As a small business owner, differentiating your company from your competition is essential. Naturally, your business name, tagline, product names, logo, etc. play a big part in that.
Because they establish your business’s identity, you don’t want another business stealing the specific words and symbols you use to represent your company.
According to SCORE mentor and retired IP Attorney Charles Gumpel, “If your company’s brand image is stolen or closely duplicated, the result (financial and otherwise) could be devastating to your business. For instance, customers might be unable to identify the ‘real’ brand from the impostors, and you would probably never reclaim those customers even if you found a way to stop the impostor. Other adverse effects could also occur, which ultimately might lead to the termination of your business.”
Thankfully, however, trademark rights provide you with some level of protection.
“Trademark” can refer to both “trademarks” and “service marks.” They’re similar, but not exactly alike.
Trademarks are used to identify and distinguish the provider of goods, whereas service marks identify and distinguish the provider of services.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website*, “A trademark typically protects brand names and logos used on goods and services.”
Using TM or SM informs others you’re claiming the wording or symbol or design. Realize, however, that you may have difficulty bringing legal action against another party if they use something that’s the same or very similar to represent their company’s offerings. For additional protection and benefits, you can register with the USPTO to officially claim your mark. If approved by the USPTO, you can use the official federal registration symbol, “®”. The USPTO clearly states that you may not use that symbol until after the USPTO actually approves and registers the mark—not while your application is pending.
“If you elect not to register your mark with the USPTO, you will forfeit a number of important benefits,” explains Gumpel. “Among them are: greater confidence that your selected mark is protectable; nationwide notice of ownership to help prevent others from claiming the same or confusingly similar mark; accessibility to federal courts to stop impostors and possibly obtain treble damages and attorney fees; the possibility of effectively blocking counterfeit imports; and other similar benefits.”
How To Register For a Trademark or Service mark
Before filing an application to register your mark, you might save yourself time and money by doing an initial search in the USPTO’s TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System) to verify no one else has applied for the same mark.
To learn more about trademarks, visit the USPTO website where you’ll find detailed information and links to helpful resources.
Please note that all shared in this article is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice. Consider consulting an attorney specializing in trademark law to discuss the specifics of your business and guide you through the process.
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.
Beware of the pitfalls of hiring gig workers
Self-employed gig workers save businesses money, but they can also cause big headaches.
With a 4 percent unemployment rate, the market for quality workers is tight, which makes hiring a gig worker tempting. And, there are a lot of gig workers. According to a recent study by Intuit (owner of TurboTax), about 34 percent of the workforce in the United States is composed of gig workers. By 2020, the number is expected to reach 43 percent.
With those numbers, small businesses can find a huge pool of talent, but unless managers choose carefully, projects can take a major hit in reliability, unanticipated costs, and quality of work.
As Satya Purna, founder of ZAG Studios, a brand strategy company, told Business News Daily (BND), “It’s a mixed bag. It’s difficult to find freelancers who can keep up a high quality of work. They also have their own preferences. They may change their focus midway (through a project), so you’ll need to find a new person.”
Gig work is often used to supplement income and that means a gig worker’s allegiance is somewhere else. According to Shiftgig, a survey of gig workers showed 51 percent of them had full-time jobs.
Gig work can also be an impulsive decision. According to Shiftgig, the momentum of gig work is driven by the smartphone. “ItÕs as easy to book a side hustle as it is to order pizza,” one CEO told Talent 10X.
One small business owner said she has had problems with gig workers dropping projects cold. Even contracts don’t help small business because to enforce one means going to court.
If you are planning to hire a gig worker, focus on true freelancers who aren’t working full-time for another company. Assign projects in small steps, with clear guidelines on what is to be done and when. Pay well and stress that a gig worker can also be hired for the next step in a project should the work be acceptable.
Empathy + Ego = Sales
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.
How to scale the company ladder
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.
Wait a minute! Gossip is normal?
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.
Opportunities for disabled workers at small businesses
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.
What are small business accelerators and incubators?
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.