Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ignore at Your Peril

From our friends a J.J. Hill Library: Twitter, Pownce, Facebook, Plurk - online communities are as plentiful as they are nonsensically named. And they're coming into the mainstream. Might your business benefit by joining the conversation?

A white paper from Rubicon Consulting called Online Communities and Their Impact on Business can help you decide. The study identifies how information about businesses is spread online and how businesses can best interact in that conversation.

Access the full report in PDF
here.

No so incidentally, the title of this post is the subtitle of the white paper.

Friday, December 19, 2008

BNET's Best Business Books 2008

Once again, I have found a list of business books that I would like to share. The books in BNET's Best Business Books of 2008 were voted on by BNET readers and the article includes synopses, reviews, and more. The topics range from microfinance explained in terms for four to eight year old children to a book titled "The Back of a Napkin", the theme of which is how to solve business problems through illustrating.

If anyone who reads this post has business book recommendations, we at the Research Network would love to read your comments. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Books in the Collection

2009 Directory of Department Stores
Chain Store Guide
Includes:
Department Stores
Shoe Stores
Resident Buyers
Jewelry Retailers
Optical Retailers
Product Lines
Apparel Price Lines


They offer some statistical analysis as well as profiles of companies. The profile includes address, contact details, total sales, breakdown by product, number of units, buyers by department, parent company.

Although available online, we have the print version of the 2007 Traffic Data Report for New York State from the NYS Department of Transportation. The data is available on the Highway Data Services Bureau's web page:
https://www.nysdot.gov/portal/page/portal/divisions/engineering/technical-services/highway-data-services

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2009

Do you like data? If the answer is “yes,” you’ll certainly enjoy the Census’s Bureau’s 2009 Statistical Abstract of the United States. Just released today, the almanac includes “more than 1,400 tables of social, political and economic facts about our nation and the world. Among topics covered in the 49 new tables in this edition are the religious composition of our nation’s population, osteopathic physicians, online news consumption, expenditures for wildlife-related recreation and women in parliaments around the globe. Although the emphasis is on national-level statistics, some tables present state- and even city- and metropolitan-level data as well.”

Check it out (along with previous years back to 2006) in PDF form here:
http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/statab2006_2009.html

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Using a "Secret Shopper"

I found an interesting article about using a secret shopper. I've actually been a secret shopper for friends in business; I think it's fun.

The writer's wife's friend is the manager of a store. "Getting someone to participate as a secret shopper could give you the insight you need for evaluating employee performance. There are programs out there that will connect businesses with secret shoppers, or you can just get someone you know to do it if they are willing."

Here's the downside: "the possibility of losing the respect of your employees. If you do engage in a secret shopper situation, it is probably best that the employees never find out about it. They will not appreciate being spied on, and no longer trust you. If your employees can't trust you and/or respect you, they're not going to be happy working for you, and will quite possibly begin looking for another job."

Bottom line: "If you do use a secret shopper and all of your employees pass the test with flying colors, reward them. Even if they don't know why you're rewarding them, you can show them that you appreciate the work they've been doing, and they will surely respect that."

I would also suggest that it's not just the retail establishment that needs to be secretly shopped. How easily the online store actually works or how quickly and politely employees answer the phone may be something an employer might want to check out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Census Bureau: New Database for Tracking Business Activity

We get lots of requests that try & show the growth, or decline, of certain industries (or of small business in general) over a given time period, or in a given place. Our responses have always required getting a bit of data here, and a bit of data there, and involving way too much formatting of spreadsheets.

I've just learned of the Census Bureau's new "Business Dynamics Statistics" website. (A lot of people just learned of the site - it just rolled out on December 1st.) However, after reading what it's all about, I'm tempted to say that we'll now be able to answer these questions a whole lot more easily.

Here's a press release from Census, telling us just what to expect:

"The U.S. Census Bureau announces the release of the Business Dynamics Statistics (BDS), a data series that allows users to track annual changes in employment for growing and shrinking businesses at the establishment level.

There are more than 6 million establishments with paid employees in the United States. These businesses are dynamic: opening and closing, adding and losing employees.

The BDS monitors this activity, tracking annual job creation and destruction at the establishment level using elements not found in similar databases, such as firm age and size. Tracking by firm age, for example, allows users to distinguish between new establishments of new firms and new establishments of mature firms. These statistics are crucial to understanding current and historical entrepreneurial activity in the U.S."

I'm writing this post to let you know of its existence, but, honestly, it's more for my future reference. Some of the data available on this site, once accessed, is a bit confusing to understand. It'll take us some time to decipher just what we're looking at. Stay tuned.

***

And have a wonderful holiday season, everyone!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

American Community Survey 2005-2007 Data Release



On December 9, 2008, the Census Bureau will release the first set of three-year American Community Survey data for all geographies with populations greater than 20,000. The release will provide the first look at detailed socioeconomic and housing characteristics for geographies between 20,000 and 64,999 since Census 2000. The type of data released and geographies covered can be found here.

Different from a point-in-time estimate

Before I talk about multiyear estimates, it’s important to understand the concept of a period estimate because all ACS estimates are period estimates.

The ACS produces period estimates of socioeconomic and housing characteristics. It is designed to provide estimates that describe the average characteristics of an area over a specific time period. In the case of ACS one-year estimates, the period is the calendar year. For example, the 2007 ACS data describe the population and housing characteristics of an area from January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2007, not for any specific day within the year.

A period estimate is different from a point-in-time estimate. A point-in-time estimate is designed to measure characteristics as of a certain date or narrow time period. For example, the purpose of the decennial census is to count the population living in the United States on a specific date, which is traditionally April 1. Although decennial census data are actually collected over several months, they are designed to provide a snapshot of the U.S. population as of April 1.

Understanding Multiyear Estimates in the American Community Survey

Period for ACS multiyear estimates is either 3 or 5 calendar years. A multiyear estimate is simply a period estimate that encompasses more than one calendar year. In the case of ACS multiyear estimates, the period is either three or five calendar years.

While a one-year estimate includes information collected from independent monthly samples over a 12-month period, a three-year estimate represents data collected from independent samples over a 36-month period, and a five-year estimate includes data collected over a 60-month period. For example, the 2005-2007 ACS three-year estimates describe the population and housing characteristics of an area for the period January 1, 2005 through December 31, 2007, not for any specific day, month, or year within that time period.

The types of ACS estimates published for a particular area or population group are based on established population thresholds. Geographic areas with at least 65,000 people will receive one-, three-, and five-year ACS estimates. Areas with 20,000 or more people will receive three- and five-year estimates. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. ZIP code tabulation areas, census tracts, and block groups, regardless of their population size, will only receive five-year estimates. Areas with less than 20,000 people, down to the block group level, will only receive five-year estimates.

ACS estimates based on data collected from 2005-2007 should not be labeled "2006" or "2007" estimates. Multiyear estimates do not represent any one year or the midpoint of a period. The correct labeling for multiyear estimate: "The child poverty rate for the 2005-2007 period was X percent."

Perhaps it is obvious, but multiyear estimates must be used when no one-year estimate is available. Unless a geographic area has a population larger than 65,000, that geography will be reliant on multiyear estimates.

Multiyear estimates should also be used when analyzing data for small population groups due to the higher margins of error associated with them. An example of a small population group could be "Families with Female Householder with own Children under 18". The choices posed for using mulityear estimates is more than simply a choice between using the one-year or the multiyear estimates, however, because for many areas there will also be the choice of which multiyear estimate to use, three- or five-year.

For small areas, only five-year estimates are released, but for larger areas, each annual release will provide one-, three-, and five-year estimates. For example, in 2010, there will be three sets of commuting data for San Diego County – one-year estimates for 2009, three-year estimates reflecting 2007-2009, and five-year estimates for the period of 2005-2009. Users need to decide which is the most appropriate for their needs.

In making this choice, one need to consider the tradeoff between currency and reliability. The one-year estimates for an area reflect the most current data but they tend to have higher margins of error than the three- and five-year estimates because they are based on a smaller sample.

The three-year and five-year estimates for an area have larger samples and smaller margins of error than the one-year estimates, but they are less current because the larger samples include data that were collected in earlier years. The main advantage of using multiyear estimates is the increased statistical reliability for smaller geographic areas and small population groups.

There are no hard-and-fast rules on choosing between one-, three-, and five-year data, but the margins of error provided with ACS data can help data users decide on the tradeoff between currency and reliability.

Only compare the same type of estimate:
1-year estimates to other 1-year estimates
3-year estimates to other 3-year estimates
5-year estimates to other 5-year estimates

When comparing estimates from two multiyear periods, it is easier to make comparisons between non-overlapping periods. This is because the difference between two estimates of overlapping periods is driven by the non-overlapping years. To illustrate what I mean, consider the 2005-2007 period and the 2007-2009 period estimates. Both contain the year 2007. Thus, the difference between the 2005-2007 and 2007-2009 estimates is determined by the difference between the 2005 and 2006 estimates versus the 2008 and 2009 estimates.

In this example, the simplest comparison is between the 2005-2007 estimate and the 2008-2010 estimate, which do not include any overlapping years.

There are global differences that exist between the ACS and Census 2000. These include differences in residence rules, universes, and reference periods. For example, the ACS uses a "two-month" residence rule - defined as anyone living for more than two months in the sample unit when the unit is interviewed. On the other hand, Census 2000 used a "usual residence" rule - defined as the place where a person lives or stays most of the time.

The reference periods between the ACS and Census 2000 also differ. For example, the ACS asks respondents to report their income for the 12 months preceding the interview date while Census 2000 asked for a respondent’s income in calendar year 1999.

Also, as discussed earlier, the ACS produces period estimates whereas Census 2000 data are interpreted to be a snapshot of April 1, 2000.

The Census Bureau subject matter specialists have considered all of these differences and have determined that for most population and housing subjects, comparisons can be made. Further information about comparing measures from the ACS and Census 2000 can be found here.

There are other subtlies of ACS data which I'll not touch on, such as controlling to county population estimates.

The ACS Web Site is offering handbooks providing "user-friendly information about the ACS and the new multiyear estimates... Each handbook targets a specific user group including first time ACS data users."

The ACS Compass Presentations, from which this post was partially purloined, can be found here.

Data Analysis and User Education Branch: 301.763.3655

Friday, December 05, 2008

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property, as defined by Wikipedia, is "a legal field that refers to creations of the mind such as musical, literary, and artistic works; inventions; and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce, including copyrights, trademarks, patents, and related rights." Often times our clients who have created an original product or idea become confused when they want to protect their creation over whether they need to apply for a copyright, trademark, or patent. Below are explanations on the three types of protection and what is protected by each.

Copyright is for original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. Copyrights are registered with the United States Copyright Office and have an expiration date. The length of the copyright depends on when the work was first created.

Trademark covers words, names, symbols, and devices used to identify goods or services in commerce. Federal regulations are available through the United States Patent and Trademark Office and trademarks cans be renewed indefinitely.

Patents fall into three main categories: utility, plant, and design. Utility patents are good for twenty years and are applied to new or newly improved processes, machines, manufacturing procedures, or the composition of matter. Plant patents last for twenty years as well and are applied to plants that have been newly produced asexually, not from seed. Design patents last for fourteen years and apply to new, original, and ornamental designs for articles. For example, a better functioning baby bottle would be a utility patent while a better looking bottle would be a design patent. For more information on patents, go to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Smart Moves

I spotted Ira Davidson quoted in the December issue of Entrepreneur Magazine in an article entitled Smart Moves in a Bad Economy. Good on you, Ira. This is a hot topic and one we are all interested in hearing more about. Increasingly we asked how small business owners should handle their marketing during lean times. This article encourages owners to think carefully about where they cut and warn against cutting valuable people or marketing dollars so severely they spite themselves.

Please remember to let us know when you are interviewed in print or broadcast. We want to know!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Government Tweets

"We continue to discuss how to best use a single Twitter channel for a 17,000-person agency covering many complex, interdisciplinary issues."

This was the first post I read on the EPA's Twitter feed. So apparently we're not alone in trying to figure out this Twitter thing! At least there are less than 200 of us...

Want to see how more government agencies are using Twitter? Use the GovTwit directory to find Twitter accounts for state, local and federal, as well as contractors, reporters, academics.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

International Program Center

Here's a Census website I did not know about until recently: the International Programs Center (IPC) "conducts demographic and socioeconomic studies and strengthens statistical development around the world through technical assistance, training, and software products." I knew Census had a world population clock, but didn't notice that IPC was the source the information. IPC assists "in the collection, processing, analysis, dissemination, and use of statistics with counterpart governments throughout the world." Also note these handy links to international statistical agencies.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Small Business Year-End Tax Strategies

Here's an article that appears in today's Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-smallbiz1-2008dec01,0,5978675.story

According to it, accountants in this part of the country are talking to their small business clients about: deferring deductions and accelerating income; increasing the deduction for expenses; taking a bonus depreciation deduction; and taking a deduction for losses.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Information you need...to research a company.



Researching the validity of a company is easy to do when you know where to look. Below are links to resources to use. While the links are New York State specific, when researching a company, use the resources for the state that the company is based out of. And as a note of caution, remember that it is always easier to find a negative review of a company than a positive review.

Federal Trade Commission: Bureau of Consumer Protection

New York State Attorney General's Office: The Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection

New York State Better Business Bureau

Ripoff Report: For Consumers, By Consumers

Consumer Reports, Complaints, and Company Reviews at Pissed Consumer

Also check the local county or city licensing bureau for company licensing information.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sometimes technology = FAIL

Guess what? Technology can be frustrating. No matter what your technological savvy, sometimes things just don't work the way we want or expect them to.

So what do people do when technology fails? And how do they feel about it? Those issues are explored in a new study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Get the data here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Slideshare

I came across this presentation about using Web 2.0 to increase effectiveness of staff training and communication, which may be of use to some of you. I was more intrigued, however, by the whole concept of the web page it was on, something called SlideShare.
"SlideShare is the best way to share your presentations with the world. Let your ideas reach a broad audience. Share publicly or privately. Add audio to create a webinar." It's free, with a maximnum size of 100 MB; supported formats include ppt, pps & pot (PowerPoint), pdf, odp (OpenOffice); doc, rtf, xls (MSOffice), odt & ods (OpenOffice) & pdf.

I haven't tried to post to it yet, but just as one accessing extant info, I think it does offer a wide variety of resources.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Faster File Downloads

The SBDC meets with hundreds of people every year who are interested in starting an e-commerce venture. Many of these people are offering products that take the form of a file to be downloaded - be it articles, books, music, or what have you.

Here's an article, then, that should be of interest:
"Amazon ‘CloudFront’ Promises Cheaper, Faster Downloads"

Basically, Amazon is enabling owners of small websites to pay a fee to lease space on a certain type of server that promises faster file delivery to their e-customers. This fee would be but a fraction of what it would cost a company to buy a Content Delivery Network (CDN) of its own.

CloudFront is starting off small, but is looking to expand if the level of interest is there among small business content delivery websites. Keep it in mind for clients who might fit the bill.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Customer Service

There are only a few things that a company can do that will upset me. For example, I become agitated when a company is over-charging for products or services that I know should be priced more reasonably. That's annoying. But I have to say that there is nothing more annoying or troublesome than bad customer service.

Earlier today I was working on a rather complex demographic question that included six variables, more variables than our resources at the Research Network could compare. I spoke to an industry publisher who redirected me to two companies that might be able to help. I called each company with the reasonable expectation that I would be able to determine if they could help or not.

Company number one, which will remain nameless, had an automated system answer. After eight minutes of being on the phone (with a disconnect from their end at one point), I was unable to determine if the company offered what I was looking for. After eight minutes, I was never offered the option of speaking to a human being. In fact, I pushed every combination I could think of to connect with an operator and had no success. The automated system spent most of the time trying to convince me to buy one certain product without clearly describing what other services were offered.

Company number two, J.D. Power and Associates, answered the phone on the second ring. Not an automated system, but a human being. The woman who answered the phone was cordial and informative, and in under two minutes I had an email address to send the inquiry that my resources could not handle. Although the associate could not verify that their resources would be able to handle the various dimensions of the request, she was able to provide me with an answer, which was much more than company one accomplished.

Needless to say, in the future, I will not even think to ask company one for assistance, while company two will stay in my contact list. Below are links to articles on phone customer service.

Microsoft Small Business Center: 15 Customer Service No-No's

McGill University: Top 10 telephone etiquette tips for customer service providers (Word Document)

Phone Pro: Impressive First Impressions

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Avoiding Layoffs

At least some people are trying to be creative in coming up with alteratives to the worst case scenario. These articles explain how laying off trained staff may be a false economy in the long run. Here are a couple of articles that look at ways to cut costs or better yet, increase income to avoid losing your most valauble asset.

Alternatives to Layoffs
Layoffs, a short term fix, detrimental to the company, should be the last resort
By F. John Reh
About.com

Small Business Alternatives to Layoffs
Suzanna De Baca
Expert Business Source
8/19/2008

Put Down That Ax: Alternatives to Layoffs
By Pearl Smith/Updated by Mark Murphy
AFSCME
February 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Volunteering at Work

This time of year there are lots of ways to donate to a good cause at the office. But it can be more difficult to donate your time and to volunteer if you have a busy work schedule. That’s why I thought this article from Idealist.org (a great source for all things non-profit) was interesting. “Busy Professionals Don't Have Time to Volunteer!” is about one program that allows a group of co-workers to mentor a group of young women at the workplace, during the workday.

There’s also a great little video about a company that will send volunteer opportunities that you can complete using your mobile phone in less than 20 minutes!

Good options for busy people who still want to help.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Business FAQs

The Library of Congress Business Reference Services has Frequently Asked Business Questions dealing with these topics:
1. Can you tell me if my old stock certificate has any value?
2. What is the cost of living today compared with X years ago?
3. How can I get a sample business plan?
4. How can I get information on foreign exchange rates?
5. Where can I find the history of a company?
6. Where can I find standard industry ratios so I can compare the performance of company X to others in the industry?
7. What are NAICS and SIC codes?
8. Where can I find information on starting a small business? I'm particularly interested in government loans and grants.
9. I am planning to start a new company and want to be sure the name I choose will be unique and protected nationwide.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What Type of Blog is This?

I don't know. We've been doing this for 3 1/2 years now. It's about time we figured that out.

Enter Typealyzer. Developed by a search optimization firm in Sweden, the site uses text analysis of any blog to determine the mindset of its author (or, in our case, authors). Here's what it says about us:

"Type: The Guardians
The organizing and efficient type. They are especially attuned to setting goals and managing available resources to get the job done. Once they've made up their mind on something, it can be quite difficult to convince otherwise. They listen to hard facts and can have a hard time accepting new or innovative ways of doing things."

I like the bit about "managing available resources to get the job done." That's us.

Not so sure about having "a hard time accepting new or innovative ways of doing things". That's not us.

The blue triangle up there says that we're a left-brain group. We'll try & be more creative in the future.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Census 2010

This past week I was able to attend a training session at the New York Library Association's annual conference that was led by an Information Services Specialist from the Boston Regional Census Center. The next decennial census is scheduled to take place on April 1st, 2010. There have been a few changes in terms of what information will be collected through the census. The 2010 Census will only have 10 questions and every household will recieve the questionnaire. In New York State it is essential that every household fill out the questionnaire because the responses will determine the number of representatives that NYS will lose in Congress. It is predicted that the state will lose two representatives, but if every New Yorker were to be counted and surveyed, than theoretically we could only lose one seat.

The long form has been eliminated entirely and has been replaced by the American Community Survey, which will provide the detailed information on housing, income, education, etcetera that the long form previously provided. The survey is ongoing and is sent to one in six households every year. The American Community Survey is an important addition to the Census due to the fact that it is updated every year, opposed to every ten years, and can help our clients recieve more current demographic statistics. As of now, information is available for 2007.

To access Census and American Community Survey information, go to American FactFinder.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Being Creative in Tough Times

In a follow-on to the post Alexis created, here is more fodder for surviving our economic times:

Unpaid, Businesses Become Creative
The New York Times
By COELI CARR
Published: November 12, 2008
In this article on how small businesses can cope in tougher times, suggestions range from bartering for services in lieu of payment and setting new policies for dealing with customers.

Resilience and Recession
Creative Class
Richard Florida
Richard Florida maps out areas at risk of recession, in recession or growing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Notes from the IRS


Here are a few items the IRS would like the small business community to know about:

e-News for Small Business

“e-News for Small Businesses is a free electronic mail service designed to provide tax information for small business owners and self-employed individuals. It is distributed every other Wednesday.” The newsletter includes information about upcoming tax dates for small business, tax reminders and tips, and information on the IRS website.
Subscribe here.

’09 Small Biz Tax Calendar, Ready for Businesses
“This 12-month wall calendar is filled with useful information on general business taxes, IRS and SSA customer assistance, electronic filing and paying options, retirement plans, business publications and forms, and common tax filing dates. Each page highlights different tax issues and tips that may be relevant to small business owners with room on each month to add notes, state tax dates, or business appointments.”

And it’s free! Order your copy here.

An online version of the calendar in English and Spanish will be available here, allowing users to download important dates to their PDA or Outlook calendar.

For more tax related information, don’t forget to check out our page here: http://www.nyssbdc.org/resources/Links/tax/tax.html

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Evaluating Your Business Idea

Our pals at JJ Hill Library are touting this tool developed by the Missouri SBDC:

So you've got a new business idea, have you? Will that idea catch fire with your customers, or misfire? Will you blow away the competition or be overrun by them? Will your idea support your weekly grocery bill?

Get help articulating important questions like these and learn how the answers can inform your nascent business idea with this business evaluation tool... The tool can help you decide objectively whether your idea is worth pursuing.

Some of the other resources on this useful site are specific to MO entrepreneurs, but many are more broadly applicable. Check out this startup expense worksheet, or this detailed financial projections tool (with instructions) by way of example. And may all of your business ideas be pursuit-worthy!

Friday, November 07, 2008

New Firms - From Where Do They Obtain Capital?

Jeff Boyce, who sits on the New York SBDC Advisory Board, forwarded a link to a new report found on the Kauffman Foundation website. It's called The Capital Structure: Decisions of New Firms. It's 20 pages long, and was generated by using data from Kauffman's Firm Survey.

From its Abstract:

"This paper investigates the capital structure choices that firms make in their initial year of operations . . . Contrary to many accounts of startup activity, the firms in our data rely heavily on external debt sources as bank financing, and less heavily on friends and family-based funding sources."

Later in the report, "external debt sources" is defined to include local bank financing, as well as that of credit cards.

There's a lot more to the report, but I invite you to read it. As Jeff mentioned in his accompanying email, "This recent Kauffman Foundation report underscores the importance of microloan funds and small business lending operations like NYBDC, combined with SBDC support, as a predictor of new firm success."

Hear, hear. (And thanks, Jeff, for the tip.)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Joongel

"Internet the easy way"

This site pulls together popular sites into categories and allows you to search in a batch. It pulls together the top 10 websites in each category. So you could runa a search in shopping sites, narrow the search and move from one site to another. The ways to narrow vary from category to category. You can type in a product name and then search the shopping category and you can then narrow by price. I haven't had perfect search results but I like the idea. I searched in the Social Networks category for "NYS SBDC" and I got hits in Stumbleupon, Twitter, Delicious and Technorati and FriendFeed.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Holiday Cards - Trends & Etiquette

Now that it’s November, I guess it’s safe to start talking about the holidays. So, are you sending out holiday cards this year? Need advice on business holiday card etiquette? Here are some articles that might help:

Boosting Business Relationships with Holiday Cards
From the Small Business on washingtonpost.com

A tip: Send your card early in the season. Most people leave their cards up until after the holidays, so yours will be in view for a longer period of time.

The 8 Rules of Business Greeting Card Etiquette
From About.com

Don’t forget the personal touches – sign your name, handwrite the address, and send to the home address if you know it.

This Holiday, Say It With an E-Card
From Entrepreneur.com

To cool for stuffy, old paper cards? Maybe try an e-card this year, and share photos, inspirational messages or a little whimsy.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Text to Speech

One of the J.J. Hill Library Business Sites of the Week last month was vozMe.

"Paste any amount of text into the vozMe Text to Speech site, and the tool quickly converts that text into speech. You can choose a male or female voice and then save the speech as an mp3 to listen to anywhere."

I decided to test with this text: "With a paid HillSearch membership, you should not have to pay extra for any articles, reports or lists in any of the HillSearch databases, nor should you have to re-enter your login information. If you encounter this problem, please contact us at 651.265.5500 or at 1 877 700-HILL (4455)"

The text was OK, albeit mechanical, not unlike the menu items in some telephone systems. The word "login" sounded more like Logan. But the telephone numbers were incomprehensible, as the system made 651 into six hundred fifty-one.

In fact, it was just distracting enough that I wouldn't want to be operating heavy machinery at the same time.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sales tax and construction


By Sharon St. John, The Mohawk Valley Small Business Development Center, SUNY Institute of Technology, Utica, NY

One of my colleagues posed a question about a New York State for-profit business that would contract with banks so that after a foreclosure, the contractors would come in to clean, change locks, mow the lawn, and keep the property maintained until the bank sells it again. Should they be registered as sales tax vendors since what they're doing seems to fall into maintenance and repair?

I noted that there are two NYS publications that I recommend for all my clients who are in any kind of construction business. Publication 750, A Guide To Sales Tax in New York State (PDF), notes on page 20 under Specifically Enumerated Services: "maintaining, servicing or repairing real property both inside and outside of buildings (for example, cleaning, painting, gardening, snow plowing, trash removal and general repairs)" are subject to sales tax. My conclusion is that the company hired as contractors to perform this service would charge sales tax for its services.

Publication 862, SALES AND USE TAX CLASSIFICATIONS OF CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS (PDF), compares the Capital Improvements to Repairs, Maintenance or Installation and gives guidelines on what is tax exempt and what is not. A capital improvement is "an addition or alteration to real property that substantially adds to the value of the real property, or appreciably prolongs the useful life of the real property; becomes part of the real property or is permanently affixed to the real property so that removal would cause material damage to the property or article itself; and is intended to become a permanent installation."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Information you need...to find business solutions during an economic downturn.



Do you want to know more about what you can do as a business owner during times of economic downturn? Below are links to articles with solutions and guidelines on how to survive and possibly thrive during the current financial crisis.

Congressional Research Services: Economic Slowdown - Issues and Policies (PDF File)

Entrepreneur.com: Surviving a Slowing Economy

National Federation of Independent Business: Ten Ways to Reject the Recession and Build a Thriving Business

Business Week: Surviving the Storm

Small Business Trends: Four Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make in a Recession

WomenEntrepreneur.com: Surviving an Economic Downturn

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Books in the Collection

The Bed & Breakfast/Country Inns
Industry Study of Operations and Finance 2007-2008
Professional Association of Innkeepers International

Table of Contents
Introduction
About the Study
Glossary of Terms
Regions
Chart of Accounts
Bed & Breakfast Inns
Inns and Innkeepers - industry study (2006 data)
Bed & Breakfast Inn Amenities
Bed & Breakfast Inn Occupancy & ADR
Bed & Breakfast Inn Employees
Bed & Breakfast inn - Income Statements
Country Inns
Inns & Innkeepers - industry study
Country Inn Amenities
Country Inn Occupancy & Avergae Rate
Country Inn Restaurants
Country Inn Employees
Counutry Inn - Income Statements

Capital Expenditures
Renovation Cost


Business of Art
An Artist's Guide to Profitable Self-Employment

Table of Contents
Preface
Introduction
Center for Cultural Innovation
Chapter 1: Work Like an Artist, Think Like an Entrepreneur
Chapter 2: Getting the Most Out of the Public Relations
Chapter 3: Managing Money and Financial Planning
Chapter 4: LAW is Not a Four-Letter Word
Chapter 5: I've Written My Business Plan. Now Where's the Money?
General Resources
About the Authors
About CCI

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trends in Trends

How do you spot trends? What do you do about trends once they've been spotted? How will the financial crisis affect these trends and impact your business ? (For more answers to the latter, also check out this post from Alexis.)

These are just some of the issues Trendwatching.com addresses in it's November briefing. A few weeks ago they asked readers to send in their questions, and they've set about to answer 15 of them.

Among other things, they link to their trend watching tips, and their checklist of trendwatching tools, as well as updating some recently spotted trends in the face of our current economic situation. Some of their updated trend predictions: Indulgences? Big ones are out, small ones are in. Free stuff? People like free stuff, but advertising-supported businesses may suffer. Eco-chic? Look to "eco-cheap," efficiency and waste-reduction.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

USLBA: Congrats! Buy Your Plaque Now!

On a listserv I monitor, I saw a post about someone receiving notice that he or she had been given an award by the US Local Business Association. the question was, "Is this a VALID organization? or a 'scam' to get companies to buy their award plaque?"

Frankly, I didn't want to spend an inordinate amount of time on the question, since it wouldn't count in my monthly statistics,. But I did venture to the Better Business Bureau website, went to the national page, and found this about USLBA:

The BBB does not have a current report on this company, which means it has not had frequent enough inquiries or a reason to open a file. The red flags that the BBB sees with this organization's pitch are:

*There is no way to contact this company other than via email.

*Web site domain registration information is privately registered via Go Daddy. We consider this to be a red flag.

*Organization states that you have been awarded, and then presents you with the option of purchasing your own plaque. In order to receive your award you are first required to confirm your company's information. The web site states:
Receiving Your Award
In recognition of your achievement, a 2008 Best of Ft. Benton Award plaque has been designed for display at your place of business. Simply confirm your business contact information in the form below to receive your award.

*The BBB is unable to find anywhere on this organization's web site prior to confirming your business profile info how much the plaque will actually cost.

*Before ever agreeing to the award, this organization already has a "News Release" posted to its site stating that you are a recipient of this award.

BBB TIPS ON VANITY AWARD/DIRECTORY OFFERS

Vanity offers differ from conventional offers in that they generally offer to award you at your expense, and/or they solicit entries in awards, directories or lists patterned after "Who's Who" Directories, which bear prestigious sounding titles.

Businesses nationwide should question direct email or mail solicitations that offer to include the recipient in an award process or directory. In most cases, no returned solicitation, nominee or entry is turned down. The solicitation may be accompanied by a request for a membership fee (in this case payment for a plaque) or for an order of one or more copies of a directory.

Businesses that deal with vanity offers should recognize that their award may have little or no significance in the marketplace and should realistically expect no more than the self-satisfaction derived from seeing your plaque on the wall, but don't be surprised when or if someone asks you to substantiate the award and its merits.

The Better Business Bureau routinely encourages caution. Thoroughly evaluate any solicitations as those described and determine if they are truly based on merit or are geared primarily to appeal to your vanity.


That seemed to be sufficiently blunt for me to send along. While not an indictment of USLBA, it was hardly a ringing endorsement.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rankings in State Investment in Technology

I've written about state rankings from the Milken Institute before. Here's another one, called the State Technology and Science Index. Published last June, this is their third version of this survey (they do it every four years).

The survey attempts to rank each state by its level of investment and commitment to high technology and science. To understand how they do this, it's easier to quote from their site:

"The State Technology and Science Index looks at 77 unique indicators that are categorized into five major components:

* Human Capital Investment
* Research and Development Inputs
* Risk Capital and Entrepreneurial Infrastructure
* Technology and Science Work Force
* Technology Concentration and Dynamism"

As you'll notice, New York ranks 15th in their list. This is where we ranked in 2004. Massachusetts ranks 1st, and they've held that spot in each of these surveys.

If you click on New York on the map, you'll see a breakdown of where we rank among the five components listed above. Notice that our worst showing (29th) is in the category "Technology Concentration and Dynamism". This is where you'd learn how New York has been doing in terms of enabling the startup - and survival - of high-tech businesses.

I dug a bit deeper into this, and noticed that we rank 44th in terms of "Net Formation of High-Tech Establishments per 10,000 Businesses" since 2002. You can understand, then, how improving this statistic is a motivator in the state political world, and how improving this ranking can become the focus of great policy within SBA & the SBDC community.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Top 10 Business Books of 2008

As a librarian, I am a voracious reader of all types of books. Although lately I have been on a James Patterson reading spree, every now and then I love an informative, non-fiction book. Booklist Online has published a list of the Top 10 Business Books of 2008 and although these are not the type of books that need to be purchased for a reference library, they may be of interest to our clientele that would like to learn about the history of business and some of the more successful businesses in the past, present, and future.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Google Shortcuts

There are a few things you can do on Google to save a few steps:

Type the airline and flight number into the search box and you can go straight to the departure and arrival times.

Find out the currency exchange amount: type in 80 dollars in danish kroner and presto. This works for other measurements/conversions as well.

The same goes for shipping tracking numbers.

Type in temp in San Francisco and it will give you the latest.

Type in a ticker in the search box and get price information.

Try using your airport code: ALB airport and you can see local conditions.

Use an area code to get a map of the area.

Type define and the word you are looking up and you can get a quick definition.

Use Google Image Search to gather information about a subject; like, for instance, looking up a name when you are not sure of the gender of the person holding it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New State Librarian Announced

Here's a press release that I just received. It's good to read that the State Library has found its new leader. We've been the beneficiaries of a lot of work done by the NYSL, and we wish Mr. Margolis all the best.

BOARD OF REGENTS APPOINT BERNARD A. MARGOLIS NEW YORK STATE LIBRARIAN

The Board of Regents today announced the appointment of Bernard A. Margolis as the New York State Librarian. He will assume his new responsibilities in January 2009.

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said, “We live in an age of information, and libraries play a critical role in providing us with access to that information. They are vital to our economy and our communities. They promote literacy and lifelong learning. And in these trying economic times, they are vital to people seeking information about jobs. I am thrilled that the Regents have appointed a dynamic and innovative person like Mr. Margolis to serve in the critically important position of State Librarian.”

Mr. Margolis will have oversight responsibility for a $13.4 million operating budget, 180 employees, over 20 million collection items and nearly $100 million in State and federal aid to libraries.

Mr. Margolis served as the President of Boston Public Library (BPL), Boston, Massachusetts, from 1997 to 2008. BPL is the oldest municipal public library in the country, with 27 neighborhood branches. The Library’s collections of over 34 million items include the library of President John Adams, Shakespeare’s first folio, Gutenberg’s Catholicon, and many other unique and rare materials. BPL is a member of the Association of Research Libraries.

Mr. Margolis holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in Librarianship, both from the University of Denver. His library experience includes management and executive positions in libraries and library systems in Colorado and Michigan. Prior to moving to Boston, he served as Director/CEO of the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs (from 1988 to 1997).

Mr. Margolis’s service includes a number of elected positions within the American Library Association, leadership in the Association of Research Libraries, service as a professional delegate to the White House Conference on Libraries, and service on the boards of library organizations in Massachusetts, Colorado, and Michigan. He has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Library Administration and Bottom Line: The Magazine of Library Financial Management. He has contributed to several books and has published articles in American Libraries, Public Libraries, and Library Journal.

Information you need...to start a bike shop


Want to start a bike shop? Here are some free web resources that offer industry stats and advice to get you going.

National Bicycle Dealer's Association: Want to Start a Bike Shop?

Bicycle Retailer & Industry News: Bike Stats (Including the 2008 Bike Stats Issue)

Bikes Belong Coalition: Survey Says: High Gas Prices Are Fueling Bike Sales

The Outdoor Industry Association: The Active Outdoor Recreation Report, Bicycling

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

ASBDC Chicago: Triple Bottom Line and Sustainability


Most entrepreneurs have a pretty good idea that they need to know about the bottom line. But which one? Usually, it's the economic bottom line, involving capital, i.e., money. But in recent years, business folks have focused on other bottom lines such as social (people capital) and environment (natural capital).

People in this movement use terms such as performance, features, reliability, durability, serviceability, aesthetics, and perceived quality.

In this economic climate, an appetite for cheaply-made items with planned obsolence may have come to an end. But brands that provide for a more sustainable future, concerned with health and safety, honesty, doing good as well as convenience, will come to the fore.

To that end, the leaders of the Going Green workshop I attended in September recommended these websites:
Branding for Sustainability
LOHAS - Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability
U.S. Green Building Council
Pennsylvania Material Trader - a free online service established in 2004 by the PA SBDC's Environmental Management Assistance Program to "help businesses find users for materials they have traditionally discarded; to turn 'one business's trash into another business's treasure.'"
Natural Capitalism enables organizations to increase profitability and efficiency while becoming more environmentally and socially responsible

Attending the session was Diane Wolverton, Wyoming SBDC state director, who earlier at the conference had given a workshop on sustainability. The Sustainable Business Cafe ning includes her PowerPoint presentation.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Series on Small Business

Yesterday, the New York Times began a series that will focus on six individual small businesses in the New York City area, and how each of them is dealing with the current economic situation.

Here's their introduction:

"A butcher’s longtime customers stop paying their bills. A building contractor has half as many jobs as he did a year ago. A restaurant owner considers sharing space to stay afloat. Steadily, inexorably, the fallout from Wall Street’s layoffs and the credit crisis is trickling down to small businesses across the region. Over the coming months, The New York Times will track six of those businesses to see how they are weathering the economic storm."

Give it a read. Recognize what these people are saying?

By the way, in the past month, emails have been sent out from the Association of SBDCs, soliciting client stories on behalf of journalists from the Times, Business Week, and The Wall Street Journal on issues currently being faced by small business owners. I'm not sure if any of the businesses profiled in this Times article came from that inquiry, but it's interesting how the community of SBDC advisors have become, more and more, a go-to source for the media.

CIA World Factbook

Many of our businesses deal with exporting and importing. When dealing with business associates in foreign countries, it is essential to know detailed cultural information. The CIA World Factbook is an almanac-style resource that provides current and relevant facts on 266 countries and areas in the world. Updated every few weeks, country profiles include the following categories:

Introduction - Background
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Transnational Issues

Although not very applicable to our clientele, I also find the CIA publication Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments an interesting resource.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Widgets

I am most familiar with using widgets on my Mac where you can add elements to your desktop like a clock, various tickers, games or news headlines. You can make good use of widgets to keep up-to-date on what is going on in your sphere of interest. There are more and more available everyday. A widget is a small application that you can add to your desktop. Yahoo! explains how you can add elements to your desktop, as does WikiHow. Google Desktop stands opposite Yahoo! - you've probably been invited to download Google Desktop, which allows you to add stuff to your desktop as well as search your desktop. You can tailor your desktop to include mini-versions of the sites you visit for news, updates on political candidates, the weather or whatever catches your fancy. I personally don't use Google Desktop because I have most of my tidbits on my Google homepage but it is an option.
Here are a selection of widget sites.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

General Social Survey

Looking for information on how Americans feel about...well, almost anything? Check out the online data available through the General Social Survey . The GSS has asked the same core "demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal questions" since 1972, allowing us to monitor social change throughout this period.

You can browse variables (alphabetically) here. It's literally "abortion" to "zodiac."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

State Tax Department Touts Improvement to Business Taxpayers

The state tax department is portraying its website thusly: "Business taxpayers can refer to our new and improved web pages designed to help them comply with New York State tax law throughout the business lifecycle."

For more information, select the links below:

Starting or buying a business
Expand a business
Close or end a business

Friday, October 10, 2008

Demographic Sources

Demographics are a very important part of the research that we do here at the Research Network. While demographic is defined on dictionary.com as "a statistic characterizing human populations (or segments of human populations) broken down by age or sex or income etc", this definition does not cover the many uses of demographics. Demographics can help a small business owner decide where to open a new business, who the business' target audience should be, and many other essential aspects of operating a small business. Below are links to demographics information that is available for free.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Demographic Data

American Fact Finder - Demographics from the U.S. Census

Social Statistics Briefing Room - The White House

I also found a useful pathfinder from the University of Michigan Documents Center on Statistical Resources on the Web - Demographics and Housing

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Coffee and Farmers' Markets

Two new items we have in our library are:

National Coffee Drinking Trends 2008
What You Need to Know, When You Need to Know It

Table of Contents
Highlights
Background
Research Methodology
Overview
Detailed Sections
Coffee Consumption Frequency
Coffee by Type
Coffee Consumption by Age
Coffee Consumption by Region
Coffee Consumption by Time of Day
Coffee Consumption by Location
Drivers and Barriers
Country Origins/Certifications
Coffee Additives
Consumer Profiles
Appendix

A Guide to Developing a Community Farmers' Market
from the Farmers' Market federation of New York, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Table of Contents
Introduction
Building Interest
Market Research & Assessing a Need for a Market
Market Organization
Preparing for the First Season
Evaluation
Appendices:
Checklist for Developing a Farmers' Market
Sample Survey for Farmers
Sample Survey for Consumers
Sample Rules and Regulations for a Farmers' Market
Sample Market Application
Contact Information

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Video: The Credit Squeeze on Small Business

We all know that it is increasingly difficult for even well-established small businesses to get credit. But your SBDC can help! Tom Morley (and I think I saw Geri Kavanah too) from the Westchester Small Business Development Center, and their client, Carol Conolly of Discovering Me Nursery School, discuss these issues with Business Week TV. Watch it here:


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Trade Show Handbook

Stolen from J.J. Hill Library blog because I found out about some sources I didn't know about before.

Trade shows are a tried and true way of reaching out to and interacting with numerous potential customers in a short period of time. But they can take some finesse to do right.

The Trade Show Handbook can help you put together that "just right" show. The site offers guides and tutorials for choosing and maximizing a trade show presence, links to directories of trade shows by industry, and a listing of convention centers by state. You'll also find lists of event planners and suppliers for help bringing it all together.

Trade shows, as with any form of marketing, should be entered into with forethought and a solid plan. Formulate that plan with the Trade Show Handbook.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Screening Employees

Here's an article that offers a few tips on screening employees through the Internet. Some of it is rather obvious (check Google . . . really?). It also cites a few fee-based sites that help with background checks. On a similar note, the Degree Check website is a useful tool to see whether or not a candidate for a position really has that MBA.

There are likely dozens of additional sites that perform similarly useful functions. Anyone know of any off the top of their head?

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Year That Was

Happy Fiscal New Year to everyone on the Federal calendar.

Tuesday saw the end to what's been a turnaround year for our library. We hired Alexis in March, and she seems to be the final piece to the puzzle. We just finished the busiest September in our 16-year history. Requests are up 31% over last year, to a point not seen around here since 2003. A few weeks ago witnessed the 25,000th request in our history. Turnaround time has been cut in half. In addition, we've incorporated an SBDC presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. We've been defined in Wikipedia. We've been slowly building a Spanish-language collection, and a long-overdue LISTSERV has been built for SBDC personnel.

There's miles to go . . . we're about to embark on rigorous training in GIS services. We'd like to explore podcasting, both for what we do & how to help our clients do the same. There's lots more to come.

It's been a fun year. We're looking forward to the next one!

Recession Guide for Small Businesses in New York State

The central office for the NYSSBDC has created a document that can be used as a guide and information source for our clients in today's rough economy. Originally created in July, we recently found it was necessary to update and revise the document. The guide combines facts and figures regarding the current state of the economy as well as tips and stragtegies for surviving in down times. In order to create the document, we visited major and business news websites and found the most recent articles and blogs that are applicable to our client base. We would be happy to send the document to any advisor or NYSSBDC employee who requests a copy. Feel free to call, email, or leave a comment and we will send you what we are calling the "white paper".

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Multimedia Search

"Hmmm.... I think I heard about that somewhere..." Have you ever wanted a search engine that can search through multimedia content, including audio and video files without written transcripts? Here's a tool that might be helpful. EveryZing's ezSEARCH "is the web’s first integrated universal site search solution, enabling multimedia content to be indexed and searched just like any web document." Search results yield the multimedia file where your term occurs, and links you to the part of the file where your term is spoken.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ASBDC Chicago: Shake that brain!


Over the years, I've gone to at least three workshops by Joel Saltzman. My recent trip to Chicago was no different. He did three different presentations there: CHANGING THE WAY WE REACT TO CHANGE, Shaking that ETHICS Brain and Shaking That INNOVATION Brain. I had gone to the first two before, so I went to the innovation session. It's difficult to capture the essence of the talk, but the notion of taking some item and repositioning it for another use - wax paper was microwave safe, even before there were microwaves - at least touches on it.

Check out some of Joel Saltzman's articles on assumption busting, reframing the question, persistence in the midst of mistakes, and the value of bad ideas.

He uses this quote that, modified, is useful for baseball, racquetball, other sports and life in general: "I skate to where the puck is GOING to be, not where it has been." -- Wayne Gretzky.

Photos (c)2008 by Mary Hoffman.

Friday, September 26, 2008

J.J. Hill Touts "What's Your Signage"!

See what JJ Hill Library says about this NYS SBDC website:



If you run a retail shop or have an office to meet with clients, what's the first thing your customers see when they get to your location? Your sign! So you want to make sure it presents the same good face for your business as you do.

The What's Your Signage? site includes articles detailing the importance of signage to a business and provides background on the elements of a well-designed sign. You can use this information to become an informed partner with the sign-maker of your choosing, or use the site's manufacturer locator to find recommendations.

What's the most important thing a good sign will do for your business? Reassure your customers that they've found the right place.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Google Sites

Google seems to be adding new products daily and this is one I was unaware of until now: GoogleSites. It is a product that can serve as a mini-intranet for personal or commercial use. It looks like a wiki with project management capabilities. It's free unless you want extra storage space but you can use other Google gadgets through it. So it can store documents, have community files. You can limit the access to your set users, who can view only or have owner-rights. You can check out the various applications a product like this could be used for here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Couple of Business Blog Sites

Sites I've come across recently: The StartUp Blog at PartnerUp, with common-sense pieces such as "An Introvert’s Guide to Networking" and "Delegating Work: Don’t Panic, Everything Will Be Fine".

The Entrepreneurial Mind, affiliated with Belmont University's Center for Entrepreneurship.

Also, Alltop, actually a gateway to business blogs of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business, Entrepreneur magazine and many more.

Not a blog, but a how-to site: My Own Business, "An Entrepreneurial Guide for both Start-ups and Operating Businesses."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wall Street - What Next?

I came across this site earlier this week, featuring articles written (and podcasts recorded by) the faculty at the Wharton School of Business. I don't pretend to understand the entirety of the ripple effect of recent events, so I went here looking for a primer.

Here's some of the articles found there:

* Will the Levee Break? An Ocean of Bad Debt Rises despite Government Rescues
* After the Bailout: How Can the Fed Clean Up the Fannie and Freddie Mess?
* Eyes on the Wrong Prize: Leadership Lapses That Fueled Wall Street's Fall
* Note to Investors: Don't Play Games with Asset Allocation

I've read a few. I'm still not an expert, but it's helped me understand some of the issues a bit better.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Salary Survey Data

While most of the research we provide here at the Research Network centers around industry data and information, sometimes we are asked to provide research regarding a certain occupation. One of the common requests we recieve when asked about a specific occupation is the average salary. A website that I use to find salary data based on location, experience and education is Salary Expert. For more salary information, I also use the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Small Business: Credit Crunch?

Here's the text to a recent interview ("Main Street Spared?") by Reuters with William Dunkelberg, the chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Businesses (as well as chairman of a small commercial bank serving southern New Jersey). He doesn't see recent developments on Wall Street, as well those with AIG, as having any immediate effect on small business owners in the U.S. Some of the reader comments at the bottom of the page don't agree with him. What are your clients saying?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Data Conferencing


I took part in a conference call earlier this week on a topic that was very visual in nature. As I listened I thought how ill-suited this medium is for visual communication and how much time would be saved by a couple of quick sketches. I know that usually when something occurs to you, you can usually be sure it has occured to an number of others, often more motivated people before you. So I went looking for an easy-to-start product that would serve this purpose. I came across a list of visual collaboration products and one in particular that offered a short video to explain how it could be used. It is called Dabbleboard. It is in beta and I am sure there are many others but this communicates the process succinctly. You can check it out here.

You can draw on this virtual whiteboard and share it with other users who can add their contributions and users can make visible the additions they make. It is a way to avoid some of the round-and-round discussions where contributors are not able to adequately express in words a visual concept. I think as we become more acquainted with collaborative software, we can become more efficient.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Elevator Pitch - It's in the Bag"

Joyce Finnegan, a client of the Mohowk Valley SBDC, recently appeared on MSNBC's "Elevator Pitch" segment. Joyce was able to step into the elevator with MSNBC's panelists, who listened to her 60-second pitch for the Rojeti eco-friendly hotel laundry bag, and offered some feedback. They liked it!


For more information on creating an elevator pitch, check out a recent post from Josee, "Elevator Pitch"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ASBDC Chicago: business.gov


I went to the business.gov booth and asked them, "You have a good service, so why don't people know about you?" The person at the booth shrugged and said, "I just don't know."

And that was before I learned that this SBA business gateway had won a "Prestigious Search Engine Award", the ONLY government program to win:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Business Gateway Program was selected by the Search Engine Strategies (SES) Conference for the prestigious Best Use of Local Search award on August 20, 2008, the only government finalist in any category. Business Gateway was selected over two private sector companies.

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, SES incorporated its first annual awards, honoring 15 outstanding “search marketers.” The Business Gateway Program was selected as the winner of the “Best Use of Local Search” category because of its unique solution for handling geographically oriented search queries. Business Gateway is a cross-agency program providing small businesses with a single access point – www.business.gov – to easily find government information, including forms and compliance assistance resources
and tools.

Business.gov uses the Google search engine and is able to improve upon it by intelligently reading a user’s query for geographic context (city, state, zip code). The Business.gov search feature returns only the most relevant results that align with the specific geographic area for which a user is seeking
information.

“This award demonstrates SBA’s commitment to providing innovative services to the small business community,” said Sandy K. Baruah, Acting Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. “We are proud of the work Business.gov has done to help our nation’s businesses.”

The SES Award is one of the most recent of eight noteworthy award recognitions for the Business Gateway Program this year. Nancy Sternberg, the Business Gateway Program Manager, comments on the continued success of Business.gov: “It is truly an honor to be gaining so much recognition for doing something we at Business.gov feel so passionate about. At the end of the day, as long as we’re saving business owners’ time and money, we’ve done our jobs. These awards are icing on the cake.”


About Search Engine Strategies
Search Engine Strategies is the leading global conference and exposition dedicated to search engine marketing, optimization, and online advertising tactics and best practices. The conference is held annually over five days in San Jose, CA, attracting top industry leaders. SES is the single most important, relevant conference in the search engine marketing industry.

About Business.gov
Business.gov is the official business link to the U.S. Government, and is managed by the U.S. Small Business Administration in partnership with 21 other federal agencies. This partnership, known as Business Gateway, serves as an incubator of technologies designed to improve the delivery of services and information to the nation’s small business community. Originally launched in 2004, Business.gov provides a single access point to government services and information to help the nation's businesses with their operations.

Photos (c) 2008 by Mary Hoffman.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Industry Associations

One of the most useful sources to find out information about a certain industry is by visiting or contacting a trade association. Trade associations are often involved in public relations activities such as advertising, education, and lobbying, but one of the most vital uses of an association is networking between individuals and collaboration between companies. Joining an association can be particularly helpful to startups and struggling businesses because new members have an opportunity to ask for help from seasoned businesses that have experienced ups and downs in the past.

Earlier this year, Darrin blogged about the American Society of Association Executives Directory, where it is free to search for local, national, and international associations. One of the association webpages that I use often for research is the National Restaurant Association, but some of the more obscure associations I have visited recently are the American Ostrich Association and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Milestone

I normally post on Mondays, but felt compelled to wait until Friday to write this.

I've been tracking our incoming requests a bit more carefully these days. The end of this month will conclude our 16th year. Roger & I have been around for most of them. When we started, we had one CD-ROM, no email, no Internet, and no computer network. Just a handful of librarians with a bunch of books, a used Xerox machine, and well-worn telephones.

We've come a long way -- longer than I thought. Late yesterday, we got an email from an advisor in our Binghamton office (thanks, Laura!), looking for information on a client starting an adult day care service. We've researched this subject many times before. Ordinarily, it wouldn't be worth a comment, except that it turned out to be the 25,000th request in our history.

Whoa. I'm not used to being part of a number like that (unless it's my car's odometer). But this is something worth noting.

Thanks, then, to all the librarians from way back when . . . Michele, Jennifer, Lynne, Sheldon, Jo-Ann, Vivian, Mary Ellen, Lorie, Judy, Theresa, Anne, Gwen, and Mary Beth (and Mary Hoffman, who's moved up to the penthouse suite). They're a part of our history, and helped us become what we are today.

Thanks to Roger (who's made it the longest), Josee, Amelia & Alexis . . . it feels like we've done 25,000 in this summer alone.

Thanks to all of you, and to the clients of the SBDC -- you're the reason we're here.

Finally, there's a phrase I use often to end my emails to you, which seems appropriate now:
"I hope this has been of use."

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Getting with the program

Reading about the use of newer technologies in this presidential election has highlighted who is using what technology and how. We have discussed how businesses can use technologies that we associate with trivial and superfluous uses. Teens may rule the roost in SMS messaging but here's one article from Entrepreneur.com/PCWorld that offers some good ideas about how to make good use of texting for business applications.

From PCWorld | April 21, 2008
10 Killer Texting Tricks
Text messaging isn't just kid's stuff anymore. Use these amazing online tools to turn any SMS-capable phone into a productivity powerhouse.
By PCWorld
by Rick Broida

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tips for Food Manufacturers, from Stephen Hall

We’ve blogged about Stephen Hall’s From Kitchen to Market a few times in the past (Online resource for specialty food businesses, Bringing New Food Products to Market ) and it’s a great resource for guidance on marketing specialty food items. While I was in Chicago, I had the opportunity to attend a session with Mr. Hall. I won’t go into too much detail, but here are a few nuggets I thought were especially interesting:

  • Do you have to supply nutrition information on every specialty food product? Not according to the rules of the FDA. But Mr. Hall suggested that although the government doesn’t require the labeling, the consumer does. Today’s consumer wants to know what they are eating, and their food’s nutritional value.
  • Looking for a commercial kitchen? The audience in this session had a couple of good suggestions. Try calling local churches or restaurants that don’t serve meals three times a day. Either way, they may be willing to give you use of their kitchen when they aren’t using it.
  • It’s hard to sell food items online. People don’t want to buy a product unless they’ve tasted it. If you have tourists that visit your shop, they may be willing to buy your product once they return home, because they’ve already know how delicious it is. Another exception is the gift market. If you can create a small, lightweight portion of your product and get it into gift baskets, it might sell better online.
  • What’s the best way to advertise your product? Give it away. If you’re trying to give a retailer or distributor a deal, offer one free case when they buy 10, rather than buy 10 for the price of 9. You’ll move more product that way.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Business Definition and SB Research Results

I was having a discussion with a an SBDC colleague about the term "microenterprise". I found some stats, then I came across this report Do Business Definition Decisions Distort Small Business Research Results?

According to SBA: This working paper has two purposes. It presents special tabulations from the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners (SBO) to offer the public detailed information on businesses with and without employees and their owners (including owner age, home-based status, franchises and financing).
Second, the authors consider the characteristics of nonemployer and employer businesses. Their examination shows that research results based on data on nonemployers are not necessarily applicable to employers and vice versa.

A copy of the report is located here and the research summary can be found here.

Should you need further information, please feel free to contact Brian Headd or Radwan Saade at (202) 205-6533 or advocacy@sba.gov.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Market Research

Market research is essential to starting or expanding a business and the various sources that are available can be difficult to navigate. Rutgers University Libraries have a subject research guide section devoted to sources for various types of research. The guide devoted to Market Research "includes pointers to several important sources of statistical data on income, consumption, and demographics, to help you understand and define the market for your product or service."

Another source for subject research guides, including Market Research Sources, is the Library of Congress Business Reference Services.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

StumbleUpon

I heard about this site from my mother. She and my sister were enjoying stumbling and turned me on to it. I was familiar with some other similar sites like Digg and Delicious but like so many other comparable products, it's style that sets one apart from another. StumbleUpon allows you select your interests then you "stumble" and you will be led to one after another site on those topics. You can also review and save favorites and share them with a social network. So, if you are interested in graphic design and animation and buddhism, it will bring those sites to you. I had been using it for entertainment purposes mostly but then added topics like Internet Tools and Small Business and those categories are included in my random wanderings.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

September is National Preparedness Month

Last week, I received an e-mail from the CPM Industry Insider that had a link to the article Survey: American Small Businesses Not Prepared For Power Outages. Probably not coincidentally, on the very same day, SBA sent out a press release about September being National Preparedness Month, from which I will quote extensively:

Homeowners, Renters and Businesses Are Encouraged to Plan Before Disaster Strikes

WASHINGTON – Recent floods in the Midwest and hurricanes/tropical storms in Texas and Florida have cost homeowners, renters and businesses millions of dollars in damages. These events serve as reminders to the public to have a disaster preparedness plan in place.

National Preparedness Month, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is designed to enhance the public’s awareness of the necessity of having an emergency plan in place to respond to a natural or man-made disaster. The U.S. Small Business Administration is one of the many government and private sector coalition partners participating in this fifth annual National Preparedness Month.

"There’s a tendency – and it’s human nature – to think that a large-scale disaster is not going to happen where you live," said SBA Acting Administrator Sandy K. Baruah. "Accepting the inevitability of an emergency, and then taking responsibility for your own recovery are the necessary first steps toward protecting your family, your assets, and your community."

To prepare for disasters, SBA offers the following tips:
• Develop a solid emergency response plan. Find evacuation routes from the home or business and establish meeting places. Make sure everyone understands the plan beforehand. Keep emergency phone numbers handy.
Business owners should designate a contact person to communicate with other employees, customers and vendors. Individuals and business owners should ask an out-of-state friend, colleague or family member to be a “post-disaster”
point of contact, supporting the flow of information about short-term relocations, recovery, additional sources of assistance, etc.

• Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage. Disaster preparedness begins with having adequate insurance coverage – at least enough to rebuild your home or business. Homeowners and business owners should review their policies to see what is or isn’t covered. Businesses should consider “business interruption insurance,” which helps cover operating costs during the post- disaster shutdown period. Flood insurance is essential. To find out more about the National Flood Insurance Program, visit the Web site at www.floodsmart.gov.

• Copy important records. It’s a good idea to back up vital records and information saved on computer hard drives, and store that information at a distant offsite location. Computer data should be backed up routinely. Copies of important documents and CDs should be stored in fire-proof safe deposit boxes.

• Create a "Disaster Survival Kit." The kit should include a flashlight, a portable radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, non-perishable packaged and canned food, bottled water, a basic tool kit, plastic bags, cash, and a digital camera to take pictures of the property damage after the storm.

More preparedness tips for businesses, homeowners and renters are available on the SBA’s Web site.
The Institute for Business and Home Safety also has information on protecting your home or business. To learn more about developing an emergency plan, visit the DHS’s Ready Campaign Web site at www.ready.gov or call 1-800-BE-READY to receive free materials.

The SBA makes low-interest loans to homeowners, renters and non-farm businesses of all sizes. Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged real estate. Individuals may borrow up to $40,000 to cover losses to personal property.

Non-farm businesses and non-profit organizations of any size may apply for up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster damaged business assets and real property. Small businesses that suffered economic losses as a direct result of the declared disaster may apply for a working capital loan up to $2 million, even if the property was not physically damaged.