I started my first business when I was in fourth grade, but having grown up on a ranch in Texas, many of the usual ways a kid earns money weren’t really available to me.  I couldn’t have a lemonade stand or a paper route or mow the neighbors’ lawns.  What were my options?  I had to work with what was available if I wanted to earn a few extra dollars.  Well, along with the beef cattle, we also had a flock of chickens.  I’d been taking care of them since as long as I could remember, so I thought maybe I could sell eggs in town.

After talking it over with my parents, they agreed to support my entrepreneurial initiative.  Someone nearby was selling some of their older hens, and with some of my own money and an “investment” from my parents, I bought 20 of them.  We set up a separate chicken coop with nests in a part of one of the barns and fenced in an adjoining new chicken yard.  I went to town to find customers for my farm-fresh, free-range eggs and was able to get several people to sign up, including my school bus driver.

left to right: Aaron and Clay Hickson

Every evening I gathered the eggs, cleaned them, and stored them in cartons in an old refrigerator that gave me an electrical zap every time I touched the handle.  Each Saturday I’d load the eggs into the car, and one of my parents would take me on my delivery route in town. [Eventually, I would drive myself since the country lane into town was not paved, and no driver’s license was required for that.]

Naturally, those tired old hens didn’t produce for long, so I had to invest in some younger pullets in order to keep my supply coming.  While replenishing my “producers” was an occasional expense, I really didn’t have too many other expenses… except for chicken feed.  Skyrocketing input prices are what eventually put me out of business.  While I did gradually raise my prices, I couldn’t keep pace with the increase in the price of feed.  After about five years, the prices I needed to charge to break even, even considering the subsidy from my parents, were well above the prices in the grocery store.  I think my price got as high as $1.25, not much higher than super market prices of just a few years ago.  Alas, the chickens flew the coop, and I went out of business.

Even though I didn’t make much money over those years, I did learn some valuable lessons.

  • I learned the concept of supply and demand;
  • the importance of having a support network, of planning, and of monitoring competition;
  • and that you don’t always have to have the best of everything to do something well.

Of course, there also is that old adage:  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!

from stock.xchng by bartozzi


Women business owners have a lot of positive attributes in common.  They are generally organized multi-taskers who are deliberate in their actions and succinct in their responses.

While women generally don’t waste any time getting to the point, they are the first to ask for more information if needed.  But according to author, speaker and organizational development expert Joni Daniels, “sometimes women misunderstand their power as a professional.”  Daniels’ experience in working with business owners finds that while men tend to ask for validation that solutions they use for business are the best ones, women often hesitate and ask, “How can I become more powerful?”

Joni Daniels

Speaking recently to 30 women business owners at SBDC’s December women’s business roundtable at Towson University, Daniels presented her insights on the topic:  Energy and Focus:  Where it went and how to get it back.  Here it was clear Daniels undoubtedly knew how to effectively engage an audience.  Her leadership abilities and facilitation skills evoked earnest, heart-felt and productive conversations which brought lucidity and insight to a group of confident women entrepreneurs ready to collaborate about issues in common.

The group of Baltimore women entrepreneurs hung on every word as Daniels delivered a highly spirited and spontaneous presentation on how to activate one’s personal power tools to improve concentration and enliven a vision of success. Juggling multiple roles and self-imposed heavy work/life expectations were the root cause of many misplaced priorities, resulting in lack of energy and loss of focus.

Educating her audience on how to retool and realign their personal and professional life, Daniels proposed re-harnessing one’s inner strength as a more effective means to power up. Daniels advocates that improved utilization of one’s vision, intuition, parameters, communications and relationships, can help re-position them for personal and professional success.

Steadfast in her belief that success is primarily bred by improved self realization, polished intuition and honed skill sets, Daniels recharged this group of enterprising women to be more effective and efficient.  Personal experiences and working examples yielded many ah-ha moments as collaborative conversation helped the group identify opportunities for personal and professional growth.

As a select trainer and subject matter expert on organizational development for SBDC’s CEO Accelerator program, Joni Daniels-principal of Daniels and Associates, a Baltimore-based business solutions consulting firm- will continue to shepherd SBDC business owners through her empowerment zone processing model.

If you are interested in attending SBDC’s CEO Accelerator training topic sessions, include your name, email address and phone contact information in the return section of this blog.  We’ll contact you with updates on the CEO Accelerator training schedule series featuring topics such as: goal clarification, problem assessment and delineation, target market analysis, and effective business optimization techniques.   Stayed tuned for our January 25th blog to find out more about the CEO Accelerator program.


Last week I had the opportunity to return to one of my alma maters, University of Baltimore, to attend an event hosted by the Public Relations Society of America’s Maryland chapter. “10 Questions to Ask When Developing a Social Media Strategy” presented by Sean Carton of idfive was exactly the new information I was looking for. I’m eager to keep learning more and more about social media and how it can be used in a business capacity. What I liked about Sean’s presentation was that he spent a little time on the basics of social media and then he posed questions that really made me think and evaluate the strategy that we have in place for DECO. I was smiling and even laughing out loud throughout the presentation because Sean was able to share his 10 tips in a humorous, yet informative manner. Below I’ve highlighted a few of the questions he posed.


Why chose social media?

Don’t think jumping on the bandwagon is a good enough answer. Just because everyone under 25 is doing it, make sure your organization is doing it for the right reason. You have to know your audience, or have a desire to build stronger relationships with that audience. Maybe you’re an organization that attracts a certain niche or you do something better than your competitors. We found that within our organization that offers services like economic analysis, it solutions, GIS consulting, business incubation, small business development and education, that we have a story to tell and we wanted to make sure the region was hearing about it.

Are you ready to give up control?

This is something that can be tricky. You can’t control what people say about your organization. And today, it’s easier and easier for people to say what they want in forums, twitter, blogs, and really anywhere. So don’t be scared of that, join the conversation. The whole point of social media is that it should be a two-way conversation. As Sean pointed out during his presentation, the truth can hurt, but it may be worth hearing.

How do you plan to get users to visit?

You can build it, but will they come? How will you spread the word? We’ve found that the content we create on our blog can help generate tidbits for our quarterly newsletter and twitter account. We’re asking university and business partners to help promote our blog and we’re sending relevant blog posts to clients hoping they will be enlightened or even share the information with other colleagues. Since the blog’s launch we have received more and more comments and also had our articles picked up internally at TU. You could say our approach is a little more on the grass roots side right now.

Who’s responsible for maintenance?

This is the tricky, but critical part of an organization’s social media strategy. At DECO we didn’t want to jump in head first and just hope the blog would work. We spent an entire summer talking with our team in DECO to find out who was interested in working with the blog, impressions of social media, and developing policies. We reviewed other blogs for what we liked and didn’t like, and then started building the framework. Since the launch, we formed a user group and meet monthly to talk about our posting schedule. This helps to keep all the contributors in the loop of the expectations. Editing and posting the articles then becomes a pretty easy task. It’s a good idea to make the maintenance part of someone’s job responsibilities so that it gets done. It’s also important to establish criteria of your social media, allow autonomy to your staff who oversees the social media and integrate it with all the forms of communication you are currently using.

Hearing this presentation gave me a few things to think about and I have a better idea of how to evaluate our social media strategy and make our presence stronger.

Click here to view the presentation




Are you a CEO in the making?
While some business owners feel the title Chief Executive Officer is an automatic designation they use while polishing the skill sets needed to oversee their company, others feel it is a title they aspire to after having learned to effectively manage all units of their organization.

Regardless of the approach, most agree that building a successful business requires periodic comprehensive organizational assessments, specialized professional training, experienced staff, a stellar management team and great instincts.

If your company is interested in learning more about how to escalate itself to the next level through the re-engineering of its component parts, read on.

A Small Business Catalyst Program with Lasting Rewards
The MD Small Business Development Center is about to embark on a new CEO Accelerator program, which will individually mold eight to 10 specially qualified small business owners into high-performing CEOs right before your eyes. Follow this blog and the MD SBDC website to hear more about the experiences and challenges these regional small businesses will encounter throughout this two-year journey of strategic growth.

Each CEO candidate will be mentored by a team of business specialists, coached by SBDC counselors and trained by business subject matter experts.  Their goal:  to achieve scalable, sustainable growth, both financial and operational, through the implementation of integrated and coordinated initiatives.   With program objectives focused on fostering strategic planning and stimulating economic growth, this program was formulated in partnership with Citi Foundation to accelerate the successful advancement of woman, minority and service-disabled veteran owned small businesses.  A multi-disciplinary series of executive training topics customized to the issues and challenges faced by participating companies, will fast-track promising small businesses toward success.


Guided by a specially selected advisory team, this program will drill down, revamp and provide standard operating procedures for many organizational functions, such as marketing, accounting, finance, sales, human resources, organizational development, advertising and business development.  So get ready to learn from the experiences of this select group of business owners as they are trained how to:
•    Optimize business operations to improve operational capacity
•    Launch scalable business development programs
•    Identify key drivers and success metrics to assess and advance operations
•    Increase  revenues, employees and access to capital
•    Re-model business processes and plans
•    Create and utilize timely implementation plans
•    Analyze target market and prospect buyer behaviors

Join Your Executive Peers in the Accelerator Training Program
Oh, and by the way, for a reasonable fee, interested small business owners are welcome to sit in on most of the training sessions.  Keep watching our website banner for announcements, or send your contact information (name, email address and phone number to and we will include you on our training program mailing list.



The term entrepreneur comes from the French word, entrependre, which means “to undertake,” and this is precisely the basic principle of entrepreneurship.  An entrepreneur is one who has a vision of an opportunity and takes the initiative to capitalize on it.  In simple terms, he or she organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business.  Surprisingly, there actually is debate over exactly what the term means, but few would argue that anyone who embarks on a new venture in order to create a new business would be considered an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs and other small businesses are the driving force behind the US economy, creating jobs and innovative technologies.  These businesses “represent 99.7% of all employers, employ more than half of the private sector workers, account for 39% of high-tech jobs, and create 60-80% of the net new jobs annually,” says Entrepreneur magazine.

A true entrepreneur has a vision to seize an opportunity with passion and diligence.  And these traits are crucial to success.  If you are thinking to yourself:   “This whole entrepreneurial thing is a piece of cake!  It can’t be a complicated process?  I can make millions effortlessly!”  Well, you are sadly mistaken.  Experience, knowledge, and most importantly, planning breed success.

from Flickr MartinPhotoSport

from Flickr MartinPhotoSport

Entrepreneurs often are innovators, creating new products, new production methods, new markets, new forms of organization….  However, being an innovator doesn’t ensure success.   People come up with new ideas everyday that we never even hear about.

Planning is the key to success.  Even though some entrepreneurs may “luck” into success, a lack of planning really is a recipe for failure.  There must be a market for whatever the idea is, and the product/service must actually be successfully produced and marketed.  And then there is the competition; someone may already be doing something very similar, or may learn how to do it better very quickly, stealing the market away.  The successful entrepreneur has a pretty good handle on all of these elements because he’s done his homework, he has planned.

towsonglobalMany entrepreneurs find that obtaining the support of an incubator can help them move more quickly along the path to success.  Incubators like TowsonGlobal provide a wide range of support, including affordable office facilities; business counseling & mentoring; networking assistance; and workshops and other educational forums.