |

We all know that small business owners have to wear a lot of hats. When you own a small business, you are the CEO, the CFO, the hiring manager, the IT department, the accountant—you name it. You may be one of only three or four in the office. While it’s important to be knowledgeable in a lot of areas and to potentially be able to function with a small amount of manpower, savvy small business owners know that sometimes, they need good advice and feedback that they can’t always find among their co-workers.


So where can the small business owner go for business advice?  Here are a few common places:


Mentors: Having a mentor is one of the best ways to learn more about how to run a business. A business mentor can open doors, teach skills and give valuable feedback. No doubt it is a good deal for you, but it is often equally satisfying, if not more so, for the mentors, as they can see their advice and guidance making a difference.


Where do you find a mentor? A while back I covered this topic on the SBC, but there are so many good resources I had to share some more.


  • Ask: Finding a mentor is often the result of simply having the chutzpah to ask someone whom you admire whether he would be willing to mentor you. Or just ask around. Tell people that you are looking for a mentor— you may be surprised at how willing people are to help.
  • Pay: If someone knows what you want to learn but is disinclined to be your mentor for whatever reason, consider buying his or her time. Is it ideal? No, but it may still work.


SCORE: SCORE, an organization made up of business executives and entrepreneurs, offers free, confidential counseling and education on almost any subject you can name. Need help with a marketing campaign? SCORE can help. Opening an auto repair shop? A SCORE volunteer probably has done that, too. SCORE matches you up with a counselor who will give you as much help as your business needs, and if he that counselor cannot help you with a specific problem, there is another SCORE counselor who can.


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The Small Business Administration: The SBA, both online and via its field offices throughout the United States, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam, offers classes, counseling and a variety of programs designed to help small businesses succeed. You can also get advice at its Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs).


Networking groups: Your chamber of commerce can be an excellent source of expert advice, as can other networking groups like LeTip and various trade associations. There are also groups like the Young Presidents’ Association and various women’s, veterans and minority networking groups that are specifically intended for giving these business owners the assistance, advice and help that best fits their business.


Your teammates: Don’t forget to look in your own backyard. According to the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, small business owners turn most often to their own network when seeking help. Specifically, they speak with:


  • Accountants and bookkeepers (75%)
  • Other small businesses owners (50%)
  • Financial advisors (48%), and
  • Friends and family (40%)


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


Social media: What’s the point of having all of those followers on Twitter, connections on LinkedIn, and Likes on Facebook if you can’t take advantage of that vast network when you need some good, old-fashioned business advice? Again, I bet you will be surprised at how willing people are to help you.


Websites: Finally, there are a lot of websites out there where you can post a question, read answers, meet other small business owners and so on. Right here on the Small Business Community, for instance, you can meet other entrepreneurs and get great feedback. I am, of course, also partial to my own site, TheSelfEmployed.


Have you ever helped another small business owner with advice, or are you currently seeking it? Share your story with the 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.



My wife and I used to frequent a small breakfast restaurant in our neighborhood quite often. But, after a while, we found ourselves less inclined to visit. The food seemed to be getting increasingly mediocre, and we also saw a local news report that Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngsaid the city’s health inspector had given the place a failing grade.


So we weren’t surprised a month later when the place closed down. What was surprising was that it reopened again two weeks later with a spiffy coat of new paint and a new name . . . but with the same owners.


A negative news report is the sort of bad publicity that few small businesses can handle, and in this day and age, one could only surmise that the online reviews thereafter were brutal. What were the owners to do? Like a computer that gets some malware and freezes up, the owners clearly decided to start over and reboot. The negative complaints could not follow them if the business had a new name.


The above example was a radical solution to a problem that all businesses have to some degree— namely, the protection of their brand and handling any negative comments, both online and offline, about their business.


A big business example: Back in the 80s, several people died when someone had gone into some supermarkets and laced bottles of Tylenol with cyanide. The onslaught of negative publicity would have crippled many companies, but the makers of Tylenol got proactive. They voluntarily and immediately took the product off the shelf, and thereafter, invented safety caps and packaging. They turned what could have been a disaster into a lesson in brand management, as Tylenol became known as a business committed to their customers and product safety.


Brand management is especially critical for a small business because if the name of your business gets sullied, you may not have the resources that big businesses do to counteract the bad publicity. So the first thing to remember when it comes to protecting your brand is that these days, brand management requires a commitment and constant vigilance.

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


Not sure where to start? Here are 5 steps to take:

1. Know where to look: The number of places where someone can post negative comments (and positive ones too!) is amazingly vast: Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Angie’s List, Google reviews, Citysearch, Blogs, local news sites, forums and message boards.

2. Create a Google Alert: You can create a keyword alert using Google for your name or business. Then, anytime the search engine finds the keywords that are in the alert you created, it sends you an email.

However, the system is not perfect— it needs to be managed. First of all, you need to figure out the specific keywords that might match the potential complaints about your business. That isn’t always easy, especially as you cannot anticipate what sorts of complications cause unhappiness.

Additionally, sometimes Google Alerts can be too broad— it’s important to make sure you are still regularly searching the list of above sites, since not everything can be caught using this system.

3. Take action: It is your job to find and root out those vocal, unhappy customers who can damage your brand, whether online or off, and make them happy. Make sure you are proactive, and when you find an unhappy customer, discover what went wrong and be willing to correct it (even if it’s not your fauFeb 12 Pull Quote.pnglt.) Be humble. Fix the problem, and then ask nicely if they would remove their negative review. If they won’t, be sure to add your own comment that you rectified what went wrong.

4. Hire a reputation management service: You don’t have to manage your brand’s reputation alone, which is why there are a host of reputation management companies out there that can help you –, for instance.

5. Be proactive about getting positive publicity: Let the press know about all the good things you are doing for the community. Post those things on your site and blog. Publicize your community involvement in your store. And get your happy customers to write positive online reviews about your business. As these will be more recent than the old negative reviews, they may turn up first in a search.

Remember, being attentive about your brand’s reputation can help it remain just as sterling as you want it to.

How do you currently manage your brand? Share your strategies 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.

BigScreen_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.


Do you have an Oscar Pick-’em pool going on there at the office? Movie trivia has seeped into our everyday lives, even at work—who hasn’t once exclaimed, “ Show me the money!” in meetings to break the tension? As Hollywood’s big night is right around the corner, we decided to take a look at the list of award-winning films and discovered solid entrepreneurial lessons hidden within a few of them.


Wall Street (1987)

Admittedly an obvious choice, the 1987 blockbuster directed by Oliver Stone started a dialogue about excess—excess of ambition, of greed, of everything. Michael Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the now-iconic character Gordon Gekko, who uttered the famous line, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good," Though often tossed jokingly around boardrooms, that isn’t the lesson to learn from Wall Street. As we watch Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox become lured by the quick, “easy money” rise to wealth and his ultimate fall, the message that it takes time and hard work to achieve true success is the takeaway as the credits roll. Interestingly, there is a line at the very beginning of the film by Hal Holbrook’s character, Lou Mannheim: “Stick to the fundamentals. That's how IBM and Hilton were built. Good things, sometimes, take time.” That’s one nugget of wisdom to jot down and keep in a prime spot on the desk.


The Social Network (2010)

The rise of Facebook from its invention in a dorm room into a billion-dollar company is perhaps one of the most interesting topics many a business school graduate studies. It’s also the engrossing plot of The Social Network. It was a critical and commercial success in 2010, with eight nominations (it won three—Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Film Editing). There are many elements from the film for entrepreneurs to mull over (how to choose partners wisely and trust your instincts are just two), but there’s a shiny gem in one particular scene. When Mark, Eduardo, and Eduardo’s girlfriend Christy have a lunch meeting with Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake’s character), the creator of Napster offers a bit of advice—to change the name from Thefacebook to just Facebook. Mark listened and, as we all know, took that advice. As a business owner, it ultimately comes down to what you think is best for your company, but meeting with and listening to fellow business owners— even the competition, even those that have failed in their own business ventures—can be instrumental to your business’s long-term success.


BigScreen_PQ.jpgRatatouille (2007)

An animated movie about a rat cooking in Paris is definitely not on the required viewing list for entrepreneurs. However, this Pixar hit that won Best Animated Feature Film (and it was up for a total of five Oscars) offers a nice morsel of business wisdom. At the end of Ratatouille, after the surly restaurant critic Anton Ego learns of the truth behind who—or, more precisely, what—had donned the chef’s hat and created the magnificent cuisine he had just eaten (Remy the rat), he writes in his review: “Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist can come from anywhere.” It’s the love child of two bits of wisdom: “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and “Think outside the box,” and it serves as a reminder to you as a business owner to keep your eyes open to who is around you. Look for employees beyond who you may think you “should” hire. Listen to everyone (including that 17-year-old intern). You may find the next genius idea for your company where you least expect it.

QAphilanthropy_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.


Meet Tiffany Krumins, the inventor of AVA the Elephant, a talking children's medicine dispenser that was developed to take the fear and anxiety out of administering medicine to children. You may recognize her and her product from ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank.” Krumins was the first female entrepreneur to receive funding from “the Sharks,” when Barbara Corcoran, the billionaire real estate mogul, saw that certain something in Krumins and became an investor in her company. With more than one million dollars in sales, AVA the Elephant is now available in more than 10,000 retail stores in the U.S and is sold in multiple languages across the world. Shortly after her TV appearance, however, Krumins was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Now a cancer survivor, her passion for helping sick children has only grown, and she’s taken huge steps to develop and implement a philanthropic mission as part of her company—donating a life-saving vaccine for every AVA the Elephant gift basket sold.


In an interview with business writer Heather Chaet, Krumins shares the details on how she came up with her (literal) million-dollar idea and how she’s using her company to give back in the most vital way.



HC: Many of us know you and your product, AVA the Elephant, from seeing you on ABC’s “Shark Tank” – named one of the top 13 memorable moments on the TV show by Can you tell us the story of how you turned your idea into an amazing success?

TK: Prior to appearing on “Shark Tank,” I worked as a caregiver for children with special needs. When I invented AVA, I was working with a little boy named Gibby, who has Down’s syndrome. Gibby did not do well with getting his haircut. In fact, he couldn’t have hated it more. He was convinced that cutting the actual hair hurt, just as it does when you cut your finger—there was no convincing him otherwise. Almost two years into working with Gibby, I called his mom to see if I could give [this hair cut situation] a shot. She said, “Go for it!” I knew what Gibby needed the most: comfort in something he trusted. He had a few best friends at the time, and they went by the names of Tigger and Pooh. I told Gibby that I would be cutting Tigger and Pooh’s hair, and that he could watch. He was very worried about his friends, but plopped down at the table to see what I was up to. I draped towels around each of them—to catch their hair, of course—and told them they would have to take turns and sit very still. When I first turned on the clippers, Gibby shot up out of his seat to protect his friends. I knew what I had to do. I picked up a big lock of my hair and cut it off. He looked less terrified and allowed me to [finish] cutting Tigger and Pooh’s hair. Ten minutes in, he was squealing from joy each time they successfully got a section cut.


I set up our hair-cutting studio every day, Tigger and Pooh got a little balder, and a few weeks later, Gibby let me do the unthinkable and give him a haircut. Not only was he tear-free, he was so handsome. His parents and I could not have been more thrilled. 


What does a hair cut have to do with medicine? Well, it was that hair cut that led me to my million-dollar idea. About a week after the hair-cutting breakthrough, Gibby came down with something. Anytime he was sick, it made the whole family anxious because he was terrified of medicine droppers. Some days, his mother and I would have to restrain him in order to get the medicine down. After giving a difficult dose of medicine to Gibby, I sat exhausted from the process. And then I had my light bulb moment!  Knowing the comfort Gibby’s stuffed animals gave him while cutting his hair, I thought, why couldn’t the dropper be shaped like an animal too?


I went home that night and created the first AVA from fabric, sponges and the insides of a recordable greeting card. When I got to work the next day, I told Gibby I wanted to introduce him to a friend of mine, AVA the Elephant. I explained to him that she could squirt milk in his mouth. He was thrilled at the idea. We gave it a shot, and I had to beg for AVA back. It was time for the real stuff: I let him know that AVA didn’t just squirt milk, but medicine too. Because he already loved her, he didn’t think twice. I filled AVA with medicine, and he opened wide, right on AVA’s cue. The best part? He jumped in the air when she praised him, saying “Good Job!”


That was the moment I knew I had something special. From being restrained to begging for more? Who would have thought? Now, kids all over the world are responding the same way.


HC: When did you realize you wanted to do more on a philanthropic level and focus your company’s energies and resources on giving back?

TK: From day one, I have wanted to give back. As a matter of fact, it is a good thing I have Barbara [Corcoran] to keep me on track because I would probably give all of my AVAs away. To see the reaction sick children have to AVA is just beautiful. Over the past two years, I have been able to give in-kind [donations] to hospitals and charities, but never on a big scale. 


QAphilanthropy_PQ.jpgHC: Many entrepreneurs sponsor a yearly fundraiser or contribute an end-of-the year donation. How did you decide on the specifics of your new campaign?

TK: Every time I saw something about Tom’s Shoes [and their “One for One” movement], I thought, “I want to do that with AVA.” I thought for each AVA sold, I would give one to a child in the hospital. But it was recently, while watching an acquaintance of mine struggle through the loss of one of the children at her orphanage in Haiti, that I knew it needed to be something bigger. Often we aren’t face to face with this type of loss, so it becomes “out of sight, out of mind.” I was aware that this little child’s life could have been saved had he had a vaccine prior to getting sick. That was when I knew the campaign I wanted to build.  


HC: Tell us how it works.

TK: For every AVA the Elephant gift basket purchased, we will fund one life-saving vaccine. Depending on the demand and the organization we are working with at that time, the vaccine may be different. The gift basket will include a note letting the recipient know that a vaccine was funded with the purchase of their basket.


HC: What specific criteria did you use when researching and deciding which organizations to partner with on your campaign?

TK: I wanted to make sure we picked the right partner to fund them through. Being a cancer survivor, I am all too familiar with charities that spend their funding in the wrong places. I wanted to make sure if we gave X amount of dollars to fund a certain amount of vaccines, that it was actually being done. Because a specific orphanage in Haiti was the inspiration for my campaign, I wanted to know first whom did they trust to work with in regard to administration. Second, in regard to manufacturers, [I needed to see] who could give us the best cost on vaccines so we could provide as many as possible. Last but not least, because we will not be delivering the vaccines personally, I had to know that every penny we put towards the vaccines went directly to providing medicine, not to administrative costs and so on.


HC: You help fellow entrepreneurs at speaking engagements and on your website, giving advice on how to get their product to the marketplace. What tips can you share as they explore incorporating philanthropy into their daily business?

TK: Include a plan for giving back from the beginning. Even if it is a penny donated from each sale, it gets you in the mindset of working that philanthropy into your bottom line. I know as well as any small business owner how hard it is to give if you haven’t yet turned a profit. With retail products, we sometimes wait 90 days or longer to get paid. But if you have a plan to give back when you do make a profit, it will inspire you to keep going.


Your mission, much like your business, needs to be a passion of yours. I would have never survived the retail world and cancer had I not had an undying passion to help children. [Ask yourself]: “If I had a million dollars to spend just on charity, what would I do with it?” Whatever your answer is should be the goal you need to be working toward. Wanting to originally give smiles and giggles to children in hospitals by delivering my product, I realized when forming this campaign that I wanted to go a step further and see lives saved not just improved. The best part is, in the end, I will be able to do both.


HC What shouldn’t small business owners do when developing a philanthropic mission?

TK: Don’t move too quickly. Like I said before, I originally wanted to give products to children in hospitals, but I think the impact of this campaign will be much larger and will allow me to give back in that way as well. If I’m able to make a profit to cover giving more products away later, it is a win-win in the end.


HC What is next for you and AVA the elephant?

TK: We have other products in the works and continue to grow internationally. We filmed a great follow-up [during the 2013 season of] “Shark Tank” that will give you more insight into where we are headed next. Although we don’t have the air date yet, you can check our Facebook page for updates.


10 leadership lessons for Gen-Y

Posted by Inc. Feb 2, 2013

by Steve Tobak

It might be a brave new world, but an old-school approach to leadership still works. Take notes.


Wish I knew then what I know now.

You hear that sort of thing all the time; a lament to the wisdom that seems to come too late in life, or at least later than we'd like it to.


The current generation of up-and-comers certainly has its opportunities and its challenges. Having grown up with high-tech, they're probably best suited to thrive in the brave new connected world. And I happen to think the digital revolution has only just begun.


On the other hand, the world is in the midst of cultural and economic upheaval. Perhaps that's nothing new, but it is challenging, to say the least. There's so much information, so many choices, so much distraction, just those things alone present more complexity than any generation has ever had to deal with.


That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that the wisdom that comes from real-world experience applies to anyone in any generation. At least, that's the theory. Here are 10 lessons I've learned that I suspect will prove useful to the current generation of up-and-coming entrepreneurs and business leaders.


If you want to achieve great things, you have to do great work. If your goal is to just skate by in life, you can probably pull that off without much effort. But if you want to accomplish some great things that give your life meaning, you'll have to do great work. You only get out of this life what you put into it.


Take big risks. Roll the dice. Dive into the deep end of the pool. Throw caution to the wind. Be fearless. Success in business and your career are a function of your willingness to face your fears and take chances. That simple but powerful truth is probably the most important piece of advice anyone can give you.


Always seek to broaden your experience. Perhaps the best decision I ever made was to spend the first decade of my career with large companies that trained and groomed me and opened my eyes to a world of disciplines, markets, and opportunities. That, I believe, improved my odds of success in the startup world immensely.


Life is a marathon, not a sprint. There's a certain time factor related to all goals, strategies, and achievements. The bigger the objective, the bolder the strategy, the more rewarding the accomplishment, the longer it takes, generally speaking. That runs contrary to our attention deficit culture and our growing addiction to instant gratification. You need to fight that real-time tug to achieve long-term results.


There's a certain balance to the equation of life. In school, you learn that there's symmetry in the world. Every force has an equal and opposite reaction. Chemical equations must balance. Supply and demand are intimately related. Life is no different. It's full of tradeoffs and cause and effect relationships. You'll never get something for nothing. Everything has a price. First you do the work, then you get rewarded. You give, then you get. Those equations appear throughout your career, your life, the business world, everything.


You probably take yourself too seriously. Children have enormous egos. They think everything revolves around them. That self-centered worldview is essential to survival. But in adulthood, it can be a real problem. Maturity is very much about developing empathy for others, about understanding their needs and wants, what drives and motivates them. It's also key to effective business and working relationships.


Don't make self-limiting assumptions based on limited experience. When you're young, there's a temptation to be headstrong, to make sweeping decisions based on limited information. For example, it's popular these days to romanticize entrepreneurship, but it's not for everyone. Keep your options open.


Don't confuse freedom with entitlement. You're actually entitled to very little in life, but it should be enough. America's founding fathers were brilliant. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is phrased that way for a reason. With those basic building blocks, you're free to pursue what you will. The rest is entirely up to you. Your happiness and success are in your hands--and only your hands.


Real success takes real relationships in the real world. The Internet definitely leveled the business playing field. And social networks enable you to connect with virtually anyone. As a result, you can make a few bucks generating Twitter followers for Lady Gaga or Honey Boo Boo by sitting at your computer at home. But if you have higher aspirations than that, you'll need to develop real relationships with real people in real time.


Have faith that things will work out for you. Steve Jobs said it best in his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, "You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something--your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle."


One more thing. I wouldn't think of depriving you all of learning these lessons in your own good time. If you want to throw caution to the wind as I suggested earlier, go ahead and hit "delete." Be my guest. But there's an old expression that I think still applies in our information society: "Forewarned is forearmed." And, after all, you can never go back.

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