Thursday, December 31, 2009

Google Translate

As I was using my usual translation sites to translate a block of text, I plugged in my paragraph and was disappointed to see half the words left untranslated and giving me a garbled mess.
I remembered the Word Monkey gadget on my igoogle page and plugged the text in there and lo, it really worked. The entire paragraph made sense - a vast improvement on other translation tools.
In this case, I was translating from Danish to English. Usually translation tools can get the nouns and verbs but are confounded by context. Looking at the Word Monkey site, they make clear that are not affilated in any way with Google yet are powered by Google Translate. In Google Translate, you can search for information on foreign language sites and translate the results back into your home language. There is also an option to contribute a better translation. This wiki feature may be part of the reason this translator is more accurate than others. With the ability to learn, I am liking this tool.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Branding Issue

Surely you have tired by now of the whole Tiger Woods saga. All the articles about sex addiction, a world without privacy, being a role model, the future of professional golf, and whether we should care about any of it.

But, from a business POV, here's one more article: The Ultimate Case Study In Brand Identity Vs Brand Image. It explains that brand identity really is "the heart and soul of who you are as a company or a person."

Businesses can take a free "brand strength" test - go to the first link in the article - and that will be worth three minutes of a business' time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do Good AND Do Well

I recently worked on a question about getting a business to want to contribute to a non-profit. (It was more complex than that, but that'll do for this purpose.)

In researching the query, I came across Business Nonprofit CONNECTIONS, Inc. The About Us page poses this question: "Is your company’s giving making a difference in your community...and your bottom line?"

The founder and CEO of the company, Susan Hyatt, "provides small and mid-sized companies with ideas and tools for actively managing their community impacts and giving strategies." Also, there's a lot of free, useful advice in blog articles and links to other resources at the site. And I've been getting some start-up e-mails from her that are commonsensical but useful; e.g., "Lesson One - Your Business is NEVER 'Too Small' To Make A Difference." One can sign up for a "free 12-page report, Great Gifts That Make a Difference, for ideas on alternative giving this holiday season and receive a complimentary subscription" to the Business Giving Strategies newsletter.

And Business Nonprofit CONNECTIONS "walks the walk", as can be seen in its participation with nonprofit/nongovernmental organizations.

It is well-known that charitable organizations are taking a hit in these recessionary times. A business can still find a way to give, and get something out of it as well.

Home for the Holidays

Well, not really, but I needed a title to tie-in the season with this recent article from Small Business Trends, called the "Top 10 Homepreneur Trends for 2010".

(Aside - why do so many year-end lists [or lists in general] come in a multiple of 10? Is it a common number of toes, or fingers? Anyway, it's not my list, so they can do what they like.)

The article reveals the neologism "homepreneur," which I wasn't familiar with until today. Regardless, we frequently receive questions from advisors as to what home-based businesses are hot. Keep these in mind.

Now, should a person enter into a home-based businesses because he or she is limited, for one reason or another, to the home, and that choosing amongst this list would yield something more promising than something that isn't hot? Or should this list be read by someone who has talent and experience in one of these fields, and decides to start out a career in the field by starting in the home? I realize that this is the subject for an entirely different blog post, but I'd assume the latter would have a better shot at making a home-based business work than the former.

Great clients bring their gifts for us to share. 'Tis the season for giving gifts. Enjoy the holidays, everyone.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Twitter makes some $$$$

Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have been all the rage for the past few years, but the big question of profitability was always looming. Sure, they had a lot of members, but did these companies have any way to make money?

Well, Twitter seems to have figured it out, at least for the time being. Twitter has just signed two agreements which will allow Twitter posts to be searchable by Google and Bing (Microsoft). The respective $15 and $10 million dollar agreements will open up your Twitter tweets to data mining, and will make the company profitable (we think - Twitter is privately held, and isn't giving away all their financials.)

Read more at BusinessWeek: "Content-Search Deals Make Twitter Profitable"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Interesting Lists for Businesses

The following three articles are only related because they are lists and I thought that they could be interesting and useful to business owners.

19 Blogs You Should Bookmark Right Now - Inc. scoured the Web and came up with a list of the smartest business bloggers. Their advice just might help you run a better company. (Inc.)

30 Entrepreneurs Who Are Saving the World - A look at 30 entrepreneurs who built successful businesses that were also driven by a social mission. Because, let's face it: There's more to life than simply making lots of money. (Inc.)

The Best Money Management Sites - Although written as an article on personal finance software, the new generation of money management Web sites can help you take control of your financial life. (CBS Money Watch)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Educational Attainment, Brain Drain & Self-employment

From the Office of Advocacy, Small Business Administration

States looking to grow their economies must ensure that sufficient human capital exists to raise productivity, output, and incomes throughout the state.
Some of these gains will stem from the creation of new enterprises, which previous research links to higher living standards. Each state experiences ebbs and flows of people moving in or out, but some states experience “brain drain”
more than others. This paper explores the mobility of labor from one state to another, using data from the Baccalaureate and Beyond longitudinal survey and examining student outcomes as wage and salary and self-employed workers 10 years after graduation.

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

3.6 zettabytes = lots of information

According to a recent survey from the University of California, San Diego, U.S. household consumed about 3.6 zettabytes of information in 2008. A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000 trillion bytes, and last year's 3.6 zettabytes are the information equivalent of thick paperback novels stacked seven feet tall over the whole U.S., including Alaska.

So that's a lot of information. More interesting is where that information is coming from. Computer games, TV and movie-going were the largest sources of information consumed, and Americans spent 16% of their information hours on the internet, second only to their 41% watching TV.

Read the full report here: How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers

Toys

'Tis the season to point out The Bloom Report, a website that covers the toy industry that was pointed out to me by Walter Reid (in our Farmingdale office). Walter, who had worked in the toy industry for several years, calls this "the best free resource for information on the toy industry that I have come across."

If it's that good enough for Walter, then I feel obliged to pass word of it on here. The site (which requires free registration) is useful mostly for its dedication to linking to nearly every toy-related item in that industry's trade publications. Philip Bloom, its creator, has been in the toy industry in some capacity since the 1950s, and this website seems to be a new outlet for the knowledge that he's accumulated.

Yes, registering for it will require yet another user ID and password, but please keep this site in mind to refer to any toy store (or toy invention) clients that you meet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Securing a Bank Loan for Your Small Business

The last two years have seen a decrease in business loans from lending institutions, despite the best efforts of the government and other organizations that assist businesses with securing financing. Below are some articles that can help you secure a loan for your small business.

Come Prepared - Small businesses can improve the chances of getting a bank loan by laying the groundwork (The Albany Business Review)

Trust Me - For entrepreneurs looking to gain credibility, it's often the little things that count (The Wall Street Journal)

How to secure financing for your small business (SmallBusiness.com)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The New Normal

Spending may not be where it was, but it looks like we are inching up ever so slightly with upper incomes leading the pack as would be expected. Apparently we are now in the "new normal".
You can see this Gallup research here: http://www.gallup.com/poll/124634/Upper-Income-Spending-Reverts-New-Normal.aspx They are not especially optimistic, saying this may be the look of things to come for some time.
For retailers, small businesses, and the companies that supply and support them, a new normal spending pattern can mean complex changes involving downscaling, upselling (people taking advantage to buy upscale for less), inventory management, and people-related adjustments. The U.S. economy is designed to allow the private sector to make such adjustments in order to optimize performance when faced with such a rapidly changing business environment. Of course, the same does not apply to maintaining the social safety net, particularly in the face of double-digit unemployment and even higher underemployment.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

NORAD sees Ol' St. Nick when he's sleeping, knows when he's awake

Children of all ages are now able to track Santa live through a variety of social media services and OnStar, thanks to updates to the North American Aerospace Defense Command's annual Santa tracking public service.

New this year, children and the young-at-heart can track Santa through mobile devices and the Internet via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, TroopTube.mil and OnStar. To follow Santa on these Web sites, users should type @noradsanta into the search engine. Dedicated Santa trackers who are also OnStar subscribers can follow the jolly old elf in their vehicles by pushing the blue OnStar button to get status reports on Santa’s whereabouts.

The NORAD Tracks Santa Web site, www.noradsanta.org, is now live and features holiday games and activities that change daily. The Web site is available in seven languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Chinese. On Dec. 24, the Web site will stream videos, captured by NORAD “Santa Cams,” from cities along Santa’s journey.


More here: NORAD enhances Santa tracking abilities.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Gift Cards

I'm taking a break from traditional posts directly relevant to our small business clients to mention that I began my holiday shopping in earnest last Saturday afternoon. Like most folks, I find myself unable to think of something worthwhile for certain people in my family. They're usually recipients of a gift card (given with love, of course).

Being a librarian, though, I should have realized that research has been done on the various types of gift cards. This chart shows the features of the most popular types of cards (such as whether it's renewable, whether it requires a PIN, whether it expires, and so on).

And, remember, it's the thought that counts.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Family-Owned Businesses

Running a family-owned business certainly has it's appeals and drawbacks. Working day-in and day-out with your closest relatives creates the opportunity for honest dialogue and a wonderful team environment where everyone knows their duties. It can also lead to disagreements over minute business decisions, constant bickering both at work and at home, and in a worst case scenario, even the failure of the business. Below are a few articles I have read recently that discuss owning a family-owned business and how to work AND get along with your family.

Family Business - Something Has to Change, So Do It (Baltimore Business Journal)

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? (Inc.)

Running a Family Business is Tricky, But You Can Do It (USA Today)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Property Prices

I am working on a request for average property lease rates in a city and so I thought I would outline a couple of places I looked at to get an average price per square foot. These are real property listings so this is not an agregate but anecdotal prices to inform.

All of these sites allow you to search by city or zip code, price, square footage including ranges, both for lease and for sale properties:

LoopNet

CityFeet

LeaseMLS

Grubb Ellis

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

2009's Best Business Books

It's probably no surprise that the 2008-2009 recession has been a big deal for the professional book industry. In May 2009 sales of professional books were down 6.8 percent from the previous year, and the recession plays a major thematic role in many of the most recent business-related books.

If you want to check out some of the best business books of this year, strategy+business magazine has published their list of the "Best Business Books 2009." Winners come from a variety of categories, including management, leadership, strategy, technology and marketing, as well as the meltdown.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The States of Marriage and Divorce

Again, from the Pew Research Center:

In Arkansas and Oklahoma, men and women marry young — half of first-time brides in these states were age 24 or younger on their wedding day. These states also have above-average shares of women who divorced in 2007-2008.

It’s the opposite state of affairs in Massachusetts and New York. Their residents marry late — half of ever-married New York men were older than age 30 when they first wed. These states also have below-average shares of men and women who divorced in 2007-2008.

Looking at rates, about 6% of Texans who ever have been married have wed three times or more. That is similar to the national average (5%), but well below the leaders in this category — the neighboring states of Arkansas and Oklahoma — where about 10% of all ever-married adults have had at least three spouses.

Marriage and Divorce: A 50 State Tour

Friday, November 27, 2009

Business Attire

This past week or so, an executive staff member in my office has been putting a little more effort into his business attire. He has been wearing elegant ties with coordinating shirts and while this is not a huge change from his normal button down shirts and nice slacks, the tie seems to add something. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with his attire when he is not wearing a tie. On the contrary, I have never seen this co-worker, or any other in this office, wear anything that could be deemed inappropriate. But there have been times in my life when I have been visiting other businesses or places of work where I see attire that in my opinion is entirely unsuitable and basically just wrong for the work environment. Sometimes, I even wish that dress codes were more formal, like they used to be, so that there is less opinion involved in deciding what to wear. Read articles on how to write dress codes, how some companies are reverting back to more formal dress codes, and definitions of dress code terminology.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Expanding the Product Line

There was a recent discussion on a listserv I monitor about what a florist might do who is suffering in the recession. One participant suggested "expanding their offerings beyond just flowers...some gifty/crafty stuff to compliment the flowers and get feet through the door and create incremental volume." Good idea, that.

One of my favorite resources is looking at the Economic Census for the Product Lines documents. The one for Retail Trade (NAICS 44-45) can be found here. For NAICS code 45311, found on page 173, you'll see that of the 22,750 florists in 2002:
3719 sell candy, 1209 sell other food stuff or 4061 selling some sort of grocery item (some sell both)
9268 sell some sort of kitchenware
603 sell jewelry
364 sell books
4810 sell games and toys

Again, these are 2002 numbers - the 2007 numbers don't exist yet - but it does provide some guidance for how an entity might diversify its line.

There are similar product line reports for:
NAICS 22: Utilities
NAICS 42: Wholesale Trade
NAICS 48-49: Transportation and Warehousing
NAICS 51: Information
NAICS 52: Finance and Insurance
NAICS 53: Real Estate, Rental and Leasing
NAICS 54: Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services
NAICS 55: Management of Companies and Enterprises
NAICS 56: Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services Services
NAICS 61: Educational Services
NAICS 62: Health Care and Social Assistance
NAICS 71: Arts, Education and Recreation
NAICS 72: Accommodations and Food Services
NAICS 81: Other Services (except Public Administration)

This information is also available from Census' American Factfinder, but frankly I found it less than user-friendly.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Goldman Sachs & small businesses

This is now old news, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention it. Last Tuesday (11/17), Goldman Sachs announced that it was partnering with Warren Buffet to provide $500 million in a "10,000 Small Businesses" plan. I learned about it from the Wall Street Journal last week.

The article focuses on the actual plans for the fund. These won't be direct loans to just anyone. $200 million is earmarked on "education and training programs" (they're big on mentoring), and the remainder will be (according to their press release) "a combination of lending and philanthropic support to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs)".

The education and training programs will be targeted primarily at "underserved" small business owners, and will be taught primarily at community colleges and universities. Our own SBDC at LaGuardia Community College in Queens will be the first to offer such training, in the spring of 2010.

As the WSJ article mentions, this announcement has generated a lot of inquiry from small business owners desperate to navigate their way out of the current credit crunch. Based on the PR material released, though, it doesn't seem to be providing a different kind of direct investment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Holiday Season and Your Business

Less companies are throwing holiday parties. Companies are planning their parties later in the year than usual. Companies are planning potlucks instead of hiring caterers. These are just a few of the methods that companies are using to save money this holiday season. Instead of scratching the holiday festivities altogether, read the below articles on ways to save money this holiday season while still celebrating with your employees and customers.

Party Poopers - Holiday Parties Take a Hit in Hard Times

Small Business - Partying simply with smaller events, iPods instead of DJs

Small Businesses - Still giving holiday gifts to customers

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NACS State of the Industry Annual 2008

NACS State of the Industry Report of 2008 Data
New addition to our collection!

"This comprehensive report provides the convenience and petroleum retailing industry with analysis of 2008 data and serves as a premier benchmarking resource."

The 2008 edition does not include the CDROM unlike the 2007 edition but is still packed with lots of good data on the convenience store/forecourt and petroleum retailing industry.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fees and how to avoid them

Wait, there's a fee if I buy the tickets online or I stop by the box office? Concert ticket handling costs are just one of the annoying ways that companies sneak in some profit-boosting fees into your bill. Cell phone plans, online airline tickets, and receiving a printed bill are all frequent offenders. According to a survey from the consumer privacy research group the Ponemon Institute, these "sneaky fees" add up to about $950 dollars a year for the average American.

It's tricky to totally avoid these fees, but it's good to be on the lookout, and sometimes there are steps you can take to keep from paying.

Read more in these two articles from PC World:

Sneaky Fees Oct 27, 2009
Sneaky Fees: 7 New Ways You're Paying More Oct 28, 2008

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

100 Best Websites for Business News, Know-How

From onlineclasses.org:

If you’re preparing for a career in the business world, you’re undoubtedly devoting a lot of time and effort to your schoolwork, internships and networking. But keeping up with business news is equally important, and these websites can help you apply what you learn in class to real-world situations, from the stock market, to international business, to starting up your own company to social media marketing. Here are 100 best websites for your business news and know-how.

The list includes General Media (Forbes, Fortune), Blogs (the Curious Capitalist), Social Media (Fast Pitch, PartnerUp), Stock Market and Finance (CNNmoney, Business Index), Entrepreneurship (Entrepreneurship.org, SBA), Business Education (Harvard Business Publishing, MIT Sloan School of Management), Tips, Tools and Tutorials (All Things Workplace, Business Owner’s Toolkit), Career (Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist, Wisconsin School of Business Careers), and my favorite, of course, Green Business (HBRGreen.org, SustainableBusiness.com). there are even links to sites about ethics and etiquette.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Businesses and H1N1

H1N1 is everywhere. By now, it is extremely likely that you know someone, or at least know of someone, that has contracted H1N1, or the swine flu. Getting the vaccine is not easy unless you are an individual that can be categorized as high-risk. Businesses are being faced with many decisions about how they should handle H1N1 if (some people might say when) it infects their business. Should managers send employees home that exhibit symptoms? What precautionary measures should be taken to alleviate the impact of the flu? How will employers know that their employee really has the flu and isn't lying to get time off? These and many other questions should be asked before the flu strikes. Below are links to resources on the H1N1 Flu and Small Business Preparedness.

Guide - Planning for 2009 H1N1 Influenza: A Preparedness Guide for Small Business from Flu.gov

Survey - Harvard School of Public Health National Survey of Businesses - Four-Fifths of Businesses Foresee Severe Problems Maintaining Operations If Significant H1N1 Flu Outbreak

Preventing H1N1 - Swine Flu Prevention Tips for Small Businesses

Check out this previous post from back in May on H1N1.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Mom’s Use Their iPhones, and How You Shouldn’t

Want your marketing efforts to reach moms on their iPhones? There’s a new study, showing that mothers frequently let their children play with their phones , and use their phones to make purchasing decisions, particularly in price comparison, shopping list applications and locating the nearest store.

Now I imagine that most of us are excellent and super-polite smartphone users, but just in case you need a refresher, if you must text during a holiday party, do it in the bathroom, and turn ‘em off during religious events, dates and social occasions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

USA Counties

A site I've come across only recently, but which may be of use to advisors and their clients without going to various locations.

From the Census Bureau:

USA Counties features over 6,500 data items for the United States, States and counties from a variety of sources. Files include data published for 2008 estimates and many items from the 2000 Census of Population and Housing, the 1990 census, the 1980 census and the 2002, 1997, 1992, 1987, 1982 and 1977 economic censuses.

Information in USA Counties is derived from the following general topics: age, agriculture, ancestry, banking, building permits, business patterns, crime, earnings, education, elections, employment, government, health, households, housing, income, labor force, manufactures, population, poverty, retail trade, social programs, veterans, vital statistics, water use, and wholesale trade.

Files contain a collection of data from the U. S. Census Bureau and other Federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Social Security Administration.


I particularly like the COMPARE function, where one can compare the county in question with other counties in the state.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Cyber Security - the challenge never ends

Last night, I watched the segment on "60 Minutes" that cast light on just how much vigilance is required to protect electronic sytems designed to operate critical financial, social and defense systems in this country (and elsewhere). It was sobering to watch, to say the least.

News lives in an echo chamber, it seems. An article from last week's PCWorld dwelled on the proliferation of cyber theft into the world of small and medium-sized businesses and organizations.

The bulk of the article focuses on the FBI's awareness of the growth in ACH (automated clearinghouse) fraud, where thieves manipulate online banking systems to create false payees, whereby significant sums can be then transferred out of the country by (sometimes unwitting) online payroll clearinghouse operations.

Vigilance, again, is the key word here. Many of these scenarios unfold by an employee unknowingly triggering malware embedded into an email (the article cites the example of Microsoft sending out notices to upgrade software), and are exacerbated by incomplete or out-of-date online protection in place at smaller financial institutions.

Folks, be careful out there. Train employees to be leery of suspicious emails like this, and demand reassurance from your financial institution that they have systems in place that can spot unusual occurrences like this (and not simply & blindly pay out sums to fictitious individuals). As a line in this article says, "Once the money is out of the country, it is gone for good."

Friday, November 06, 2009

Social Media and the Boss

I have read many articles dealing with the use of social media and employees. Some employees have been reprimanded and in some cases even fired for things they have said online about their workplace, pictures they have posted of them doing illegal activities, etc. The other day, I read an article about a boss who found himself in a sticky situation after posting pictures on his Facebook page of him attending the annual "weeklong anything-goes festival" Burning Man. The CEO of Joie de Vivre, a company that operates a collection of boutique hotels in California, posted pictures of himself (including one of him in a tutu) having a good time while off work. The reaction from his employees was less than favorable. In the end, he decided to keep the pictures online, despite the recommendations of some of his executive staff. It makes me wonder about rules for social media usage for both employees and the boss. Should your employer (or employees) dictate what you can and can't do online? And how should the rules be determined? Illegal activities are one thing. What about activities that may not be socially acceptable? All I know is that it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

National Association for Sick Child Daycare


I love that there is an association for just about everything. The National Association for Sick Child Daycare is one you may not have come across yet. This association has been around for a number of years and supports those running quality childcare services for sick children. With so much in the news about the challenges faced by workers with little or no sick time or single parents who bear the brunt of sick season, the issues are significant and the solutions thin on the ground.
"Obstacles exist that hamper the development of needed sick child care programs. There is an absence of providers largely due to lack of
information, lack of licensing procedures for sick child care, difficulty
getting insurance, and funding challenges. "
We have occasionally had requests for clients starting specialized daycare programs and this association offers a number of how-to documents for reasonable prices - most are about $30, with the directory of sick childcare facilities costing quite alot more at $295. There is a survey report, guidelines for starting a hospital-based daycare program, as well as guidelines for serving mildly ill children. Very clearly there is need, with more awareness there will be more programs and assistance to support those programs.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

You can find details on the religious composition of the United States, including religious makeup, religious beliefs and practices in the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. More than a study of religion, the Pew survey also includes the social and political attitudes affiliated with religious traditions in the United States. The survey is based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans.

One element I found particularly interesting is A Brief History of Religion and the U.S. Census. From the document:

The U.S. Census Bureau has not asked questions about religion since the 1950s, but the federal government did gather some information about religion for about a century before that. Starting in 1850, census takers began asking a few questions about religious organizations as part of the decennial census that collected demographic and social statistics from the general population as well as economic data from business establishments...Although the census takers did not interview individual worshipers or ask about the religious affiliations of the general population, they did ask members of the clergy to identify their denomination – such as Methodist, Roman Catholic or Old School Presbyterian. The 1850 census found that here were 18 principal denominations in the U.S.

The same basic questions on religious institutions were included in the 1860 and 1870 censuses. In 1880, census takers started collecting more in-depth information from religious leaders on topics ranging from average worship attendance to church income, expenditures and debt. The scope of inquiry about religion was expanded again in 1890, when census takers gathered information about the number of ministers in each denomination. Classifications for the denominations also were more detailed...

There were no other significant changes in data collection on religious bodies until 1902, when the U.S. Census Bureau was established as a permanent government agency and census officials decided to separate some data collection from the regular decennial census. This led to the statutory creation of the Census of Religious Bodies, which began in 1906 as a stand-alone census to be taken every 10 years.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Novelties

We so often get requests for ideas to help market existing businesses and occasionally I see businesses that are doing little things that we can learn from.

This Halloween weekend I took my daughter and a friend to breakfast and afterwards stopped into Candyland, a local candy shop, cake and candy supply retailer. I spoke with the owner, who told me about the classes they offer in candy and cake-making and decorating. shop was answering the question from more than one perspective. They offer a way for businesses to get themselves noticed and they share their expertise as well as their product, by offering classes and recipes both online and off. By giving a little away, they build goodwill.

The owner showed me some beautiful and delicious chocolate favors in novel designs, explaining that she had corporate clients who ordered these gifts from her for employees or their clients. Another product that seemed like a clever alternative to the typical holiday card was a chocolate card with a holiday greeting in color made from edible dyes. The cards can be made to any design including company logos. She also offered company "business cards" also printed in edible color.

I thought, what a great way to keep clients sweet while marketing a business. The owners of Candyland are succeeding in marketing their own business, by offering classes, adapting designs to the season, trying new things, and even offering free recipes like the one I picked up for making peppermint bark.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Energy Efficient Business

A recent article in the Albany Business Review brought to my attention an important program available through National Grid, the core business of transmission and distribution of electricity and natural gas to customers in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Small Business Program was designed for business customers with an average demand use of 200 kilowatts or less (or 40,300 kilowatt-hours or less) per month, National Grid can help you reduce your company's energy costs by installing energy efficient equipment.

•National Grid can provide a free energy audit and report of recommended energy efficiency improvements
•National Grid will pay 70% of the cost of the installation of energy efficient equipment and you can finance the remaining 30% interest free for up to 24 months.
•Cost-cutting, energy efficient equipment available through this program include:

◦Lighting Upgrades
◦Energy Efficient Time Clocks
◦Photo Cells For Outdoor Lighting
◦Occupancy Sensors
◦Programmable Thermostats
◦Walk-in Cooler Measures

Long Island Power Authority's Commercial Construction Program was created with the needs of Long Island businesses such as yours in mind. Lower operating costs and increased efficiency offer savings, a key component to success on Long Island. LIPA’s incentives help to lower the cost of purchasing energy-efficient measures. There are three paths in the Commercial Efficiency program; each one designed to fit the needs of a particular customer.

•Prescriptive Approach - Offers incentives for choosing equipment from a pre-qualified list of energy-efficient measures.
•Custom Approach - Provides technical assistance, incentives and the flexibility to choose unique measures not on the Prescriptive list.
•Whole Building Design Approach - A comprehensive approach in which you, your building design team and LIPA-supported experts work together, from concept to completion, to develop an energy efficiency plan specially designed for your entire building.
•Not-For-Profit Organizations - In addition to the offerings listed above, there are additional incentives for qualifying Not-for-Profits.

Wherever you are in New York State, make sure you contact your local power provider regarding these incredible financial incentives for creating a more energy-efficient business.

For more information:

LIPA - Save Energy & Money

National Grid's Large Business Program

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's Commercial/Industrial Programs

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No business like snow business

It's getting a little chilly up here in Upstate! With that in mind, here are a few resources related to winter sports:

SIA- SnowSports Industries America:
Research includes sales by state and region of Nordic, Alpine and Snowboarding equipment.

National Ski and Snowboard Retailers Association:
The site offers participation figures and articles on industry trends (including the impact of the recession)

Transworld Business: "The leader in boardsports news and information" will keep you up-to-date in snowboarding equipment trends and the hottest cold-weather companies.

National Ski Areas Association: Industry statistics include participation figures, number of ski areas by state, and helmet usage data.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

State of the Blogosphere 2009

From the description by Eric Olsen, Publisher of Blogcritics/Technorati

Earlier this month, denizens of the blogosphere descended on Las Vegas for three days of networking and socializing at the 2009 BlogWorld & New Media Expo. Besides the conference and trade show, there was much to learn from the keynote speakers, and of particular interest was the 2009 State of the Blogosphere delivered by Technorati CEO Richard Jalichandra.

The 2009 State of the Blogosphere

Introduction: Why the results of the survey are displayed according to four different types of bloggers.

Day 1: Who Are the Bloggers? We delve into the demographics.

Day 2: The What and Why of Blogging: Why we do what we do.

Day 3: The How of Blogging: How often we blog, what technologies we use, and whether or not we track our traffic.

Day 4: Blogging Revenues, Brands and Blogs: Branding and monetizing our blogs.

Day 5: 2009 Trends: Political Impact of Blogging, Twitter Usage.

In addition to the survey results, you'll find illuminating interviews with some of the blogosphere's movers and shakers:

Michael Arrington, TechCrunch
Penelope Trunk, Brazen Careerist
Steve Rubel, Edelman Digital, Micro Persuasion
Alex Santoso, Neatorama
Henry Copeland, Blogads
Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post
Jonathan Salem Baskin, Dimbulb
Mathew Ingram, Toronto Globe and Mail
Seth Godin, Squidoo, sethgodin.typepad.com
Simon Mackie, Web Worker Daily
Dan Gillmor, dangillmor.com
Duncan Riley, The Inquisitr

About the State of the Blogosphere

Since 2004, Technorati's annual State of the Blogosphere report has followed growth and trends in the blogosphere. For the second time, bloggers, generous with their thoughts and insights, were surveyed directly to provide the data for the report. The 2009 State of the Blogosphere survey demonstrates that the growth of the blogosphere's influence on subjects ranging from business to politics to the way information travels through communities continues to flourish. In a year when revolutions and elections were organized by blogs, bloggers are blogging more than ever, and the State of the Blogosphere is strong.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's Too Early . . . or is It?

Yesterday, the 12-year-old in my house reminded me that it was just two months until Christmas. It dawned on me that I'd not yet heard a single holiday song in a store, nor have I seen aisles of pharmacies or supermarkets turned over entirely to that season. I thought this to be a big change from recent years, when I began to think that the Halloween season had been absorbed in to Christmas, much like how small towns in the country wake up one morning to find out that they've become a suburb to a big city.

Coincidentally, I would up reading this press release heralding the 2009 Online Buyer Economic Trends Study from Performics. This firm conducts consumer surveys every six months regarding their attitudes towards spending. This survey focused specifically on holiday shopping.

Its findings include:

- Almost 20% of the respondents had begun their holiday shopping in mid-September;
- Nearly 75% of shoppers plan on buying fewer items overall; and
- Friends, co-workers, and extended family are likely not to receive gifts like they had in the past.

There's a lot more in the report. Information on obtaining a copy can be found in this press release. It's free of charge, and would make a nice gift for your coworkers.

And Happy Halloween, everybody.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Information you need...to start a restaurant



In today's fast-paced world, eating out at restaurants has become a normal aspect of life, with convenience a main factor in choosing where to eat. According to Dun & Bradstreet's Million Dollar Total, there are over 30,000 eating places in New York State. With so many restaurants, is it a feasible option to choose a restaurant as the business that you want to start? In one word, yes. If you can fill a need or create a new and exciting option for locals to eat at, a restaurant can be a very viable business idea. Below are resources to help you start your restaurant.

How to Start a Restaurant (Entrepreneur Start-up Guide)

How to Run a Restaurant - Start-up Costs (Forbes)

Evaluating Restaurant Opportunities (University of Wisconsin-Extension and the Wisconsin Main Street Program of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce)

Food Services and Drinking Places Industry Snapshot (2007 Census)

The National Restaurant Association

Thursday, October 22, 2009

From Theory to Practice

I think the trouble with a lot of marketing ideas is that they fall outside our comfort zone. I imagine that a lot of small business owners are good at making lasagna or tables or cleaning yards but the marketing of the business is where they are not comfortable. Especially when the business is home-based, the "business" doesn't feel that different from the individual. When we send a bunch of great marketing ideas on to the client, I wonder what proportion are useful in that they feel capable of executing them. What I notice in my daily travels are businesses who seem not have taken very simple steps to promoting their businesses. My biggest peave are shop windows that look so dark and uninviting that business appears closed. Lighting a window, improving a sign, finding a niche and capitalizing on it seem like steps even the shyest business owner can implement.
While some suggestions sound modest and not necessarily worthy of a literature search, proposing that owners carry business cards, and make specific requests to current clients to circulate cards to colleagues or a reciprocal referral relationship with other businesses may be small steps to reach out a little every day to new customers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"How-To" with social media

I'm pretty sure I've blogged about specific articles from Mashable - The Social Media Guide, but if you have any questions about social media and how to use it, this site has a lot of helpful information.

Today I discovered their neat-o "How-To" section. Topics are diverse and include "How to Integrate Facebook with Your Blog," "How to Get Started With Google Wave" "How To Customize Your YouTube Channel," and even "How to Plan a Wedding on the Web" (I'll be reading that one on my own time). There are lots of comments and suggestions from other readers, so one way or another, you're likely to learn something pretty practical.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Facts and Forms

From the website:

411SmallBusinessFacts.com is a searchable data base of approximately 2,000 facts about American small businesses and their owners (or managers) produced by the NFIB Research Foundation. The Foundation developed this information from telephone surveys of small employers – those employing from one person in addition to the owner(s) to 250. Data collection began in 2001 and continues through the present. The data are gathered regularly for a series of publications known as NFIB’s National Small Business Poll. New Poll data are added to 411SmallBusinessFacts.com eight times annually. The small business facts presented in the data base address a wide range of subject matter and include material which typically cannot be found in other sources.

You can do a quick search, but it's easier to search by keyword, category, or poll.

From HillSearch.org:

If you're looking for a centralized location to access government forms, try Forms.gov. Forms.gov provides access to a catalog of business and citizen federal forms needed to interact with the Federal Government. Forms for both voluntary and regulatory interaction with the Federal Government are included.

Forms.gov includes over 5,400 forms, with new and updated forms being added daily. Users can search for forms by agency, form name, form number, or keyword. If you don't find the form you need, try visiting the applicable agency's form page (links provided at http://www.forms.gov/bgfPortal/nav.do?oa=agencyForms).

Forms.gov also identifies some of their frequently accessed forms, such as: tax forms, small business forms, social security forms, FEMA forms, and more. Try it today at http://www.forms.gov/


So I did. I think it's most useful when people have no idea what bureaucracy they should be dealing with. Still, I discovered that Schedule C is a form not only of the IRS but of FAR as well. BTW, W2 generated no response, but W 2 got me information about W-2 IRS forms.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Venture Capital and Angel Financing - Do Your Due Diligence

An article titled "Perform Due Diligence on Potential Investors" appeared recently on Business Week's website. Its author (Tom Taulli) reminds those pursuing venture capital and/or angel financing that, despite current lending conditions, there's still an obligation to review the qualifications and histories of potential investors. Just because traditional lending sources have tightened is no reason to act desperate, and give away too much during negotiations.

Several suggestions are then offered as to what "due diligence" should be done. In addition to these, I recommend these two sites (both of which I've recommended in previous blog posts):

1) TheFunded (written about here on 5/21/07)
2) Punctuative - the Venture Capital Database (written about here on 8/6/08)

Both sites are useful in that they enable those seeking investment to comment, critique, and/or condemn the performance of some funds out there. A little background, then, can only help.

NYS SBDC in the News

We’ve had some nice articles in the national press recently. In case you missed them, here’s a few of the pieces:

Entrepreneurs turn to small business centers for free help

Geri Kavanah, Jerry Kobre and Tom Morley of the Rockland SBDC (and Tee Rowe, the new CEO at ASBDC) are all featured in this USA Today piece.

When the CEO heads back to the mail room

Our beloved State Director, Jim King highlights the importance of being a hands-on owner, and staying familiar with many aspects of business operation for CNNMoney.com.

Staff cuts: 'This was the last resort'

Lucille Wesnofske, Director of the Farmingdale Small Business Development Center discusses the efforts of small business owners to hold on to their staff during difficult economic periods (also at CNNMoney.com).

I’ll use this as an opportunity to remind you all to send me an email (and a link when possible) when your center is in the news! If you'd like to see more NYS SBDC press, check out this page on our website: http://www.nyssbdc.org/News/news.cfm

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Follow Up - Marketing

So much of effective marketing is just good timing. I think it is the difference between the waitress coming over while you are mid-bite to ask how satisfied you are with your meal and receiving a call or a reminder card at just the time you would need the nudge. I called a pest control service in the summer and they came and did their thing. Last week, I received a call asking if there was anything else they could do for the fall or winter service. I hesitated over a wasp's nest but that call made the difference. Unlike the politicians who inundate their audience with so many posters and sorry-we-missed-you cards that you can't stand the sight of them, an infrequent but well-timed mailing can be very effective.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Building Business Credit


The NYS SBDC Central office has been getting an inordinate number of pre-recorded phone calls lately. Many of them are apparently random-number generated and have messages that start: "We're pleased to let you know that you are eligible for our debt reduction service..." Quoting Simon & Garfunkel: "And blah, blah, blah."

Since someone has recently asked us about how to build their credit, here are some do's and don'ts.

DO establish credit by getting at least one credit card.

DO choose a credit card wisely.

DON'T, if you do get into credit difficulty, hide the overdue bills in a drawer, but rather talk with your creditors.

DO get your credit report. You can get it for free.

DO dispute credit report errors - yes, they do make mistakes, especially if your name is common.

DON'T believe claims such as "We can erase your bad credit — 100% guaranteed".

DON'T try to hide unfavorable credit information by establishing a new credit identity, unless you are a big fan of hefty fines and prison terms.

NOW, when it comes to building BUSINESS credit, do all of the above for your PERSONAL credit, plus establish credit SEPARATE from the individual by treating business separate from oneself by:
# getting an EIN - you can do it online with the IRS
# setting up a recognized structure such as an LLC or S-Corp
# having a separate phone number (make sure it's listed!), bank account, credit card
# setting up some net 15 or net 30 accounts with your primary vendors and paying them AND the credit card off promptly
# getting a D&B D-U-N-S® Number

There are lots of companies who will offer to sell you ways to get business credit; some of them will be telling you, or doing for you, some of these same steps. A couple recommended free guidelines from About.com can be found here and here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Organic Foods - Marketing

Last month, the Economic Research Service (part of the US Department of Agriculture) released a 33-page report titled "Marketing U.S. Organic Foods". It spells out the continued growth in demand in the U.S. for organically-grown products. It identifies which distribution channels have proven the most successful for farmers to pursue, but also notes that supply sometimes cannot keep up with demand.

An interesting read for our organically-minded clients.

Recession Guide for Small Businesses in New York State

The research network at the NYSSBDC has updated a document that can be used as a guide and information source for our clients in today's rough economy. Originally created in July 2008, this is the fifth version of the paper. The guide combines facts and figures regarding the current state of the economy as well as tips and strategies 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".

Feng Shui for Your Office Space

The other day, it smelled really bad on the third floor of 22 Corporate Woods. Sewer maybe? It would have been really nice to open a window, but that's not an option.

However, if you worked from home, you could open a window, and in the process improve your home office feng shui. Learn more about how color, desk placement, and sounds can improve the good energy flow of your workspace.

Entrepreneur.com: Feng Shui for the Home Office
About.com: How to Feng Shui Your Home Office
Dummies.com: Using Feng Shui at Work: Private Offices and Cubicles

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Thanks for being on wsRadio

I was on Internet radio on Monday, October 5. Don't mind telling you that I was mildly terrified.

Through a series of connections, involving the business.gov website, a woman named Barbara Weltman became aware of me and my connection with the NYS Small Business Development. Her producer, Gloria Luzier, e-mailed me and asked if I would appear on Barbara's radio show, Build Your Business Radio.

I provided a few questions that she might ask me, about the SBDC, the State Data Center and blogs. I got a call about 4:20 pm to make sure I was actually at the appointed place, then again at 4:27. I never talked to Barbara herself before or after the show, but I was in contact with other friendly and helpful people, including Wade Taylor, wsRadio, Operations Officer and Assistant Program Director, who gave me information on how to provide the links below.

SBDCs, State Data Centers, and the Curse of Blogging, Part I - Roger Green

SBDCs, State Data Centers, and the Curse of Blogging, Part II - Roger Green



Have I mentioned that I really HATE the sound of my own voice?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Job Stress

I'm usually guilty of letting stressful situations get the better of me - quick temper, impatience with others, and other negative behavior. While there's nothing new in this article from last week's Forbes.com site, it serves as a useful reminder to me to heed its more direct suggestions: get exercise (it doesn't have to be marathon training), stay away from drive-thrus, etc.

So, if you need a reminder as well, find the time & give it a read.

Friday, October 02, 2009

New York State Directory of Small Business Programs

Last Thursday, Governor Paterson and the Governor's Small Business Task Force released the NYS Directory of Small Business Programs. According to the Albany Business Review, the handbook is a result of the work conducted by the Governor’s Small Business Task Force. The task force was made up of business leaders from across the state. The directory describes 143 state programs from 28 agencies aimed at helping New Yorkers start and grow their businesses. Categories include: Funding sources, technical assistance; and work force recruitment. “This directory will create a more open and helpful environment in which local businesses can grow and prosper, providing business owners and entrepreneurs with information on financing, tax breaks, and dozens of other topics,” Paterson said. Mike Elmendorf, New York director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses called the director “an important tool for small employers who currently struggle to navigate the maze of state resources and agencies that impact their businesses.”

Here is what they had to say about the SBDC.

Small Business Development Centers (SBDC): Individual business counseling, Research Network Library, workshops, seminars and on-line classes for entrepreneurs who want to start a business, improve the performance of an existing business or learn about government procurement. Services are provided through a network of 24 regional centers and are free of charge or minimally priced.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Map It: Electric Vehicles and Alternative Fuels

In today’s news, France announced plans to spend more than $2 billion (1.5 billion Euros) to create a battery-charging network for electric vehicles. In order to make owning and charging electric vehicles less onerous, the government would require charging stations in office parking lots by 2015 and in new apartment building complexes in 2012.

This news reminded me of a very neat resource related to alternatively fueled vehicles in the U.S.. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (a national lab of the U.S. Dept. of Energy) offers a online GIS tool, the TransAtlas, with data on alternative vehicles and fuels.

The TransAtlas can map alternative fuel stations, the vehicle density of hybrid-electric, flex-fuel and diesel vehicles (down to the county level) and the location of hydrogen, biodiesel and ethanol production facilities. You can query the system (use the Query dropdown in the top right) to find information on specific points (ie stations) or select a region to download more details.

Stony Brook SBDC Launches Energy Company Initiative



From the press release:

The Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University has successfully competed in a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Program Opportunity and was awarded $247,000 for its proposal entitled the “Stony Brook Energy Company Initiative”. The goal of the initiative is to facilitate the entry of new and existing companies into the renewable and clean energy business in New York State.

The core of the Energy Company Initiative will be the traditional services offered by the New York State Small Business Development Center system. In addition, these basic services will be significantly augmented with a portfolio of activities including conferences, workshops, and counseling on funding opportunities specifically focused on renewable and clean energy business development. Further, an internet – based Early Stage Development Forum will be established to allow and encourage communication among energy company principals, and science, engineering and business experts during the company development process.

The Stony Brook Energy Company Initiative will consist of two cycles approximately 22 months in length. The first cycle process will start with a Clean and Renewable Energy Company Workshop and Call for Papers (Energy Company Workshop) which is tentatively scheduled for mid-October 2009. The Energy Company Workshop, as well as subsequent workshops focused on energy, will be open to all New York State entrepreneurs interested in renewable and clean energy business development. At the initial workshop entrepreneurs will learn more about the fields of renewable and clean energy, will be shown how to connect with resources for support, and be counseled on the preparation of a white paper which will be due within 10 days following the Energy Company Workshop. The white papers will be reviewed by a committee consisting of Stony Brook University faculty and staff involved in the university’s economic development programs. The committee will identify a subset of those new and existing companies which will likely benefit most from joining the Energy Company Initiative.

Individual Energy Business Development Teams (EBDTs) will be formed for each of the companies in the subset identified by the committee, consisting of the company principals, an SBDC counselor, a marketing and sales advisor and a technical advisor. Over the course of the following 12 months the designated EBDTs will be invited to participate in a series of additional workshops to help develop their respective companies and understand the nature of the business environment they are entering, will develop a full business plan, and will develop polished presentations to help them raise funds for their company.

The business plans and presentations of the mature EBDTs will be used in a Financial Conference at the end of the cycle which will be attended by potential lenders and investors. Business plans and presentations will further be designed to meet the criteria for consideration by additional investor groups such as the Long Island Angel Network and, after the first cycle is over, be useful in applying for the $200,000 NYSERDA grants described in PON 1260.
***
The Stony Brook SBDC has already started a blog for the initiatives, which you are invited to view and comment on. That blog is linked to this blog as well.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Doing Business

This source offers a look at various factors that would demonstrate the relative ease or difficulty of starting a business in a great number of global economies. This is produced by the International Finance Corporation. These are electronic versions of the annual print reports on the regulations affecting business. The economies can be grouped by high or low or middle incomes, and will allow you to create reports. You can create a report on a number of topics, such as employment laws, enforcing contracts, property ownership, paying taxes among others.

There are also sub-national reports for major metropolitan areas.

Rankings

Rankings of countries by various factors such as ease of doing business, or getting construction permits, getting credit and employing workers among others.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Regaining copyrights previously assigned


Copyright law has been long a fascination with me. And I spent over nine years selling comic books.

So the news that Jack Kirby’s four children filed notices of copyright termination for 45 Marvel Comics characters fascinated me.

Wait, you ask, who is Jack Kirby (August 28, 1917 – February 6, 1994)? He was only the co-creator of such characters as the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Hulk in the 1960s for Marvel Comics, plus many more before and after that period for a variety of publishers. I even got to interview him once.

But didn't Kirby sign a standard "work for hire" contract? That's a bit murky, but so was the "work for hire" provision before its 1976 revision.

The LA Times has details.

This is the same legal maneuver that the Siegel family employed to get back their half of the Superman copyright. Notices were sent to Marvel, Disney, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures, suggesting that the 45 characters include many already being made into successful movie franchises...

Copyright termination allows creators to apply for copyright reassignment after the term of the original contract runs out. Under copyright law, creators and co-creators can seek to regain copyrights they previously assigned to a company 56 years after first publication and can give notice of their intentions to do so up to 10 years before that.

Kirby’s children would be eligible to claim their father’s share of the copyright of the Fantastic Four in 2017, while the Hulk would come up in 2018 and X-Men in 2019. The copyrights would then run for 39 more years before expiring, after which the characters would enter the public domain under current law.


The Kirby family is starting that process now with hopes of gaining an interest or, perhaps, a settlement.


This concept also applies to music. From the BMI website:

20. I assigned my copyright to a publisher under a contract that did not mention the renewal term specifically. Did he get it anyway?

No. It is generally accepted that in order for the original publisher to have acquired the renewal copyright, the grant to him had to specify that the assignment from you included copyright renewals. If it did not, you own the renewal copyright and can assign it to a different publisher. However, this only applies to United States renewal rights. Even if the original assignment was silent on renewals, the first-term publisher will continue to control the work for the rest of the world, because of the single copyright term in effect in most other countries.

Even if the publisher were granted the renewal term, if the granting composer died during the first copyright term, the publisher’s U.S. rights are cut off in favor of the composer’s heirs, who can make a new grant of the renewal copyright to whomever they choose, or keep it for themselves. If the composer’s death occurred in the 28th year of copyright after Form RE was filed, however, the renewal rights remain with the publisher.

21. I signed a songwriter agreement with a publisher some time ago giving him the right to my copyright renewal term, among other things. Since the law would have given me 39 extra years of copyright if I had kept the renewal term, can I get back those 39 years from my publisher?
Yes! If you signed away the renewal term of your copyright before January 1, 1978, the law provides a detailed procedure by which you can retrieve the last 39 years of it, allowing you to make a new deal with the same publisher, assign it to a new publisher or keep it yourself. Be aware that your assignment of the renewal term assigned the full 67 years. The 39 retrievable years must be recaptured specifically as the law requires or the publisher keeps them. Detailed instructions can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 201.10, which you can access here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

100+ Alternative Search Engines

I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to using search engines - I tend to use one search engine for every search. Obviously, I use databases and specific resources when I am doing research, but if I want to start a search from scratch, I head straight to Google. If I were to search for a video or audio file, I use Google. If I want to search for a topic or article, I use Google. But by doing this, I am limiting myself. There are hundreds of search engines available for use and many of them are geared toward searching for a specific type of file or result. 100+ Alternative Search Engines You Should Know lists many niche search engines that allow the searcher "to search for the things you’re looking for, and because they are more focused, their results tend to be more accurate." For example, MyPlick is a free service that lets you share, embed and discover presentations and slide shows online. TooDoc searches the web for PDF files and nothing else. You can even use LazyLibrary to find books on any topic that are less than 200 pages long. So while Google is still my go to search engine, from now on, I will be expanding my choices for better search results.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Helpful Web Development Tools

A couple of website development tools:

At the ASBDC conference in Orlando, I went to a presentation by Jan Zimmerman, author of Web Marketing For Dummies. On that book’s web page, she offers some tools helpful to clients planning a website or selecting a web developer. There’s a planning form, web marketing spreadsheet to analyze costs and sales objectives, and a website assessment form which might be really useful for advisors wanting to offer feedback on client sites. All these tools can be downloaded here.

Jan also discussed how we typically read websites (ie, not very thoroughly, most important things should be in the upper right, then left side, middle is often less important. ) If you’re interested in learning more about where the eye travels when viewing a site, Jakob Nielsen offers several articles about eyetracking, with some great advice for website usability.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Don't Let Your Blog Sit Around Collecting Dust

Unsurprisingly, we at the Research Network are keen on blogs and blogging. But it's true that a blog that's not updated regularly is probably more problematic than no blog at all.

Chris Crum over at Small Business Newz addresses this issue in Business Blogs Only Work if You Use Them.

After he notes all of this blogs lying abandoned in cyberspace, Chris notes the benefits of sticking with it:

Chris notes that a business blog "can inspire trust and keep the public informed about your business activities. However, it's only going to be a great tool if it is maintained.

"I realize an update every day is not always practical, but I wouldn't advise against it unless there is nothing to say. You probably don't want to force your writing, but regular updates are key to making sure people know you are taking the blog seriously, and it will give them reason to come back (or hopefully subscribe via RSS). If your business is on Twitter (or other social media sites), you might think blogging is unnecessary, but remember, blogging and tweeting can compliment each other."

The article includes links about Twitter and RSS feeds.
***
Also, from the same source: Ways LinkedIn Can Help Small Business Owners and Google Focuses on Small Businesses (Or does it? See the comments.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Are We Still in a Recession?

There has been a lot of hype in the news lately about whether or not the recession has ending or is in the process of ending. Both President Obama and Ben Bernake, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, have stated that they believe the recession to be over, or at least near its end. Whether or not is has ended is certainly up for debate and below are articles from both sides of the argument.

Recession 'Likely Over'

Conference Board index shows continued economic improvement

Job cuts ease in August

86 percent in US believe recession continues

Economist sees strong chance of 'double-dip recession'

Setting Prices

I've pulled together a few articles on developing a pricing strategy as this is something that comes up frequently.

Starting Up: Pricing Your Products
September 29, 2008
By Diana Ransom

How to Calculate Your Breakeven Point
You need to keep this figure as low as possible. But do you know how to calculate the breakeven point when you sell multiple products?
Entrepreneur.com
By Ian Benoliel
May 27, 2002

Calculating Overhead and Price
http://www.missouribusiness.net/docs/calculate_overhead.pdf
1999

This school of management has a breakeven calculator to help student work out a pricing strategy: http://connection.cwru.edu/mbac424/breakeven/BreakEven.html

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

SBA Administrator announces availability of H1N1 Preparedness Guide

WASHINGTON— Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the availability of a preparedness guide designed to assist small businesses in planning for the possibility of an H1N1 flu outbreak this fall.

"Small Business owners should take the time to create a plan, talk with their employees and make sure they are prepared for flu season," said Mills. "For countless small businesses, having even one or two employees out for a few days has the potential to negatively impact operations and their bottom line. A thoughtful plan will help keep employees and their families healthy, as well as protect small businesses and local economies."

Outbreaks of H1N1 flu are occurring now across the country and will likely coincide with the return of seasonal flu this fall and winter. The preparedness guide offers small business employers tools and information to help them plan for and respond flexibly to varying levels of severity of an H1N1 outbreak— which may lead to increased absenteeism, and, if the outbreak becomes more severe, may include restricted service capabilities and supply chain disruptions.

Employers are encouraged to put strategies in place now to protect their employees and their businesses in advance of the fall flu season. Included in the preparedness guide are tips on how to write a continuity of operations plan, steps for keeping employees healthy, frequently asked questions about the 2009 H1N1 flu and a list of additional resources that employers can access online.

To download the booklet please visit www.sba.gov/flu.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Matching Inventors and Manufacturers

Here's an article that appeared in yesterday's "Small Business" section on CNNMoney's website, titled "What's Your Idea Worth?" It features a website called the USA National Innovation Marketplace, the result of a partnership between the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Planet Eureka!, the website of a consulting firm started by a private entrepreneur named Doug Hall.

There are no shortage of matchmaking sites on the web. The stated innovation of this site is its use of a proprietary business simulation system known as Merwyn. In the words of the article, it "uses algorithms and human analysts to estimate the business potential of new product designs". The site also presents descriptions of inventions in plain language, avoiding the "geekspeak" that is an occupational hazard (and hindrance) to those seeking manufacturers of their creations.

The site also enables manufacturers to seek technologies that will enable them to seek out new options for expensive equipment formerly used to manufacture outmoded technologies (for example . . . the need for compact discs isn't what it used to be).

This is a new partnership (it started in May), so the sample size needed to gauge whether it's been a success is pretty small. However, visit the site. We have no shortage of clients who are seeking partnerships with inventors of new technologies, or inventors who have little expertise in manufacturing but believe in their product.

Effective Email Communication

According to a May 2009 report from The Radicati Group, there are 1.4 billion email users in 2009, with some 247 billion emails are sent each day in 2009. But how many of these emails are effectively communicating the intended message? We have all heard about problems that can arise from using email, including loss of context and information overload. Writing an email that not only makes the point that you were going for, while also being short and sweet, is an art form. Below are articles that can help you write an email to deliver the intended message.

Email Writing Tips

Five Tips for Writing Email that Gets Read

What Your Sign-off is Really Saying

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Image Generators = instant creativity


Tired of the same old clip art? Bored with the usual stock photo people? How about a Garbage Pail Kid card to brighten up your blog post? (This one didn't seem too tasteless, and I am cold.) Even if Garbage Pail Kids aren't your thing, check out Mashable's list of 13 Fantastic and Fun Image Generators. Creating your own warning signs, magazine covers, movie posters, presidential seal, or comic book page, may be just what your next publication calls for.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Internet Intelligence Index

From Hill Library:

The Internet Intelligence IndexTM can assist you in gathering information to support your competitive intelligence efforts. It contains information from a variety of sources, including links to over 600 intelligence-related Internet sites, covering everything from macro-economic data to individual patent and stock quote information.

The Internet Intelligence IndexTM is divided into three main categories: General Business Internet Resources, Industry-Internet Resources, and International Internet Resources. The Index is compiled by Fuld & Company, a top research and consulting firm in the areas of business and competitive intelligence.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Will Your Business be a Success?

Clients come to the NYS SBDC with business ideas ranging from the norm to the weirdest business you can think of, and then some. While we never want to discourage an individual from following their dream, the reality is that not all small businesses will succeed. Often times the more specialized business ideas have more of a chance than the norm because the norm is what everyone else is doing. Yahoo Small Business recently published an article on the 7 Most Overrated Businesses.

"The problem: Many would-be entrepreneurs are drawn to businesses they like to patronize or the ones that are cheapest and easiest to start. Instead, experts argue, aspiring entrepreneurs should create firms in which they have professional experience so they have a competitive advantage in the market."

So if you were thinking about starting one of these types of business and I have now discouraged you, what can you do now? Well, you can check out the Most Successful U.S. Startups 2008. Or, if you are going for the cheap and easy business, check out Business Ideas on a Budget - 10 Legitimate Businesses You Can Start for Under $20.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Templates on Google Docs

The collection of document templates on Google Docs seems to have increased - or I haven't been paying attention. For those with streamlined resources, they have a number of nice small business invoice templates on there, business plan impact statement, 24 month sales forecast, a presentation, project managament schedule, work schedules, budgets, business cards, cover sheets, and a "contact us" website form. Even with no money, a new business owner can pull a pretty sharp package together, even if it means sifting through some junk.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Happy Birthday Internet!

Most people share their birthday with at least a few celebrities, but our Alexis is special. She shares her birthday with the Internet.

Sept. 2, 1969 was "the day that the infant Internet took its first breath of life" when computer scientists at UCLA set up a network connection between two computers.

Read more about that day here. While the scientists may have guessed at lots of the business uses of this technology, they never imagined all the social implications. This anniversary is a nice time to reflect on the role of the internet in our lives, and to ponder what's still to come...

Start Your Business Now . . . or Later?

I'm sure that the story told by the author of this article from Inc. magazine is one that our clients have been telling for years. It seeks for the entrepreneur that hard-to-maintain balance between private life & business life, between family and company. I'm not precisely sure what to tell people who find themselves struggling with that, but the article seems to assert that optimism in a better future is a trait that any business owner has to possess before starting a business. For those who do . . . good luck!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

High-Tech Definitions in SIC and NAICS

Occasionally, we've gotten questions about "technology" or "high tech". While we can get reports, there is no one business code that encompasses such a broad category.

The AeA, formerly the American Electronics Association, "uses 45 SIC codes to define the high-technology industry." The organization recognizes that "these 45 SIC codes do not comprehensively cover the entire high-tech industry as the structure of the SIC system is limited. In an effort to produce solid statistics, AeA's definition consists of SIC codes that fall into three broad categories -- high-tech manufacturing, communications services, and software and computer-related services. It does not include broad categories if the high-tech portion does not represent a clear majority. Also, AeA's definition does not include many 'related' industries, such as biotechnology, engineering services, and research and testing services."

Likewise, "the 49 NAICS codes that AeA has chosen for its definition of high tech."

Monday, August 31, 2009

State fact sheets for farms

State fact sheets provide information on population, employment, income, farm characteristics, farm financial indicators, and top commodities, exports, and counties for each state in the United States.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Entrepreneurism in a Recession

With the unemployment rate around 10% and five job applicants for every one job, there are many Americans who are finding themselves unemployed with little or no opportunity for employment in the near future. When this happens, why not create a new job (or jobs) by starting a new business. An article in the New York Times titled On to Plan B: Starting a Business recently said "CALL them accidental entrepreneurs, unintended entrepreneurs or forced entrepreneurs. A year and a half into the Great Recession, with the jobless rate hovering near double digits, corporate refugees...are trying to fend for themselves." For more information, read the articles below or contact your local NYS SBDC office here.

How to Become an Entrepreneur During a Recession

Becoming an Entrepreneur Can Provide Hope During the Recession

Breaking the Recession Illusion to Become an Empowered Entrepreneur

Thanks, Amy

Since May 6th, we at the Research Network have been damn lucky to be borrowing Amy Peker to help us out with the research. She started out in early 2009 as student help. We brought her back for a summertime gig because, well, we needed the help.

Some of you (well, 57, to be exact) have been on the receiving end of her work, which I consider to be professional grade. Today, sadly, we have to bid her goodbye, and good luck. She's a librarian now . . . all grown up, and no longer an intern.

Amy learns quickly, and has a laser-like focus. She was getting the hang of learning the art of reading between the lines of research requests (something that she'll never really stop learning), and then pick among the resources at our disposal to best answer what was asked.

We'll miss her unique sitting posture, her love of Wheat Thins & all manner of snack crackers, and her adventures in dog training. We've never had a rugby player/librarian before - such a person is good to have around in a pinch.

Most of all, we'll miss her work ethic, as it enabled the rest of us to have the time to pursue some other projects without making our clients have to wait for answers. When Amy started here just after Staff Training, our average turnaround time was at a respectable 7 days. Right now, it's down to 3. It will likely drift upward a bit, starting next week.

We'll miss Amy, and so will you. Good luck!