Thursday, January 24, 2013

The HOME MADE/COTTAGE FOOD BUSINESS. Ready, Set, Go !

imageThis article was written by Tom Snell, SCORE Orange County Business Mentor

The cottage food business is up and running. The Orange County Public Health Department, in the spirit of helping and working against a very tight deadline, has now issued all the basic rules and application forms for this, which you can find by Googling www.OCfoodinfo.com/faq . Way to go OCPH ! The State of California, in the same race, is hopping along and hoping to reach the finish line by mid-January.

The first question you’ll have to answer is “are you ready.” This means you must know, very specifically, what you want to make. Here’s a clue, whatever it is, must be something that does not require refrigeration. If you are not sure what you want to do, I suggest you go to www.theselc.com/faq website, (another organization that got their work done) and there on the first page are the 16 items/categories within which you can work. There are a lot of possibilities.

After that you will have to decide exactly what it is you want to make, including the ingredients, how you expect to sell it, and where you will make it. That will help you decide if you are an A or B applicant. Once you check the application form, you will see you cannot be vague about this. Certainly something that reads like “I’m not sure yet.” will get you tossed in the dust bunny pile and could cost you unnecessary rejection and extra costs in application fees, because, as you will see, they are going to charge by the hour to process your application. So get it squared away before you submit it. Note that once you apply for a single item, let’s say cookies, you must only make cookies, as you applied for. Under that same application you cannot make jams and nut butter, etc. so get it down right the first time.

There are a couple of things that look small, but are important. One is insurance. At a minimum, you should call your household insurance company and see if what you’re going to do is allowed under your current policy. If not, find out how to adjust the policy, and how much will it cost. It may be that a new separate policy would be required. You may choose to form an LLC or a corporation to give yourself some extra protection, for a sole proprietorship can leave you wide open for liability issues. But plenty of insurance can protect you. In food, liability is always an issue. You do not want to be sued and lose your house!

Another requirement is the referenced four-hour food processor’s training course offered ONLY by the State of California. But as I’ve said, they’re not there yet and have nothing to offer until later. Nonetheless, once they are ready, you must complete that course within three months of being approved.

Also, you must get a business license and an okay from the city you are going to be operating in. Unless you create a lot of traffic and noise, this should not be a problem.

There are a number of restrictions as to what your cooking facilities must be like. Little kitty cannot be walking on the counter, as the kids roughhouse on the floor playing with the dog, while you have a cigarette. You can’t be cooking the family dinner and washing dishes at the same time you’re producing cottage food products either. Buy yourself some sanitizer and think clean! If you can’t handle a sanitary inspection, don’t start!

I hope you dig in on all this and get selling yummy homemade food. Note, this is not a hobby, it is a business. You want to make money and stay out of trouble. As always, we of SCORE are here to try to help you. Call us up, get an appointment and come in and we’ll talk about this.

4 Reasons Why 2013 Will Be The Year of The Innovator

This article was written by Haydn Shaughnessy, Contributor in Entrepreneur Magazine, reprinted by permission

A couple of years back when I edited Innovation Management, I was a strong innovation skeptic. A lot of the writing that came my way sounded really like cheer-leading rather than analysis.

I pushed back on one after another “stoke their fire” or “4 Ways….” type article. It was mushy stuff and largely predictable.Move up http://i.forbesimg.com tMove down

Times change. Innovation is ripe again. Here are four reasons, apart from competitive pressures, why 2013 will see a surge in intelligent, strong ROI-related innovation writing, thinking and action. It could be your opportunity, too.

#1. The enterprise is more deeply engaged by innovation than ever before. The reason is simple enough – most organizations are overwhelmed by the requirement to change.

I just completed 30 interviews with CIOs and Chief Innovation Officers for my Cognizant Future of Work project. For the first time in all the years I’ve been observing enterprises I got the feeling that they were now becoming innovation engines, or trying to become so.

Innovation is becoming embedded as a transformation method. Unlike social it is necessary and objectives-driven. And it has the broadest possible relevance to the future.

The drawback is: how do you get a coherent overview of change in your org – for sure it is happening but do you know enough about it? Are you in control of the transformation? That will be a big question in 2013.

#2. Method is maturing and expanding. Go back only three years and innovation revolved around those corny “inspirational” ideas about stoking up the troops and unleashing their creativity.

The problem for a lot of enterprises was that formal methods like TRIZ appeared to be too formal, or somehow not relevant (I think the opposite, TRIZ is highly relevant). Six Sigma was too closely associated with cost reduction. Employees needed educating but enterprises were often too scared of opting for the wrong education.

Now innovation is often reactive – if your people are using iPhones, you had better react. You need to start thinking about re-architecting your infrastructure. There’s no time to lose. If you are marketing-led, you have to be multi-channel, in fact hyper-channel. Whatever business you are in, you are impacted by radical adjacencies.

Methods are being adopted from start-ups and the lean philosophy in order to cope with this – and it is a liberation. You also have genuine innovation method in instances like MMI – see my post here - and a growing understanding of the complicated business environment. That means leaders are beginning to trust to a little bit of chaos – not too much of course but enough to allow their organizations to reset. But it leads to point 3.

#3. Strategic options management is growing in importance

Most companies are faced with at least two innovation models that they are forced to function with. One will be a formal lab-to-market or legacy model. Another will be a service model.

But this service model can come in two flavors. On the one hand, seeking out a service layer to protect product. On the other, trying to find your way among all the service options in SaaS and Cloud and “ecosystems”, to form and reform offers to the long tail.

The strategic options portfolio is becoming an essential management tool because of this complexity. Companies are managing hundreds of simultaneous innovation projects (P&G told me they manage at least 400 at any one time, and that means not just managing the science but also the customer input and the go-to-market pathways). And the numbers of growing. Fortunately, platforms are maturing to meet that need.

# 4. Finally the Chief Innovation Office is proving its worth. Chief Inno Officers are often working on a shoestring but it is largely a new profession and a new office. They are beginning to prove themselves, and not just as cost-savers, a role they are often forced in to by platform vendors as much as by their own corporate culture.

Many large companies now know cost-cutting has gone too far and that they need to re-open a space for innovation beneath the radar, among peers,, innovation on the bench, or from entrepreneurial service managers. Companies in fact are looking to design freedom back in, through the innovation office. Carefully!

These four reasons convince me that 2013 innovation will be the exciting place for ideas and action.

The Best Promotion Is Never Self Promotion

This article was written by Jeff Haydn, from his blog, reprinted by permission

Promoting yourself is easy. All it takes is a little guts, a little determination, and in extreme cases, very little self-awareness.

We all try, to some degree, to promote ourselves. That's why we're all experts at picking out the self-promoters, shameless or otherwise. And that's why self-promotion is rarely effective.

There's a much better way. Here's a story told by the comedian, actor, and author Albert Brooks in Vanity Fair about an appearance on "The Tonight Show:"

There was always that last two minutes where Johnny was asking people, "Thank you for coming--what do you have coming up?" And during the last commercial break Jack Benny leaned over to Johnny Carson and said, "When we get back, ask me where I'm going to be, will you?"

So they came back. Johnny said, "I want to thank Albert. Jack, where are you going to be performing?"

And Jack Benny said, "Never mind about me--this is the funniest kid I've ever seen."

And it was this profound thing. Like, Oh, that's how you lead your life. Be generous and you can be the best person who ever lived.

You have the same ability to promote with your employees, your customers, your vendors--basically anyone--but it's easy to lose sight of that when your primary focus is on crafting a business image, building a personal brand, or just protecting your professional turf.

Entrepreneurs are especially vulnerable to glory hogging since early on a small business is a reflection of its owner and its success often depends on the owner's ability to build a reputation for knowledge and expertise. Once you've stood in the spotlight for a while, it's really hard to step back into the shadows.

But it can be done. And it's easy. A couple examples:

Instead of blogging about your company's success, talk about a customer--but don't make it "salesy."

Instead, share how a customer did something smart. Share how a customer took a different approach to an old problem.

Helping others by promoting their expertise or success is reason enough to do it. But if you need another reason, the fact that you work with such smart and savvy people reflects well on you.

Instead of leading an implementation meeting, turn it over to the employee who spearheaded the project. Don't be tempted to somehow include yourself in the introduction; just say, "Next week we're rolling out our new scheduling system, so Mary will walk you through the process." Turn it over to Mary, sit down, and shut up.

Everyone already knows you're in charge; the fact that your employees get things done reflects well on you.

Today, promote someone else.

Do You Have a Good Idea or a Dumb Idea? How to Find Out.

imageThis article was written by John Rau, SCORE Orange County Business Mentor

To put the terminology in the proper context, I consulted the web version of Webster’s Dictionary (namely, www.webster-dictionary.net) to get the proper definitions to use. First, the term “dumb” is defined as:

“lacking brightness or clearness; silent; not speaking; not accompanied by words”

My spin on this is that if you have an idea that’s really “dumb”, then it’s silent in the sense that it doesn’t say much for itself!

An informal use of the word “dumb” is stupid which Webster defines as:

“resulting from, or evincing, stupidity; formed without skill or genius”

Probably the best term to use would be “useless”, which is defined as:

“having, or being of, no use; unserviceable; producing no good end; answering no valuable purpose; not advancing the end proposed; unprofitable; ineffectual”

Consequently, in the context of this discussion I’m going to assume “dumb”, “stupid” and “useless” are interchangeable. Examples of ideas that most likely would be labeled with one of these adjectives would include unscented perfume, diet celery, powdered water, toasted popsicles, see-through blinds, screen door on a submarine, underwater hair dryer and bird laxative.

On the other hand, Webster defines the term “good” as:

“possessing desirable qualities; adapted to answer the end desired; promoting success, welfare or happiness; serviceable; useful”

In order for an idea to be characterized as a “good idea”, I believe, would be one that answers the end desired, promotes success and is useful.

In order to assess whether or not your idea is a good one (and hopefully not a dumb one), a reasonable approach would be to determine if anyone might have an interest in your idea. Remember, just because you believe it’s a good idea, doesn’t necessarily mean someone will buy it. To be successful, you’ve got to be able to sell it! In this regard, there are several steps that you could take. A word of caution however is that, if you have not already filed for patent protection, be careful what you say and show as you pursue this “inquiry process”. Good advice says get non-disclosure/confidentiality forms signed and in place before revealing to anyone what you have in mind. Suggested steps that you could employ are as follows.

Find an inventor group in your area and talk to inventors who have invented similar or like types of ideas/products. Inventors’ Digest magazine contains a list of approximately 70 inventor groups by state. This would clearly be a good starting point. Additional inventor organizations can be found listed at www.inventorsdigest.com.

Contact companies that manufacture like products. To get information relative to such companies, steps you could take are as follows:

  • Look in stores for manufacturers’ names on like products
  • Look in trade magazines and product catalogs
  • Visit product-related trade shows where you can speak with decision-makers
  • Conduct an internet search and use online manufacturer databases (Note: Probably the best source is the online version of the Thomas Register, which provides listings of manufacturers according to the types of items they manufacture.)
  • See local library reference material such as the 20-volume set of the Thomas Register and publications of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which is the nation’s largest industrial trade association, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Relative to NAM (see www.nam.org), you can list your product or invention on their Entrepreneur/Inventor Bulletin Board. Manufacturers interested in producing your product will then contact you directly.

Go to the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office website (www.uspto.gov) and conduct a patent search to identify patents that have been issued for similar or like products. An alternative would be to go to a Patent and Trademark Depository Library in your area, where you will find ready and helpful librarians to assist you. The strategy here is that the patent disclosure will list the name(s) of the person(s) who received the patent and their address, which may still be current. You could then follow-up and talk to the patent holders as to what they did with the patent and how successful they were.

Talk to potential investors. If no one is willing to invest in your idea, then maybe it’s time to move on to another one. On the other hand, if there is potential investor interest, then keep moving forward. Wikipedia, a web-based encyclopedia (see www.wikipedia.org), suggests go beyond the “three F’s” (friends, family and fools) and talk to potential “angel investors”, individuals who typically provide funding to get new products going and businesses started prior to seeking venture capital funding. To identify potential angel investors, the Angel Capital Association (see www.angelcapitalassociation.com) can provide a list of angel groups in your area. Keep in mind, however, that in order to obtain any reasonable assessment from a potential investor, you must have more than a idea or schematic on paper. You generally need to have performed a “reduction to practice”, that is, the claimed invention works for its intended purpose, or built a prototype (working model). You can also expect that the potential investor will request information regarding your intended market and information relative to how your invention compares with other related products in the marketplace.

Be careful in responding to TV/radio solicitations and classified ads in magazines from invention promoters/promotion firms seeking new ideas. Historically, many of these types of firms have developed a tarnished reputation in terms of not delivering on claims made at the expense of inventors. There are, no doubt, reputable firms of this type with proven track records, but, before pursuing this approach, you should consult the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission (see www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/invnalrt.htm) for complaints. Getting your invention idea evaluated by a reputable, professional invention evaluation firm would be very valuable.

In summary, Don Debelek in his June 2002 article in Entrepreneur magazine entitled “Want Some of This, A Good Product is Nothing Without a Customer Who Wants to Buy It” provides some good advice in that he says

“..if you want to make sure you’re spending your money and time wisely, take time to find out what potential buyers think of your idea. That small step will stop you from making costly mistakes, and it will give you the best shot at successfully introducing the best possible product”.