Thursday, May 31, 2007

Keeping the Books

I had intended to highlight books some of the newer books we have in the library and this is one very practical one. This list does not list all the subsections for all the chapters - I have listed only the sections from the chapter on essential recordkeeping for small businesses.

Keeping the Books: Basic Recordkeeping and Accounting for the Successful Small Business 6th ed.(2004)
by Linda Pinson

Chapters
Recordkeeping Basics

Income and Expenses

Cash Accounting Versus Accrual Accounting

Essential General Records for Small Business
Single and Double Entry Systems
Chart of Accounts
Debits and Credits
An Overview of Four Accounting Tasks Using QuickBooks Pro®
Summary: Accounting Software
Revenue & Expense Journal
Petty Cash Record
Inventory Record
Fixed Assets Log
Accounts Receivable
Accounts Payable
Payroll Records
Independent Contractors
Travel, Transportation, and Entertainment Expenses
Customer Information Records
Business Checkbook
Receipt Files

Financial Statements

Financial Statement Analysis

Taxes and Bookkeeping

Recordkeeping and Tax Reporting Schedules

Preparing for Uncle Sam

Appendix I Independent Contractors: Facts Versus Myths
Appendix II Worksheets
Small Business Resources

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Recreation in the U.S.A. or Where to Go to Ride Your Horse

Here's a fun U.S. government site (and you thought the Census pages were about as good as it got):

Recreation.gov offers this handy database of Federal recreation sites nationwide. Users can search recreational facilities by keyword, state, agency, or activity. The activities range from auto touring to winter sports, and include favorites like fishing, hiking, climbing, horseback riding and picknicking.

Useful for small businesses related to recreational activities, or just planning your next vacation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

IBM Globalization Locale Database

I think this is really nifty, not to mention useful for importers and exporters: the IBM Globalization Locale Database.

It lists, for most countries of the world, the national currency. But then it shows one how the money and other numeric values are formatted. For instance, what one writes as 1,234,567.89 in the United States would be written as 1.234.567,89 in Argentina. You'll find the days of the week and the months of the year in the language, or in the case of Belgium, three languages, of the country. Today may be 5/29/2007 in the United States, but it's 29.05.2007 in India.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Check your (political) facts

While truth-in-advertising rules apply to business advertisements, what about political advertising? Nope.

That's why its a good thing that there are people out there, willing to check the facts, and provide voters and viewers with important background information.

Check out Factcheck.org. A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, Factcheck.org keeps tabs on claims and statements made by politicians and political candidates, monitoring "the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases." Their postings offer a summary of the peice in question (an ad, speech, or the most recent round of debates), provide an analysis of the facts in questions, and cite their sources.

NPR recently featured a piece with Factcheck.org directors, Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Listen here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

How to Write for Your Web Site

One of our more recent library purchases is Streetwise Low-Cost web Site Promotion: Every Possible Way to Make Your Web Site a Success - Without Spening Lots of Money by Barry Feig. This book covers topics such as creating traffic, developing a promotion plan, what makes a good web site, how to measure success and how to use email to your advantage among many other things. A section I stopped at was on how to use language effectively.
Some of Mr.Feig's guidelines are:
"create keywords you think people would type in the search engines to find the types of products or services you offer. don't just use nouns. Use phrases rather than a single word. Use descriptions also."

"Use multiple, specific headlines. Headlines and subheadlines create immediate context when a visitor is exploring your site. There should be a headline on your screen at all times...Your headline should summarize what's inside your web site... make your copy brief...avoid generalities."


There is a lot more good information in this book, so if you would like to borrow it, please let me know.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Happy blogiversary


Taken at 4:42 pm, April 27, 2007

The blog's two years old this week. In the 12 months, from May 2006 through April 2007, we've had an average of 292 hits (a median of 272) per month. There's been a decided uptick in recent months, with 461 hits in March and 602 in April. While 75% of our traffic is coming from New York State, a quarter is coming from especially Europe. Similarly, about 1/4 of the domestic visitors are from outside New York State.

Though some of the people who found this blog came to follow up some demographic or program detail we'd mentioned, at least one recent visitor came as a response to a piece that Darrin wrote nearly two years ago about a scam.

I cite these statistical notes to show that a blog, initially designed for a fairly small niche of a couple hundred NYS SBDC advisors, can become a broader tool.

I am curious, though as to which is better: the reminder on Wednesday, which we do now, or Friday, which we used to do? There's always a spike on that day - a record 57 hits on Wednesday, May 9 - and for a few days afterwards.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Rating Venture Capitalists

I learned of a new website from a recent e-newsletter from ASBDC. It's called TheFunded.com, and it has a feature that comes at the need for venture capital from a different angle.

Since we frequently have clients who seek this kind of financing, the site is useful in that they can search for VC firms in their part of the country. They can also narrow their search by the size of funding being sought.

The results of their search, however, aren't simply contact information for the fund. In most cases, each firm will have written commentary by business owners who've had experience with them (usually a paragraph or so). Each firm gets rated (on a scale from 1 to 4, I believe), and the firm's rating appears prominently when the search results come in.

The site doesn't appear to have a function where you can search for firms that deal with a specific industry (we have a tool like that in the library). However, getting the feedback directly from those with past experience is valuable. Writing commentary is a condition for joining this site - it's not fee-based, but the comments on the quality of the VC firm are the heart of the site, and people are expected to contribute.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Corporate & Executive Profiles

There are lots of information sources about corporations and executives, but I though this beta directory at Condé Nast Portfolio.com was quite nice.

The site offers "company information, news, and financial data on more than 500,000 public and private companies" here ...

.. and executive profiles, with "backgrounds, including employment history and compensation data, and news on more than 500,000 executives of leading public and private companies" here.

And if you find that any of those executives should be incarcerated, why not send them this piece (C.E.O. Survival Guide: Pre-Prison Prep), to help them prepare for life in the slammer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The New York Times Small Business Page

One of you fine folks at a NYS SBDC center (I won't mention who, but the person has the same first name as my father AND my sister) sent me this nifty link to the New York Times Small Business page with news, tips, and the like.

One of the stories, also sent separately by this SBDCer, is this story: "The Supreme Court, in its most important patent ruling in years, on Monday raised the bar for obtaining patents on new products that combine elements of pre-existing inventions."

Interesting stuff. Please feel free to send us useful sites such as this one.
***
New postage rates, as you probably know, started yesterday. But while the first ounce charge went up from 39 to 41 cents, the subsequent ounce rate went DOWN from 24 cents to 17 cents. So the cost of a two-ounce letter has gone from 63 cents to 58 cents.
***
I thought those of you who attended last year's staff training would find this story rather intriguing.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Creating a Third Place

A blog I read recently led me to an article on the SpecialtyFood.com website. It's called "Striving for Third Place," and, no, it's not an essay that is promoting mediocrity. While the article targets businesses in the food industry, the ideas it puts forth can be implemented in a variety of retail & service stores.

The article posits that the "first place" in a person's life is home, while the "second place" is work. The "third place" is that public spot where people gather and interact with such regularity that they become part of the business' very fabric.

There are several suggestions here on how entrepreneurs can help establish their businesses as a third place. These are ideas on how to generate repeat customers, but, in a larger sense, these are ways to better integrate the business as part of a larger social structure in a neighborhood.

Right after college, when I was adrift in Albany, I found myself routinely visiting Dan's Diner. Small, greasy little place that could hold maybe 25 people at the most. It would open at 2 AM most days, and close around 1:30 PM, after the lunch crowd. I was there most Saturdays, and while they never knew my name (I was always "that bearded guy" or "that guy with the blue sweater"), they always knew my order. I was part of a scene that included college guys after a night of drinking, on-duty cops on a meal break, and some of the street characters that frequented that stretch of Washington Avenue. Each was held bound by the joys of the Beat the House breakfast special, and watched over my a waitress who enforced a strict code of "no cussing," there on signs for all to see.

Good times. That was a fun place. A fun third place. Businesses should strive for that.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Selling a Business

One of our favorite sites for business start-up guidance is the Business Owner's Toolkit which covers all aspects of starting and running a business.

One topic covered that I have referred to recently is the section on selling a business, something that comes up from time to time. I found that this site covers just about every step in the process.
You can read the complete section on selling a business here.

Here are the major issues you need to think about when it's time to sell your business:
Initial issues in selling out: how should you time your decision and choose experts to help, and what legal/ethical pitfalls do you need to avoid?

Valuations of small businesses: how does the market put a price on a small business, and what can you do to maximize your own business's value?

Finding a buyer: what do you need to know about working with a business broker, creating a selling memorandum, and other marketing concerns?

Structuring the deal: what are your options as to terms, paying particular attention to the tax implications of various alternatives?

Financing the deal: what should you know about seller financing, and third-party financing through leveraged buyouts?

Completing the deal: from the Letter of Intent through due diligence to the closing, what are the typical steps you can expect to go through in the sales process?

After the sale: we add a few notes about your new, unencumbered life!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Learn for 15 minutes a day

I hope you all enjoyed staff training as much as I did. It was great to meet so many of you, and to put faces to email addresses!

Prior to coming to our staff training, I went to the spring meeting of the Upstate New York Special Libraries Association. Our speaker was Stephen Abram, director of innovation at SirsiDynix, president-elect of SLA, and a library futurist.

Like our futurist, Abram stressed the importance of continual learning, and the need for librarians to keep up with Web 2.0 and social web technologies. He cited a project conducted by the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenberg County, where employees of the library were encourage to play with web and digital technologies for 15 minutes a day and blog about their experiences. This project supported camaraderie within the library and in a short period of time, taught everyone some great new skills.

Read more about that project here:

There are so many new technologies out there that could help us in the way we work, and may be incredibly useful tools for our clients’ small businesses. We wouldn't have to copy the topics covered in the public library, but should we try a similar learning project? It might be fun.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Diary of a store

I recently came upon a listserv, ostensibly about a movie theater, which had a thread about the closure of a neighborhood video store, designated here as VS.
There were a number of comments of sorrow:

I saw a piece on the local news channel that VS is closing. They said they did not have enough business. I don't think we can persuade them to stay open.
Even though I was a member, they somehow weren't on my radar screen and I would forget to go there.
I bet the Internet video businesses took a bite of their profits, too.


There were also comments about the competition from Netflix, Blockbuster, and video on demand. Then, there were more nuanced responses:

I was in the store this past weekend returning 2 movies we rented and asked why VS was closing. The owner of the store mentioned his disappointment in our community, stating that there are over 10,000 households in our zip code alone and
he had only 300 active memberships. He thanked me for being a member of his store, supporting his local business and for not supporting the big boxes, but he thought that many in our neighborhood drive right by his store on their way to the
Hollywood/Blockbuster stores.

The next day I was walking the dog and noticed that his signage could be better (he only has a small sign inside the window) and that the building he rents is in
disrepair (awful storefront, leaky roof, poor access/no accessibility for the disabled, etc.) Quite frankly, I can see why he'd want to close his doors because of the above mentioned reasons, but I hope he would reconsider if more support could be found. If even half of the households in our ZIP code would rent one movie per month
for a mere $4, he'd be in great shape. I wish more of us would support this and other businesses on our main street which would attract more businesses and make our neighborhood more appealing to more people! We usually have an event that raises awareness of our local businesses by our residents, but if VS closes at the end of April, we will be looking at yet another empty storefront.

I'm all for inquiring with VS on how to help them and to encourage marketing efforts to our neighborhood and perhaps pressure could be put on the property owner for improving his building/storefront and lowering the floor in his building to make
it accessible to all.


Another response:

On a similar note, some businesses are simply being forced to change with the times a little faster than others to keep up with the competition. In-store film discussion groups, theme promotions that tie reading lists from a writers' institute with selected movies, and other benefits that are locally-based and help to build community might draw some interest and excitement and serve to attract NetFlix subscribers This is just a general comment as I am not familiar at all with what has been tried already at VS, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to run a small
business these days.


Yet another reply:

I was very excited when VS moved to our neighborhood. I like to support local merchants, and I liked the fact that they offered alternative DVD fare. They have an excellent foreign film collection, and we have tried to patronize them regularly. However, the owner's analysis for his lack of business is at least partly incorrect. One of the reasons the business is not supported by the community is not necessarily a predilection for big box video stores, but because the store is a dump. Why mince words here? Go to Blockbuster. It's clean, well-lighted, well-organized. VS is shabby and run-down. I think that most consumers want and deserve better, and are going to avoid stores like this.

In fact, this is a chronic problem throughout the city. For example, down the street is a liquor shop where the owner hasn't made an improvement in at least 12 years; the store is cramped, and completely disorganized. Whatever charm the informality once had is long gone. The space next door, which could perhaps be used to expand, is papered over, and at night they draw down a hideous metal screen. Contrast this store with [another liquor store]. We should expect and demand high standards of service from locally-owned independent businesses. It is possible. But VS and other businesses are failing because they fail to provide even reasonable standards of service. We deserve better, and the merchants need to hear this.


Yet another respondent had thought that when VS moved from its previous location, it had gone out of business, since the client had been dropped from the store's mailing list, though he had not moved.

I note all of this because I feel that it's probably all too common in retail and service entities. The place may have found the right niche market, may have a good selection and are in the right area, but the appearance, including cleanliness, signage and accessibility, can be a big turn off.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Staff Training Updates

Thanks to those who came to our presentation last Tuesday. For those of you who couldn't attend, here are the PowerPoint slides:
http://www.nyssbdc.org/RNFiles/2007_Staff_Training_RN_Presentation.ppt

(And, for those of you who WERE there, you can now linger over Amelia's slides. Stupid laptop re-booting . . .)

During our talk, Josee made reference to a few things you can do on your end to better manage the information that we send you. She created a quartet of tip sheets, which were available (with the cookies) at the back of the room. Again, for those of you who couldn't make it, here they are:

http://www.nyssbdc.org/RNFiles/RN_Tip_Sheet_Outlook_Safe_Senders.pdf
On how to better ensure that emails from the Research Network get to you.

http://www.nyssbdc.org/RNFiles/RN_Tip_Sheet_Outlook_Journal.pdf
Use Outlook's "Journal" function to track the history of your inquiry.

http://www.nyssbdc.org/RNFiles/RN_Tip_Sheet_Outlook_Junk_Filters.pdf
Another way to make sure our emails get to you.

http://www.nyssbdc.org/RNFiles/RN_Tip_Sheet_Explorer_Links.pdf
How to set-up Internet Explorer to get at the information you frequently need.

Eventually, when we have the intranet feature described by Amelia up & running, these (and many other things) will be available to you.

If you have any questions about any of these, please don't hesitate to ask.

Thanks for coming! Let's do it again next year!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Signs That Really Annoy Me

I know that Darrin is the signage guru around here, but this week of staff training reminded me of a sign that I saw at a restaurant in Lake Placid when I was there for a meeting a few years ago: "We cook your food to order. Not responsible for overcooked meat."

Then there's the Lake Placid bakery that had THE most annoying sign on its wall - 35 "stupid" things that their customers have asked, and their "clever" responses:
"Do you bake everything here?" "No, we have it flown in from Chicago. The plane lands right on Main Street to deliver daily."
"Aren't you hot in here?" "Yes, but we can eat what we want and sweat it off."
"What's a Snickerdoodle?" "There is a sign in the showcase. It is in front of a Snickerdoodle."
"Is that ALL you have?" "No, we keep the really good stuff for ourselves to eat later."
And my personal favorite:
"Do you have any water?" "No, we lick our dirty dishes clean."
My wife wouldn't go back there because of this rude "humor" (and despite the quality of its pastries), and I absolutely agreed with her on this. Telling your customers that they're idiots is a bad marketing plan.

I was on Central Avenue in Albany last month in a rainstorm. I stopped under an overhang at a building, then looked at the window, which read: "Please do not stand here." And there were two of them, one on either side of the entrance. I didn't stand there, and I didn't go in. In fact, I don't even know what kind of store it was. It was only those signs I noticed.

My brother-in-law and I were in a pleasant family restaurant a few years back somewhere southwest of Albany when we saw his huge sign telling us that, while they accept credit cards, we are not allowed to put the tip on the card. This was problematic for a couple reasons. It seemed chintzy, as it was almost certainly the hard-working wait staff that suffered the consequences of the policy. It was also in violation of the agreement the restaurant has with MasterCard and Visa. I know this because I called both MasterCard and Visa and asked them. If the merchant accepts the card for some purchases, he or she must accept it for all purchases.

In fact, there are lots of signs that merchants generate, such as a minimum purchase requirement to use the cards, that are specifically forbidden in their credit card agreement (see here for Mastercard, paragraph 9.12.3, on page 49 and here for Visa (top of page 15).

It was either Ann Landers or Dear Abby who recommended avoiding negative signage ("No shirt, no service") in favor of a more positive spin ("Shirt and shoes required for service").

Gee, I have some song by the Five Man Electrical Band stuck in my head.