What is the You Economy? A chat with Tara Gentile (take the survey)

Welcome to the You Economy. PS, if you’re a “creative entrepreneur” you’re already part of the movement.

At Red Slice, one of my values is that creativity and cash flow are not mutually exclusive. We’re seeing it all around us in the New Economy: people building brands based on a social mission; billionaires supporting philanthropy and profits at the same time – and thousands of small businesses and “solopreneurs” creating positive change, healthy businesses and meaningful lives.

Tara Gentile is a crusader in this mission – with a different slant. She’s a writer, speaker and business coach leading what she terms the You Economy. What does that mean? “I’m redefining the whole business paradigm as the exchange of commerce, experience, and meaning so that my clients can earn more while making their customers’ lives richer.”

See? Passion, profits and doing good can all co-exist. Tara is living proof: “I’m an aspiring theologian turned business thinker. I’m the daughter of a creative entrepreneur – though she didn’t realize it at the time – and the mother of a daughter I can’t imagine will be anything but!”

Tara’s the author of The Art of Earning – a guide to rewriting your personal money story for the New Economy.  And if you’re a small business or solopreneur, help her spread the word about the power of microbusiness by completing the $100 Million Microbusiness Survey.

RS: Tara, welcome! Please tell us about what your do for entrepreneurs and what you see as the biggest barrier to small business success.
TG: I enable people to discover what is really valuable about what they do. We most often get into business for ourselves but our self-interested motivations don’t cut it when it comes to really developing a business that works! It’s all about seeing things through the customer’s eyes. That takes some experimentation, insight, and confidence. It’s also takes getting out of your own head and into someone else’s.

The biggest barrier to success for small business owners is themselves! Business owners get so caught up in doing things “right” that they forget to do what works best for themselves and their customers. I find there is still an immense amount of fear in doing business, as well. Fear keeps you from clearing your schedule to work on your latest & greatest idea, it keeps you from trying something new to engage your customers in a new way, it keeps you from offering the product or service that will make your business go from surviving to thriving.

RS: What is the $100 million microbusiness survey and how did it come about? What do you hope to achieve or find out?
TG: The $100 Million Microbusiness Survey is an attempt to gather data on $100 million of economic activity by microbusiness owners. Because we tend to measure our business production in terms of “salaries” and not revenue that’s streaming into the economy, we sell ourselves short.
In 2009, 95.5% of US businesses were microbusinesses. In 2008, $265 BILLION of net income was achieved through sole proprietor businesses in the United States. In 2009, $837 BILLION worth of sales were generated by non-employer businesses in the United States. Yet, we know very little about these kind of businesses.

My goal with the survey is to better understand who these business owners are, what difficulties they face, and maybe – just maybe – how we can help them to achieve their dreams through media awareness & government policy.

RS: Great stuff! PS, everyone with a microbusiness reading this should take the survey now and let their voice be heard. In your opinion, what is the future of small business success in this country – or even worldwide? Any juicy trends or predictions to share?
TG: The future of business in the United States – and around the globe – is small business. More specifically, the future is microbusiness. My “juicy trend” might seem like a downer but really it’s quite optimistic: the jobs aren’t coming back. Our economic production will continue to grow through technology, not human resources. If we want people to be earning real money in fulfilling ways, we need to plug them into real businesses.

Those businesses may represent ways in which they would have been employed in the past (think freelancers earning more with greater flexibility) or they could be in new fields, serving people in new ways. Government needs to make it much easier for us to take agency over our livelihoods. We need health solutions that work, tax solutions that work, child care solutions that work, investment solutions that work.  And we need it now. We, the microbusiness owners, will pull us out of this downward spiral. We are the New Economy.

Connect with Tara Gentile on Twitter or Facebook. And please take and share the $100 Million Microbusiness Survey today.

Have you built a business that may not have existed 50 or even 25 years ago? Does your business enable flexibility and creativity in your own life? Please share in the Comments below!

Mobile, Mea Culpa and the Brat Pack: 2011 Advertising Trends

bratpackLoved this WSJ article by Suzanne Vranica on Monday about the 2011 trends in advertising.  Not surprisingly, interactivity, personalization and new technologies lead the pack in what’s hot for 2011. But just as with fashion, there are a few interesting themes emerging (or re-emerging, as the case may be) that might look good on the catwalk this year, but frighten us the next. The trend that made me squeal with delight is revealed at the end of this post.

So what’s the deal in 2011?

Mobile ads are getting hotter and hotter. Between location-based services and the rise in smart phones, mobile has shown us how “sexy” it can be – now it’s time to up the game. Look out for more ads that enable you to bypass the store completely and purchase directly from the brand ad on your phone. And you know how brand apps followed quickly on the heels of game apps for your phone, enabling you to compare prices, find stores or even find clean restrooms (courtesy of Charmin)? Same will hold true this year for your TV.  With cable set-top boxes and gaming systems, look for more brands to bring apps to your TV set.

Suzanne also cites that longer brand ads will be the norm, as we try to cut through the clutter and offer more engaging, deeper experiences. Such “films” may also encourage the trend of an interactive virtual product demo, like the one that Mitsubishi did with its Online Test Drive for the 2011 Outlander Sport last year.

Sports marketing will expand in the sponsorship area but more for the “everyday” athlete and not just the Super Bowl. The trend in health, wellness and lifestyle activities will see more and more companies sponsoring lifestyle sports events, like marathons, triathlons and yoga.

Transparency and authenticity – things that Red Slice has mentioned more than a few times – has finally caught up to larger companies. As we saw with Domino’s recent campaign for changing it’s tasteless formula, the trend will be more and more companies doing the equivalent of “checking themselves into rehab” and writing a tell-all about their recovery. Look for more honesty, confession and “warts and all” advertising to be the norm to engender trust and loyalty. This one should be an interesting one to watch unfold!

Other trends involve government regulations on internet privacy and food regulation (please, please, set a standard for what a brand can call “organic" and “natural”!). And in case you haven’t noticed, as my husband and I have recently, commercial jungles are making a comeback. Remember “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz” or the old McDonald’s jingle that still haunts me (“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame-seed bun.")? The article quotes Susan Credle of Leo Burnett saying, “Coming out of the depression in the 30’s, happy music became very important.” Oh my.

And the one I’m most psyched about, probably from being a teen who grew up with John Hughes’ films? The Return of the 1980’s! The article states The Brat Pack may be pitching more products as we enjoy an 80’s renaissance. Por que? Well, the country may be trying to recapture the confidence and swagger of the Reagan years to get back on our feet again. Oh boy. Not only will I get to enjoy Rob Lowe in his hilarious role on Parks and Rec (that casting was pure genius) but he might be pushing Audi’s or Snuggies?! Sign.  Me. Up.

Philanthropic Giving: Business Model or Brand Message?

As mentioned in a previous post, giving back to the community and maintaining responsible business practices are really hot for consumer loyalty right now. I personally hope this trend continues into perpetuity, as businesses have amazing reach and leverage to make a difference in the world. I pray this is not just a fad.

I read a sidebar in the WSJ today about businesses following in the footsteps (no pun intended) of Toms Shoes. For every pair of shoes they sell, they give one pair to a child in need. Pretty cool. While this may add extra costs or eat into margins, its also the reason why many loyal customers continue to support Toms – and they get ton of great PR around it. The WSJ article states that a July survey by Cone LLC found that 19% of adults would switch brands – even to those with higher prices – to support a cause. That’s pretty powerful, especially during a recession.

Toms passes the extra costs onto consumers, who don’t mind paying it because, hey, they need shoes anyway and want to help people in need at the same time. Now many start-ups are mimicking this concept in small ways. The article cites Warby Parker who gives money to a nonprofit called Restoring Vision or every pair of glasses they sell. And a necktie retailer called Figs donates school uniforms to children in Africa for every tie sold.

While profit margins and growth may be slowed because of this, the companies seem to be trading off brand loyalty and attracting a  certain kind of loyal customer for the long term. That’s pretty smart, if they can keep it going. But I wondered if this is a business model shift or a brand shift? Obviously, you have to tweak your pricing and fulfillment to make this happen, so it does impact the business model and how fast you can grow. But it also ties so closely in with the “soul” of the company and what it stands for – and that is a brand decision if you ask me. It’s promoting a value to attract customers who share that value – which means it’s about a promise and a targeted message. All branding decisions.

Whatever you call it, I like it. And I hope it continues. But maybe that is because I am the type of person they are trying to attract. If someone is striving to make ends meet and cares about price, they are not the target audience for these companies.

Does that mean businesses who engage in this practice always need to be targeting a more affluent customer? What do you think?

What are the brand trends around us?

Just as NY’s Fashion Week wrapped up, I was inspired to pen a blog about the macro-level brand trends I’m seeing – in no particular order. Nothing scientific here, folks. Just some observations from being a brand student – and being the dork that loves a good ad. What are your thoughts to add?

Be careful: like fashion trends, if these don’t ring authentic to you or what you actually deliver, don’t just try to slap a coat of brand paint on top of yourself to stay trendy. We all went to high school and that never works, no matter how many times you’ve seen She’s All That.  Customers will catch on pretty quickly. But see if there are any hooks you can grab onto that you may not have thought to tout about your products or services.


  1. Sensible vs. spontaneous: Thoughtful and prudent seems to be the new black, unless you are Camp Vegas. Coming out of the bubble with a raging hangover into the recession, more companies are focused on taking things slow, playing it safe, and doing things with good ole’ fashioned customer service and personal interactions. Popular with financial services companies and banks (and you can understand why, as they do penance for the crash) this also spills over into food brands that get back to basic, natural ingredients and clothing that is built to last.
  2. Responsible vs. green: Maybe this is semantics, but I’m seeing more focus on responsible business practices over truly green products and brands. Hyundai touting that they give back to cancer, Bill Gates convincing multi-billionaire friends to leave money to charity, customers focused more on company ethics than company recycling. Again, possibly due to the recession and what we went through with corporate greed, but it’s not enough (or easy, according to Kermit) to be green: You need to be honest, straightforward, good to the community and treat your employees right, too.
  3. Experienced vs trendy: Another recession hangover. I’m seeing more companies tout how long they’ve been around, how many customers they serve, etc than if they are “hot” right now. It’s like the Internet bust all over again, with companies trying to distance themselves from dot-coms. There seems to be a big “throwback” theme trying to harken back to a simpler time…..like 1995.
  4. Value vs. luxury: It’s not about high-end extravagance – and that seems to be a bit of a dirty phrase as big corporations cut their expensive boondoggles last year (thus decimating the hotel industry and forcing layoffs there, but that’s another story…) It’s all about how long something will last, how durable it is, how well it will fit your life. Sort of related to #3 in a slightly different flavor. Audi is doing a great job with convincing us that they are a car who has both compared to Mercedes and BMW.
  5. Shoe-shopping fashionistas vs. strong, serious women: Maybe this is a personal observation but Chick-Lit and the Sex and the City Gals seem to have fallen by the wayside. Have you seen the crop of new TV shows starring gun-toting, take-no-crap policewomen, detectives, US marshalls and spies? I just wish they’d bring Alias back.These women have a purpose fighting crime and locking up the bad guys – not just trolling for a Manolo sale. Again, such pragmatism over consumerism seems to be a recurring theme. And while the new female action heroes may still look great, they could crush you with a well-turned twist of their stilettos. Carrie Bradshaw could never do that.

What do you think? What trends are you seeing in branding or advertising? Let me know in the comments.