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What would you say to any woman entrepreneur who wants to start her own company?

Don’t fear failure in some kind of abstract way. Ask yourself, truly, what is the worst that can happen if you fail? Take the answer to the worst conclusion—you fail, you lose everything you’ve put in. Now, for most of us, there is a safety net. We can rebuild. So, you may find that the “worst” is bad, but not tragic. And then I say: Go for it! Why do you believe it’s important for women to be involved with technology? Women are the majority of Internet users. The majority of women blog in equal numbers to men, and control over 80 percent of the household dollars spent, including on electronics and technology decisions. And yet they are not so represented in any hall of power, from politics, to commerce, to media. And certainly not in the tech space, despite the fact that any new web apps user base is likely to be 50 percent women. So, there may come a time when BlogHer and its mission are obsolete. But we are not there yet. How important are blogs for driving conversation between the blog reader and the author? Why do you think conversation is so important? Our expectations are different now. We want what we want, when we want it, and we expect to be able to be a part of it. This applies to the political conversation, product conversations, you name it. Blogs are a leading channel for this. And if people don’t want to listen, we can all create our own personal platforms now.

Valeria Maltoni: Conversation Agent
VALERIA MALTONI has taken the art of conversations and made it a science. She is the go-to person corporations and thought leaders call to understand business communication in this new world. Her blog, Conversation Agent is one of the most respected blogs prominently featured on the prestigious Ad Age Power 150 list. As a self-described “communicator in a marketing world,” Maltoni looks at technology through the lens of conversation. Conversation Agent is a fantastic name for the blog. What was your inspiration? Growing up I was always the person connecting others. I’m biased by action and using insights to make something happen. I thought why not combine the idea of conversation—of things and people together and the idea of agent, in terms of taking something to a new place. It wasn’t scientific. It was more like observing myself. The selfish motive (in starting the blog) was that I love learning. That’s my first passion. I wanted to include thoughts that would give me feedback and insight as to what people were thinking. What have you learned about conversation driving business? Whenever I am tempted to fall back on traditional marketing models and just send out a message or use tools in the traditional way, I remind myself how exponentially better the results are when customers are given the opportunity to

give feedback and access to the conversation. That’s what stops me from going back to my habits of using traditional marketing. How does a business start having a conversation with their customers or clients? I think one thing to consider is to start internally and look within your organization. Don’t just stop at the work flow chart. Ask yourself: What are the skill sets and voices in the organization that you can bring to the forefront? Can they represent the business in their own way? To have a conversation, you cannot control the message. The more educational, informational and entertaining you can make the message from your organization, as a team, the more you are part of the conversation, and the more you control the conversation. How should businesses begin to use technology? You should start evaluating the technology to understand the dynamics the technology allows. The technology is a container. Ask yourself: Would I approach my customer using a telephone, e-mail or a letter? What are their communication styles? Where are the people of influence to my customers? Where are the analysts? Where are the journalists and others who may have a sway in the decisions your customers make. What happens in those spaces? For example, take Twitter. People use it to have rapid conversations. What sort of dynamic exists in that space and what can

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Copyright 2009, Enterprising Women magazine (www.enterprisingwomen.com). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

become quite popular, as one example. We continue to innovate and create new revenue streams to support our model.

‘Your marketing results are exponentially better when customers are given the opportunity to give feedback and access the conversation.’ – Valeria Maltoni

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you insert into the conversation effectively? As you create your technology strategy, ask yourself how it integrates with your marketing and business strategies? Always remember, technologies come and go. It’s what people do with them that matter. What is the one question every business should be asking? The one question every business owner should be asking is “How am I doing?” If you don’t know that you are in a vacuum. All business owners should realize it’s what they don’t know that can hurt them.

band, Joe, purchased a 47,000-squarefoot manufacturing facility, which employs 55 people. When did you start using technology in your business? The early investments were primarily in manufacturing equipment to maximize efficiency and quality of our products, and in systems to assist with managing our royalty reporting needs. We launched our diplomaframe.com site in 1997 and it has been central to our business model ever since that time. We use it to brand our products and support the local college store retailers by featuring their products and driving referrals and sales through to them. I have invested in software solutions and equipment to streamline operations over time, and in 2008 we launched an extensive enterprise resource planning system upgrade. This facilitates batching of all component orders, streamlines operations, allows efficient one-off custom manufacturing, and provides system-wide order and status tracking. Most recently, we have substantially upgraded our Web site functionality to expand online, visual frame customization capabilities for school-specific designs. What has been most successful for you in terms of using technology to market your business? We have a company site (Church Hill Classics) on Facebook, which was the forum for our “Frame My Future” scholarship contest, and we used it to showcase entries, gather comments, announce finalists, and build a fan base that we can leverage again when we launch the contest again this fall. We did a great job last year building inbound links from scholarship sites like scholarships. com, and pulling in college age kids. This fall, we want to penetrate more parents’ communities online, and we are identifying potential avenues there now. Parents spend the money to buy our frames so they are our number one target. We recently built a custom module for our Web site to handle these contests, allowing online submission of entries, sorting and searching by name, school, and keywords provided by the entrant. We can

Emerging Entrepreneurs
You don’t have to be in the tech business to know that using technology to improve your business makes good sense. Lucie Voves and Laura Lee Williams have used technology to boost business awareness and get a few high-flying fans in the process.

select finalists and “turn-on” voting capabilities for the final voting stage, which is entirely popular vote. We picked 24 finalists for the scholarship and sent all of them a kit with specific suggestions to get the vote out for their entry so their job became to promote themselves and drive votes for their entry back to our site. The winners were the ones who did this best, and they promoted themselves and the contest on Facebook, Twitter, personal Web sites, and with the local press. The grand prize winner even got his or her school to do an e-mail blast to current students and all alumni asking them to view his entry and vote for him. We currently have a small contest going called “Frame Your Graduate”—here is a link: http://www.diplomaframe.com/contests /14_frame_your_graduate_photo_contest. cfm What’s not to like about a company that is showcasing and giving back to kids with a great vision for their future? The strategic tie-in with “frames” and “framing your future” works well. What was the most surprising fact of using new media? Most surprising to us is the ability to build some real dialogue around topics that are meaningful to our audience. This is an area where our competition has been slow to act, and we feel we have a real advantage to be out front and stay out front. The popular vote is great for traffic building, and also makes the contest fair with no risk of the company making an unpopular call on the winners because we don’t decide the winners—the public does. How much time do you spend marketing your business with new media? I spend about 20 percent of my time on online marketing efforts, which includes overseeing search engine optimization (SEO), Web site upgrades, and social networking and related initiatives. Do you outsource any of your marketing with new media and how much do you spend on outsourcing? We work with one SEO consultant company on a limited basis. We have had a retainer with them in the past of

Lucie Voves: Church Hill Classics
LUCIE VOVES started Church Hill Classics in 1991 as a home-based operation selling limited edition artwork at her alma mater, Dartmouth College, on the street corner at graduation weekend. Today, the company has a national presence and sells licensed diploma and award frames, insignia desk accessories (such as bookends, desk boxes, paperweights, and desk sets), and sports arena frames for over a thousand institutions across the country. Their business continues to expand and in 2007, Voves and her hus-

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Copyright 2009, Enterprising Women magazine (www.enterprisingwomen.com). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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