November 24, 2020

You’re the Boss: How to Run a Small Business

Once again, here at You’re the Boss, we spent the year in the small-business trenches. Unlike some publications, we don’t emphasize the stories of rock star entrepreneurs who never seem to struggle; instead, we emphasize the struggle.

Our journalists look for issues and trends that small businesses need to understand. And our bloggers – most of whom actually own and run businesses – write about their experiences on the front lines. They share the ups and downs, what’s working and what’s not, the lessons learned. And along the way, they benefit from the feedback of some of the smartest small-business readers around.

While a year of tough economic conditions and nasty politics produced some lowlights, here at You’re the Boss we had lots of highlights. A sampling:

Jay Goltz wrote about how to diagnose what’s wrong with your business. And the one task he can’t seem to delegate. And his moving conversation with the owner of a start-up who was trying to decide whether to give up. And his reaction to a commenter who said she was satisfied being a mediocre employee. And whether good bosses have to be cutthroat. And why it’s silly not to check references.

Paul Downs wrote about his desperate struggle to figure out what went wrong with his Google Adwords campaign. And why he’s looking for a new bank. And the mechanics of firing people. And trying to make an especially difficult customer happy. And how much money he takes out of his business. And how he decides how much to pay his employees.

Jessica Bruder wrote about how small businesses are using services like Fiverr, Yext, and TaskRabbit. And why a fast-growing flower business won’t hire anyone who has experience in the flower industry. And a Harvard professor’s theories on why start-ups fail.

Bruce Buschel wrote about his endless efforts to collect on his insurance claims. And a surprise offer from a generous gentleman.

Melinda F. Emerson wrote about a diner that has mastered social media. And how a business can struggle to make social media work. And how you can use social media to test an idea before you try to sell it.

Adriana Gardella wrote about the struggles of her She Owns It business group, including: one owner’s plans to redesign her Web site, the technologies that got the owners through Hurricane Sandy, one owner’s attempts to improve her business’s tag line, the perceptions that woman- and minority-owned businesses battle, why it’s so hard to find good job candidates, how the owners have been trying to make sense of health care.

Ami Kassar wrote about grading banks on their small-business lending. And about why one company passed up the opportunity to appear on “Shark Tank.” And the advantages of starting a company without outside financing. And what businesses need to know about merchant cash advances. And whether the big banks are keeping their commitments to small businesses. And the right way to think about the S.B.A. And why some businesses aren’t ready for bank lending. And why small-business lending is such a confusing mess.

Robb Mandelbaum wrote about the impact of health insurance reform on businesses in Massachusetts. And about Jon Stewart’s serious proposal to encourage entrepreneurship. And about Mitt Romney’s views on small businesses. And whether big businesses really want to help small businesses (or just get good publicity). And why the health care tax credit is eluding so many small businesses. And why one small-business owner is expecting the worst from the health care overhaul. And how the so-called Buffett rule would affect small businesses. And how some surprisingly large businesses — including one you may have heard of! — benefit from small-business set-asides.

Cliff Oxford wrote about how to handle the brilliant jerk. And an entrepreneurial doctor who isn’t afraid to shake things up.

Josh Patrick wrote about how the sale of a business can go terribly wrong. And the joys (and dangers) of running a microbusiness. And whether owning a business is likely to get you through retirement.

MP Mueller wrote about wondering just how honest you can be with certain clients. And how it’s possible to build a brand even if you can’t afford advertising. And a stunning new social media tactic. And her advertising agency’s struggle to attract new business.

Tom Szaky wrote about why his social business was eager to strike a deal with tobacco companies. And how he interviews job candidates. And his problem with performance reviews.

Barbara Taylor wrote about using your 401(k) to buy a business. And how to judge whether a business for sale is worth the asking price.

Ian Mount wrote about a nut retailer who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy the perfect domain name – only to have it cost him more than 70 percent of his organic Web traffic. Darren Dahl wrote about the surprising number of products that businesses are trying to sell on a subscription basis, including dog food. He also wrote about how some small businesses are being priced out of using AdWords. Glenn Rifkin wrote about a restaurateur who used to deal drugs, once stole a municipal bus and now manages a company with nine businesses, more than 250 employees and more than $19 million in annual revenue. And Eilene Zimmerman wrote about a family farm that has had to try to explain to its customers why its rice contains arsenic.

And every week, Gene Marks scours the Web so that you don’t have to — looking for links to all of the stories that have the biggest impact on small-business owners. On Tuesday, he selected the best of those stories from the last year.

Happy New Year from the You’re the Boss team.

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You’re the Boss Blog: H.Bloom Wants to Be the ‘Netflix of Flowers’

Bryan Burkhart: We’re closing a quality-to-price gap.Courtesy of H.Bloom.Bryan Burkhart: “We’re closing a quality-to-price gap.”


The adventure of new ventures.

Last year, two software geeks who’d never been anywhere near the flower business — in fact, one of them is, quite literally, allergic to it — started H.Bloom, an online, subscription-based floral delivery service that operates in New York, Chicago and Washington.

Employees: 38 full time.

Location: New York.

Founders: Bryan Burkhart, 36, and Sonu Panda, 35, met in 1997 at the University of Pennsylvania and spent the next decade in the software industry. In 2009, they decided to cast off software in favor of … flowers?

What sounds like a romantic venture was actually a shrewd calculation. Neither of the guys had a green thumb (Mr. Panda is allergic to pollen), but both could spot a disruptive opportunity. They were surprised to learn how much of the $35 billion floral industry still relied on the old, brick-and-mortar economy, untouched by technology. Though companies like and FTD had brought much of the floral gift-delivery market to the Web, a huge part of the industry — self-bought flowers for home and office display — still belongs mostly to bodegas, boutiques and high-end supermarkets.

Pitch: This is a subscription service. “We’re the Netflix of flowers,” said Mr. Burkhart, the company’s chief executive (he said this before Netflix’s recent struggles). “We enable customers to sign up for luxurious flowers with convenient delivery at really affordable prices.”

A basic subscription costs $29 per bouquet, including weekly, every two weeks or monthly delivery. Clients can suspend service when they’re out of town.

Running an exclusively online shop helps H.Bloom keep overhead low, Mr. Burkhart said. And in an industry where spoilage is a huge problem, the subscription model offers a distinct advantage, letting him know in advance how much inventory he should buy. Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar florists, which lose 30 to 50 percent of their products to spoilage, he said, H.Bloom has a spoilage rate of 2 percent.

Mr. Burkhart said he believed he could pass the savings along to customers and still profit: “We’re closing a quality-to-price gap.”

Traction: H. Bloom boasts 200 corporate customers and 600 consumer subscribers. The company entered its third market, Chicago, this month.

Revenue: The company started selling flowers in New York in April 2010 and brought in $342,000 in revenue for that year. Mr. Burkhart projects that sales for 2011 will top $2 million.

Financing: The company has raised $8 million across three rounds of financing. Earlier this month, H.Bloom announced the latest: a $4.7 million venture capital round led by Battery Ventures. Also participating were Brian Lee, the founder of LegalZoom and ShoeDazzle, and Anton Levy, a General Atlantic partner and Gilt Groupe board member.

Marketing: The company targets two separate audiences: companies and consumers. For its corporate line, H.Bloom hires full-time salespeople with quotas in each local market. They pound the pavement visiting businesses that include restaurants, hotels and property management offices. On the consumer side, H. Bloom relied until recently on word of mouth but just hired a head of marketing and is preparing to introduce an opening salvo of direct-mail and online advertising.

Competition: Most existing online floral subscription services – including “bouquet of the month”-style offers from companies such as Teleflora and FTD and 1-800-Flowers – target gift-givers and are packaged and priced accordingly. H.Bloom targets a different demographic, however, and it’s one left mostly untapped by Internet-based services. Eighty-four percent of H.Bloom’s subscribers receive flowers at least every other week, suggesting their subscriptions are not one-time gifts: they’re bought by the end users.

H.Bloom’s primary competitors for making nongift flower sales are all the places people buy themselves flowers already, a fragmented market including those bodegas, boutiques and high-end grocery stores. “I think we fit really nicely in between,” Mr. Burkhart said, “because we provide the luxury arrangements and convenience of delivery that a high-end boutique would offer but, because of the subscription model and being able to buy directly from the farms, we’re able to offer prices much more closely resembling a grocery store.”

Rapid growth would also help him deliver the kind of bargain that will ward off would-be competitors. “Getting to a certain volume allows price breaks that you just can’t get as a sole proprietorship,” he said.

Challenge: Staffing the planned expansion. H.Bloom wants to grow like a weed, entering 25 cities in the next five years, then tackling both smaller American markets and international markets. To that end, the company has established what it calls the SEED program to find and foster new leadership. (SEED stands for Startup Education and Entrepreneurial Development.) The first graduate was just dispatched to Chicago after completing a six-month training program in New York, where he learned skills such as how to read a profit-and-loss statement, how to hire and how to handle customer service.

“If we can do this well, first, it will allow us to succeed as a business and expand across the country, but also I think it will train a whole host of future entrepreneurs,” Mr. Burkhart said. Eventually, he said, he hopes that he will end up investing in some of their start-ups.

What do you think? Is there a need for a “Netflix of flowers,” and does the SEED program sound like good training for future entrepreneurs?

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