Thursday, January 31, 2008

Independent Contractor Marketing

I feel for small business owners - from my perspective, I hear their tales of woe and I am impressed with their initiative and drive. But every once in awhile I find myself on the other side of the equation as the small business customer and I really wonder how they function.
I have been trying to find a contractor to do some work. It occured to me that I had already met a person refered to me by a local architectural planning non-profit- someone I trust and have faith would do a fine job. So I emailed him - via his web site. He replied promptly - to say that I should call for an appointment. And I thought, why? This is after all a form of communication. But I called, and left a message. Then he called me back and left a message. Then I called and left a message and then he called me at work on a national holiday and left a message and so on. And I thought, this is ridiculous. If he had emailed me back and said: "I have time here, here and here: choose one." I would have and would probably be closer to getting my bathroom fixed. Or perhaps he could have said "I return calls/can be reached between this time and that time."
I understand that independent contractors don't have offices with staff to do this stuff, and I don't want him falling off a ladder because he's taking my call. But it seems that contractors - if they want new clients - need some method of scheduling. so, I had a look around online to see what was being said on the subject and apparently contractors are looking for new clients, especially sure-bet ones and there is scheduling software etc but I found nothing about good practices relating to scheduling. They all jump to the point where the estimate is being provided. I wonder how many people never become customers because they cannot get that appointment.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ypulse knows young people (and might help you understand how they think)

Do you have clients interested in reaching the Generation Y crowd? You may want to recommend that they check out Ypulse: Media for the Next Generation - “Daily news and commentary about generation Y for media and marketing professionals…”

Here’s a few highlights:

College Student Love Their Video
On any given day 19% of internet using adults download online video. 62 % percent of college students are watching, most often at their parents' houses.

The Ypulse 2007 [Y]ear in Review
Trends include changes in the gaming industry, celebrity gossip gone wild, and the expansion of virtual worlds.

A link to “How Fashionistas Shop” is on this page
(The short answer: they gather information online, but often make in-store purchases)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Researching a Company

Now that the Research Network has a membership with Hill Library, I decided to take some of the free classes they've offered. One dealt with finding information about companies. Here are a few tips, some of which you know about, I'm sure.

PUBLIC COMPANIES
Reference USA database (available from Hill on a trial basis, but also found at many public libraries)
Dun & Bradstreet
Hoovers
SEC/EDGAR; if you don't know the stock market ticker symbol, check the CIK, for there may be several companies with similar names
Big Charts - US and Canadian stock market
wsjie.com - articles
Annual reports (lots of sources on the Internet, many of them free); I found the Financial Times site easy to use
Company websites
Periodicals

PRIVATE COMPANIES
D&B, Hoovers
Secretary of State of the state in which the company is incorporated
Secretary of State association site www.nass.org. (Incidentally, the NASS has 2008 Presidental primary information, as well as a regional Presidential primary plan for 2012. But the site has the polls open for the NYS Presidential primary on February at one fixed time that is only partially true: In New York City and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Erie, POLLS OPEN AT 6 AM - CLOSE AT 9 PM. In all other counties, POLLS OPEN AT 12 NOON and CLOSE AT 9 PM.
Company websites
Periodicals, e.g., www.bizpubs.org -association of area business publications

INTERNATIONAL
Kompass
D&B, Hoover's
Company websites
Periodicals

NOT FOR PROFITS
IRS 990s on guidestar.org
Sources of grant money at fdncenter.org
Company websites
Periodicals

I should mention that premium versions of many of these databases are available with membership at Hill Libraries. Also, you don't need to be a member to take classes; they are open to potential members as well.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Another benchmarking tool - Business Performance Dashboard

Here's a new tool to help businesses see how they do in comparison to the rest of their industry. Entrepreneur.com and a research organization, CentrisPoint, have teamed up to create the Business Performance Dashboard. The Dashboard provides business performance data by industry, and covers quite a few.

The data describes all businesses in that industry, as well as top performing companies (the top ten percent), including stats on average revenue, revenue per employee and years in business.

Thanks to the J.J. Hill Library's "Business Web Site of the Week" for pointing out this resource.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Worthwhile Inventions

I sometimes get the impression that our advisors are less than inspired by some of the inventors they meet. It does seem that inventors are so taken with their idea they have not actually stopped to see if anyone else has done it. This always amazes us - but also we do see some odd but interesting ideas. It is hard to imagine them in the world.

Today I was reading an article in the most recent issue of Inc. Magazine (Feb 2008) by Joel Spolsky called "Inspired Misfires: Why the most important innovations are often those that appear to be fatally flawed" which goes into some of the hallmarks of truly original idea. He says it's easy to buy into some ideas precisely because they exist already. The hard to imagine ones are - new.

Time Magazine
Invention of the Year 2007
A review of all the wacky and wonderful products that have come out in the past year.

And then this morning, a friend sent me an email with this list of nifty products.

I try to keep an open mind - and remain impressed by all the stuff people come up with and have the energy to promote.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

SBDC Interview: House of Spices

The following appeared originally in the October 2007 "LaGuardia SBDC Quarterly Newsletter". It is an interview with an owner of a successful manufacturer & distributor of ethnic food items. I think that it could be of interest to any number of our clients.

It is reproduced here with the permission of the LaGuardia SBDC. My thanks to them.

***

House of Spices was started in 1970 with one store in Jackson Heights, New York by brothers G.L. Soni and Kumar Soni. In the following years they experienced extraordinary growth and opened up warehouses around the U.S. that import, store, manufacture, and distribute over 3,000 different food items from all over the world to the ethnic as well as mainstream markets.

The following interview was conducted with Mr. G.L. Soni:

Q: House of Spices has grown to be a large and successful wholesaler with exclusive distributorship of major food labels including several of its own. However, it all started as a small retail store. Looking back, what do you believe helped your company grow to scale?
G.L. Soni: The reason for our growth was my decision to sell the best merchandise money can buy. I also knew that, based on the size of the U.S., a comprehensive distribution network was the key to reaching customers.

Q: In what ways did you need to modify traditional ethnic products to ready them for the diverse U.S. marketplace?
G.L. Soni: Of course our product labels had to change, and when the FDA started detaining products, I decided to start manufacturing products here. Hence, our products say, "Made pure, made fresh and made here."

Q: How would you advise entrepreneurs to best leverage personal or cultural ties abroad to create a successful business model?
G.L. Soni: Remember, relatives are a double-edged sword. Do not forget who you are or where you came from, and always take the best of both cultures. Not everything in the old culture is right. Think "ethnic" with the ultimate goal of being mainstream.

Q: What lessons have you learned about working with international suppliers?
G.L. Soni: I have been very lucky and successful in dealing with international companies. Always honor your contracts, even when you lose money doing so. Your word should be your contract and guarantee.

Q: Finally, what would you say are the key elements any business owner should have in place before he or she starts up to ensure the kind of success that House of Spices has experienced?
G.L. Soni: Be focused and determined to overcome any hurdles, small or large. Honor your obligations on time without giving excuses, as the other guy has heard them all before. Be firm in your conviction and don't give in, even if you have to fight for it. Finally, never take "NO" for an answer. There are always legal avenues to get things done in the good ol' USA.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Yet Another Restaurant Post

Maybe it's because it's nearing Friday night, or maybe because restaurants are easily the top source of requests for our library. Or maybe it's because I'm hungry. Regardless, to continue from Josee's recent post, here's a story on this website which describes the results of a recent survey from Cornell's Center for Hospitality Research. It's called "A Consumer’s View of Restaurant Reservations Policies," and it's an ideal read for clients with sit-down restaurants who want to get a better handle on what patrons expect from a reservations policy.

(While reading it, I couldn't help but think of this "Seinfeld" episode. I know I'm not alone in doing so."

There's a link link to the full report, but it requires (free) registration to get at it. If you're waiting for a table over the weekend, bring your laptop, log in, and give it a read.

Help us help you – tips for making your research requests

If you were at the directors’ meeting today, you know that in general the research requests you send us have gotten more complicated, and require more time to answer. There’s nothing wrong with that- we librarians love the “thrill of the chase” even for the most obscure types of information.

That said, there are certain things you can do to help us do our jobs more efficiently and effectively, getting your clients better information faster.

Here’s a few ideas:

Looking for information to prove a point, or fill in a section of a business plan? Let us know how you plan to use what we give you. Sometimes your client is focused on a particular statistic that just might not be available, but if we know generally what that information will be used for, we can find something similar that could prove the same point.

Have you done some of your own research? Did your client come in with information or articles related to their business idea? Give us the details of what you already know, so we don’t have to start from scratch. Links to websites, article citations, or attachments are always welcome.

Have you written a detailed MQS narrative about your client’s business plans? Feel free to cut and paste relevant sections into your research request. It gives us more background, and saves you some typing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Restaurant Success or Failure?

Special Report April 16, 2007, 2:14PM EST text size: TT
The Restaurant-Failure Myth
Research shows that some popular perceptions about the rate of failure in the restaurant industry are just not true
by Kerry Miller


The author investigates the much-quoted 90% failure rates of restaurants to see if there is any truth to it. This is interesting since for a long, long time we have had in our packet on restaurants an article that says as much. So, have a look at this one for a more encouraging view and to perhaps kill off an urban legend.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

SBA Releases 2007 Year in Review

Marking Agency’s Accomplishments

On December 20, 2007, the U.S. Small Business Administration released a 10-page report marking the agency’s accomplishments during that calendar year.

The Year in Review document is posted on the SBA Web site here.

According to the press release, the agency’s accomplishments during the year enabled it to more effectively foster small business ownership and help people quickly get back on their feet after natural disasters.

Looking back on the year, it is clear the SBA has made substantial progress.
Internal operations are more effective and efficient, with every SBA
department taking on new challenges, goals and initiatives launched by
Administrator Steve Preston, who took the reins at the agency in July 2006.

Looking forward, the SBA has much to do in 2008 to achieve Administrator
Preston’s reforms, but 2007 was a turning point indicating positive results to
come.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

SBDC Internal Website

Just a reminder to please update your information on the Internal Website. This is our directory. It is very frustrating to look up someone and to find no useful information or out-of-date information. Also, we, at Central have a (sometimes) advantage of having other sources for this information, but your colleagues in other centers do not. Tools are only as useful as the information that populates them and it would be a kindness to keep your information current.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Trends in eLearning

This summer the folks at Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies asked prominent learning professionals and visitors to their website, “What are your 10 favorite tools for your personal learning/working, or for creating learning for others?" Their answers are reported in eLearn magazine, here.

Many of these tools will likely be familiar to you. The list includes Firefox, del.icio.us, Skype, Google search, and other much used and discussed Web 2.0 tools. As the author points out, what’s more interesting, perhaps, is that when asked about elearning, people don’t immediately start talking about online classes. Instead, there’s much more focus on the tools used in daily life for self-managed learning, information sharing and collaboration.

Oh, and thanks to Darrin for pointing out this article. Learning from your colleagues is always popular around here...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Educational Attainment and Other Characteristics of the Self-Employed

It was once assumed that college graduates would go to work for a Fortune 500 firm and that is often true; what is also true is that more students see entrepreneurship as a viable option for their careers. This study examines the relationship between education and the choice to become an entrepreneur, building on previous research and using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to analyze the characteristics of the self-employed compared with individuals employed by others. The study finds that educational attainment is an important determinant of self-employment: individuals with more schooling are more likely to start their own business, particularly in certain industries.

A full copy of this report is available here (PDF), and the research summary can be found here (PDF).

Monday, January 07, 2008

International Trade Statistics

The World Trade Organization has recently published "International Trade Statistics 2007" on its website. For SBDC clients engaged in importing and/or exporting , Section II ("Merchandise trade by product") and Section III ("Trade in Commercial Services by Category") would seem to be the most useful. Keep it handy.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wise Guy

I like Entrepreneur magazine and I especially like Guy Kawasaki's column which I have mentioned here before. If you are a dabbler like myself, you will appreciate his succinct and friendly style. I am so behind in my reading that I was reading an older column and then a more recent one came to my attention, so they are both listed here:

Garnering Angels

"Sure, you may have ventured for VC, but raising angel capital takes a different kind of skill."

By Guy Kawasaki
Entrepreneur Magazine - January 2008

Explains about angel investors - what motivates them and how seeking an angel is different from looking for venture capital.


Another angel investor article on Entrepreneur's site, focuses in particular on an angel network that helps women-owned businesses.
Send me an Angel
Can you get angel funding to expand your company?

By Aliza Sherman
Entrepreneur Magazine - October 2007

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Year in Review

Whether you’re taking down last year’s calendar, or comparing lists of 2007 movies seen, it’s nice to reflect upon 2007.

For those of you who love a good Almanac, Infoplease has compiled a helpful “2007- Year in Review .”

The site offers news analysis, general and topical timelines, world statistics, sports in review, and lists to make your head spin (Top DVD sold: Happy Feet, Least Corrupt Countries (it’s a tie!): Denmark, Finland & New Zealand).

So enjoy your reminiscing, and here’s to a great 2008.

Oh, and my apologies for the pop-ups...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2008

Happy New Year!

This is a leap year, being divisible by four. (There are exceptions; 2100, 2200, and 2300 are NOT leap years, but most of us don't have to worry about that.)

The Beijing Olympics start on 08-08-08, eight being a lucky number in the Chinese culture.

The United States is holding its first Presidential election with no incumbent president or vice-president running since 1952 (unless Dick Cheney accepts a draft from the Republican convention).

These folks are hitting the big 9-0 in 2008, barring events:
Oral Roberts 01/24
Ernie Harwell 01/25
John Forsythe 01/29
Allan Arbus 02/15
Marian McPartland 03/20
Bobby Doerr 04/07
Betty Ford 04/08
Eddy Arnold 05/15
Nelson Mandela 07/18
Marjorie Lord 07/26
Griffin Bell 10/31
Bob Feller 11/03
Claiborne Pell 11/22
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. 11/30

But of course the most important thing about 2008:
September (or possibly October)- The New York Mets will play their last game at Shea Stadium and the New York Yankees will play their last game at Yankee Stadium. The Mets will move into Citi Field and the Yankees will move into New Yankee Stadium in April 2009.