Category Archives: Business Trends

Stress got you down? Harvard panel says you’re not alone

Seinfeld fans may recall George Costanza’s stress reduction mantra Serenity, now! This outburst momentarily relieved him of stress caused by his interfering and embarrassing parents. While we can laugh at the hijinks that cause frustration for the popular sitcom’s character, stress isn’t much fun in real life.

 

The Health Burden of Stress in America at Harvard. Photo Credit: Thomas Earle
The Health Burden of Stress in America at Harvard. Credit: Thomas Earle

 

Apparently, speakers during Wednesday’s Harvard School of Public Health forum, The Health Burden of Stress: What We Can Do About It, agree. The program highlighted findings in The Burden of Stress in America poll, and the short and long-term impact that stress has on people. The panelists included Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School; Kristin Schubert, senior program officer and team director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Gregory Fricchione, associate chief of psychiatry and director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital; and, Joshua Riff, medical director and director of health and well-being at Target Corporation.

The Burden of Stress in America poll, conducted by the program’s sponsors, HSPH, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and National Public Radio, revealed that 25% of respondents experience high levels of stress. The main stressors, according to Blendon when citing the poll’s statistics are health issues and low pay.

I don’t think that most Americans would be surprised to find that so many respondents experience constant and long-term stress, no matter the causes. With so many demands, real and imagined, sometimes we are overwhelmed and stressed out. The alarming result of all those irritations can have a long-lasting impact on physical and emotional health.

Read the entire Harvard Gazette article about the forum

View video from the forum

Talk back to us: What stresses you out and what do you do to ease your frustration? Leave your reply below.

About the Blogger: Kesi Stribling

DISCLAIMER: ASK THE STRATEGIST is a blog that highlights information on business, entrepreneurship, careers and the workplace, health, community, and women. Any content or advice dispensed through Ask The Strategist is solely for informational and entertainment purposes. Never miss ASK THE STRATEGIST blog posts! Have them delivered to your inbox by subscribing.

Your Competition Isn’t Who You Think It Is

In developing a SWOT analysis, business owners are taught to identify and evaluate the venture’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Often, these entrepreneurs detail what they know about the competitors, and devise plans to upstage, or eliminate, the threat to the company.

Edge out the competition
Edge out the competition

But, what if your competition isn’t who you think it is?

I am not trying to diminish the importance of knowing which companies provide similar products and services in your city, or online, and how your company can prevail as the leader in the industry. Of course, the savvy – and successful – entrepreneur needs to know these details. My focus is on a potential threat you probably never even thought about as a competitor; but, one who could ostensibly hijack your brand, big ideas, and business.

A few months ago, while visiting my hometown, I decided to have a leisurely coffee at a large chain eatery. During my visit, I was exposed to a rather loud and lively conversation during which the main speaker talked about how she gave advice and insight to a local resident running for office. She also shared some additional inside information about the machinations of the local campaign process, the perceived successes and failures, and then predicted that the person probably wouldn’t win.

As I sit here enjoying a wonderful coffee while writing this post, at a different eatery in a different city, I am on the sidelines of a conversation between a web designer and company owner, who wants to gain the advantage over her competition. As they discuss unique website visits, preferred key words to entice visitors, and other strategies, I wonder if business owners realize that discussing truly sensitive information, such as client data, unique processes, and marketing strategy, can potentially have an adverse impact on their companies, if the wrong person listens at the right time.

Today, staff meetings, exploratory assignations with potential partners, and job interviews often occur not at the office, but in open environments, like the local coffee house or restaurant. It is only natural to raise our voices to be heard over the din in a crowded restaurant. Unfortunately, the result is that these folks often speak in tones that make innocent diners eavesdroppers. My solution when encountering this situation is to put on my earphones and listen to music, blocking out the noise, and keeping my eyes on my own work, so to speak.

What about those who continue to listen to gain information? These potential competitors could have a detrimental impact on the business, which will likely never know about it, until it’s too late.

Have you ever experienced this situation? Leave a reply below.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Kesi Stribling

Kesi Stribling, Editor, Ask The Strategist
Kesi Stribling, Editor, Ask The Strategist

DISCLAIMER: ASK THE STRATEGIST is a blog that highlights information on business, entrepreneurship, careers and the workplace, health, community, and women. Any content or advice dispensed through Ask The Strategist is solely for informational and entertainment purposes. Never miss ASK THE STRATEGIST blog posts! Have them delivered to your inbox by subscribing.

 

Ready, Set, Compete: American Express OPEN Forum Shares Tips on Doing Business with the Federal Government

OPEN Forum readies business owners
OPEN Forum readies business owners

A new year often brings resolutions that are triggered by the desire to improve oneself. Businesses are not immune to the resolve to improve, expand, and grow, including going after government contracting opportunities. However, companies are often stifled in their pursuits because they don’t have an effective strategy to scope out federal government contracting prospects and conduct the prep work that goes along with applying for and fulfilling the requirements for the would-be contracts. The harsh reality is that entrepreneurs are less likely to capitalize on potential business if they aren’t prepared.

When it comes to readying entrepreneurs to compete for federal government contracts, American Express OPEN Forum assists business owners who seek to gain a piece of the $500 billion spent by the federal government on products and services each year to ensure it operates smoothly on a daily basis. Lourdes Martin-Rosa, OPEN Forum Adviser and CEO of Florida-based Government Business Solutions, shares insight on preparing for and pursing federal government contracting opportunities, and offers the top five things businesses should do in 2014 to ready themselves to successfully compete for the chance to provide goods and services needed by the agencies.

Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN® Forum Adviser
Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN® Forum Adviser

With $500 billion in spending power, the federal government has a goal of ensuring that qualified small and disadvantaged businesses, which are often less likely to compete, have an opportunity to work with their agencies: 23% of small businesses; 5% of disadvantaged businesses, including women-owned companies; and, 3% of service disabled veterans. “It is important for businesses to understand the government playing field,” says Lourdes Martin-Rosa. For instance, knowing that many government agencies begin the fiscal year on October 1, instead of July 1 like most companies, a small business can make strategic adjustments that ready them for the Request for Proposals (RFP) process ahead of time. Martin-Rosa also says that the 2013 sequestration held up pre-approved spending that is now being used for government products and services, including equipment, technology, marketing, and human resources. When it comes to women-owned businesses, Martin-Rosa says that less than 50,000 companies are self-certified with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s new Women-Owned Small Business set-aside program. There are more than 2 million companies owned by women in the country.

Last year, American Express OPEN Forum teamed up with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) to launch ChallengeHER, an initiative that provides resources, coaching, and insight for women entrepreneurs interested in pursuing federal government contracts. The first ChallengeHER event was held on December 5, 2013 in Washington, DC, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The event offered best practices for navigating opportunities for women-owned small businesses, including developing capability statements, selecting teaming partners for contracting prospects, and networking opportunities for the participants. In addition, DHS posted their contract opportunities for the year during the gathering. The agency pledged $12.9 million in 2012 for small business contracts.

Ready, set, compete

Internal organizational issues, such as management, operations, and staffing, can influence a company’s ability to deliver products or services once the contract has been awarded. It is imperative that businesses reconcile weaknesses that could impede their competitive advantage. Conversely, companies can gain insight on how the agency with which it would like to do business rates in its management and employee morale. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) publishes a score card rating for all agencies, which gauges their progress on internal management issues.

Bidding batting averages - American Express OPEN Survey
Bidding batting averages – American Express OPEN Survey

Five Things for Businesses to Do in 2014

1. Visit the American Express OPEN Forum website American Express OPEN Forum has a multitude of resources for new and seasoned business owners, including tutorials and tips for getting prepared to compete for federal government contracts, finding teaming partners, and creating capability statements. The site has a downloadable inside guides to help all businesses, including procurement for women business owners. Business owners can also ask for advice from other entrepreneurs, share their experiences, and view the membership directory of businesses registered with OPEN Forum. All of the resources are free of charge.

2. Develop your company’s internal strategic plan Before pursuing any contracting opportunity, identifying your organization’s strengths, internal systems needed to deliver the products or services, the ability to fulfill the contract’s deliverables, and managing expectations by the agency are paramount. Martin-Rosa suggests that companies map out internal and external resources, payroll systems to accommodate the project, and past performance prior to pursuing contracts. She also recommends that companies actively research and recruit teaming partners during down time for work on future prospects. “Think like the government contractors do – the acquisition officers who review hundreds of proposals,” advises Martin-Rosa. For example, an agency’s contracting officer may receive 300 proposals from companies that want to secure the same opportunity. Agencies set aside contracting opportunities for small businesses resulting in less proposal reviews, thus providing innovative results. Strategic small business owners, according to Martin-Rosa, will submit proposals as small businesses, resulting in, for instance, 100 submissions; or, as 8(A) certified business, including those owned by women and companies operated in HUBZones, which may total 20-30 submissions. This approach can significantly decrease the competition and increase the odds of being selected for the contract.

3. Register with government contracting databases Proactive and savvy business owners know that knowledge is power, and access forecasting projections, incumbent information, project pricing, and the percentage of small businesses selected for contracts can help a company develop its strategy for building its readiness to successfully compete for government contracts. The System Award Management, is a resource for viewing the companies that have been awarded contracts, while Federal Business Opportunities, Fed Biz Opps for short, is the go-to site for viewing thousands of open contracting opportunities with agencies across the country. Government agencies are responsible for collecting and reporting data on federal procurements through the Federal Procurement Data System, which lists all activity and purchases made by government agencies. Acquisition.gov provides a list of government procurement forecasts, and lists resources such as the grants data dictionary and updates to contracting opportunities.

4. Research government agencies’ performance Established in 2010, the Small Business Dashboard lists agencies’ performance in meeting goals, including socio-economic objectives, in awarding contracts. In essence, the site lists projected and actual spending goals, by agency, in dollar amount and percentage of business types awarded, including small businesses, small disadvantaged businesses, women-owned businesses, service disabled veteran owned, and certified HUBZone small business.

5. Build a strong internal marketing plan Creating a strong plan that indicates how each entity within the company, like diversity and IT, can fulfill the needs indicated in the agency’s Request for Proposals. Martin-Rosa proposes that companies identify at least ten North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industry codes, and then cite and promote the top 5 the business does well and frequently, including categories such as management consulting, construction, or health care. Agencies use NAICS codes to identify the products and services they needs. Finally, Lourdes Martin-Rosa recommends viewing the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) schedule to find out how much the federal government pays for the products and services it secures, and bear the pricing in mind when developing a competitive proposal.   SOCIALIZE: Follow American Express OPEN Forum on Twitter Follow American Express OPEN Forum on Facebook

About the Blogger: Kesi Stribling KSHeadShot09

Five Valuable Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Beyoncé

Beyoncé's surprise CD release holds 5 valuable lessons for entrepreneurs. Photo Credit: Invision for Parkwood Entertainment
Beyoncé’s surprise CD release holds 5 valuable lessons for entrepreneurs. Photo Credit: Invision for Parkwood Entertainment

Whether or not you like Beyoncé or her music, she has proven,  yet again, that she is at the top of her game and a stellar marketing magnate.  The singer stunned music industry insiders and her fans alike with her surprise fifth studio CD release with no fanfare last Friday, and in the process, has  taught entrepreneurs five valuable lessons they can employ, whether they run empires,  or are just getting started. The singer’s self-titled compilation enjoyed the  highest sales of a debut on iTunes in the company’s history, with  more than 600,000 units sold within three days of the release.

Innovation is key

Mrs. Carter has shown us how innovation – approaching situations, projects, and challenges with a fresh eye and a bit of creativity – can help unleash ideas that, if they are good ones implemented at the right time, can propel  businesses and brands to the next level of success, or awareness.

Being stagnant is no fun for those in charge of running a  business. Ideas don’t flow, and frustration ensues. What we can learn from  Beyoncé in her evolutionary approach to her career is that innovation never  goes stale, no matter how established you are in your industry.

Know and Respect Your  Brand

If you followed comments in the Twitterverse about Beyoncé’s  CD release, many people – including her colleagues in entertainment – opined that she is the only established artist who  could take such a nontraditional, yet aggressive, risk and succeed.

A huge part of the decision to use iTunes as the conduit for  her new music, I assume, was greatly influenced by Beyoncé knowing and  respecting her own brand. When you know that your product or service is one  that appeals to your target audience, and your brand is appealing to your  followers, customers, or constituency, it gives you latitude to explore  creative ways to share new products or services. As the adage goes, confidence  is key. If you are confident about your brand, others will often take you seriously, even if your company is relatively unknown.

Risk Can Be  Gratifying

Most of us are averse to extreme risk in growing or  expanding business opportunities, or in some cases, decrease or redefine  products or services offered. Taking a risk, after all, can mean lost revenue, staff reduction, or unfavorable feedback from customers or strategic alliances. As in financial investment, a certain level of risk is a necessary element in eventually reaping a big reward.

Even for an established artist like Beyoncé, a surprise CD release in a unique format was a very risky move, but she  has proven that taking chances, research, preparation, and a stellar work ethic combined are the hallmarks of a successful  entrepreneur. Whether or not the  end result is a roaring success, such as getting your product in a store that typically wouldn’t carry it, or launching a social media campaign that nets thousands of loyal customers, risk can help reduce the fear that keeps business owners and company decision-makers from evolving.

Plus, taking a risk and assessing its impact can be helpful in determining if  timing, resources, or staffing influenced the outcome. Then, use that data to retool the risk and try again, hopefully, with more success if it doesn’t go according to plan the first time.

Don’t Be Consumed By  Public Opinion

In an age where people can berate you on social media, it takes a tough person to ignore the comments, harsh criticism, and opinions and  get on with it. Without uttering a word, Beyoncé has let the recording industry  and the world know that she is not consumed by what critics, or even her own  record label, think of her music, and ultimately, the songstress’ strategy for  how she wanted to distribute her music.

Great ideas or novel concepts aren’t always understood or  appreciated, even though our guts, research, or soft promotions have told us  otherwise. Hearing objections to our ideas, or being criticized because the  time isn’t right, people don’t get the concept, or the idea has never been done  before by the company, can influence our courage to boldly make the move anyway.

Feedback is essential from customers, strategic alliances,  and collaborators; however, if harsh criticism is the sole consideration in  deciding whether or not to move forward with an idea, you may need to ignore  the contrarians and implement it anyway. Who knows? It could be the next  Facebook, Amazon.com, or Trader Joe’s.

Keep Your Mouth Shut

I can only imagine how hard it was for Beyoncé to keep this  historic entertainment move a secret. Confidentiality agreements aside, this is  probably my favorite lesson from the songstress.

How many entrepreneurs have had ideas hijacked by people  because they talked too much about their plans before all of the details were in place and established in a way that no other person could lay claim to the  concept?

While Beyoncé may not have worried about competition as the  primary reason for keeping mum about the visual concept CD, great ideas implemented at the right time can mean a financial bonanza, or priceless media  coverage. She will undoubtedly enjoy both as the momentum continues.

I am sure that other entertainers are taking notes and learning  from Beyoncé’s innovative and creative approach to her career, which may influence how digital music as a primary CD release platform is used in the  future. Ultimately, Beyoncé’s fearless – and lucrative – move is a lesson for all business owners to take notice of and create their own unique ways of  promoting their brand, services, and products.

DISCLAIMER: ASK THE STRATEGIST is a blog that highlights information on business, entrepreneurship, careers and the workplace, health, community, and women. Any content or advice dispensed through Ask The Strategist is solely for informational and entertainment purposes. Never miss ASK THE STRATEGIST blog posts! Have them delivered to your inbox by subscribing.

About the Blogger: Kesi Stribling

Kesi Stribling, Editor, Ask The Strategist
Kesi Stribling, Editor, Ask The Strategist