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."