Friday, January 30, 2009

Digital Television

Like most folks, I was aware that the FCC had mandated Feb. 17th, 2009 as the day that American television signals would be transmitted digitally, and would render TVs with analog reception as useless.

What I didn’t know was that, this week, Congress was debating to extend the deadline for this switch to June. It seems as though nearly 6% of Americans were not yet ready for the switch, and there was hope that the extension would enable better promotion of the coupon program available for people to obtain the special converter box.

However, just yesterday, the House failed to garner the necessary two-thirds vote to extend the deadline.

So, February 17th – be digital, or listen to the radio.

“Mr. Green, he’s so serene, he’s got a TV in every room . . .”

XBRL

In just a few months, some of the largest public corporations in the United States will begin submitting their financial filings to the Securities & Exchange Commission using XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language.) In December 2008, the Securities & Exchange Commission mandated a phase-in period, starting June 15, 2009, of using interactive data, which uses XBRL, for financial filings made by public companies and mutual funds with the SEC. The use of XBRL is expected to reduce filing costs, increase productivity, improve data quality and analysis and allow for direct comparability.

The SEC’s announcement included the following:

"The availability of financial reports in the form of interactive data will transform how investors evaluate companies and securities and, more broadly, transform the relationship between the filer and the investor. Markets depend on and improve with better information, and even more so in difficult times. This action by the Commission is timely and welcome for investors in the U.S. and all over the world," according to David M. Blaszkowsky, Director of the SEC's Office of Interactive Disclosure.”

Please see the complete SEC announcement here.
Information about the SEC’s XBRL program can be found here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Working with Difficult Clients

12 Breeds of Client and How to Work with Them
by Jack Knight
This article runs through a number of recognizable characters and offers approaches to dealing with them. This is geared to freelance designers but I think they are applicable across the board.

Working With Difficult Clients: How to Handle a Loose Cannon without Getting Burned
Buzzle.com
By Elizabeth W. Gordon Published: 12/16/2006
More advice with practical tips for handling difficult clients.

Raising the bar: How to get your difficult clients to willingly shape up or ship out!
Entrepreneur
by Lawrence, Kevin
Canadian Manager • Fall, 2002
Tough love for troublesome clients.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Green Grants

Are you doing great things for the environment? Would $10,000 help you do more good? The “Green Heroes Grant Program” might be for you. Green Works natural cleaners is giving away five $10,000 dollar grants to recipients working to green their communities. You can nominate yourself or someone else. (On a side note – Green Works is a product line from Clorox, and according to TreeHugger, the line has been “snagging a 42% share of the market. What's even more interesting is that this has happened without eroding cleaning product sales for smaller green-product companies like Method and Seventh Generation. Instead, the products seem to be luring customers away from traditional cleaning products.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Keys To Creating Good Coupons

A Startup.Biz article outlines five recommendations for "coupon success."

Number one - naming a specific product or service - is extremely important. If a company is trying to offer $10 off a new $50 service, for example, and customers only know about a $150 service, the coupon is likely to be ignored.

Possibilities that lie in the opposite direction are even worse. If people apply the coupon to a $15 service, the company will probably lose money. It risks being overwhelmed by bargain shoppers and losing more solid customers, too.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Technology and the White House

Does the White House Have Wi-Fi?
By: Chris Dannen
Is the White House more of a museum than a working office? Does it even have WiFi?

Talk about culture shock. Apparently the Obama team are taking a step back technologically at least for the time being. At a time when we have reduced faith in the security of our technologies how do they manage in the White House? Apparently Obama won't part with his blackberry so I wonder what the compromise will be.

And another story about the bumpy technological transition on Salon:

You Don't Have Mail
In the tech-challenged White House, the prez's Blackberry-savvy aides feel like they've stumbled into the Carter administration.
By Mike Madden
At least this is almost a guarantee that improvements to the system will be made and perhaps with improvements to internet security we can all enjoy.

Presidential Clouds


Last August Roger blogged about word clouds (aka tag clouds) - visual representations of word frequency in a document, website, speech etc. ReadWriteWeb used a tag cloud generator to create images depicting several presidential inaugural speeches. Comparing the speeches of Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan and Lincoln yields quite different images and provides an interesting historical view of presidential speeches.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Alternative to Layoffs - Shared Work

Rick Leibowitz, director of our North Country SBDC, recently shared this with me:

http://www.labor.state.ny.us/ui/dande/sharedwork1.shtm

This looks to be something that is worth investigating by some of our clients. It describes a NYS Department of Labor program that encourages employers to consider shifting staff to a four-day work week, with the employee earning qualified unemployment wages for the fifth day. It argues that rather than making wholesale layoffs, a company might be able to cope during a down period by essentially reducing its payroll by 20% for a given period of time. The theory continues that, once business improves, a company isn't faced with the costs of hiring and training additional staff.

Has anyone had any experience with this, or had clients who've given it a try?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New rules add protections for consumers

Goodbye Credit Card Rate Hikes?

The good news: The Federal Reserve passed new rules to improve disclosure and prohibit unfair interest rate hikes among card companies in December 2008. Specifically, the new rules will:
--Require that consumers receive a reasonable amount of time to make their card payments
--Forbid the use of payment allocation methods that unfairly maximize interest charges
--Provide consumers protection from unexpected interest charges, including increases in the rate during the first year after account opening and increases in the rate charged on pre-existing credit card balances.
--and more

The bad news: the new rules don’t go into effect until July 1, 2010.

In the meantime, go to this page to find credit card-related statistics -- including statistics on credit card debt, credit card delinquencies, credit scores, credit card interest rates, bankruptcies and more -- compiled by the CreditCards.com staff.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Working Knowledge

I've been doing more abstract research lately, particularly for people who'll be presenting on one macroeconomic topic or another. Recently, while handling one such query, I came across an article called "Marketing Your Way Through a Recession," written by John Quelch, a professor at the Harvard Business School. This is precisely the kind of information that our advisors are seeking out during this recession, and I liked it quite a bit.

These and other articles are indexed at the HBS' Working Knowledge website, a collection of articles on a wide breadth of business-related topics that were written by members of the School's faculty. There, you can browse articles by topic, by industry, or by date. They've an assorted collection of podcasts, and a nice overview of what they consider to be the best things they've featured in 2008.

The articles don't read like required texts for MBA programs, and are rooted in real-life situations. The site will be a regular stop on my research train.

Shop Local

In today's rough economy, saving a few dollars on any purchase, regardless of the size of the purchase, is important. Before you buy anything, hold back and go to ShopLocal.com. The site compares prices found online versus in stores nationwide. Plus, you can type in your zip code to find the best deals in your area.

On a completely different topic, next Tuesday is a big day for the United States. For a list of where to watch Barack Obama's inauguration online, click here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Writing Proposals

The Foundation Center
Proposal Writing Short Course

Check out this site for advice on writing a proposal for funding. They offer some points to consider to begin planning and what you should be aiming for in terms of length and a suggestions on what you need to cover to best tell your story. They cover project description to staffing, and your budget. You can also find an summary of what should be inlcuded in a letter proposal.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wii all like technology

There's been a lot of discussion about the Wii in the office lately (Congratulations to Erin, Camille, Molly and Alexis on their special Christmas gifts!), and it's not just about video game fans under the age of 18.

Intuitively, we know that "Older folks like Wii, PCs and cellphones, too," but now there's more evidence to support that fact. This article discusses Wii bowling leagues happening within retirement communities, but it also cites a Forrester report, revealing that "U.S. adults 64 and older who bought technology in a recent three-month period spent an average $365 on consumer electronics products and $429 on computer hardware and peripherals."

The author also reminds those who might be interested in marketing technology products to the 55 + crowd to consider senior-friendly computers, smartphones for seniors, tools to keep the mind and body sharp, and the importance of simplicity.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Transparency in Communicating with Employees

The buzzword for the Obama campaign - besides "Change" of course - was "transparency". I suppose that's part of what the transition website has been all about.

Likewise, just as it is important to be transparent with the outside world and potential customers, the same goes for your business's internal affairs as well. Be transparent with your staff.

"It is all about internal communication and trust...[M]any companies are actually reducing communications just to cut costs...this is the last thing you want to do."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Unemployment Rate

The national unemployment rate rose to 7.2% in December, reaching a sixteen year high with over 11 million Americans unemployed. The New York Times published an article today that predicts that the "rapidly deteriorating economy promised more significant losses in the months ahead". According to information released today by the U.S. Labor Department, 2.6 millions jobs were lost in 2008, the most since 1945 when 2.8 millions jobs were lost.

To find statistics on the unemployment rate for previous years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides Labor Force Statistics in graph form.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Pronunciation Help

I've come across a few sites that offer a little help with pronunciations in several languages. I'm sure you have come across times when you are sure you or your colleagues are butchering a word or name. Here's a way to check and learn the correct pronunciation. You can even offer your own version of the truth by recording yourself saying the word or name.
And then you can risk seeming pretentious by your peers.

Forvo.com
A helpful site where you can look up a word or name, either by language or freely if you are not sure of the origin. Rather than a phonetic spelling of the word, you can hear the sound recording. For my daughter's name I found several interpretations which did not surprise me. At least you can eliminate some options rather than settle on a single pronunciation.

Inogolo offers itself as "English Pronunciation Guide to the Names of People, Places, and Stuff" Inogolo, we are told means "not-to-butcher". This site appears to use the same person pronouncing all the words. You can search the most mispronounced words which is always interesting as well as those in dispute. They also offer accepted variations. This site is organized and easy to search, and you don't have to wait for the sound.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Internet Usage Trends

Whenever we have questions related to internet use I frequently check the Pew Internet & American Life Project. I’ve used reports to answer questions on a whole range of topics, including online dating, social networking, online shopping, video game demographics and health information seeking, etc. If you’re just looking for some good, up-to-date internet trends, take a look at their “Latest Findings” page. As of today these reports were updated in December 2008, and include internet user demographics, online activity reports, and internet adoption rates.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Business Ethics Links Library

Before any employee, even a part-time temporary student, begins working at an NYS SBDC office, he or she is required to sign a conflict of interest form that, among other things, promises confidentiality with regard to the clients the SBDC deals with. (Staff should expect to file an annual renewal of that document this week.)

Doing business ethically is not just a theoretical good thing - it can be a very concrete good thing for your bottom line. Ethical business practices build long-term trust and relationships with customers and partners.

The Business Ethics Links Library from UC Boulder provides links to businesses that are operating ethically. Use the navigation at the left of page to find company codes of ethics, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and more. These provide insight into specific companies, and may be used as a roadmap for building your own ethical business plan.

If you need help with that plan, or have questions about business ethics, check out the Hill Library's Center for Ethical Business Leadership.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sleep, Perchance to Work

I think the reasons why so many New Year's resolutions bite the dust is a lack of energy (and not a lack of will). By the end of the work day, after the caffeine has worn off, I don't have the drive to get to the gym, nor the wherewithal to take the time to make a better meal.

As I've written before, we all could use a bit more sleep - specifically, an afternoon nap. It's not an idle fantasy (except, perhaps, in the mind of Jim King). Here's a website that advocates the services of Dr. Sara Mednick, who founded a consultancy called Take a Nap as a means of spreading her belief that American work productivity can be improved by brief power naps in the afternoon. She states that companies annually lose millions of dollars in absenteeism, illness, and just plain dopiness caused by employees who are too zoned out to get things done efficiently throughout the work day.

If you live in the metro New York area, you could duck out mid-day and visit Yelo. This company does not promote itself as a spa, or as a medical facility. Rather, it's designed to be an oasis in the middle of Manhattan, where weary people can make appointments to take 20- to 40-minute naps in their private cabins (called YeloCabs, where, hopefully, you don't hear the sound of Michael Bloomberg's voice telling you to buckle up).

If you're an upstate New Yorker like me, then you might have to make do with making a sleep space under your desk. No joke - tell the boss that you sleeping is for his or her own good.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Resolve to work at a faster pace (literally)

Ah… January 2. How are those New Year's resolutions going? If your resolutions include getting fit and working harder, I have just the thing for you.

The treadmill desk! That’s right, you can work and exercise at the same time.

Read more in this NYT article,

learn how to build your own,

or read a review of one currently on the market.

If anyone would like to give me a few thousand dollars, I’d be happy to let you know how it works out (I already asked Tammy. She said no.)