Articles for May 2011

Heavy crowds turn out for Memorial Day services

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 30th, 2011

Heavy crowds turned out Monday for Memorial Day services around Ventura County, exceeding past turnouts and in at least one case topping the number who came to honor the dead after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The 1,000 people converging at Ivy Lawn Memorial Park in Ventura looked like a possible record to retired Col. George Compton, master of ceremonies.

"The only time all the chairs were filled was after 9/11, and this was overflow today," he said.

Terri Taylor Gonzalez, president of Ivy Lawn, tied the turnout to a surge in patriotism as well as publicity about the 40th annual observance. Veterans said the recent death of Osama bin Laden probably played a role, along with support for the armed forces.

"People are beginning to appreciate the military," said retired dentist Bill Stewart, 85, a Port Hueneme man who served during three wars.

Across the county in Moorpark, Assistant City Manager Hugh Riley said bin Laden's death May 2 and the upcoming 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 have unified Americans.

Nor is the threat over, he said, reminding those attending an observance at the Moorpark Veterans' Memorial of the risk military forces take. The Vietnam veteran said seven soldiers lost their lives in a single blast in Afghanistan last week.

"We must never forget what it means to be an American and never take for granted the sacrifices of those brave men and women who gave their lives so we might live in freedom as Americans," Riley said.

Veterans attending Memorial Day services around Ventura County fought in wars from World War II to Afghanistan. They came from every branch of the service to honor their comrades.

Matt Valenzuela, a sergeant in the Marine Corps and vice commander of American Legion Post 502, spoke in Moorpark about the soldiers he served with during the Korean conflict.

"I'm sure some of the veterans here today joined because you saw a poster that said, 'Join the service and see the world.' We joined, we served, we saw the world, and some of us never returned," said Valenzuela, who urged those in attendance to observe a moment of silence for the fallen warriors.

Army veteran Ramiro Delao, who was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, said he comes to the annual observances to support his fellow soldiers who died fighting the war on terrorism.

"I got to serve my country," said the 30-year-old Camarillo resident, who attended the Ivy Lawn ceremony. "I don't think there's any greater honor than that."

Delao and his wife, Vanessa Delao, brought their two daughters, ages 6 and 2, to the observance. Vanessa Delao said she wanted her children to know what the day is about, referring to keynote speaker Navy Capt. James McHugh's words that the holiday is to honor those who have died serving their country, not just a day off work.

Air Force Maj. Matt Glynn, who served four tours in Iraq and is now stationed with the Air National Guard at Point Mugu, expressed the same sentiment. He brought his 4-year-old son to an observance in Westlake Village.

"I just wanted to show my son what Memorial Day is about and honor the friends I have lost after being in the military for 13 years now," he said at the event at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park. "It means a lot to me and I want my son to see that."

Officials said nearly 3,000 people attended the event at the Westlake cemetery, about 500 more than they expected.

"We came just to honor the veterans," said Nicole Krumian of Agoura Hills as she and her family attended the annual event organized by the Conejo-Simi Valley Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America.

"It's because of them that our country is defended and that we're protected, and I want my kids to see it and understand it and feel pride in their country," she said.

Rabbi Shimon Paskow urged the crowd to remember all who gave their lives in service of their country, from the Revolutionary War to modern-day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We recall the people who served, the battles that were fought, the hardships endured, the sacrifices that were made and above all, our dear and beloved friends and relatives who gave their lives on land, sea and air for the values we as Americans cherish," said the retired Army colonel.

At a Camarillo ceremony, speaker Michael Blaauw admitted he was a bit nervous, then struck a somber note.

"How we all doing?" the naval chief petty officer said in a Southern drawl at the observance that drew several hundred people to Conejo Mountain Funeral Home and Memorial Park.

"Welcome to the 46th annual Lest We Forget Memorial Day service. I've lost a little of my mojo, being first to speak, because I'm not used to it. But we're going to make something happen today."

Blaauw read the poem "No, Freedom Isn't Free" by retired U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Kelly Strong. The poet tells of seeing a young Marine in uniform saluting the American flag, then of lives cut short.

"I thought of all the children, of the mothers and the wives," Blaauw said, "of fathers, sons and husbands with interrupted lives. I thought about a graveyard at the bottom of the sea, of unmarked graves in Arlington. No, freedom isn't free."

Blaauw continued with an accounting of the terrorist suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. Seventeen sailors lost their lives and 39 were injured on Oct. 12, 2000.

"Even when America is not at war, our men and women in the armed forces are striving to preserve peace," he said.

Other observances were held Monday at tiny Bardsdale Cemetery, downtown Ojai, Santa Paula Cemetery, Simi Valley and the new veterans home in Ventura.

 

By Rachel McGrathMichele Willer-AllredKathleen Wilson

Simi Valley Cajon Creole Music Festival

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 27th, 2011

The 22nd Annual Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, May 28th & 29th, 2011.

2011 promises to continue our tradition of bringing fans a full weekend of nonstop award-winning entertainment, more food choices than you can sample in two days, and activities to keep kids of all ages entertained too.

The first stage will feature 9 hours of continuous music each day.  Featured will be international and award winning Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music acts.

The second stage will feature the Delta Groove All-Star Blues Revue on Saturday and world-class blues and roots acts on Sunday.

Both stages feature lots of viewing space plus large dance floors.

In addition, this family friendly event has a giant kids area featuring bouncers, rock walls, specialty acts, crafts and talent shows.  There are also food booths and many crafts and merchandise booths.
Address: 5005 Los Angeles Avenue Simi Valley, California 93063 Rancho Santa Susana Community Park
Cost: $18 general admission
Saturday, May 28, 2011, 10:30 am-8 pm
Sunday, May 29, 2011, 10:30 am-8 pm

Sat May 28th

 
The 44’s 11:00 AM
Los Fabulocous Feat Kid Ramos 12:00 PM
Mikey Jr & Stone Cold Blues 1:15 PM
Kirk Fletcher Band 2:25 PM
Ana Popovic 3:40 PM
Mannish Boys Revue with Tracy Nelson, Rusty Zinn, Lynwood Slim, The King Brothers, Bob Corritore, Peter Dammann and more. 5:05 PM
John Nemeth 7:00 PM

 

Sun May 29th

 
Cadillac Zack with Special Guests 11:00 AM
Mitch Kashmar Band 12:00 PM
Arthur Adams 1:15 PM
Big Pete tribute to Lester Butler with special guest Al Blake 2:30 PM
Shawn Pittman 3:45 PM
Elvin Bishop “Hell Raisin Review” 5:00 PM
Maria Muldaur 6:45 PM
 

 


 

2011 CAJUN CREOLE STAGE



Sat May 28th


BILLY LEE & THE SWAMP CRITTERS 12:00 PM
ANDRE THIERRY & ZYDECO MAGIC 1:45 PM
Parade 3:10 PM
BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO 3:45 PM
LIL POOKIE & THE ZYDECO SENSATIONS 5:40 PM
   
 

Sun May 29th

 
BAYOU BROTHERS 12:00 PM
LIL POOKIE & THE ZYDECO SENSATIONS 1:45 PM
Parade 3:10 PM
BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO 3:45 PM
ANDRE THIERRY & ZYDECO MAGIC 5:40 PM
 

Schedule are subject to change

Rhythms of Life Dance for AIDS

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 24th, 2011

Rhythms of Life: Dance for AIDS is a community driven, family oriented, multi-cultural dance performance that inspires and uplifts. On May 21, 2011 we shared stories of people living with HIV.

This year we were very fortunate to have the talented CathyJean Butter of Ventura College Dance Department produce the show. CathyJean Butter and Ventura College Dance Alumni and Students weaved creative and cultural dance, music, and journeys with AIDS into an inspirational and educational dance mosaic. 

Our amazing perfomers who lent their time and heart for the cause were: Capoeira at Arts for Action, IJOYA West African Dance & Drum Ensemble, Kealoha and Company Expressions of Polynesia, Nia Fitness Friends, Ñuu Savi Dance Group performs Oaxaca, Ventura College Dance Department.

Kealoha and Company, Expressions of Polynesia performs dances from several islands of the Pacific. The family based groups performs throughout Ventura County. They are interested in performing at Dance for AIDS where they can bring a little of the islands to those who are unable to travel.

Capoeira at Arts for Action’s mission is to foster cultural citizenship and community building through arts education. Capoeira, created by Africans in Brazil, includes drumming, music, dance, martial arts, education and community. Specifically, our efforts focus on producing high quality, accessible, creative opportunities in the Afro-Brazilian art of Capoeira, and in multicultural and multi-disciplinary arts. BBCC is committed to squelching the risk factors caused by racism, sexism, poverty, illiteracy, xenophobia, and homophobia that limit the development of healthy communities and the ability for all people to enjoy the benefits of cultural citizenship. Arts education for adults and children is produced in traditional and non-traditional settings (e.g., theaters, schools, community centers, universities, libraries, museums, and public spaces) to enhance the awareness of Latin America and the African diaspora, and to encourage cosmopolitanism. This is a great venue for us to support a worthy cause that goes hand in hand with our mission.

IJOYA West African Dance & Drum Ensemble’s mission statement is to connect people through cultural dancing while fostering an environment that promotes creativity, communication and becoming one with the drum. They believe that the community must educate on HIV awareness, that a big voice is needed to make a difference. They are honored to be one of many to help join in on this amazing cause here in Ventura County.

Nia Fitness Friends is an enthusiastic gathering of individuals(who primarily dance at the Ventura Nia Center), forming for this event to support the work of VCAP and promote our passion for Nia. Nia is an empowering sensory based movement practice that uses “The Body’s Way” to achieve physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness and well-being. People of all shapes and sizes take classes barefoot to soul-stirring music in more than 45 countries around the world. Nia inspires and uplifts while bringing those who practice it to better health as it teaches us about “Dancing through Life”.

Ñuu Savi Dance Group performs Oaxaca traditional dances. Most of the dancers are from Oaxaca state of Mexico. They dance because it is part of their identify and they want to promote it within the large community of Ventura County. At this time they are presenting “Jarabe Mixteco”. They support this event because they represent a culture that believes in “sharing and giving”. They want to share their traditional dances. They want to give support to VCAP and help achieve their fund rising goals. They believe that together we can make a difference by supporting local HIV/AIDS programs.

Ventura College Dance Department prides itself on community outreach. They have performed for Downtown Ventura Artwalks, for Casa Pacifica and for local schools. Dancing to support the AIDS Partnership is another way for them to share the healing aspects of dance and their creativity through movement towards a better world.

Seven Networking No-Nos

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 23rd, 2011

Large-scale networking events can help you bolster your Rolodex and make connections that can land you a wealth of new contacts, connections and clients.

Coming across as both professional and engaging to those new contacts, however, isn't as simple as it may seem.

"It takes about 200 times the information to undo a first impression than it takes to make one," says Devora Zack, author of "Networking for People Who Hate Networking," and president of Only Connect Consulting, a career consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Landing new clients or investors at an event requires more than just a pulled-together pitch and some original ideas.

It might seem like a lot of pressure, but remembering the things you shouldn't do may help make networking a bit easier. Here are seven of networking's biggest no-no's:

1. Don't arrive late

To make things easier on yourself, time your arrival so you can maximize the interactions you're most interested in having.

"Especially for people who typically shy away from networking, the inclination is to arrive on the later side," says Ms. Zack. "The opposite is a much better strategy. Being the first person there, it's calmer, laid back, and people haven't yet settled into groups. You won't feel like there's no one to talk to."

2. Don't just stand there

This is not the time to wait around for people to approach you. You need to work the room -- even if you're on the shy side. There are ways to step outside your comfort zone and avoid awkwardness.

Start off by asking questions, Ms. Zack suggests. And don't worry about impressing the person you're speaking with -- just act naturally.

"Many people think they're bad at networking," she says. The key is to work with, rather than fight against, your natural communication style. That way, "what were liabilities become your greatest strengths," she says.

3. Don't feel like you need to talk to everyone

As a budding business owner or executive, you might enter a networking event with a "more the merrier" mentality when it comes to making new connections. However, it might be advantageous to take a "less is more" stance instead.

"It's better to meet fewer people and create a deeper, lasting connection than simply talking to everyone in the room," Ms. Zack says.

Instead of going to a networking event and grabbing 40 business cards in two hours, speak with fewer people for a longer period of time. Give each person you talk to at least five minutes to get to know you -- and you them -- before you move on, she advises.

This way, you'll leave networking events energized by new, true connections rather than tuckered out from meeting too many people.

4. Don't come unprepared

Once a new contact tells you what they're specifically looking for in terms of products or services, you need to be ready to tell them how your specific experience lines up with their needs.

Your goal isn't to hard-sell them right then and there -- instead, it should be to get them interested in you and what you have to offer. To do that, you need to be prepared with an understanding of what everyone from an investor to a potential client will need, and be armed with the most relevant, useful information to show that you have a solution that works for them.

What's "useful," you ask? Results. "Don't stand there and tell them what you do, tell them what results you get," says business coach Craig Jennings in New York. "Have examples of a situation, a problem and a solution that you can say in two breaths." Also, keep in mind that what an investor might find useful is likely different than what a customer wants to hear -- so having a mental catalog of a wealth of your previous experiences will help you fill all kinds of niches.

5. Don't forget the big picture

The bottom line is that, once you leave a networking event, you want the contacts and connections you've made to follow up with you and your services in the future.

"You should know your production and delivery capabilities, and be able to set a realistic expectation for potential customers," says Frank Dadah, general manager of financial contracts with Winter Wyman, a Boston staffing firm. You're trying to maintain the image of your company, and if you're not prepared to answer detailed questions that cover the ins and outs of what you have to offer, or if you can't offer it to them in a timely manner, they'll move on -- fast -- to someone who can.

6. Don't try to multitask

Within the first few minutes of meeting someone new, you probably don't whip out a notebook to write down what they're saying -- and that should be a rule for networking events, as well. Instead of being distracted by a pen and paper, focus intently on the conversation you're having. After you've grabbed a business card and stepped away, jot down a few things that will help you jog your memory when you follow up with them later.

7. Don't forget to follow up

"If you're not following up, you're not networking," says Ms. Zack. "You should stay in touch, without thinking about what you'll get out of the relationship."

Within 48 hours of your first meeting, you should email a note that pinpoints the most important parts of your earlier conversation, so your contact remembers who you are specifically. A timely turnaround will show that you're both interested and available to continue the conversation.

"Send them a link to a project you discussed, or ask them how the game they were going to that night ended up," advises Ms. Zack. "Give them something that is useful to them."

By:Kelly Eggers

Fillmore brings out the fun for May Festival

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 21st, 2011

The Fillmore May Festival was in full swing Friday night as the 99th edition of the annual Chamber of Commerce fundraiser brought a carnival midway, dozens of food and commercial vendors, two entertainment stages and a beer garden to downtown's Central Park.

As kids with painted faces and cotton candy or shaved ice in hand scrambled to check out rides such as the Gravitron, Rocko and others provided by Guadagno Amusements, students from Central Music rocked out on a community stage at the event.

The festival has gone by different names over the years but remains a local tradition.

"I'm 48 and I have memories of coming here as a kid, throwing a ping-pong ball into a glass jar and winning a goldfish," former Mayor and current Fillmore Councilman Steve Conaway said as he took in the scene. "It's just community. You'll see people, families getting together. It's a fun event, and there's nothing wrong with a little music and cotton candy, either."

"Of course," added Conaway, "you've got the parade. That's a staple."

The parade, set to step off on Central Avenue at 10 a.m. today, will be preceded by the Lions Club's Heritage Valley 5K Run/Walk at 8 a.m.

This year, longtime sponsors Bud Lite and the Ventura County Star are joined by newcomers Wells Fargo Bank, Wm. Morris Chevrolet and Pacific Coast Trade School. The event is also backed by host of local companies and organizations.

Event coordinator Shawn Diaz, who runs the festival with the help of a dozen other volunteers, said there are twice as many vendors as last year and he hopes the event will exceed the $60,000 in net proceeds it usually generates for the Fillmore Chamber of Commerce, for which the festival is its top fundraiser.

The May Festival, which costs $80,000 to $90,000 to put on, typically draws 20,000 to 30,000 visitors. Diaz expects to match or exceed that number this year.

"This started as a one-day event and over the years and decades, it's expanded," Diaz said. "My goal is just to continue to take it to the next level."

Emcee R.J. Stump said, "Every year, it seems like it gets bigger and better."

This year, a main entertainment stage has been set up near the beer garden outside City Hall. Diaz credited soundman Jaime "Rico" Rangel of radio station Q104.7 for that particular improvement.

He said a videographer would be recording this year's festivities and the footage will be used to make a promotional video to present to potential sponsors for the centennial event, which might be moved to Two Rivers Park, the city's newest.

As a line formed outside the gates, youngsters gathered in groups, checking out the offerings.

Jacob Prada, 15, said he comes for the rides, his favorite being the Rocko, a sort of Ferris wheel with spinning caged cars.

"I've been coming to this my whole life," he said as he stood near food booths offering Mexican fare, corn dogs, barbecue, fried Twinkies and other fair favorites.

For Teanna Ramirez, 16, the draw is simple.

"The friends — hanging out with people," she said, adding that she came with a posse of 15 and probably wouldn't get home until midnight.

Following the 5K run and the parade, the festival continues today from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Hours on Sunday are from noon to 9 p.m.

The cost of admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children. Carnival tickets run $1 apiece, 20 for $19, and 32 for $25. Each ride takes three to four tickets.

By: JAmes Zoltak

Strawberry festival expected to draw big crowd to Oxnard

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 20th, 2011

Oxnard will turn juicy red this weekend with the 28th annual California Strawberry Festival.

And Chairwoman Daisy Tatum is strongly encouraging festival-goers to take advantage of the 50 free shuttles from any of five sites around the area to get to the event at College Park in south Oxnard.

Her mantra is: "I ride the shuttle. You ride the shuttle. We all ride the shuttle." She said the free rides are a no-stress express to enjoying a day or two of luscious red berries, along with entertainment, various rides, children activities, arts and crafts and more.

She said the shuttles that run every 20 minutes are a practical alternative to paying $10 for parking on site and possibly more for burning gas while sitting in the usual traffic jams. The event typically draws about 65,000 people over two days.

With strawberries being touted as the new super-food — promoting weight-loss and health — the festival is riding high on the popularity of the fruit that generated sales for local growers of more than $515 million in 2009, the latest available figure.

Tatum said her biggest thanks in preparing for the festival go out to the workers who cultivate and pick the crops.

"We wouldn't have all of these strawberries if it weren't for people who labor in the field to make sure to harvest what we're serving on our tables every day," she said.

One of the goals of the festival is to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Last year, the festival diverted 9.3 tons of recyclables from landfills; donated 1,500 pounds of goods to FOOD Share; convinced 14,000-plus people to ride the free Park N Ride Strawberry Shuttle; and partnered with Amtrak to offer incentives for the festival weekend, with free shuttles meeting train passengers.

Tatum said this year the festival has been reconfigured because of construction at the College Park. She said arts and crafts will now be displayed on Rose Avenue, and the children's areas have been divided into two sections.

As a first-time chairwoman, Tatum said she has checked off every item on her to-do list, coordinating 280 of the 400 volunteers who will be working the festival.

"This week I've been working on it every day. It's a full-time job this week," she said, admitting she has butterflies about being at the helm. "We want everybody to come out enjoy the festival. We have something for everyone — young, old and in the middle."

Strawberry festival fun facts include:

- About 1.5 million strawberries will be consumed over the weekend.

- More than $3.5 million has been raised to benefit local charities since the festival began.

- 72 sponsors have signed up, an increase from last year's record of 66.

- 8,000 pounds of sliced strawberries will be used at the popular build-your-own strawberry shortcake tent, as well as 275 flats of whole strawberries, 3,000 loaves of pound cake, and 1,500 cans of whipped cream.

- About 218 artists from 11 states will present their wares.

If you go

What: California Strawberry Festival When and where: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Strawberry Meadows of College Park, adjacent to Oxnard College, 3250 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard.

Cost: $12 adults and teens; $8 seniors and active military with ID; $5 children 5-12; free for kids 4 and younger. Advance tickets available at http://www.strawberry-fest.org.

Transit: Parking is available on-site for $10, but festival organizers recommend taking the free Strawberry Express shuttle from these Oxnard locations: Palms Shopping Center, 2000 Outlet Center Drive; Channel Islands Harbor; Centerpoint Mall, 2687 Saviers Road; Oxnard Transportation Center, 201 Fourth St.; as well as the Camarillo Premium Outlets, Camarillo Center Drive and Plaza La Vista in Camarillo.

Activities: For kids, free attractions include a Berry-Go-Round, carousel, bounce slide and other rides; and for adults, there will be more than 200 vendors selling arts and crafts and various food.

Entertainment: On Saturday, the Festival Stage will feature Unkle Monkey, 10:30 a.m.; Jeanne Tatum (smooth R&B), 12:20 p.m.; Dakota ('60s, '70s and '80s hits), 1:50 p.m.; Bella Donna (Stevie Nicks tribute), 3:20 p.m.; and Platinum Groove, 4:50 p.m. The Dr. Kato Stage will feature Channel Islands Clippers (a cappella barbershop group), 11 a.m.; Chico (Latin pop), 12:30 p.m.; L.A. All Stars of Funk, 2 p.m.; and Blowin' Smoke (R&B), 4:30 p.m. On Sunday, the Festival Stage will feature Famous Strangers (classic pop), 10:30 a.m.; Hammer Smith (blues), 12:20 p.m.; Urban Dread (reggae), 1:50 p.m.; Bob Cowsill, 3:20 p.m.; and Fantastic Diamond (Neil Diamond tribute), 4:50 p.m. The Dr. Kato Stage will feature Skadaddyz, 11 a.m.; The Latin Kings, noon; Moonwalker (Michael Jackson tribute), 2 p.m.; and the Swing Kings (big-band swing), 4 p.m.


LinkedIn IPO Is Set for Thursday

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 18th, 2011

LinkedIn is set to go public May 19. The business-oriented networking site hopes to raise as much as $274 million this week in what will be one of the first major social media IPOs.

LinkedIn will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol LNKD. Its shares are expected to trade in the $32 to $35 range and 7.84 million shares will be available. The company will likely be valued around $3 billion after the IPO.

LinkedIn announced its intention to file for an IPO in January. At the time, the company was valued at $2.51 billion based on shares traded on secondary market SharesPost.

The eight-year-old company hit the 100 million user mark in March and became profitable in 2010 with a net income of $10.1 million and net revenues of $161.4 million in the first nine months of 2010. In Q1, LinkedIn’s revenues hit $93.9 million, a 110% increase from the year-ago period. Net income was $2 million, compared to $1.8 million in Q1 2010.

LinkedIn is the first of a slew of anticipated social media IPOs set for the next year or so. Others include FacebookZyngaGrouponPandoraKayakYelpRovio and ZillowRenren, billed as the “Facebook of China,” went public this month and raised $743.4 million.

 

By: Todd Wassserman

Don't Overlook Customer Service Basics

by Fernando Maxilian

Ventura County Now Staff
May 16th, 2011

The liberal return policies and fast shipping that define Internet marketplaces have made customer service offered by many retailers better than ever, whether they operate brick-and-mortar storefronts or online sites, says Micah Solomon, co-author of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit. The problem, he argues, is that most individuals don't feel better about the service they receive—because of rising expectations, and because many smaller businesses don't do a good job keeping up with their larger counterparts. Solomon's tips for small business owners seeking to improve customer service:

1. Emphasize hellos and goodbyes. Ever wonder why hotels and resorts pay so much attention to the customer entrance experience? Solomon says it's because psychological studies show that people retain the strongest impressions of first and last encounters. "The ones in the middle are kind of a blur," he says.

Pay attention to where your first interaction with customers actually starts: It may be in your parking lot, on your website, or outside your front door. Wherever it is, make sure you "shine the doorknobs," Solomon says. "There's a superstore near me where people have to walk past all this trash and garbage to get inside. It looks like the store owners never stepped outside their front doors."

Avoid similar circumstances by being your own customer for a day. Park where your customers park, walk past what they see coming into your store. Search for your website and review all the links that turn up. "If Google Maps has your hours or phone number wrong, people will be mad at you before they ever get to your place," Solomon says. Make sure every page of your website includes a welcome message that orients customers to your home page and contact information.

2. Train greeters. Have a friendly employee stationed near your door who has a great smile and is not overly aggressive. "You want someone who can figure out what the customer needs but doesn't give off the feeling they're checking for shoplifters," Solomon says. "I was in a music store recently where I felt like a criminal. I made a $10 purchase and then on the way out they demanded to see my receipt. If your greeter is doing double-duty, at least have them be subtle about it."

3. Speed order fulfillment. The length of time customers expect to wait for orders has changed dramatically. "It's not even that you and I expect it faster than our parents did; we expect it faster than we did last year," Solomon says.

If you're a small retailer, think hard about the inventory you stock and what's available through your website. "Customers will not special order from your store anymore. They'll go online and buy it at your competitor, unless it's something very, very special they can't find elsewhere," Solomon says.

4. Hire selectively. It's nearly impossible to teach employees to have a genuine smile or a natural affinity for people. That's why you must hire optimistic, warm, and conscientious people, Solomon says. This is particularly true for those who will interact with customers in person, on the telephone, or online.

Once you have the right people on staff, give them the autonomy to make things right for your customers, no matter what the circumstances.

5. Get the language right. Even a nice person can unwittingly use words that make customers uncomfortable or insult them. "An employee may want to tell a customer, 'You owe $100.' But it's better to say, 'Our records seem to show you have a $100 balance,'" says Solomon. "That gives everyone a chance to save face,."

Don't be afraid to write some simple scripts for your employees—and make sure you model the language you want them to use. For instance, "May I take your plate?" is better wording for a waiter than "Are you still working on that?" A clerk should say, "You're welcome" or "my pleasure" rather than, "no problem," Solomon explains.

6. Develop a system to make each customer feel that employees care. An area where small businesses can shine is in relationships. Encourage employees to get to know regular customers and greet them personally, if possible. "The problem is," he says, "when a company gets even a couple branches bigger, [it loses] that personal touch."

Employ technology to assist you and your employees in remembering details about your customers, their preferences, and their typical purchases. "When a customer gets that feeling that he is remembered when he comes back, that's the best," says Solomon.

 

By: Karen Klein

5 Fatal Mistakes That Hold Back Start-up Business Owners

by Ventura County Now

May 9th, 2011

The definition of a sale is when preparation and opportunity meet on the same day. In business, it helps to understand that customers are working to minimize risk when they enter into contracts with small businesses.  Some small business owners often loose opportunities because of bad habits and not recognizing that certain things must be in place before they start marketing their products and services.  These issues speak directly to trust and credibility for a business owner.

Here are the top five mistakes that hold back start-up entrepreneurs:

1) Not Appreciating Social Intelligence

This is the mistake that small business owners make the most.  Having proper social skills and being in tune with your surroundings will take you a long way in business.

Here are some examples of poor social intelligence:

  • Do you have a tendency to talk too much at networking events, or worse, share too much personal information? No one except the banquet manager cares about how hard it was to find a parking space. Keep your networking chat smart.
  • Are you dressed like someone that has an executive presence? Or, like you should be serving the meal at the event. Everyone should have signature colors and at least three killer outfits. Men, the tie color and the shoes are very important.
  • Do you have a strong elevator pitch or do people need to ask you questions to help you define what you do? Great elevator pitches hit on three key things: explain the type of business, explain the target customer and close with a question.
  • Do you appropriately follow-up new leads and contacts or are you a stalker?  Be smart with follow-up. You can send an email, personal note and make a phone call within three months of meeting a contact unless instructed otherwise. Calling every week will not bring opportunity to your business.

2) Have a Professional Business Website

It’s surprising to me how many business owners still do not have a website.  I can’t remember the last time I used a paper directory or phone book to find a vendor. Many people will perform an internet search before they ever call you, so if your customers can’t find you online, you are missing out on opportunities. Nowadays, pulling together a business website is much easier.  Have an idea of what you want, and if you plan on incorporating a blog I strongly suggest you start writing blog posts at least three months prior to the launch of your website, so that you do not get backed-up trying to develop content once your business starts rolling.

 

3) Make Sure Your Email Address is Branded With Your Company Name and That the Email Address Works

I love my gmail account too, but that’s not the one I use for customer contact. Your emails should come from a branded account that promotes your business.

4) Not Investing in Your Brand

Yes, all of you out there using business cards that you can get for free online are really hurting your business brand.  Invest in a professional logo and a two color business card. Do not hand out business cards that have it printed on the back that they were free.  That tells a prospective customer that you are not serious about your business.

5) Have a Real Phone Number for Your Business

Your small business should have a dedicated phone line with voicemail.  Do not use your cell phone as your main business line.  You’ll never to do business with a major corporation with that as your brand image.  Also, please do not use those answering machines that come with the phone. No matter what you do, the message will never sound professional.

 

By Melinda Emerson

Microsoft Acquires Skype for $8.5 Billion

by Ventura County Now

May 1st, 2011

After rumors that first Facebook and then Microsoft were in talks to acquire Skype, the latter announced that it has acquired the VoIP giant for $8.5 billion in cash.

Skype will be integrated into Microsoft devices and systems such as Xbox and Kinect, Xbox Live, the Windows Phone, Lync and Outlook, Microsoft said in a statement. The company has pledged to continue supporting and developing Skype clients on non-Microsoft platforms as well.

The deal, which was spearheaded by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer with assistance from Charles Songhurst, the company’s head of corporate strategy, was completed Monday evening, AllThingsD reported earlier.

The acquisition is an expensive one for Microsoft. Not only is it the largest price Microsoft has paid for a company in decades, Skype is not yet profitable. Despite revenues totaling $860 million last year and operating profits of $264 million, the company lost $6.9 million overall, according to documents filed with the SEC. And the company carries $686 million in debt.

Much of the company’s appeal rests in its largest user base of 663 million, 145 million of which use Skype monthly (Update: Microsoft says Skype has 170 million regular users), and 8.8 million of which are paying customers.

There is one clear set of winners here: Skype’s investors. A group including Silver Lake, Index Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Investment Board purchased the company from eBay for $2.75 billion in September 2009.

In August, Skype filed for an IPO but put plans on hold after Tony Bates joined the company as CEO in October. Bates will take on the title of president of the Microsoft Skype Division and report directly to Ballmer.

 

by Lauren Indvik