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.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Chrisman Revisited

Two years ago, I wrote a post that summarized a report written by Dr. James Chrisman, which provided data proving the economic impact of the New York State SBDC for clients seen during the year 2004.

It's time for a follow-up. If you recall, we mail surveys to all long-term clients (i.e., those who received five hours or more of consulting). Dr. Chrisman compiled the data, and released his report to us in late August.

Here's the details, taken directly from the report:

* "There were 620 responses to two mailings (post and email) of a questionnaire, a 7.2% response rate. The clients surveyed (8,647) represented the entire population of long-term clients (received five hours or more of consulting) of the New York SBDC in 2006. Of these, 3,168 were established businesses and 5,479 were pre-ventures (a/k/a, "startups").

* "In aggregate, we estimate that the long-term clients of the New York SBDC generated $861.9 million in incremental sales and 11,764 new jobs because of SBDC consulting assistance. We also estimate that $675.2 million in sales and 6,209 jobs were saved due to the consulting."

* "Compared to the total cost of operating the SBDC, the consulting provided to both established business and pre-venture clients generated $5.88 in tax revenues in one year for every $1 spent on the entire program."

* "Furthermore, an estimated $326.0 million in financing was obtained by clients as a result of the consulting received. This figure suggests that every dollar expended on the SBDC operation was leveraged by approximately $25.21 in new capital raised from external sources."

You'll notice that the important $5.88/$1.00 benefit-to-cost figure above is a bit lower than its counterpart from the 2004 survey. I think this is due mainly to the lower response rate (the 2004 survey had over twice as many people respond).

Regardless, it's a damn respectable figure, and worth publicizing here. Keep it up, folks.