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Startup Tips for the New Entrepreneur


In working with start- ups, I have seen just about everything, from unexpected victories to painful losses, magnificent pivots to total strikeouts. Consumer behaviors and market trends change like the wind. The benchmarks investors look for are always shifting. The breakneck pace of technology carries a few start ups to victory, countless others to defeat. The world of start-ups is wacky, wild and wonderfully unpredictable.

Given this, the newest entrepreneurs I work with—those taking the plunge for the first time—want advice on avoiding pitfalls and finding success. Sure, my partners and I at Betaspring (a start-up accelerator) and at Founders League (a support and co-working community) offer advice on technology, team and customer traction. More often, we try to hammer home the lessons that, on the surface, seem simple but reflect the discipline and courage it takes to bring an idea to life. These are usually the hardest lessons to learn.

Stay on Track

For start-ups, wandering can be good. Or, it can kill you. Founders who take exploring “tangential opportunities” to the extreme face two risks: tangents suck up resources and the business dies, or sideline ideas become an excuse for not working on the hard problems that truly matter. Founders need to be nimble and ready to seize unexpected opportunities…but successful ventures know how to pick a dot on the horizon and keep aimed at getting there. If start- ups had autopsies, “distraction” would be a leading cause of death!

Take Advice, Leave Advice

A good start-up community is a huge warehouse of advice, with each aisle and shelf loaded with insights and ideas. Founders must learn to walk these aisles and decide what to take and what to leave. The winning equation isn’t getting good advice; it’s getting good advice at the right time…and knowing how to implement. Creating strategies for managing the inflow of feedback and ideas is paramount to achieving balance between over- and under-reacting. Literally, this means having a strategy, as an individual and as a team, for tracking advice and ideas, evaluating how and when to act, and developing a protocol for decision making.

Grow Up, Fast

Time is precious, often more so than cash. For start-ups, every minute wasted without making progress is one minute closer that a company is to death. Nothing has killed more start-ups than running out of time. Founders can “Google their way to victory” by searching for information, rather than toiling away in ignorance. Leaders are made, not born.

So, if you fall down, get up. If you have an argument, resolve it. If your product or business model is knotted in a twist, straighten it out. And if you are unsure how to solve a problem or resolve an issue, do not delay in reaching out for help. If you think you are saving face by hiding your problems, there’s a good chance your venture will go down in flames.

PR Tips for the Political Startup



As this issue is focused on small business startups, it is also a good time to realize that we have many new political startups happening all around us in our state.  From a new governor, to a new mayor of Providence, to statewide office holders, local legislators and the host of staff who will become employed in all the new administrative levels of government.

As we think back to those leaving office, what can we learn? What early missteps did they make? How did they put a structured plan together to inform the people they serve? Did they recognize that the media is also an audience to address? Who did well and who began to spiral early on? Who never quite got out of the vortex, and, well, the rest is political history?

What advice might we lend from the PR profession? It is to all of our advantage that the newly elected succeed and thrive and their platforms and initiatives bolster our business climate, create more and better paying jobs, and get Rhode Island back on solid ground with streamlined business processes, taxes and fees; a strong educational system; a better-trained workforce; improved tourism and healthcare; reduced crime; and support systems for those in need.

Here are our tips for PR success:

The Media

They aren’t your friends. But they aren’t your enemies, either. Unless, of course, you choose to ignore them. The media are the watchdog for the people. They will hold up your campaign promises and platforms and see how you are doing. But if you treat them with respect and honesty, and are savvy about their timelines and what they need to do their job, you’ll have an open opportunity to speak to the people, and be treated fairly. Be cautious about playing favorites. In this rapid career path and changing media world, who’s here today may be gone tomorrow.

Bad News

We want to hear about it from you. It’s bound to happen. Something isn’t going to go right.  A promise will be broken. A disaster. A scandal. Who will you get your advice from? Is your inner circle prepared? And where are those from the past who’ve lived through similar times and events? Who has institutional history? Anyone at all? Call upon them. Enlist their help. Historical lessons are significant to your present. Always seek counsel from those outside of that inner circle that can give you an insulated perspective. And remember, they are also looking at their own job security.

Good News

We want to hear that, too! Keep positive and share accomplishment. Share the credit, too. Involve the people who will be most impacted by this success—they will inspire us all.

Social Media

Don’t ignore it. Learn it like a pro. Former Mayor Cory Booker derived much of his positive feelings by the savvy use of Twitter. Oddly enough he credits learning by watching Ashton Kutcher. OK, whose platform do you like? Watch and learn. Have a social media policy for your staff. That doesn’t mean asking them to delete all their social media accounts; it means educating, supervising, and monitoring this important communication vehicle, which is only growing in importance. Be careful about scheduled posts and tweets; they can seem insensitive if they run up against current events. Used correctly, social media can be your best friend. Yes, it can.

Emails & Texts

While not PR per se, email traffic and informal chatting can spell doom and gloom, primarily for people, not policies. Establish a clear policy about what you want and do not want discussed on email, shared, or copied. Texts can be shared, too, so be cautious—again, this is a great tool if used wisely. And loose lips, well, they can sink careers.

Photo Opps

Cut the grand opening ribbons and hug the babies, but use moderation. Don’t hold a press conference if there is nothing to say. Don’t be afraid to hold one to share bad news, either.  A word to the ladies:  it’s OK not to smile all the time. A word to the men:  it’s OK to smile. It’s OK for everyone to pause, to say you don’t know, but you will find out. Watch the jokes and don’t bury the personal side.

Talk Radio

Be smart; learn how to use it. It can be your bully pulpit. Or it will be the people’s. Talk with the people. It will keep you on your toes. Consider a monthly time to come on and take questions. Try it. You may not love it, but that’s OK.  It’ll keep your staff, and you, sharp.  And you may find you’ll have a warmer reception from ‘the people’ than you think.

Spin Doctors

Yes, it’s what we do for a living. And many of us are very good at it, but more of us are bad at it than we’d like to admit. Be careful in relegating speeches and statements to others; put your own spin on it. Your words should sound like you. Be honest, forthright, hopeful, and truthful. PR people get upset when you get in trouble, and we’ll do our best to help, because we really do take it personally. We’ll lose sleep over the littlest wrong sound bite. But this isn’t a training video for a master’s class in public relations. It’s your future. Our future. Own your words.

Small Business

Remember us! When you find a great company doing great things, yes, we all want to know.  But don’t drag them around to every show and tell. There are lots of unsung business heroes out there with a great story to tell, or a need to be answered. Look deeper than those companies and leaders that float to the surface.

Talk, but also listen!

Draft an op-ed to a newspaper. Send a small business feature to RISBJ. Send out a weekly newsletter. Drop by at a business function where you aren’t speaking, but you can spend a half hour at a cocktail reception or networking opportunity just shaking hands. Hold some structured forums. But don’t overlook the informal opportunity to show that you are listening to all the people, the best you can.

Don’t do the unexpected

There are still things we don’t expect you to do. They will be different for each person. Buddy Cianci could ride a police horse down Main Street. Angel Taveras couldn’t—Mayor Elorza probably can’t—but he can jog at Roger Williams Park on Sunday mornings.  Just make the informal, fun stuff reflect the nature of who you are, and of your office. Make it relevant to you.


You will. Dust yourself off. Get back up. America—and Rhode Island—loves the comeback success. Move quickly. Watch the advisors around you. Eyes straight ahead, lessons learned, apologies first. Don’t be afraid to say you were wrong. Then jump back in again. Confucius said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fail.” You can do it. We know you can. It’s why we elected you.

P.S. – Please lose the phrase, “I didn’t know things were this bad…”

Take a stand with your Personal Brand the importance of Promoting You in 2015!

I remember interviewing for my first professional job more than 20 years ago.  I was preparing to interview for a receptionist position in a small adhesives manufacturing company. Perusing the local newspaper, my eyes fell on this position. I knew I could do the job, so I circled the ad and dialed the phone number.

Preparing for my upcoming interview, I went shopping for a new navy suit, wrote my first resume and practiced smiling in the mirror. My confident and jovial phone skills helped me earn an interview. I brought my enthusiasm with me as I stepped through the glass doors of the office. I met with the President and General Manager, who took turns tossing questions my way. Thankfully, I was prepared for this volleyball match and I was hired! My new home away from home for the next four years.

I gained a lot of valuable knowledge about myself from that experience. I learned how impactful verbal and nonverbal skills are when presenting myself during an interview, a meeting or any client-facing interaction. This was my first epiphany of understanding the importance of and building my own personal brand.

Like a corporate brand, our personal brand is how others perceive and trust us. We buy name brands such as Johnson & Johnson because it represents several generations of quality family products. The same holds true for our personal brand: people buy from you or me based on those same ideals.

Fast forward to today. The art of building your personal brand still entails verbal and nonverbal skills; however, technology and social media have added a new twist to self-promotion.

Think about your clients. Are most of them doing business with you because of their relationship with you or your company? I am sure your answer is, the relationship with you. Reputation is the foundation of your personal brand. So how do you create and maintain your personal brand? After more than two decades of corporate growth, from receptionist to business owner and entrepreneur, here is what I have learned:

  1.  Choose your attitude – This is one of the four tenets of the famous Fish! Philosophy by John Christensen. No one says that everything is going to be easy, but it is better to go into a situation with a positive attitude than that of fear and defeat. People feed off of the energy you emit. Choose happiness!
  1.  Care about what you wear – As an Image Consultant, I always ask my clients, “If you have three seconds to make a great first impression, what would you like everyone to see?” If you show up to a meeting dressed inappropriately, i.e. ripped jeans and a t-shirt, the first impression will be a lack of interest in the client. However, showing up in a professional outfit sends the message here I am, I care about you and I am ready to do business. Remember, you want to choose the right attitude internally and externally.
  1.  “Social-ize” with intention – Look at your local paper—the job ads have dwindled to barely a half a page, if there are any listings at all. Our need to network via the virtual or social media conversation is just as important as meeting peers face-to-face.

Employers and job seekers use social sites such as LinkedIn to post jobs and screen candidates. HR departments do their best to Google prospective hires to see where their names are linked to. Be intentional with whom you connect. Link to colleagues you know, or maybe professionals you do not know, but are in your field or target market. Follow and comment on relevant blogs, or even start your own. Being known as an expert in your field is one reason you get hired.

  1. First Impressions – Building rapport by attending multiple social events is an effective way to establish your referral base. This is where your first impression is most important.  Confidently introduce yourself with smiling eyes and a strong handshake.  Remember, as they say, it’s who you know!
  1.  Resume – Where personal appearance and personality is the aesthetic side of the interview process, your resume provides the facts. Address, work experience, education and contact information are necessary to reinforce why the potential employer is interviewing you. Take time to research strong keywords to describe your previous job functions and hit the spell check to look for errors. Too many spelling errors send the message that you are careless.

We promote our personal brands every day in our professional lives. Our appearance, attitudes, in-person and social media conversations are all aspects a prospective employer or client uses as building blocks to establish respect and trust. It takes more than a phone call to get noticed. You need to take a stand to be heard…

Top SEO Trends for 2015

Quite often, the small talk I have with the businesses I meet as well as with my industry colleagues revolves around the current state of SEO best practices.

From SEO experts to DIY SEO dabblers, everyone seems focused on making 2015 the year of discovery for small business.

For me, January has always been a time to reassess client strategies for the upcoming year.  This is when I retrospectively assess what has worked in 2014 and also predict what will impact small business visibility on search engines in 2015.

The following SEO tips are what I predict for the upcoming year (or at least until the next algorithm change). I didn’t list them in any particular order, so while you read along try to envision how your business stacks up against these objectives.

Here’s to hoping you discover yourself in 2015!

Citation Building

A citation is any mention of a business’s (complete) contact information, and for local businesses, it’s one of the most important elements for local discovery. Citation building (think Yelp, Google Plus,, etc.) not only offers a direct link to your business, but it plays a vital role in quantifying your business contact information and building online brand recognition and authority.

Content Marketing

Creating and sharing stories that drive purposeful action or provides intentful branding shouldn’t happen by chance. The notion that social media would be the marketing bullhorn for business is so 2007. Content marketing in 2015 will need to have the end solution planned in advance of publishing. Shares and likes are too easy to gain and haven’t been all that successful in driving significant monetary ROI. Effective content marketing in ‘15 will drive quantifiable lead generation, sales or branding.

Image & Video Optimization

Image and video sharing sites like Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and Vimeo and the increasing importance in organic image/video search will continue to drive the demand for file name and property optimization. Did you know that the file name of images and videos is the most important element impacting online discovery? (You’re not alone if you didn’t.)

Keyword Research

As long as search engines answer search queries based on text or voice input (interpreted as text), using the right words to market your business will remain the most powerful attribute of any online marketing activity, on any channel, through any source. The axiom that “content is king” is nearly correct for it is the (key)words of the content that truly rule the marketing world—online and in print.

Map Marketing

For brick and mortar businesses, online discovery is only half the job. Driving that traffic to your door is the second part, and being listed on the most popular map and GPS services will be vital as personal-mobile and in-vehicle connectivity usage continues to skyrocket.

Meaningful Interaction

Receiving social engagement through keyword-focused, intentful wording will trump likes, shares, and retweets by chance in the upcoming years. And it’s about time, too—I love #caturday as much as you do, but social signals are just far too easy to gain, so the value of their signal potential has so far been under-realized. Social interaction needs to focus on providing customer service and driving sales, leads and branding. Meaningful marketing with calculated interaction continues to add value to social marketing in ‘15.

Mobile Optimization

Having viewers squint to view your website in the tiny screen of a cell phone or tablet isn’t going to work in 2015. Having a website that serves appropriately for each device (responsive) is nearly mandatory today, and Google is recognizing sites who are responsive by marking them as being “mobile-friendly” within mobile searches. How quickly websites load is also a SEO element to focus on, especially for mobile viewing. Check your mobile stats on Google Analytics to decide how eminent a mobile conversion is for your business.


In my experience, I find nearly every business has errors in their business citation data. The data that matters most for local businesses is their name, address, and (local) phone number, also known as NAP. Typical errors include businesses listing with old addresses and old phone numbers, call tracking numbers or inconsistent use of unit/suite numbers. Variations of a business name will also cause discrepancies in NAP. Like citation building, this is a foundational element of local marketing.

Old School is New School (again)

The basic elements of SEO never go out of style. Meta title (ranking factor) and meta description (conversion element) optimization, keyword targeting, formatting of the contact page, meta robot usage, and the use of footers for your global address and images with unique file names and alternate attributes are just a few of the items that need to be addressed for each primary page of a website. There are 200+ elements on each page of a website that Google uses as a ranking factor. I see hundreds of businesses each year with great-looking websites and vibrant social media channels who struggle with online visibility because these 200 elements of website SEO were overlooked. Nail the basics before digging deeper into more advanced SEO techniques or digging deep into social and content marketing.

PPC & SEO Combined Strategies

2014 was a banner year for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, like Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook Ads. The success of PPC is largely dependent on three factors: keyword selection, compelling copywriting, and synergy on the website landing page between keyword selection and the written content. Managing PPC campaigns with knowledge of website SEO will continue to be a winning combination for business advertising in the upcoming year(s).


A newcomer and nearly unknown tool for non-professionals is structured markup code, most commonly referred to as its standards name of “Schema.” This universal code works for the major search engines and adds additional data (in search engine language) for things such as contact information, products, services, product reviews, and business review ratings (think Zagat reviews). This simple code was a powerhouse for local businesses in 2014 and will continue being important in ‘15.

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