Review: Oanda Currency Converter App–Easy Currency Conversion Within Wi-Fi Or 3G Range

If you’re a small business person, chances are you’ve dealt with currency. And if you’re dealing with currencies from different countries, you need a fast and easy way to convert it. You can keep the day’s Wall Street Journal around with you or turn to an app for small business. We’re talking about the Oanda Currency Converter, tailor made for those who handle cash in other countries’ denominations.

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Review: Odesk.com – The Talent War for Geeks Doesn’t Mean Your Small Business Dream Doesn’t Have a Chance.

Have an idea for an iPhone or Android app? Need to take your web marketing to the next level but can’t afford an army of bloggers and webmasters? How about surfing the web to collect data for the next useful widget on your website?

With the talent wars for geeks heating up (the number of billboards in San Francisco asking software engineers to come work for them hasn’t escaped us) it’s getting harder and harder for small business owners to get into the “app dev” game. Even the folks on Craigslist are advertising $100 an hour minimums again. It’s like the dot com craze all over again. What gives?

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Stopped.at Allows Small Business Owners to Have Foursquare-Like Abilities on Their Own Websites. But Does it Work?

 

Check Out the Stopped.At and Start Checking In!

Talk about marketing power! Look, everyone these days loves their Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, BranchedOut, Netlog and all the business forums you can sink your teeth into, but trust me: this site will blow your mind.

It’s called Stopped.at. That’s it. There’s not even a .com or .org there. It’s a specialized URL address that takes you to a really nifty web site.

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Leverage Your Social Networking Efforts with Klout

It goes without saying that in business, reputation means everything.  What isn’t as obvious, is how to increase brand recognition and customer loyalty.  Many businesses, whether traditional brick and mortar or those that exist entirely online, are turning to social networking opportunities such as Facebook and Twitter as part of their overall marketing strategy.  This is the new ‘word of mouth’, and it can be very powerful.

So how do you know if it is working, when measuring the conversion rate for your online efforts can be difficult?   Fortunately, a free service offered by Klout.com can help!

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Google Docs and Microsoft Office: The Word Processing Battle of the Century

You have a front row seat to the possible knockout of the millennium. Who will deliver the knockout for small businesses? — Google Docs? — or Microsoft Office? Hmm….

Both are tremendous pieces of software, but only one shall leave the ring victorious (the other on a gurnee). You have to look at the pros and cons:

 

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The NYT Small Business Summit is Coming June 13th

In its 6th year, the New York Times Small Business Summit – sponsored by American Express – will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on June 13th.

While most of our readers won’t be able to fly to NYC, the admission fee for those close to Manhattan is a very reasonable $99, and anyone that wants to can register for the small business conference here. While I don’t doubt that there will be plenty of networking opportunities for small business owners, having the CEOs of large tech companies like the Gilt Group and Living Social don’t really strike me as small business “counterparts,” but possibly a chance to pitch your small business partnership idea with such companies? Check out their speaker lineup this year.

Small Business Summit in Grand Hyatt New York 2011

* Photo taken from NYTsmallbusinesssummit.com

Small Business Book Review: Start Small, Finish Big – by Fred Deluca (Founder of Subway)

Small Business Books

Fred opens a new Subway every 8 hours!

With $10,000 as a loan from a family friend (a retired physician) Fred skipped college to start a sub sandwich shop. The journey – filled with small victories, near disasters and tireless hours of toil – is not only an entertaining read but a great lesson(s) in what it is, and how it is, to be a small business owner.

Sandy from her blog summarizes it better than I could, so in her words – the book’s principles can be put into 15 snippets of wisdom. We know you don’t have time to read!

1.    Start Small.  It’s better than never starting at all.
2.    Earn a Few Pennies.  It’s good practice before you earn those dollars.
3.    Begin With an Idea.  There’s probably a good one right under your nose.
4.    Think Like a Visionary.  Always look for the Big Picture.
5.    Keep the Faith.  Believe in yourself and your business, even when others don’t.
6.    Ready, Fire, Aim!  If you think too much about it, you may never start.
7.    Profit or Perish.  Increase sales, decrease costs.  Anything less and your business will perish.
8.    Be Positive.  The School of Hard Knocks will beat you down, but not if you keep a positive attitude.
9.    Continuously Improve Your Business.  It’s the best way to attract customers, and generate sales and profits.
10.    Believe in Your People.  Or they may get even with you!
11.    Never Run Out of Money.  It’s the most important lesson in business.
12.    Attract New Customers Every Day.  Awareness, Trail, and Usage work every time.
13.    Be Persistent:  Don’t Give Up.  You only fail if you quit.
14.    Build a Brand Name!  Earn your reputation.
15.    Opportunity Waits for No One.  Good or bad, breaks are what you make them.

Congrats Fred. It’s your world, we’re just living in it. A great article on Fred here.

 

Testing the Three New Local Merchant Bid Sites

So it just hit the news that two of the founders of the ridiculously fast-growing start-up Groupon ($0 to $6B in two years) have invested in a newly emerging space – local vendors offering quotes on retail services like plumbing, mechanics, delivery, etc. They just gave Openchime $700,000 and it works like this -

Local retailers sign up for the website by describing their service offerings. Customers looking on their site for, say a handyman, would list their needs and receive quotes from the local small business owners.

Will this business model really help small business owners pick up additional customers? Right now it’s free, but I can see a future where they charge local vendors per quote or per month if it takes off. Apparently, some very smart people think so, but in case you wanted to test drive them yourself, I’ve tried the three top websites in this space, Openchime, Red Beacon and Thumbtack here for your review.

 

Openchime (2.5 stars)

What I like:

Offers an easy to sign up interface and explains the importance of keywords in the vendor description (i.e. use keywords you think customers would type into Google when describing your business on Openchime).

small business local vendor bid websites reviewed

Completing the 5 steps took me about 7 minutes.

Be sure to insert “keywords” into the description of your business listing.

Avoid making the description too long.

Inserting keywords into the title of your business listing is even more critical.

Small Business Technology Reviews

Insert a descriptive, keyword rich phrase in Step 3 that describes your services

You’re almost done!

 

What I don’t like -

They didn’t offer me an instant email with a link to see what my profile would look like, only that

“Your Listing is Awaiting Approval.”

Bummer user experience for the first time merchant who is curious to see what the information they just supplied looks like. Teenagers aren’t the only ones who want instant gratification anymore.

Another negative is to have to click 4 mouse-clicks to finish a profile page.

 

Thumbtack (2.25 stars)

Thumbtack reviews and ratings

Thumbtack has a clean, simple homepage layout.

What I like -

Their signup process for local merchants is effortless and resides mostly on a single page you have to scroll down through to complete. Their signup process doesn’t emphasize the importance of inserting keywords into the title description of your local business or the description – but it is equally beneficial here as well.

They also claim they have an “automated listing on Craigslist.” Really? I thought this was against Craigslist’s terms of use?

Thumbtack startup reviews and ratings

Don’t forget those keywords…

Thumbtack service user reviews from small businesses

One form, one two mouse-clicks.

What I don’t like -

Again, the lack of even an email confirmation from someone I just gave potentially sensitive information to dilutes my initial enthusiasm for their user experience.

 

Red Beacon (2.0 stars)

What I like – Honestly, not much. Their sign-up process is somewhat muted. But at least they have video testimonials (yawn).

 

Red beacon startup reviews and ratings

These images are so common on stock photo sites, I'm curious why they went with this design.

 

What I don’t like -

The design seems like someone got mentally lazy and picked some orbital figures from istockphoto.com. Also, their transactions and reviews seem either fake or out-dated. Not saying that they are, just that they seem, let’s just say – quirky.

Here’s what the profile page of local merchants looks like in Red Beacon. BTW I found this by taking a name from one of their testimonials and Googling the person, since Red Beacon’s own website doesn’t have an easy to use search function.

Red Beacon startup gets reviews by small business owners

The verdict -

It remains to be seen whether consumers will flock to a model like this, but if these are the top three, there’s a bit more room to improve. A bit, bit more.