So What Exactly is a Business?

In simple terms, a business is an entity that sells goods or services to customers in exchange for money. However, I would like to make a case that the definition of a business should be changed to: a business is an entity that sells goods or services to customers in exchange for money and whose existence is not dependent upon any one person or small subset of employees .

If you take a business like Walmart, any person within that organization could leave, and the business would still exist and probably not feel any impact. The CEO could leave, the head of the marketing department could leave, the cashier at any given store could leave; yes, any of the employees could leave and Walmart would still be Walmart. It would still have value, and its shareholders would still have the opportunity to make a return on their investment. There are a lot of entities labeled as businesses when this is really not the case. Take Tommy’s Massage Therapy Inc. Tommy provides a service—massage therapy—in exchange for money. There are no other employees in this business; it’s just Tommy and his clients.

However, if Tommy doesn’t want to do massage therapy anymore, or if he is hit by a bus, then Tommy’s Massage Therapy service has absolutely no value. In fact, it ceases to exist. So, regardless of whether or not there is a corporate “business” entity around it, Tommy doesn’t really have a business, Tommy has a job. This is a job that is unlike any other. At a regular job, Tommy doesn’t have much at risk. He may have to pay for a uniform or put gas in his car to get to his place of work, but basically that is all he is risking.

The worst thing that can happen, the extent of the risk that Tommy bears, is that he gets fired and has to look for another job. But at Tommy’s job-business, he has to pay for the privilege of having a job (plus he has to deal with all of the other issues that come along with running a business, which we will be discussing later). He actually risks his own money to be able to have his own job-business. In addition to spending money, time, and effort to create a job, with a job-business you are not building equity value, which I believe is the really compelling reason to create a business. In a true business, you as the owner have an entity with value that is separate from you. This is the value that you create for the business as a going concern, above and beyond the strict value of your assets minus your liabilities, which makes owning a business worthwhile.

That means you can eventually leave the business (down the road, after many years of hard work) or sell the business (again, after many years of hard work) and get value for it. That is how most successful entrepreneurs make the “big bucks,” by capitalizing upon the value of their business entity.

What’s Bad News for the Oil Companies is Great News for Consumers

While this news doesn’t come out of the United States, it’s still bound to make US consumers everywhere quite happy. 

It was recently reported that Bob Dudley, the CEO of oil giant BP, said that oil prices are going to go lower and remain low for at least a year and possibly up to three years.

In fact, when he was interviewed by the BBC recently (that’s the British Broadcasting Company for us Yanks), he said that BP was making plans to deal with lower prices for the next few years, including job losses and falling investment in the North Sea oil industry. It was also reported that the oil industry is going to be cutting back on capital spending by 10 to 13% in 2015 due to these slumping oil prices. 

Most American consumers have been extremely happy about the rapid drop in gasoline prices over the last few months, a feeling that is compounded in the UK, where prices have historically been about 30 to 40% higher than those here in the states.

When interviewed, Dudley said that oil prices have historically always fluctuated and, when they do, they usually remain low for a number of years. He was quoted as saying “we have got to plan on this price being down, and we don’t know exactly what level, but certainly a year. I think probably two and maybe three years.” 

Although it’s been reported that oil prices around the world stayed relatively stable since 2010 until about the middle of 2014, at approximately $110 a barrel (US), since June of last year the price for one of those barrels has been cut in half and is now hovering around $48 a barrel. US crude is even lower at $47 a barrel. 

While consumers in many countries are happy about these lower gasoline prices, the fact is that many countries, even some that you wouldn’t think about at first, are being affected and will continue to be affected negatively by these falling oil prices. For example, Scotland, which sees many employed in the North Sea oil industry, is going to see some very big economic challenges. Indeed, there are two large projects right now that BP has in the North Sea and many of the people that are working them are from Scotland.

One worry that many have is that, once these low prices and, oil will again rebound and gasoline prices will shoot back up to even higher than they were at their highest in 2014.

It just goes to show that, for every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud on the horizon. For the time being however, the average consumer, both here in the United States and in the United Kingdom, are feeling a lot less of a stinging sensation at the gas pumps.

Advice for New Forex Traders

Forex markets have become extremely popular lately. Almost anyone who has some savings considers investing it in the Forex markets in order to get good returns. The Forex market is larger than all the stock exchanges of the world put together and is definitely a trading arena where large amounts of money can be made. The Forex market never sleeps and trading takes place 24/5 from Monday to Friday. At the same time, the Forex markets are extremely dynamic and without the proper knowledge there is no way you can become successful.

Here are some tips that will help you be a good Forex trader:

Make sure that you choose a Forex broker that is best for you. If you choose correctly, you will have won half the battle. A good Forex broker assists the trader during the entire process of Forex trading. There are some Forex brokers that are the best for new Forex brokers. These are the ones that have comprehensive Forex trading courses and unlimited access to the demo account. A good Forex broker will take you towards success in Forex trading success one step at a time.

The process of opening a Forex trading account is not difficult. The work involved is reading the rules and regulations and filling out the online application. It is a matter of a few minutes. However, you do need to look at the characteristics of the Forex trading account before you decide to commit. Look through the spreads offered, the commission charged, the leverage provided, the trading platform offered and other such aspects before you make your decision.

Spend a lot of time training and practicing. Open a demo account and trade with the broker’s virtual money. The manner in which the account is set up allows you to use real time data to make decisions. Everything is like it is in the Forex markets except for the fact that you do not use real money for trading. When you feel confident about making your own decisions, you can move over to a real account.

Make sure that you know when to lock in profits and don’t be greedy. Know when to limit your losses when you see a trend that is down. Having the sense to make these decisions comes with practice and maturity. But it is best that you try and control impulsive decisions from the very beginning.

Do not underestimate the importance of technical and fundamental analysis. Base your trades on data.

Many Companies Continue to Cut Benefits for Employees

There’s no doubt that the economy in the United States has improved a bit since the recession but, unfortunately, there are still many companies around the United States that are continuing to cut employee benefits. According to a survey performed by the Society for Human Resource Management, benefits including educational assistance, pensions, health insurance, long-term care insurance and so forth, are continuing to be either reduced or removed by many companies. Their survey included 510 human resource professionals from around the country, and those professionals gave some insight into the types of programs that are being cut.

One of the first is pensions and, according to the survey, less than a quarter of  employers continue to provide this traditional savings plan to their employees. At 89%, 401(k)s are available to many more employees and almost 75% of employers will contribute to these retirement accounts. Still, the fact that less than a quarter of all employers around the country are giving their employees the opportunity to have a pension is definitely something to be concerned about.

Health insurance and long-term care insurance are also being cut by many employers across the country. The fact is, ever since the cost of retiree health benefits was brought to the awareness of major companies, those companies have begun to control their exposure risk, and that means offering less of both types of insurance. Also dropping is the number of employers that will give loans to their employees to help them with emergencies or disasters. In 2010 it was 18% but it’s dropped in the last four years to 12%.

In 2010 12% of all companies were offering help to their employees to pay for college costs but, in the last four years, that’s dropped 8% to 54%. Paying for cross-training to help employees develop skills has also dropped, as well as paying things like professional memberships, referral services and company sponsored 529 plans, all of which are dropping as well.

If you’re a parent working for a large company in the United States, you probably already know that the percentage of employers offering dependent care flexible spending accounts is falling as well. On-site vaccinations, childcare referral services and other services put in place to help parents with their child rearing duties have fallen precipitously over the last few years.

As important as it is for parents to have help with their child-rearing duties, it’s also important to help care for elderly family members. The fact is however that referral services for the elderly are only being offered by 5% of employers across the country, and only 1% are offering geriatric counseling.

Other employee benefits and services like on-site health services, cash outs for vacation time, discount tickets to things like sporting events, concerts and even company sports teams have all seen major reductions over the last few years as companies big and small try to reduce their overhead, cut costs and increase profits.

All of which means that, when searching for a new company to work for, doing your due diligence to find out what they offer, and don’t, is vitally important.

Why Marketers Love Big Data and Where to Start

Google just launched what it is calling The Consumer Barometer used for providing insight about customer behavior online and offline. The data provided in this tool comes from the Consumer Barometer study and the Enumeration study. It was designed to provide businesses with big data results about how often customer’s research and purchase certain products and services online in addition to consumer behavior trends. Guess what? Marketers are going to love this tool!

Website Magazine recently cited that more data has been created in the last 30 years than the last 5000. We’re living in a world where the amount of data available is exploding exponentially, and it’s not slowing down. If you’re in marketing, you and your staff need to be able to easily and effectively analyze large sets of data in ways that allow for insight. These insights need to provide enhancement to the personal user experience on your website while boosting the profitability and success of your company. Welcome to “Big Data.”


Big data is not only difficult to acquire, but it’s difficult to use correctly. When the stars align though, it can boost a company’s ROI by as much as 20% according to this business insider article sourced from McKinsey & Company. Big data means different things to different people and different industries. A pretty comprehensive look at the topic of big data can be found here, where the term is not defined by the size of a dataset explicitly, but rather the plain fact that traditional database architecture and software is inadequate to store and analyze the volume of data. If you’ve got more data than your traditional system can handle, you’ve got big data. As the meaning of the term morphs with its more widespread adoption, big data has come to refer to the task of taking an enormous dataset and applying it to solve a business problem. Here we will focus on what big data means to marketing professionals and 4 reasons they love it!

Big Reason #1: Big data allows marketing teams to gain deep insight into the backgrounds of prospects or customers by providing comprehensive datasets about consumers and mining them for patterns in the information. This is different than taking a random sample and extrapolating; it’s looking at ALL of the data and finding real patterns.


Big Reason #2: Big data lets your brand speak to the omni-channel consumer and cater to them. By segmenting consumers and creating user profiles then feeding user profile data back into big datasets, your brand can create personalized experiences across multiple brand touch points and channels. Essentially you can achieve marketing agility and personalized marketing experiences per user. An extremely detailed webinar about how to turn big data into personalized marketing experiences can be found here.

Big Reason #3: Big data lends perspective on your entire operation. If you have standardized measurements across multiple consumer channels, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of these channels and how your consumers interact with them, how many customers you have, how the data changes over time, purchasing trends and more.

Big Reason #4: Improvement! If you know what your customers want combined with an overall vision of your brand’s marketing channels, you can identify and improve performance in areas that need it.

Stepping up to Bat with Big Data

Consumers should be able to expect the same from your brand no matter where they interact with it; at the same time personalized 1:1 brand experiences are the only way to increase conversions. The goal is to create uniform branded experiences, personalized to a particular user, across all brand touch points. Big data allows you to do this. The more you understand about big data the more you are going to be able to use it to your advantage.

Marketers, let’s get started.  Identify brand touch points and divide them into buckets such as onsite real estate (website, mobile website, mobile app), offsite real estate (social media, search engines, banner ads, emails, in-app ads, native ads) and offline (any point of sale that is not included in the digisphere).


Decide on what you want to measure and approach companies who leverage big data in these areas already and gain access to their wealth of consumer resources and gain insight into your own customer base. There are a lot of companies that have successfully created new revenue streams by selling their large sets of data to major industry players. If you don’t have any data beyond your Google Analytics, looking at the standardized datapoints of big data companies will provide you with clues on where to start. Additional reading about big data and customer experience analytics is highly recommended before getting started.

Once you have identified and categorized all your brand’s measurable touch points and you have standardized the parameters you wish to measure, you’re in a pretty good place to set up a data layer and create the architecture to house and manipulate it. Your data layer will be an intelligent collection of data from all your touch points, combined with a relevant dataset, organized by standardized categories. Think aggregate, manipulate and innovate. The actual way in which you funnel and fuse all these different types of data into a centralized database and then make use of it is the tricky part, despite having a clear idea of what you want to measure and where. If you’re at this stage, contact a company that specializes in enterprise-level data engineering such as Ensighten or Fractal Analytics. The point of collecting data points from all these sources is to be able to use them. Marketers are used to doing this by hand, but as a recent Forbes article points out, we are going to have to start collaborating with machines to decode terrabytes of data and build competitive brand messages.

Let the Data Speak for Itself

Chromogram of 1.2 billion pieces of Wikipedia editing data

Chromogram of 1.2 billion pieces of Wikipedia editing data

For many marketing professionals the unfamiliarity of this area will mean that they are largely experimenting with big datasets: their creation, visualization and manipulation. Once you have a large dataset up and running, who knows what the data will say and what your experiments will uncover about your consumers? Sophisticated sets of data should help you to innovate and create new business models, products or services. Overall your experiments should discover customer insights that allow you to improve brand performance.

With food prices rising sharply, Chipotle gets sent to increase their prices as well

When it comes to increasing food prices, consumers aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch.  Chipotle, one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the United States, is feeling the pain of food price increases as well and is set to pass along some of those increased costs to their customers, something they haven’t done in nearly 3 years.

On the company’s most recent earnings call, their chief financial officer, Jack Hartung, said that the price hike is likely to be “somewhere in the mid-single digits.”

Those increases will begin rolling out this quarter with their new menus and, by the third quarter of 2014, Chipotle will be installing new pricing boards with the increased prices reflected.

One of the reasons for the increase is due to the drop in margins that Chipotle had in his last report, nearly 40 points and blamed mostly on the fact that beef, avocados and cheese had all gone up in price.

Chipotle reported that their food costs rose to nearly 35% of their revenues in the first quarter of 2014 due to the jump in price of all three of those main ingredients and Hartung said that “beef prices are expected to continue to move higher as it remains tight.”

To make things worse, steak costs for the burrito chain are at an all-time high and their food costs could rise as high as 36% in April, further eating into their profits nationwide.

After their first quarter earnings report was released the chain’s shares initially gained but, after their conference call, quickly turned negative. Despite poor weather throughout most of the United States, sales jumped nearly 14% at comparable restaurants around the country.

Chipotle’s net income rose 8.5% however, to $83.1 million or $2.64 a share. Their overall revenue jumped nearly 25% to $904.2 million, up from 726.8 million during the same time period last year.

The chain expects to open just under 200 restaurants in 2014 and, excluding any price increases, also expects to generate a high single-digit comps sale increase.

It’s obvious that Chipotle is doing well and will continue to do so in the future. That being said, increasing food prices affect them just as much as they affect the average American family and, due to those increases, their prices have been forced to go up. This hasn’t affected the quality of their service or food however and, hopefully, won’t negatively affect it in the future either.

With competition fierce, McDonald’s looks to opening longer for breakfast

There’s some good news coming out of the recent fast food breakfast wars; McDonald’s is in the process of deciding whether or not  to offer their breakfast menu later in the day. For people who love their breakfast items, the news couldn’t have come sooner.

While many have groused over the years that they don’t understand why McDonald’s can’t simply offer their Egg McMuffin or Sausage Biscuit (and other breakfast items) after 10:30 AM, the fact is that the typical McDonald’s is actually quite small and, logistically, it’s just not possible to offer both breakfast items and lunch/dinner items at the same time.

Still, as the competition for consumers at breakfast time heats up (pun intended), and with other fast food restaurants including Subway and Taco Bell now offering breakfast items, McDonald’s feels that they might not have a choice. The point is even more pressing when you consider that millennial’s, customers in their 20s and 30s, are changing their habits drastically when it comes to eating.

“We know, as an example, that breakfast on the weekend cut off at 10:30 doesn’t go very well,” Jeff Stratton, head of McDonald’s USA, said in a recent interview.  He added that, when it comes to the switch to offering breakfast items later in the day, they’re not quite sure how it’s going to work just yet. “Well, we’re just beginning. … We’re just taking a look at it,” he said.

McDonald’s has in fact been entertaining the idea of serving breakfast throughout the day for a number of years and has been getting closer to that reality, especially as they face heightened competition and a recent sales slump. In some areas of the country, for example, they’ve been offering their “After Midnight” menu with a limited mix of breakfast and lunch items so that the people in the kitchen don’t become overwhelmed with different food orders.

Just the fact that McDonald’s is considering offering breakfast outside of the normal hours that they have had for quite a few years shows that only how much they’re trying to keep pace with shifting habits but also how much their competition is starting to push back at breakfast time. Executives at McDonald’s have noted that, in the last decade or so, customers increasingly want food that is personalized not only to their taste but also to their schedules.

One obstacle in the way of this time change is the thousands of franchisees that McDonald’s has across the country. In order to make the breakfasts switch they would need the support of these franchisees, including over 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants across the country who would need to retrain employees, accommodate any necessary changes and possibly purchase new equipment.

For that reason, and several others, McDonald’s is treading carefully right now and looking at all possibilities. Whatever the case may be however, it’s a good bet that for customers who would love a McGriddle sandwich at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, their wish may soon be a reality.


Five Ways to Personalize Your Brand (You May Have Overlooked)

Entrepreneurs know the value of branding throughout the lifespan of a business. It attunes the actions done by you and your employees to ensure customers receive a unique and worthwhile experience. It also allows the business to differentiate itself in the sea of competition.

A brand, though, is not just about a logo or some witty quip said to customers as they come through the door. The personalization of the experience is an element which builds memories of a valuable brand and it’s through this experience that customers will return time and time again all-the-while triumphing your brand to all whom will listen.

It’s easy to overlook these moments of personalization in branding because there is simply so much one must do during the growth of the business. However, it’s never too late to personalize …

Have you overlooked these ways to personalize the brand?

Here are five different ways I’ve seen businesses personalize their brand which I believe can be easily replicated (and improved upon) to give your business a charming touch:

Crowdsourced Input. Place control of future product/service endeavors into the hands of your community and customers. Lay’s recently did this by allowing their community to choose a new flavor through the use of a contest. Your company, too, could use user input to determine the look, feel, and marketing elements of your offer which incentivizes their interaction and feeling of value toward the company due to the personalized experience.

Reimagining the Box. An experience can be had when a customer receives their order. There is a moment of joy knowing their order has arrived and this is especially true when the box has a unique design and packaging. PackNBoxNow offers this type of solution for corrugated cardboard boxes which your company could use to create custom, branded packaging which can be personalized for your customers.

Scientifically Timed Follow Ups. Omaha Steaks is a company which sells meats and other food items online. One of the most remarkable things they manage is to conduct a follow-up phone call at nearly the exact time you remember their brand since you’re running low on product. It’s likely use CRM applications and customer data to find the “sweet spot” in their contact. You, too, can do this for personalization by leveraging your data and customer support to deliver timely follow up messages. Customers contacted at the perfect time will feel appreciative that they’re on the mind of the business employees and not another stat in the system.

Get Out of the Chair. There are many instances where companies have gone above-and-beyond with customer service (see examples) which were actions where an associate physically interacted with a customer (or fan) despite having obstacles in the way (such as distance). Don’t become confined to your chair at the business. Be willing to get up and meet face-to-face if people are within a reasonable distance. This commitment to be personal will be worth its weight in gold when the person gets on social media and tells the World of their incredible experience.

Customize the Service Support. Customer support is a recurring theme in this article and should be so due to the fact that it’s during these interactions, with the customer, that you and employees have the best chance to build rapport with the individual. To create a truly unique feedback channel you could consider developing a support system which is tailored to each and every individual. Within a user accessible section of your website could be an entire chat history with the customer along with other items such as video demonstrations how to fix their problems. Having this support documented and personalized per individual will give them a real sense that you’re working to help their specific issue and in doing so your business will earn their trust.

Your turn. How would you create personalization in your business? What are some ways you feel others frequently overlook in this desire to create unique, unforgettable experiences?

What to do to protect yourself from the “Heartbleed bug”

Most consumers have now heard about the “Heartbleed bug” that has exposed literally millions of usernames, passwords and credit card numbers in the last year, but the big question is what to do to protect yourself, and your information.

Unfortunately, experts warn that changing your password may simply not be enough.

Millions of web users were told that they needed to change their passwords following revelations of security program breaches, but in the wake of these revelations experts have said that, due to the fact that the bug is extremely difficult to trace, it’s not the perfect solution.

David Emm, a senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab,  says that “We don’t know to what extent this flaw has been targeted by hackers, we’re in the dark here about the extent of how it is been used. We can’t quantify the scale of the damage.”

The new bug was discovered in OpenSSL software and revealed by Codenomicon, an Internet security firm. Open SSL is an encryption service that protects information sent back and forth from webpages and is used by approximately 75% of all websites.

The bug created a “hole” in the system, allowing cyber criminals to steal personal information. What’s more concerning is that, if the “master key” code is stolen, password changes will be rendered ineffective.

Since the Heartbleed bug made headlines last year, Facebook, Yahoo and Google have all upgraded their software, and Open SSL has also released an update to help fix the problem. Still, it’s unsure whether other companies have done, or are even planning to, meaning that users are still not universally protected.

For example, if a firm hasn’t updated their websites system with the fix, a new password created by the user will be just as vulnerable as it was before. Security experts say that users should only change their passwords after a site has fixed, and that timing is crucial. Downloading a mobile ID app might help as well.

Ernest Hilbert, a former FBI agent who now works for risk consultancy firm Kroll, says that “Passwords are stored in an encrypted format. The latest bug could give hackers access to the skeleton key to open the central file that has all the passwords in it. So you changing the password doesn’t matter because this guy with the key can come in and look at your password anyway.”

What’s even scarier about this damaging new bug is that it’s possible that it’s been around for two years, meaning that we could only be seeing the tip of the iceberg of cyber theft right now. Even more worrying is the fact that users aren’t able to tell if a website that they’re using is affected or not.

Experts warn that anyone using the Internet to make online transactions is prone to the bug and should definitely keep an eye on their bank accounts, credit cards and other financial data to make sure that there is no unauthorized activity taking place. Ultimately however, it’s up to the companies that consumers are using to communicate with them about security lapses on their site.

Jeremy Rosenberg, the head of digital company Allison and Partners, says that “It’s the companies and the service providers that really need to go out there, make sure their services are patched correctly and not vulnerable to this Heartbleed bug.”

Until they do, consumers across the country should remain extremely cautious.

Fire Safety in the Workplace and how to Keep Escape Routes Clear

From a young age we are taught about the dangers of fire and how to react if one were to breakout, and this knowledge is kept with us throughout life. At schools there are regular drills to prepare students, and in the workplace there are fire safety practices that you need to implement. Your company will need to have a plan for what to do in case of fire, and this will include a safe evacuation route, a register of everyone in the building and an assembly point away from the building. Health & Safety regulations require you to test your systems and plan on a regular basis. Fire ruins lives, but with a well thought out plan you can safely evacuate everyone and allow the fire brigade to come in and do their job, and this can also help to reduce damage to your building.

In order to keep your evacuation route free from smoke you will need to install a smoke ventilation system. This is an electric window and vent opening system, which will vent smoke to the outside of the building, keeping stairwells and corridors safe to use. By clearing these routes it does two things; firstly it allows you and your employees to quickly and safely escape the building, and secondly it enables the fire brigade easy access into the building so that they can extinguish the fire.

Getting a Bespoke System Installed

The best way to get an effective and high standard ventilation system fitted is to find a specialist, like Rocburn Limited amongst others, and then provide them with your building plans, window schedule and evacuation routes. A specialist team will then be able to design the best system for your building, and this will include electric window actuators and roof vent openers which will operate automatically in the event of a fire.

Through training your staff, having a well practiced evacuation drill, a British Standard fire alarm system and a high quality smoke ventilation system in place you will be fully prepared for any emergency and will have done everything possible to protect yourself, your staff and your company building. It is hoped that you will never need this protection, but if you ever do then it will allow for a fast and safe escape to the established assembly point away from the building.