Business, Growth, Strategy

Small Business Mistakes – Misunderstanding Your Target Market

Welcome to the third installment of my Small Business Mistakes Blog Series. You can read the Introductory post here (with links to over 40 great business sources at the end) and my second post about Failing to Validate your Business Idea here. I will post at least one in the series each week until I get through all 10 on my list – so stick around!

What is a Target Market?

 A target market is simply the group of people to whom you are trying to sell your product or service. If you don’t know your target market then how could you possibly understand how to sell to them? If you don’t understand where they hang out, what they read, where they shop and what products and services they currently buy, how could you possibly know how to reach them? Short answer; you can’t.

Validation and Target Market

In my last post, I wrote about validating your business idea to your target market. But how and when do you determine your target market? The best way to explain is by example. Looking at these next four examples of new businesses, you’ll immediately see that validation and target market are inextricably intertwined.

  1. Dan discovered a solution to a problem that many people deal with,
  2. Tami invented a cool new product but will have to discover who will buy it,
  3. Steve started a business with an established model, providing established solutions to an established market…but added a unique selling proposition,
  4. Alice started a business that combines two or more established models, providing established solutions to that each have previously established markets to provide a totally new customer experience

In 3 out of 4 of the above scenarios, the owner will probably consider the target market first and then decide on the best business solution to serve that target market. The validation process, as discussed in the last post, will then help to initially refine the target market. For example, Dan looked at a particular group of people (target market first) with a particular problem and invented a product that would solve the problem. Tami, however, will have to figure out not only if she has a target market but who it is. With Steve’s business, because it is an established model with a general target market (e.g.: convenience store), the only way to establish a unique selling proposition is to zero in on a specific group of people and come up with an idea that will prompt them to become customers. The same goes for Alice; if she is going to the trouble of combining several established business models to provide a unique customer experience, she’s certainly creating that experience for a particular target market. As you can see, in these scenarios, validation and target market are inseparable.


Bigger is Not Better

However, once you believe you’ve defined your target market, take a closer look. A target market can be much too broadly defined, which is often the initial inclination for many business owners. The fear of leaving out a potential customer leads them to market to an overbroad audience. Unfortunately, this tactic will likely have the opposite effect on sales.

When your target market is overly-inclusive, your message becomes too general and watered down. For example, if you’re trying to reach senior citizens and teenagers, you can’t really tailor your marketing just to teenagers or the older folks won’t understand. And if you speak to the seniors, the teenagers will ignore it all together. And trying to somehow speak to them both will only muddy your efforts and either confuse your prospective customer or miss them altogether.


The more narrowly you define and understand your target market, the more successful you will be.  The old saying about not being able to please all of the people all of the time, is absolutely true. The key word is focus. Let’s look at an example to illustrate my point:

You’ve formulated a business plan for the “Women’s Work Experiment” that will combine most things a working mom needs under one roof. The Experiment will house a) an open work space and conference room with free wi-fi, b) fully-appointed and staffed daycare facility, c) work-out room, d) healthy-food eatery and coffee shop, e) a mini grocery store, f) day spa (hair, nails, Botox and more) and f) anchor pharmacy. You plan on selling a variety of different membership packages to the Experiment and may even open the day spa to the general public. Several investors have shown interest and you’re in the process of validating your idea. Who are you going to reach out to during the validation process? Who’s your target market? You created the concept for working moms so start there.


Think about this market in terms of grains of rice in a sifter. Put your working moms in the sifter and start sifting. To narrow down and focus your market, you’ll start sifting out those that don’t fit your ideal customer profile. Who is that?

  • Working moms who have to work on-site all day every day
  • Working moms whose children are in school full time
  • Working moms who don’t live close enough to the Experiment to make it worth their while
  • Working moms who can’t afford a membership

After this first step, you can start validating with the group you have left (moms of children under 6, can work remotely, likely self-employed, live in the general area and can afford to pay the membership fees). During the validation process you should learn a lot about this group of women that will help you to keep refining your target market.


Demographic Factors and Your Target Market

After validation and once your business is established, you will be able to obtain additional demographic information about your current and prospective customers. This information will help you keep narrowing your focus. Demographics simply refers to statistical data about a group of people and gives you detailed information about who your customer is. Demographic factors include: Age, Location, Gender, Income, Occupation, Education, Ethnicity, Marital Status and Number of Children[1]

Psychographic factors and Your Target Market

Your target market’s psychographic factors will give you a better idea of how to appeal to your customer because it explains why your customer buys. Psychographics classify people according to their attitudes, hobbies, desires, what they enjoy doing and other psychological information. Psychographic factors include: Habits, Hobbies, Spending Practices, Values, Attitudes, Opinion, Activities and Interests[2]

Again, obtaining demographic and psychographic information about your target market is much easier once you have real paying customer to study. You can obtain this information by conducting surveys or personal interviews[3] . Through this process, you will be better able to understand when, where and how to reach your audience through targeted marketing. Remember this is a discovery process, an exercise that will yield real data that you must be willing to utilize. Failing to refine your target market can cost you lots of time and money as you flounder about trying different methods of reaching customers you don’t fully understand.


Customer Persona

Continuing with our example, assume through surveys, personal interviews and examination of your memberships plus additional marketing and demographic research, you develop a demographic and psychographic profile of your ideal customer/client as follows:

  • Female, age 28-41
  • Live within 15 miles of the facility
  • Self-employed
  • Average revenues $85K
  • Work mostly in Marketing or Technology
  • Have a Bachelor’s Degree
  • 56% White, 41% Black and 3% Hispanic
  • 98% married 2% divorced or never married
  • Have 1.75 children under age 5 years
  • Buy mostly organic and healthy foods
  • Workout at least 4 days per week (at least 2 of which are yoga)
  • Preferred social networks are Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram
  • 85% Democrats who vote regularly
  • Predominant hobby interior design followed by tennis
  • Number 1 social concerns are global warming and safe water supply


Now you have what many marketers call a “Customer Persona” (aka: Buyer Persona, Marketing Persona, etc.) which will help you focus your marketing efforts (marketing content, product development, social media networks, public relations, advertising, etc.) through a well-planned marketing strategy including when, where and how you will reach your target market. Many marketers will even say to give this “persona” a name and of course keep her in the forefront of your mind in everything you do in the business (“What would Mommy Suzy think about adding Greek yogurt in the coffee shop?”). Get to know her and learn how to best speak to her interests, wants and needs.

[2] and
[3] For some great tips on interview questions, formulating personas and a free persona template, see

Target Market Research Resources

Below, I’ve compiled a thorough list of resources that may help you research your target market (as well as other areas of your business).


  • Reference USA – Absolutely amazing resource that you can access at home with your library card – available through most local libraries (Greenville participates)
  • Cognitive Lode – Great site for Psychographic research: “We distill the latest behavioral economics & consumer psychology research down into helpful little brain gems.”
  • Google Scholar – Search for scholarly articles, patents and case law (even though the url is .uk, the searches are US-based.
  • Facebook IQ – “By harnessing Facebook insights and working with world-class researchers, we can help marketers understand people across generations, geographies, devices and time.” Great articles on consumer behavior and industry research
  • Pew Research Center – Insights, publications, statistics and data on politics, media & news, social trends, internet & tech, science and more.
  • City Town Info – Details on 20,000+ communities
  • Google Insights – Consumer insights, data and measurement, all compiled by Google
  • American Fact Finder (US Census) – Can drill down to county level information regarding ethnicity of specific types of business owners, etc.
  • Business Dynamics Statistics – (US Census) – Provides annual measures of job creation and destruction, startups and shutdowns, etc.
  • My Best Segments Zip Code Look-up – demographics per zip code
  • Kauffman – research intowhat drives innovation and economic growth in an entrepreneurial world…”
  • Fed Stats – Statistics released by all types of federal agencies (education, science and engineering, transportation, etc.)
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics – categories such as “time use” “consumer spending” “injuries and illness”, etc.
  • Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy – Small Business Statistics
  • NAICS Codes – North American Industry Classification System
  • Biz Stats – (great for researching info for a business plan) you can find all sorts of business statistics and financial ratios, calculators and financial tools
  • Zoom Prospector – helps you find right zip code to locate business based on your target market demographics
  • Free Lunch – all sorts of free demographic and financial data
  • Google Ventures Guide to Research – leans more toward validation but some great articles and info.
  • Hoovers (Free version) – for B2B business searches – prospects and competitors
  • Data USA – search stats by location, industry, occupation, education, etc. Great articles on all topics
  • Survey Monkey – make your own surveys and analyze results
  • Make My Persona (by Hubspot) – step-by-step persona wizard
  • J. Walter Thompson Intelligence – trend reports on tech, lifestyle, culture, retail, food & drink.
  • YouGovProfiles – a crazy site that lets you do a search for a brand, person or thing and then shoots out the demographics for the people who like that brand, person or thing (not sure I buy it since Bradley Cooper’s primary demographic is a 65+ male republican living in Nevada, working in advertising and making between $50-100K)


  • Global Web Index – not cheap. “We combine the world’s largest study on the digital consumer with cutting-edge analytics and data science approaches, so marketers & businesses can make smarter decisions.”
  • Trend Watching – starts at $500 per month; “we help forward-thinking business professionals in 180+ countries understand the new consumer and subsequently unlock compelling, profitable innovation opportunities”
  • Claritas – research regarding your customers online, social media and offline marketing


Business, Startups

Small Business Mistakes – Failure to Validate

This is the second post in my Small Business Mistakes Blog Series. Click here to see the Introductory post with links to more than 40 great small business resources like podcasts, books, sites and more. I will post at least one in the series each week until I get through all 10 on my list – so stick around!


Move Over Passion

Many people romanticize being in business for themselves to such an extent that they lose all common sense and perspective. And with so much in the news about Silicon Valley IPOs and billion-dollar exits it’s not that surprising that people think one BIG idea (and of course a garage or dining room table) is all it takes to be the next Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg. So, instead of trying to strategically solve a problem for a target market at a price they’ll be willing to pay, these uninformed folks focus only the dream.  Of course, it doesn’t help to constantly hear the feel-good phrase of the decade; “go with your passion and the money will follow”.  Newsflash: passion is, of course, necessary when starting a business (or you’ll die of exhaustion and frustration) but passion alone won’t build a viable business.  Every prospective business owner needs to take a breath after they come up with that great idea (inhale; exhale slowly) and validate the idea with their target market.

What is Validation?

Validation is the process of vetting your idea to be as sure as possible it has the qualities of a viable business; a) the fulfilment of a desire or a need (solve a problem or resolve a “pain point”) that many people have, (b) at a price they are willing to pay.  If you fail to do either, you will not be successful.[1]


Failure to validate causes many small businesses to fail. Let’s look at Tony, for example. Although he’s never played a single hole of golf, he came up with what he thought (and his entire family thought) was a brilliant idea for a product; a pocket-sized leaf blower for golfers to move leaves from the ball’s path.  He paid a company $10,000.00 to make a prototype, paid a manufacturer for an initial order of 1,000 at a cost of $15 each, set his wholesale price at $19 and paid $4,000.00 for a booth at a golf industry show.  And he was stunned when he didn’t get a single order. What went wrong? He didn’t validate his business idea. Are leaves even a problem on a golf course? If so, is it something that causes a problem for enough golfers who are willing to buy a product to deal with it? And if they are willing to buy such a product, what price are they willing to pay? Tony could have likely saved himself at least $30K by making one phone call to a serious golfer.

How Validation Works

Validating your business idea is a bit like using the scientific method of forming a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, and analyzing the data to draw a conclusion.  After validating your business idea, you can also use the validation process for other business decisions that impact your market (e.g.: product add-on, new model, tagline, logo, packaging design, etc.).  There are different methods of validation but the point is to elicit honest and open feedback from your target market and draw your conclusions as to the viability of your business idea…before spending a lot of time and money.  If you ask the right questions or conduct the right experiment, this feedback should enable you to reach a conclusion about your idea, which will inevitably lead to one of three actions; (1) pursue the idea as-is, (2) modify the idea and re-validate or (3) ditch it altogether and come up with a new idea.


Validation Methods[1]

Industry Research –  The very first thing you should do is search the internet to determine whether your business idea or product has already been implemented.  If it has, can you do something slightly different or improve upon it in some way?  Research the industry, vertical markets, ancillary products or businesses, etc. and see if there are different opportunities.  Look for trends in the industry – can you predict something others may not have seen?  Are there regulatory changes that may occur soon? Another new product that may bring about industry changes you could leverage? I cannot stress enough that you should learn absolutely everything you can about the industry you’re thinking about entering. You won’t regret learning too much but you could certainly regret not learning the few facts that would have made an enormous difference in your business.


In-Person Interviews – Most business people agree that face-to-face personal interviews are the very best method for validating your idea.  Skype or video conferencing can also be used, but the point is to see your subject’s expressions and body language and video is not the very best method for this.  If you’re communicating over the phone or by email, some of the commentary can be lost in translation.  First, come up with a list of 20 to 30 potential customers (your target market, not family and friends) to approach for an interview.  Of course, there’s a benefit to interviewing potential customers; they may love your idea and become your very first customers.  Research and think through the questions you’ll ask. They should central in determining the true need for your business or product and the price people will pay.  Keep the interview short (10 minutes max) and be sure to follow-up with a personal handwritten thank you note (they took time out of their busy day for no reason but to help you, so you can take 5 minutes to handwrite a note rather than send a less formal email).  Keep an open mind during these interviews. You’ll do yourself no favors by ignoring feedback, criticisms or relevant questions. Do not try to make this about convincing yourself the idea will work. It’s better to realize at this stage that you need to change course than after you’ve spent months and thousands of dollars on a losing proposition. Additionally, please don’t worry about an interviewee stealing your idea.  Even though they may think it’s a great idea, they’re unlikely to have the time nor the inclination.  Asking a potential client (who’s doing you a favor) to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement is not something you want to do.

Landing Page and A/B (or “Split”) Testing – If you don’t have the time for personal interviews, or you’ve done the interviews, have good reviews and want to take your validation to the next level, you can do so by using a landing page.  A landing page, used in this context, is just a one-page website that tests the viability of your business idea.  It’s one thing to get positive verbal feedback on your idea but to have real customers sign up for future information, click through to learn more or commit to buy something in the future is much stronger evidence that you have a winner.  A great landing page must have an eye-catching call to action (for signing up or getting more info, etc.) and once activated, you can see how many potential customers you snag (conversion rate). This should provide enough information to determine your next step.  Additionally, you could test two different calls to action, taglines, business names, etc. on the landing page by setting up an “A” landing page with one option and a “B” landing page with the other and measure the conversion rates against one another.[1]  This type of testing is best done at this very early stage without investing a lot of money before making such critical decisions.


Pre-Selling – You’ve heard the old saying, “put your money where your mouth is”. Pre-selling does just that. Of course, this method will only work for certain business ideas, and only if you can reach your target market, but it’s a sure-fire way to validate.  If you can get people to buy your product, a subscription, a coupon, etc. in advance, you can solve a lot of problems up front. As seen in this article by The Teacherpreneur (Jarrod Robinson), you can actually raise the funds needed to build the product, by selling in advance.  But the Teacherpreneur also had a built-in audience with his blog, Podcast, and other endeavors, so this could be a bit more challenging if you have to pay for advertising.  Of course, there’s always Kickstarter.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – This term was popularized by Eric Ries who wrote The Lean Startup (a must-read, by the way).  In simple terms, I would say that an MVP is a version of a product built with the least amount of effort, time and money to get it in front of the target market as soon as possible for validation or feedback to enable the builder to modify the product as necessary.  Per Ries’ website, “A core component of Lean Startup methodology is the build-measure-learn feedback loop. The first step is figuring out the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible. Once the MVP is established, a startup can work on tuning the engine. This will involve measurement and learning and must include actionable metrics that can demonstrate cause and effect question.”[1]  In his book, Ries explains the way his tech company ended up using this methodology.  But the same principles can be used when starting even the smallest of businesses.  If you want to open a bakery, perhaps you could perfect your cake recipes at local church bazaars or school bake sales and ask for feedback from customers.  Or, if you wanted to be a photographer you could make photos for free and get feedback until you perfected your craft.


Ask for Help

Remember there are vast resources (See the end of post #1 of this series) out there to help you at every stage of the game. You don’t have to do this alone. Your local SCORE chapter or SBA are great resources. You’ll also find most established business owners are happy to answer questions, meet with you, suggest other resources, etc. There are also numerous local business coaches, consultants and advisors, including Concision. Also, see the Google Ventures Guide to Research for some great insight on validation, etc. And please get in touch if you’d like to discuss your business idea (no charge) or need other resources and just don’t know where to start. And keep watching for my 3rd installment in this series very soon.

[1] “Methodology.” The Lean Startup | Methodology. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

[1] See this article for a very in-depth look at using landing pages for validation

[1] This article in Entrepreneur Magazine reveals how 9 different entrepreneurs validated their business

[1] For a great article on business ideas by Paul Graham (co-founder of Y Combinator), see How to Get Startup Ideas.

Business, Growth, Startups, Strategy

Introduction to Small Business Mistakes Blog Series

These days it seems everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, launch a startup, buy a franchise or sell something online. Entrepreneurs, startups, venture capitalists and Silicon Valley are in the news daily. Startups, small businesses and entrepreneurship are very often the topic of news stories and television shows and new blogs and websites spring up daily dedicated to helping you make your fortune with that next great innovative idea.  But what’s the difference between a small business and a startup and who the heck qualifies as an entrepreneur by today’s standards?  Steve Blank, (the Silicon Valley entrepreneur considered to be the father of the Lean Start-Up methodology[1]), has said that entrepreneurs start businesses that will fit into one of 6 categories: “lifestyle business, small business, scalable startup, buyable startup, large company, and social entrepreneur”.[2]


When people talk about startups, they’re usually referring to what Blank calls the “scalable startup”.  These startups usually pop up in places like Silicon Valley and New York.  Think Google and Facebook or more recently Uber and Airbnb.  The entrepreneurs that start these businesses are not thinking locally, they’re thinking globally.  They’re not just hoping to send their kids to private school, live in a gated community and take nice vacations.  These guys are making big pitches to venture capitalists and launching scalable companies with their sites on making piles of money through an IPO or a huge exit. [3]

Even though the Silicon Valley types get most of the press, most entrepreneurs’ start new businesses that easily fit into the small business startup category.  But the word “small” doesn’t do many of these organizations justice. The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) defines small businesses as those employing fewer than 500 people[4]. I don’t know about you but a business with 499 employees doesn’t sound so small to me.  The impact of small business on the U.S. economy is certainly not small; they make up a full 99.7% of all businesses with paid employees in the US and employ 48% of the private workforce.[5]  In South Carolina the numbers are almost identical with small businesses employing 47% of the private workforce.[6]  Impressive numbers, right?  If we looked no further, you’d probably think small businesses in general must be pretty successful.  But, if you’ve ever taken a college statistics class you know numbers don’t always tell the whole story.  The SBA reports a less-than-rosy picture for individual businesses, which shouldn’t be overlooked by would-be entrepreneurs.  Approximately 20% of small businesses in this country fail within the first year of business and by the fifth year approximately 50% will throw in the towel.[7]  But because there are always new businesses opening to take the place of those closing, the overall economic impact isn’t as great as the financial impact on individual owners.

So it seems the trick is to remain standing through that first year, follow with at least 4 successful years after that and keep on rollin’.  Simple, right?  You might think so if you’ve never tried it. There’s no formula to guarantee your business’ success, but if you avoid the mistakes I’ll discuss in this blog series you’ll certainly decrease your odds of failing.

Success is Tricky Despite Help Available

Successful business leaders write books and blogs, hold seminars, record podcasts and volunteer to be mentors.  Academics research, study and report small business data to give us the big picture.  Numerous national and local associations and organizations are dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.  So why is it, with so much information and assistance available (much of it completely free) to help small businesses succeed, the chances for survival remain grim?  The reasons are probably as numerous as the businesses that fail, but common themes do persist. According to Michael Gerber, in his best-selling business book, The E Myth Revisited, most people who go into business for themselves assume because they know how to perform the “technical work”[8] of a business (e.g.: accounting, baking cakes, designing buildings), they will intuitively be able run a business that offers that product or service.  However, as Mr. Gerber points out, nothing could be further from the truth and it becomes evident to these folks pretty soon out of the gate.  People quickly learn there’s much more to know about running a business than making the product or performing the service.  Functions like marketing, accounting, human resources, customer service, sales, purchasing, logistics, etc. cannot be overlooked but often are as people get caught up in their dream of business-ownership.  Even the smallest businesses must understand and plan for these functions in a way that will lead to success.  And while there’s no way to prevent all possible mistakes, educating yourself by taking advantage of the vast number of resources available (See Resources below) will give you a much better shot at success than if you don’t.  So, in no particular order, in the coming weeks, I will write about 10 of the most common business mistakes and how you can avoid making them.


Government Resources

SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives – one of THE best online resources available; find a mentor, sign up for free webinars, watch recorded webinars, sign up for live events and courses on demand, etc.)

The Small Business Administration (a wealth of free information, statistics and advice)

The SC Department of Commerce Publication Directory (publications on everything from Aviation to Workforce Training)

SC DOC Focus on Small Business (the SC DOC’s latest publication – filled with good information)

SC DOC Resource Finder (tell them what you need and they will find the resource for you)

SBA Profile on SC (statistics regarding ownership, income, jobs, etc. for SC small businesses)

SBA Office of Advocacy-Research and Statistics (all other statistics of interest)

US Patent and Trademark Office (trademarks page)

US Patent and Trademark Office (patents page)


Udemy (learn anything from Java to Body Language for Entrepreneurs, free or very reasonable)

The Best Blogs, Online Magazines, etc.:

Harvard Business Review

Wall Street Journal



Fast Company



Fundera Ledger (great list of additional resources and great articles on the site as a whole)

Note – I just found this article today on Fundera; The 37 Best Resources for Small Business News – a great list of resources!


How to Start a Startup (amazing podcast from the people at Y Combinator)

Unemployable (I know, they could have worked on the title but this show has great advice for freelancers, coaches, consultants and entrepreneurs)

The $100 MBA (good, practical business advice in all areas from different types of businesses)

Startup (lessons learned from other startups)

Smart Passive Income (really informative – as the title says it’s all about building passive income products and marketing those products)

Mixergy (stories from entrepreneurs about successes and failures)

The Tim Ferriss Show (the guy who wrote “The 4-Hour Workweek” – examines what it takes to be a top performer in all different professions)

Great Apps for Staying Informed:

FlipBoard (follow all sorts of topics and magazines – a wonderful resource)

Feedly (read your blog feeds)

Audible (I can’t sit still long enough to read a book these days so I LOVE this app – use on your commute, workout or chore time to your advantage and listen to a business book!)

Books I Personally Recommend (all available on Amazon and Audible and probably the library):

The Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie (should be mandatory reading in high school!)

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

The Innovator’s Dilemma

Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Best Business Books of All Time (according to almost everyone and all on my “to read” list):

Purple Cow by Seth Godin

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Good to Great by Jim Collins

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson


[1]Steve Blank Entrepreneurship and Innovation.” Steve Blank. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

[2]Why Governments Don’t Get Startups–Or, Why There’s Only One Silicon Valley.” Xconomy. N.p., 01 Sept. 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Frequently Asked Questions. N.p.: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, June 2016. PDF. (However, for purposes of government programs, and contracting, there are specific industry-level definitions here: Table of Small Business Size Standards | The U.S. Small Business Administration)

[5] Frequently Asked Questions. N.p.: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, June 2016. PDF.

[6] Small Business Profile, South Carolina, 2016. N.p.: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, n.d. PDF.

[7] Survival Rates and Firm Age. N.p.: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, n.d. PDF.

[8] The E-myth Revisited Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. N.p.: Bloomsbury Qatar Fndtn Pub, 2014. Print.

Advertising, Business, Growth, Internet, Legal, Regulatory Compliance

Advertising Regulations; The FTC has Some Words of Advice

Both federal and state law can create legal liability for advertising claims. Not only can the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the state attorney general lead the charge against you, but so can your customers and even competitors. The goal of these laws is to protect consumers by making sure that all advertising is truthful and not misleading. If your business has a website, advertises on social media, distributes flyers or brochures, etc., you need to be very familiar with the legal risks posed by the claims you make.

Businesses that make unsubstantiated representations, omissions or engage in practices that are material and likely to mislead a reasonable consumer could be held liable for false or deceptive advertising.


Following is a list of just a handful of many FTC guides regarding advertising. A “guide” is actually the FTC’s way of helping you understand and comply with the corresponding law – they are not law. My description of each guide is extremely general and brief so please refer to the guide for the big picture. If you have any questions about any of them please let me know.

Guides Against Deceptive Pricing – Never say something is discounted from the “regular” price if you have actually inflated the regular price and the discount price is really just your regular price! You also have to be careful with “manufacturer’s retail price”.

Guides Against Bait Advertising – “The old bait and switch” (advertising one thing for sale but really trying to sell something else).

Guides for the Advertising of Warranties and Guarantees – If you advertise that an item comes with a warranty, you have to also mention prominently in the ad that purchasers can see the warranty where the product is sold, prior to purchasing.

Guides for Advertising Allowances and Other Merchandising Payments and Services – If you are a manufacturer, wholesaler or distributor you are subject to certain rules regarding promotional services that you a) provide to your customers, or b) pay your customers to provide for you, c) when those customers are in competition with one another d) at the same level of distribution.


Guides Concerning Use of the Word “Free” and Similar Representations – A great read on what “Free” really means! If you plan on having 2-for-1 sales, “BOGOs”, or advertising anything as “Free”, you really need to read this one carefully.

Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising – The guide to this law covers experts, celebrities and consumer endorsers but could even apply to a blogger who receives a free item through a network marketing program and writes a rave review on the blog. Very particular and the definitions for celebrity and expert are pretty broad. (See today’s news story about the FTC warning “‘Modern Family’ star Sofia Vergara, supermodel Heidi Klum, former basketball star Allen Iverson”)

Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims – This covers environmental claims about a products made both in the B2C and B2B realm. You can’t make a general and unqualified statement that your product has “far-reaching environmental benefits” because such claims are very hard to substantiate.

These are merely the tip of the iceberg, but you get the picture. We’ve all seen ads that border on dishonesty and some that go way over the line. I would stay so far away from the edge that you can’t even smell dishonesty. I don’t know about you but I don’t like going to a discount store and seeing “regular price $75 – our price $25” when I’ve see the exact same cheap item for $18 regular price at another store. Once a business has crossed into that territory if the FTC doesn’t get them, their customers will bail anyway. There’s nothing wrong with buying low and selling high, just sell something different from the competition and don’t try to trick people – you’ll be in business a lot longer that way.

I’ll write more later specifically about online advertising issues.

Business, Growth

What the Heck IS “Professionalism”?

IMG_1538I read an article on earlier today that really confused me. The article discussed professionalism and authenticity but not really in a way that made much sense to me. I’ll save the topic of authenticity for another day but this is what the article said about professionalism:

Professionalism, as we’re taught, causes us to remain subdued. It causes us to force ourselves into a box that keeps us within set parameters and holds us back from exploration. It holds us back from really voicing our opinions to the people who matter to us in business.

The professionalism that we’re taught by society, by schools and by establishments is actually no more than a set of old rules that are designed to keep hierarchy stable and add a layer of control to a workforce.

Now, maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve never felt that way about being professional. Granted, people can take it to different levels, but being professional is, well, being professional, right? Maybe it’s a bit like the Supreme Court described pornography in that we just know when someone’s not being professional. But being professional has never once “held me back from really voicing my opinion” (just ask former clients or bosses) and I’m not convinced professionalism is “no more than a set of old rules” of hierarchy and control (that sounds more descriptive of societal norms for women before Gloria Steinem and bra-burning!).


Of course, we’ve all seen people that either don’t understand what it is to be professional or simply don’t care. That brings me to this quote from the article:

The issue today, though, is that generations are becoming less and less accepting of this and as such, people like you and I are finding this traditional version of professionalism to be constraining. That thought process can lead us to wonder what’s wrong with us.

There’s nothing wrong with us. Nothing at all because actually, professionalism is simple — be fair, be honest, be open and be value-led. Oh, and be respectful.

By us I can only assume he’s referring to Millennials and I think he’s trying to make the point that with each generation comes a different view of what it means to be professional. I do think there are changes in how professionalism may look from generation to generation; our mothers would have never graced an office if not in a dress and heels, 30 years it was not professional to even ask to work from home (much less a coffee shop) and everyone working together in one big room with no walls…never.

But I disagree that there is  a “traditional version of professionalism” because I don’t think the definition of professionalism has or ever will change. I also don’t agree that being professional means being constrained. You can speak your mind, give your opinion, stand your ground, bring about change (and go home and fry it up in a pan) and still be professional.

There are things, however, that have nothing to do with traditionalism that will quickly shoot you over into unprofessional territory. Off the top of my head, this is my short list for things to avoid in a workplace environment if you want to remain this side of professional: a) raising your voice, yelling or using profanity, b) making sexual comments of any kind in front of or to anyone (plus it’s a wee bit illegal), c) making remarks about co-workers or clients to or in front of other co-workers or clients, d) making the comment “it’s not my job”, ever, e) cursing at work (yes, I’ve been guilty of that one for sure), f) being under the influence even at an afterwork event if with coworkers, and g) the slightest glance at your cell phone during a meeting, presentation, conversation, etc. when you are part of the group that should be paying attention (sorry, but that one’s never going to change for me – rude and unprofessional and I’ve been guilty myself in an occasional presentation!). I’m sure there are others but I can’t think of them at the moment.


Now, let me be clear; while jeans, t-shirts, out-in-the-open tattoos, piercings and backwards baseball caps might not be seen as professional in an accounting firm or law office, it’s considered every bit as such in most creative fields (oh how I wish…). Again, I think professionalism is linked to behavior, not appearance. Whether you work in a warehouse art studio and are covered head to toe in wonderful tattoos or you’re a financial advisor who wears suits and wingtips daily, professionalism, in my humble opinion is all about respect and earning trust. I think my short list above goes for all professions, no matter the industry, dress code or age.


What do you think? Did I miss something? Does professionalism mean something totally different to you? Do tell!