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How to protect your small business’s intellectual property when working with strategic partners

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One way to grow your business is by reaching out to strategic partners who offer complementary products or services or who otherwise can work with you to the mutual advantage of both your businesses. Strategic partnerships can expand your market reach and help you achieve more sales. But giving another business intimate knowledge about your company’s inner workings may make you a bit uneasy. There’s some inherent risk involved in sharing confidential information and intellectual property (IP).

According to Marc Goldberg, a SCORE mentor with business startup and management expertise, “It is very easy to steal your ideas or even your unique approach to customer fulfillment. Very quickly you could generate a competitor by sharing information with the wrong people.”

For that reason, you need to take measures to protect your ideas, information, and innovations from theft.

Goldberg recommends you do these things before working with a strategic partner:

  • Determine what information should be considered confidential.

The list may be extensive, and for a small business it could include business plans, customer databases, pricing programs, strategic plans, financial records, employee files, R&D projects, marketing strategies, and new business development initiatives.

“Small businesses in the start-up phase that have proprietary information in the form of an invention or innovative approach should take precautions even with business partners in the case where one might leave before the business actually launches,” explains Goldberg.

  • Review the potential partner’s website and social media profiles.

Carefully examine how they position themselves and what they are saying about their company, team, products, services, accomplishments, and capabilities. You want to be sure you’ll be collaborating with a business that truly can act as a partner, not as a direct competitor.

  • Protect your intellectual property as you explore the potential relationship.

Goldberg advises, “Don’t send originals of anything. Use GoToMeeting or a similar vehicle to share your materials.”

Take official legal measures to protect your materials before you share original documents.

  • Ask for an NDA.

A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) will help protect your intellectual property when you’re ready to share it. You should get an NDA signed early on when exploring a strategic partnership opportunity.

An NDA should accomplish these three things:

    • Identify if the NDA is one-way or mutual (i.e., applicable to only one party or both parties).
    • Specifically define what confidential intellectual property will be included under the NDA (and consider addressing what is NOT included).
    • Define the term of the agreement. (Although you cannot protect your information indefinitely, you should specify a time when it can be renewed.)

In addition, Goldberg recommends, “Make sure everything you share has a copyright notice on it to protect yourself from IP theft.”

  • Make sure you own any work they do for you.

Create a work-for-hire contract that states you will own any work they do for you. That will help prevent them from claiming they own it.

By leveraging the advantages of a well-researched, carefully selected strategic partnership, you might exponentially increase your brand awareness and sales. Remember, however, you should always look out for the interests of your business by protecting your intellectual property. In addition to considering the tips here and asking for input from a SCORE mentor, also consult an attorney knowledgeable about IP legal issues including copyright, trademark, patents, etc.

Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” has helped more than 10 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in over 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, call 1-800-634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you. Visit SCORE at www.score.org.

Business

Empathy + Ego = Sales

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Among the wealth of extraordinary articles in the Harvard Business Review Classics series is one, published in 1964, entitled, “What Makes a Good Salesman.”

Before writing it, David Mayer and Herbert M. Greenberg spent seven years pursuing the clues. During that time, a fellow HBR contributor, Robert N. McMurray, wrote, “We must look into the mysteries of personality and psychology if we want the real answers.”

Mayer and Greenberg’s conclusions: “Based on the insights we gained about the basic characteristics necessary for a salesperson to sell successfully, our basic theory is that a good salesperson must have at least two basic qualities: empathy and ego drive.”

According to Webster’s, empathy is “understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing” the feelings of others. Moreover, according to Mayer and Greenberg, no salesperson can sell consistently without the skilled use of empathy.

Mayer and Greenberg declare that empathy is vital to the process of obtaining honest, accurate customer feedback. Once provided with a strong sense of the customer’s feelings, the empathetic salesperson can react accordingly. With the use of his or her ego-driven techniques, the agent can alter the pace of discussion and weigh alternatives and options before making whatever creative adjustments are necessary to close the sale.

On the other hand, the authors assert that ego drive — a subtle need to conquer–pushes a salesperson to make the deal or else. It becomes a mission, a mandate.

Mayer and Greenberg conclude, it is an active blend of empathy and ego drive — each reinforcing the other — that will best serve the interests of a salesperson’s career.

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Business

How to scale the company ladder

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It takes more to get ahead in a company than just doing the basics.

“Simply meeting expectations is not enough if you want to get ahead,” writes business trainer and consultant Cy Wakeman in her book, The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace.
If you want to climb the ladder, strive to be a low-drama, high-value employee, Wakeman says.

Victor Lipman agrees, and he’s an author and management specialist with more than 20 years of Fortune 500 experience.

“Be relentlessly reliable,” he says. “Reliability is a cornerstone of business and a fine core personal attribute. Businesses may not often need brilliant bursts of artistic creativity, but they always need the trains to run on time.”

For example, try to become a go-to person by developing as many skills as possible. The more you can do within a company, and the more you can learn about its operations, the more relevant you are to its goals.

Your attitude and willingness to work do matter too. Try to be consistently collaborative. In projects involving multiple participants with conflicting views and opinions, the person who can react effectively with all kinds of people is appreciated.

Also, create strong, enduring relationships. In the corporate world, networking has been and always will be an influential factor regardless of an individual’s status in the company. As much as others may profess that professional advancement is based on merit, individual relationships do have their roles in any company, large or small.

Think about ways and means of resolving an issue that may have been gnawing at the company for years. Although some of these problems are unique to each organization, the more common challenges include containing costs, improving production processes, and discovering new markets for established products.

Be a self-starter. Try to identify obstacles before they get worse. Try to be valued as a team member who tries to make difficult decisions easier.

Keep in mind that any solution you propose is likely to be met with skepticism; if not, the issue most likely would have been solved long ago. Should you succeed–or even make noticeable progress–your efforts could advance your career in ways you had not imagined.

Finally, try to make your boss look good (and if possible, his boss too). This sense can set you apart, showcase potential, and promote an ability to think beyond current circumstances.

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Business

Wait a minute! Gossip is normal?

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Throughout early childhood and beyond, we’re told not to talk about anyone behind their back.

That’s gossip and gossip is bad.

But, is all gossip bad?

According to some experts, including those at the Harvard Business Review, gossip is an integral part of life itself, not just the office culture.

“We learn who we are through what people say to us and about us,” says Kathleen Reardon, Professor of Management at the University of Southern California. “We want to connect to people.”
“Research shows that everyone participates in all kinds of gossip — positive, neutral, and negative,” says Joe LaBianca, Associate Professor of Management at the University of Kentucky. Idle talk also provides information that can be useful to your career and work.

Linda Hill agrees. “Gossip happens all the time, so you’re going to hear it,” says the Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Listening to office banter is a relevant way of hearing what is transpiring within the company. Informal exchanges of information can be just as useful as formal ones.

Because some gossip is negative, it is crucial to differentiate between the harmful and useful.

Negative judgements about someone’s family or personal life cross the line. To say John is going on vacation is probably not a secret. But to imply that John is wasting money on another expensive vacation — that’s the worst kind of gossip. That sort of gossip reflects badly, not just on John, but the gossiper as well.

Similarly, gossip about company personnel matters or other confidential information puts the company and the gossiper at risk.

Talking about shared interests and people is natural, but temper your comments with prudence and charity. Remember the person receiving that information is going to use it to evaluate your character.

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Business

Opportunities for disabled workers at small businesses

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Two tax credits make it more affordable to accommodate disabled workers in small business.

According to Small Business Trends, The Disabled Access Credit guarantees a credit of up to $5,000 on expenditures of up to $10,250 for modifying equipment, hiring sign language interpreters, providing Braille documents and more.

The Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction allows for a tax deduction of up to $15,000 for building new ramps, curb cuts, parking spaces, and other accessibility options at their place of business to accommodate those with special needs.

Generally, the disabled population has a harder time securing full-time employment and statistics show that the unemployment rate among this group was around 8 percent in 2017 compared to 4.1 percent of the non-disabled population. Employers may avoid hiring disabled workers because they feel as though it would be difficult to fire them for poor performance or they don’t understand or don’t want to deal with accommodating someone with special needs.

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Business

What are small business accelerators and incubators?

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Small business accelerators and incubators can provide crucial help to new and growing small businesses in the form of support, direction, and funding, according to Inc. Magazine.

According to the National Business Incubation Association, survival rates for participants in new business incubation programs is 87 percent after five years compared to 44 percent of groups that don’t use the services.

Incubator programs come in at the beginning stages of a startup, and their focus is on providing office space, skills training, networking opportunities, mentorship, and some access to financing. Accelerator programs are aimed at new, but more mature, businesses that need to step up growth.

According to Small Business Trends, incubator programs took off during the 1980s when universities began providing these services to their entrepreneurial students to help get them off the ground. Even today, many startup incubators are educational or government nonprofits that aren’t able to provide much capital investment themselves but instead focus on slow growth and ongoing support. For-profit incubators can, however, offer more early-stage funding in exchange for equity and partial control of the company.

As their name implies, accelerators are meant to take a young company and help it rapidly expand. During the course of months-long, boot camp-style programs, incubators focus on specific development projects and tight deadlines meant to scale a business to profitability while sorting out any issues with strategy, operations, and organization.

According to Harvard Business Review, there were almost 200 accelerators in the U.S. between 2005-2015 that collectively invested in more than 5,000 new businesses with a total of $19.5 billion in capital. While joining such programs will by no means ensure success, many successful names such as AirBnB, Dropbox, and Stripe were able to leverage the access to high-profile investors and mentors to grow their valuations over the $1 billion mark.

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Business

Five qualities of a successful entrepreneur

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Dreaming of starting a business? Wondering what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur? While there’s no one tried-and-true recipe, here are five qualities that successful entrepreneurs tend to have.

1. Leadership
Good entrepreneurs are go-getters who forge out a path through thick and thin. They are effective communicators who know how to rally, influence, motivate and inspire others.

2. Creativity

They’re forward-thinking individuals who are able to create a concept, an approach or a product that has long-term viability.

3. FOREsight
They’re possessed of a good deal of farsightedness, which is needed to look ahead and plan out the strategies needed to take their enterprise in the right direction.

4. Tenacity
Entrepreneurs never give up: they persevere despite obstacles. They work relentlessly, consistently managing to find ways to overcome the problems at hand.

5. Audacity
They’re risk-takers who rise to the challenge of finding success where others have failed. It’s not a question of recklessness, but rather of being able to weigh and tolerate the risks.

These are the secret ingredients shared by most successful entrepreneurs. If this sounds like you, chances are you too may be able to launch and run a successful business of your own.

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