3 Free Online Learning Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

There are many, many online learning opportunities for entrepreneurs. But, just sifting through all the possibilities could give even the most determined entrepreneur a massive headache.

computerSo, instead of 100 places online to learn about starting a business, here are three free resources that I’ve stumbled upon over the past couple of weeks, that offer an encompassing, quality educational experience for new business owners.

The key to online learning in general is getting the right foundations in place at the beginning. Once you know the fundamentals, it will be much easier to pin point those areas where you need further development. These three resources will get you started in the right direction.

1. How to Build a Startup by Steve Blank. If you are just starting up a business for the first time, then head on over to Udacity, and go through this amazing free course. Steve Blank does a great job explaining all the elements of a successful business start-up It’s really one of the best resources around to help you understand the principles and relationships behind customer discovery, the business model canvas, and lean principles in building your start-up

2. The Engagement Toolbox at Firepole Marketing. Firepole Marketing has been around for a few years, but they just revamped their website. Now subscribers can access all FPM’s free tools and resources, including several valuable ebooks, a great video course, and reports, in one central “tool box.” Some of the reports are written for specific business models and industries, like bloggers, artists, and consultants. So you can download information relevant to your business.

3. The HP LIFE e-Learning program. This program by Hewllet Packard actually got it’s start about six years ago and has been evolving and expanding ever since. It offers a self-paced, interactive set of courses in practical IT and business skills to help new entrepreneurs create, establish, and grow successful businesses. The are four main modules that include: finance, marketing, operations, and communication. One of the program’s highlights is a series of poignant, real-life examples of entrepreneurs who overcame various challenges to run successful businesses.

Essential Small Business Twitter Tools: A Compilation (Part II)

In the spirit of the iPhone, the emergence of every great new technology these days leaves in its wake a clamor of software developers racing to build the applications that will enhance its usage. Twitter is certainly no exception. If you are just now beginning to integrate Twitter into your business operations the good news is that there are hundreds of really useful apps out there that can make a big difference in the way you use the site and significantly increase your ROI. The bad news is that with all the options it could get a bit overwhelming, not to mention a time consuming process trying to narrow down the most suitable apps.


To make the process a bit easier, I have compiled a list of some of the most versatile Twitter tools applicable to small businesses and organized them into functional categories. Some of the apps listed here will over lap in terms of features, so it’s a matter of trying them out to see which ones work best for you and your business.

Just a note before getting to the list… If you are just starting out with Twitter, then you should pick no more than two or three of these tools to use at first. As you become more familiar with the site and your pattern of usage and learn more about your needs, you can then change them or add more.

Twitter Search Tools

ChirpCity– A local Twitter search that allows you to see the latest tweets and the top twitterers in a given location.

Nearby Tweets – Find twitterers near your area; you can also limit your search by radius and keywords

Tweepz – A powerful search engine that helps you find people on twitter. Search within the name, bio and location.

Twellow – A search directory of people by area of expertise, profession or other attribute listed in users’ personal profiles on Twitter.

Tweefind – A Twitter search engine that displays results based on users’ rank

Twazzup A real-time Twitter search engine. Search Tweets, related photos and the most popular links.

Tracking News and Trends in Real-time

Trendistic – Search trends in the topics discussed on Twitter, and compare trends across topics.

Tweetmeme – A great resource to see the most recent news and trends within your industry.

Keeping Track of and Managing Follower Lists

Twitoria – This application allows you sort through your network of followers and filter out the inactive users.

Tweepler – Sort through new followers and easily accept them or ignore them. This app shows the followers’ stats and last three tweets in one simple screen view.

Twimailer – Use this free email client to receive extensive email notifications when your account gets new followers. Emails contain the follower’s location, followers stats as well as their most recent tweets. It also includes the ability to follow the person or organization back without having to log into Twitter.

Digsby – Manage all your existing IM, email, and social network accounts from one application.

IsFollow. This web-based Twitter app that lets you find out who is following who without having to login.

Topify – Another email client that provides new follower stats and allows you to follow and reply to direct messages by email.

FollowWatch – Receive hourly alerts of followers that you have gained or lost.

Qwitter – Receive an email notification whenever anyone stops following you.

Account Management

Future Tweets -Schedule your tweets ahead of time. You can also schedule reoccuring tweets daily, monthly, and yearly.

Tweetburner – This app allows you to keep track of what happens to the links in tweets you share.

Tweet Later – Track keywords, track replies, schedule tweets, send welcome direct messages.

Splitweet – A multi-account management app and brand monitor all in one screen.

Multi-user Account Management

Cotweet – Manage multiple accounts with multiple users by creating tweet assignments and on duty status, in addition to having access to several other productivity tools.

Hootsuite – Use this Twitter client to manage multiple Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn & WordPress profiles as well as montior keywords, schedule updates, and measure your impact.

Group Tweet – This app enables users to send private Twitter messages to specific groups of friends or co-workers.

Tweeting from Your Web Browser

Twitter Toolbar – Use this toolbar to get instant access to Twitter from your browser. Post tweets, check your stats, and access a variety of online Twitter tools.

TwitterFox – A Firefox plugin allowing people to post Twitter updates and recieve them from followers from their Firefox browser.

Feed Monitoring

Monitter – A web-based tool that allows you to monitor Twitter in real-time for mentions of any specified keywords.

Tweetbeep – Set up email alerts so that anytime anyone mentions your brand or any other specified keywords on Twitter, you receive an email notification in your inbox.

Twitter Clients

Tweetdeck – Stay on top of and even update all of your social media sites, manage multiple Twitter accounts, see top trends, and much more all from one screen and all for free. It’s even available for the iPhone.

Seesmic– A versatile Twitter client that includes features such as Twitter list integration and the ability to preview multi-media bit.ly links within the same browser window.

Twitzap – A web-based Twitter client that provides real-time Twitter monitoring and allows users to slice tweet streams into designated channels.

Blog and Website Integration

Twitterfeed – Allows you to feed your blog posts to Twitter.

Twit This – Allow visitors to your blog or website to post Twitter messages.

Twitter Counter – A badge that displays the number of your Twitter followers. You can add this to your site and invite customers to follow you on Twitter.


Bit.ly – This popular URL shortener also packs several analytics features.

Twitalyzer – Analyzes how effectively you are using Twitter by measuring five aspects of Twitter use: “influence, signal, generosity, velocity, and clout. The factors that influence these metrics include your number of followers, references by others, your retweet rate, and the number of times others retweet your posts. The new beta version also calculates the “hidden costs” of using Twitter based on your hourly pay.

Twitteranalyzer – Get quick, in depth analyis of your Twitter account activity. Plug in your account name and have instant access to a variety of stats.

Tweetstats – Graph your Twitter activity stats including tweets per hour and month as well as reply stats.

Multi-media/ File Sharing

Bubble Tweet – Use this app to post a short video message that pops up on your Twitter profile.

TwitPic – Share your favorite pictures on Twitter.

Twitxr – Post pictures and updates from your mobile phone directly to Twitter.

Tweetr – Share files up to 10MB via Twitter.

Twiturm – Share your MP3 files and turn them into a Tweet.

Twisten.FM – Listen to all of the music tweeted about in real-time.

TweetPhoto – A photosharing app that can upload photos by email, mobile or web. You can also manage and track who is viewing your photos.

yFrog – Use this app to share images and videos.

FileTwt – Quickly and easily upload and Tweet your files up to 20MB.

TinySong – Share songs with this application.

TweetMic – This iPhone application allows you to publish audio to Twitter

Marketing/Customer Relations

twtQpon – Use this handy app to create coupons and share them with your Twitter followers.

TwitterHawk – This app will send your local Twitter users a response if they tweet a certain keyword in specifc locations.

Information Back-up

Tweetake – Back up your list of Twitter followers, the people you are following as well as of your Tweets.

Twitter Safe – Use this app to ensure that your network of followers will not be compromised.

Miscellenous Business Tools

Track This – Track the progress of any UPS, USPS, FedEx or DHL shipments.

Tweetbrain This is a powerful crowdsourcing service for the Twitterers.

CalendarTweet – Use this app to tag, share and promote events.

Twitterific – An iPhone app that allows you to easily read and update Tweets.

TwitterMass – A paid-for suite of tools to help you grow your Twitter network.

TwitterContd – Expand your tweets to1250 characters and simultaneously upload images, video or audio.

Twiggit – This app works in conjunction with Digg.com. Digg an article, and your Twitter account will be automatically updated with the link.

Twitter Gallery – A collection of profile backgrounds.

Essential Small Business Twitter Tips: A Compilation

Small business owners wondering how they can harness the power of Twitter to increase sales and build their business connections can find several great lists floating around the web. For example, check out here, here and here.

Almost all of these tips essentially boil down to one point: success with Twitter as a business tool revolves around building and maintaining your relationships- something which on the surface seems surprising given that posts are limited to 140 characters. How much can one actually do in 140 characters?


As it turns out, quite a lot.


Twitter is a dynamic online social experience that provides a real-time wellspring of business networking, and customer interaction, as well as critical information and insight from industry leaders and experts. But underlying all this, Twitter allows a community of users to engage with each other in a quick and easy way.


Below is a summary of the most essential tips for small and home business owners looking to break into the Twitter scene for the first time. In a following post, I will examine several Twitter apps which can significantly enhance your Twitter time and information management.


1. Develop your business’ profile page. If you are new to Twitter then your first order of business is to build up your profile page. This is the page that other Twitter users (i.e. your potential business contacts and customers) will consult to find out what you and your business are all about. One of the biggest pieces of advice regarding this page is to let your personality or your business’ brand image shine bright. For a few stunning examples, check out @idesignstudios, @sitepointdotcom, @spurrachel, and @Doubleolee. If you are not the creative type, there are several web apps available, such as, Free Twitter Designer, that can help you create a customized profile page background.


2. In the beginning… silence is golden. Some new to Twitter may be tempted to jump right in and start tweeting away. But before you seriously begin offering any comments, ancedotes, links, or responses, it is a good idea to spend a couple of weeks just following a few of the conversations. Getting used to the tone and flow of a thread before posting will help you to keep your tweets focused and relevant.


3. Build up your followers list slowly. Don’t start following a hundred people on your first day. Begin adding friends and family, then work your way out. By slowly adding people or businesses to your followers list, it gives them the time to get to know who you are and maybe reciprocate by following you.


Another tip: If you are specifically looking to add a certain group of people to your followers list, for example, other business owners in your state or county, then it is also a good idea to send out a tweet letting people know that this is your intention. That way, if you add anyone from this group they will know why they were added.


4. Stay away from spam, and over self-promotion. Though advertisement and self-promotion have their place on Twitter, it should be done carefully and in moderation. One of the biggest turn-offs in the Twitosphere (followed by a quick click on the “unfollow” button) is being bombarded with sales pitches.


5. Focus on building relationships. One of the best ways to build connections and increase visibility on Twitter is to take some time to scan the message stream and retweet or reply to the posts of other users. Specifically look for places where you can offer help or advice. Engaging with your followers is also important. Don’t forget to acknowledge anyone who took the time the RT one of your tweets.


6. Keep your flow of tweets interesting, consistent, and well-balanced. Ideally, your tweets should be a mixed bag of links, “status” updates, responses to other users, interesting retweets, and even a bit of chatter. The goal is to be approachable, engaging, and genuine. If you have a good sense of humor, use it as long as it is tasteful.


7. Use Twitter with time and content management tools. Twitter can be a really big time guzzler. After setting up your profile page and adding a few people, businesses, and/or communities to your follows list, you will want to put some controls in place to ensure that you are not spending too much time with the site. Your “tools” can be as simple as having a daily schedule with your “Twitter time” blocked out at set intervals, or you can use Twitter in conjunction with any number of Twitter apps, such as tweetdeck and tweetbeep.


8. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. There are many creative ways that small businesses can use Twitter. Some examples include: running a Twitter contest, offering discounts to Twitter users, sending out real-time updates of what’s happening in your business, as well as tweeting new product and service announcements.

What Happens When a Small Business Declares Bankruptcy?

The recent announcement that GM has filed for bankruptcy is only the latest in a list of big corporations that have taken the financial plunge- a list that includes such “household names” as Circuit City, KB Toys, CompUSA, Linens n’Things, and most recently, Chrysler). This unavoidable trend also includes many smaller businesses and consumers.

Since this trend is likely to continue for the next year or two ( I’m on the pessimistic side), I wanted to dedicate a post to the subject.

I have found that although most people (especially business owners) may recognize that bankruptcy is something to avoid, they often do not know what actually happens when a business “goes bankrupt.”

The first thing to know is that when it comes to businesses, there are two types of bankruptcy that apply, Chapter 7 and Chapter 11. Each one has very different terms, procedures, and consequences.

Under Chapter 7, also known as “liquidation bankruptcy” once the filing is underway, an administrator or trustee is appointed to sell off the business’ non-exempt assets so that the outstanding debts can be repaid to the fullest extent possible. The portion of the debt that cannot be repaid through the asset liquidation is then discharged. Businesses generally try to avoid Chapter 7, because the process makes it impossible to continue operating.

With a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, the business continues its regular operations, maintains control and ownership of all assets, and tries to draw up a plan to pay off creditors. A business will choose to file Chapter 11 if its future revenues will be higher than the liquidation value of its assets. Many of the creditors will also benefit since they can get more money back if they allow the business to reorganize and work out some kind of payment plan. Under the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, the business has 120 days to come up with its reorganization and payment plan.

The major drawback for filing Chapter 11 is that it can be a costly and time-consuming process. Even smaller businesses will need to hire professionals to help them sort out their debt, and sometimes a plan’s approval can take several months

All business owners who are considering bankruptcy should keep in mind that the bankruptcy will appear on the business’ credit report which will make it harder for the business to get business loans, credit, and leasing contracts for several years. Bankruptcy also stunts business growth. Under Chapter 11, the business can only conduct regular operations. This means no growth-oriented transactions, such as buying a new property or expanding an existing space.

In short, though bankruptcy may help some businesses stay afloat, this “life jacket” has a lot of lead inside of it.

(Image Credit)

Top 30 Excuses for not Coming to Work

Want to take a mental health day but are having trouble coming up with a good excuse? I scoured the web in search of the best excuses for not coming to work, and here are my top 30 finds. If by the end of this list you still need more inspiration, check out this site.

  1. If it is all the same to you I won’t be coming in to work. The voices told me to clean all the guns today.
  2. When I got up this morning I took two Ex-Lax in addition to my Prozac. I can’t get off the john, but I feel good about it.
  3. I set half the clocks in my house ahead an hour and the other half back an hour Saturday and spent 18 hours in some kind of space-time continuum loop, reliving Sunday (right up until the explosion). I was able to exit the loop only by reversing the polarity of the power source exactly e * log(pi) clocks in the house while simultaneously rapping my dog on the snout with a rolled up Times. Accordingly, I will be in late, or early.
  4. I can’t come in to work today because I’ll be stalking my previous boss, who fired me for not showing up for work. OK?
  5. I have a rare case of 48-hour projectile leprosy, but I know we have that deadline to meet…
  6. I am stuck in the blood pressure machine at Wal-Mart.
  7. Yes, I seem to have contracted some attention-deficit disorder and, hey, how about them Skins, huh? So, I won’t be able to, yes, could I help you? No, no, I’ll be sticking with Sprint, but thank you for calling.
  8. Constipation has made me a walking time bomb.
  9. I just found out that I was switched at birth. Legally, I shouldn’t come to work knowing my employee records may now contain false information.
  10. The psychiatrist said it was an excellent session. He even gave me this jaw restraint so I won’t bite things when I am startled.
  11. The dog ate my car keys. We’re going to hitchhike to the vet.
  12. I won’t be in today. My home is flooded and I’m currently standing on my dresser in my second story bedroom.
  13. I have a bad case of diarrhea, gas, or food poisoning.
  14. I am not coming in because I tried to dye my hair blond, but it came out green!
  15. My dog is having puppies and I need to help her.
  16. I won’t be able to make it to work today due to my Aunt flying in from ______________, you see, she has one arm and two pieces of luggage and really needs me to be there for her.
  17. Don’t call, don’t write, don’t let anyone know what’s going on – take an extra week, or two. Then when you are ready to go back to work, just call up your boss and say…. ” Don’t pay the ransom – I escaped! “
  18. I’m sorry I was late, I forgot to look at my watch!!!
  19. I called in and told them my front door fell off my house!
  20. I’m sorry that I’m late for work today boss. I stayed home to wait for the cable guy. Then I remembered that you don’t pay me enough for me to have cable. So here I am. 
  21. Sorry I’m late, but I couldn’t get my car started. Boss: Why not? Employee: I was asleep.
  22. Sorry….I over slept and I forgot to come in for the first day of work at my new job. Is it OK to come in tomorrow?
  23. I’m sorry I am late, but it was foggy and I missed the building.
  24. I can’t make it to work for the next couple of days , my leg’s in Kentucky. (He has an artificial leg)
  25. I thought that I’d be more productive if I didn’t come in today.
  26. I dropped my car keys in the snow and I’m waiting for the temperature to warm up so I can find them.
  27. I can’t come to work today. My house is burning down and the fire engine’s blocking my driveway.
  28. I won’t be in today….I’m calling in dead.
  29. The blankets were too heavy for me to lift so I was stuck in bed all day.
  30. I’m really just working from home for free!

Enjoy your day off!

Beat Your Debt Stress – Keep Your Health

Americans today are shouldering an enormous economic burden, and it might not just be having effects on our pocketbooks.  Research shows it could be effecting our health as well.

A slowing economy, rising energy and food prices, and a slump in the housing market combined with a flurry of home foreclosures and the ever-present pressure to “keep up with the Jones” are all contributing to the increase in the number of Americans falling further and further into debt. To make matters worse, according to a recent Associated Press-AOL Health poll, those who are struggling with debt are likely to report a wide range of health problems from migraine headaches to severe depression.

Of the survey respondents who experienced high levels of debt stress:

  • 27 percent had ulcers or digestive tract problems
  • 44 percent had migraines or other headaches
  • 29 percent suffered severe anxiety
  • 23 percent had severe depression
  • 6 percent reported heart attacks, double the rate for those with low debt stress.
  • 51 percent, had muscle tension, including pain in the lower back.

Knowing how to effectively cope with debt stress will not only help you to regain a sense of balance and well being, but can give you the emotional boost you need to get back on your feet again.

Here are four key parts to managing your debt stress:

1. Watch Your Attitude.

In every place where stress management is discussed you will hear about the benefits of having a positive attitude. After all, a person who lacks self-acceptance and positivity will not be so motivated to seek help. But for some people, or for those in particularly difficult life situations, it may be very hard to “just be positive.” If you are having difficulty maintaining a healthy attitude about yourself or your situation, look for outside sources of inspiration.  It can help a lot to surround yourself with positive people; reading inspirational stories can also be helpful.

2. Seek Out a Support System.

Even with the best attitude, it is important to have people around you such as friends, family, church members, and/or support groups.  A support system offers encouragement and assistance. Depending on how badly you are struggling, counseling may also be appropriate.  Unfortunately, it is also expensive – making it a potentially stressful option for someone who is in a financial struggle.  On the other hand, nothing is more valuable than your health.

3. Live Healthy.

It goes without saying that your psychological/emotional health is directly connected to your physical health (that’s the point of the survey). Remember, though, that the connection works both ways: by taking care of your body you can affect how you feel.

  • Exercise. Focus on activities that will get you out of the house, such as walking or riding a bike. The fresh air and sun can do wonders.
  • Eat well.  Even if you are not in the habit of eating healthy or don’t have much of an appetite (which is normal if you are stressed), at least make sure to eat two to three times a day (especially in the morning).
  • Go to all your check-ups.  A basic part of living healthy is going to “health visits” to the doctor.  These are the checkups you go to when you are perfectly healthy.  When you see your doctor on a “health visit” they can check your general health much more effectively than if you see them only when you have the flu.  They can order any appropriate tests and give you preventative care to prevent you from developing serious disease.
  • Look into alternatives.  Finally, you can research natural or holistic remedies that help with relaxation and help with creating calm and balance.

4. Make a Plan of Action.

The above tips are all important, but they are mostly symptom-focused.  The “cut it at the root” essential aspect to managing your debt stress is to improve your financial situation.  Meeting with an experienced debt counselor, consolidating your debts, and creating a budget will give you peace of mind and help to restore a sense of control.  Eventually, these steps can lead to a life absent of debt stress, due to a lack of debt.

By actively dealing with any stress that your debts are causing, you can keep your health and increase your chances of being on top of your finances once again.

How to Define Your Personal Values, Vision and Goals

Every successful company has a list of values, vision and goals — although some “mean” them more than others. What I mean, is that sometimes they are empty phrases so that they have an answer if someone asks, “What are your company values?” Other companies, really try to integrate their values, make decisions with their vision in mind, and set goals which will help them in their vision. If these 3 definitions are important for a company, then they are crucial for an individual. Without values, vision and goals, individuals float around life with out anything _real_ to base their decisions on, and without working towards anything in particular.

1) Discover Your Values

A good first step in uncovering values, is the “eulogy” exercise. Sleep on it, and then don’t spend more than three minutes jotting down a eulogy that you hope is said one day (many years from now) at your funeral. Who would say it? What do you hope they would say about you? Now, go back and read it and see what the central themes are. It is likely that these are your values.

2) Pare them Down to Core Values

Most people can come up with a ton of things that they value, but it is impossible to focus on all of them at once. Pick about three core values which are most important to you and non-negotiable.

3) Integrate your Values into your Vision

There are two elements of a vision: envisioned future and core ideology. The latter outlines your core value and what you see as the primary purpose of your existence. The envisioned future has a 10-30 year goal with a vivid description which describes what achieving that goal will be like.

Your vision should deal with your place in the world and the effects from your actions. It should take your values and place them into context of what you want to do with them, where you want to be in life, and how you want to effect those around you.

4) Defining your Goals

Goals should be attainable and in line with your vision and values. It is good to have staggered goals — some which are easier to attain in a short amount of time, and other bigger, more challenging ones which are in the distance.

5) Checking-In

As you progress through life, you may find that your values change – as you attain goals, you will have new ones. Sometimes you will lose track of your values, vision and goals. In any of these cases, a regular “check-in” will be helpful. Ask yourself questions such as: Have I been living according to these values and this vision? and Am I making progress towards my goals. If the answer is no, then either you have been lazy, or else you might need to reexamine the values, vision and goals that you have set.

Memorial Day – Remembering Why

If you have ever been in Canada during the month of November, you are sure have to seen a plethora of red poppies on people’s lapels. Although Remembrance Day is November 11th (the US’ Veterans day), the entire nation buys and wears the little red cloth flowers in memorial of fallen soldiers from the Canadian Royal Legion over the course of the entire month. Money from the purchases support Veterans. The same poppies are worn in England. Most countries have two minutes of silence at 11am on November 11th in memory of the fallen.

On Israel’s Memorial Day (Yom HaZicharon), there are 2 separate minutes of silence (one in the morning and one in the evening) where the entire country stops, gets out of their cars, stands on their porches and listens to a siren while reflecting on the lives which have been given by its soldiers. The radio stations all play sad songs, and there are sad movies on the television.

In the US, although there are some ceremonies and some volunteers who decorate graves of fallen soldiers, most Americans consider Memorial Day to be the 3rd day of Memorial Day Weekend. This is a time to go on vacation and have fun, maybe have a barbeque or go on a fishing trip.

Now that the US is at war again, and the number of fallen soldiers is growing more and more, perhaps more people recognize the disservice we are doing to the memory of those who have fallen for our freedom. There has been a growing movement to change Memorial Day back to May 30th – so as to separate it from the “three day holiday” mentality.

What do you think?  Do you “celebrate” Memorial Day?  Or Memorial Day Weekend?  How does the 3-day weekend effect your business?  Let me know your thoughts?