Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bankruptcy courts

Each of the 94 federal judicial districts handles bankruptcy matters, and in almost all districts, bankruptcy cases are filed in the bankruptcy court.

But if you were trying to figure out which court had jurisdiction over which county in states that have more than one court, such as New York, which has four, you won't find the info in the bankruptcy section, only an annoyingly overbroad map.

Instead, look in the general federal district court section where you'll find this link for all counties in a district.
The Eastern is Long Island plus three NYC boroughs. The Southern is Manhattan, Bronx up to Dutchess, but not Ulster County. The Northern extends due north of there. The Western is the, er, western part of the state.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Venture Capital - Blessing, or Curse?

Here's an interesting article from a researcher who also founded two different tech firms. He argues that, in certain industries, getting venture capital funding for startup firms isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Even if the funding helps a business achieve its self-identified funding goal, there's pressure inherent in receiving the money - pressure to hire an A-list (and expensive) staff, and pressure to produce *right now* (in lieu of pursuing long-term growth).

He argues that there's virtue in being undercapitalized, in that it forces a company's management team to be that much more creative (and honest) in what it needs to kick-start growth.

I cite this article because, as I've written recently, we've seen a bump in the number of requests seeking venture capital firms for our clients. There are certainly merits in seeking out this type of financing. However, obvious as it might sound, have your clients be careful what they wish for.

Summer Reading Lists

The sun is shining (finally), the grass is plush and as green as green gets, and now is the perfect time to grab a book and head to your local beach, lake, river, or pool. Below are lists of great reads for you to bring with you when you go.

Summer Reading for Business Students - For the perpetual student at heart.

100 Best Business Books of All Time

5 (More) Great Books on Entrepreneurship

2009 Summer Reading Lists for AbeBooks.com - For thos of you who would like to spend your down time not thinking about business.

Enjoy your summer reading!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Adapting Social Networks to Business Culture

I was reading an article about how Booz Allen & Hamilton have created an "Enterprise Facebook" social networking site called Hello for their employees that is enjoying a high adoption rate. Years ago I worked for BAH and they were very forward thinking in the area of knowledge management with information professionals dedicated to developing a system for sharing expertise. They also had a very simple tool that I've wished for in other jobs - they used to have a ring-bound, paper, book with a page for each employee, with a photograph, a brief resume and contact details. Such a simple tool that was so useful. I can see how this early face book could develop into an intranet maintained by the individuals with the infromation they wish to share - personal profiles, wikis, RSS feeds, blogs, or potentially a list of publications that consultant has been involved in creating, skills, etc. Many organizations have intranets but I wonder if those begun recently giving users the capability to tailor their page to their own taste has a better chance of being adopted and used. Younger employees familiar with social networking are more likely to make full use of a system designed with them in mind.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Businesses use Twitter, CEOs don’t

Today we have two bits of Twitter /social media news for you:

From USAToday: “Businesses use Twitter to communicate with customers

We all know that many companies are on Twitter. But what are they doing there? This article provides some nice examples: Comcast let viewers know that their cable coverage of the Stanley cup was interrupted by a lightning storm in Atlanta, Dell says they’ve sold more than $2 million in PCs through their @DellOutlet Twitter account (with over 710,000 followers) since 2007, and a variety of companies use Twitter for problem solving consumer questions and/or complaints.

But what about the CEOs? Are they tweeting for their brand?

If they are included in Fortune's list of the top 100 CEOs, probably not. According to a report from UberCEO, only 2 in the top 100 had personal Twitter accounts. While there is some discussion about how these leaders are missing opportunities to increase their own visibility and communicate with their customers, there’s also the recognition that CEOs busy people who are cautious about revealing too much. Ultimately, the folks at UberCEO suggest that not every CEO has to have a social media voice, but they should be considering their online reputation and image.

(Thanks to Mary and Al for finding these articles!)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What IS a Small Business?

I happened to answer the phones one Friday afternoon and someone, who had been obviously been talking to other people, wanted a definitive answer to a simple question, "How is a small business defined?" I said, "Well, it depends."

If we're talking about New York State law, then you'll want to look for the state laws under COM: Economic Development Law, Article 4-B, § 131. Definition of a small business. For the purposes of this chapter, a small business shall be deemed to be one which is resident in this state, independently owned and operated, not dominant in its field and employs one hundred or less persons.

But if we're talking federal law, it's a bit more complicated. If one were to look at TITLE 13 of the Code of Federal Regulations, one would want to go to Part 121--SMALL BUSINESS SIZE REGULATIONS, with a plethora of information about the process. Still, for the bottom line, go to §121.201: What size standards has SBA identified by North American Industry Classification System codes? "The size standards...are [generally] expressed either in number of employees or annual receipts in millions of dollars."






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Friday, June 19, 2009

Demographics Database

A few weeks ago, just before the annual Staff Training, we in the library lost access to a great database that enabled us to manipulate all kinds of demographic data, with a great deal of geographic precision. Many of you had been recipients of the data that it contains.

Good news, then. As of last Wednesday, we re-subscribed with the publisher of this database. Of particular relevance is the ability to draw a radius around a specific address (either a given mileage, or driving time). Within that radius, you can then get detailed population demographics, as well as annual expenditures on a wide variety of products and services.

So, if you're looking for annual household spending on, say, restaurants within a 15-minute drive of your client's proposed location, then we now have the resource to provide that information. Very cool!

New York State Tax Changes

Recent changes at the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance include those below, as well as others.

The Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax is a new tax imposed on certain employers and self-employed individuals engaging in business within the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District (MCTD). The MCTD consists of the five boroughs of New York City and the counties of Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester. For more information, see the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax web page and the newly issued TSB-M that explains this tax.

Sales Tax Imposed on Certain Transportation Services - Effective June 1, 2009, New York State and local sales tax will apply to transportation services provided using limousines, black cars, and certain other motor vehicles with a driver. However, the sales tax will not apply to taxicab and bus services, scheduled public transportation services, services provided in connection with funerals, or interstate services.

Renewal of Sales Tax Certificate of Authority - NYS businesses will receive a notification letter from the Department of Taxation of Finance when you are required to renew the sales tax Certificate of Authority. Renewal cannot be applied for until the letter is received. All registered sales tax vendors will be randomly selected for renewal on a staggered schedule through 2012.

Cigarette Registration Fee (p.8) - Part C, Section 125, of Chapter 58 of the Laws of 2009 increases the annual application fees and related civil penalties for cigarette and tobacco product retail dealers and vending machine operators. The application fee for retail dealers will increase from $100 to:
• $1,000 for each retail location with annual gross sales of less than $1 million;
• $2,500 for each retail location with annual gross sales of at least $1 million but less than $10 million; and
• $5,000 for each retail location with annual gross sales of at least $10 million.

For more upcoming changes, go to the department's Online Tax Center.

Also, I would recommend signing up for E-news for Small Business.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Google Local Business Center

Filling out Google's already extensive list of products, is Local Business Center, a dashboard for businesses to control their online persona and get some metrics on their potential customers. Locate your business on the map with a free listing so customers can find you when searching Google. List hours of service and other details about your business including coupons and collect data from Google to see who is looking for you. When customers search for a business name, the listing can be controlled by the owner with up-to-date information. Business owners can see what search was used to reach them, and what zip code the customer orginates from. You can visit their site to watch a video explaining how they've packaged this service.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blog your way to a small business website

Who said that building a website has to be a complicated thing?

I was interested to read Jennifer Shaheen's article at Entrepreneur.com, "Build a Website in Blog's Clothing," where she discusses how using a blogging platform can be used to set up a small business web presence. The blog format can offer just about everything a website needs: up-to-date content, search engine visibility, a way to communicate with customers, and plug-ins and add-ons a plenty (for an example, look at all the extras we have running on the right side of this blog.) Best of all, it's free.

The blog format takes the newest posts and pushes them to the top, which is great for providing upcoming news and events. But you can also create posts with more permanent content, for example, your contact info. Just build a link to that post into one of your sidebars, and it will always be visible.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We Are Not Lawyers

The librarians at the RN are often asked for information which straddles dangerously close to being legal advice. Since none of us have a law degree, we look to provide information that will answer the question without interpreting it. My favorite ploy is to provide the actual law, such as can be found at the state consolidated laws site.

Richard Stim is an attorney and writer with the legal book publisher Nolo, who moderates the Nolo podcast. He addresses everyday legal topics in a "plain-English style". One can learn about business from startup to patents to tax deductions, plus topics as diverse as eBay disputes and same-sex marriage. The segments run 6 to 20 minutes each, mostly around 13 minutes. This format, of course, has its limitations.

Sometimes you just need to go out and get a lawyer

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Monday, June 15, 2009

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 fourth 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".

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why Now is the Best Time to Start a Business

Chances are, after reading the title of my blog, you think I am insane. That's okay. The numbers that we see printed everyday in the business section show that not only are we in a recession, but very few economic indicators have started to turn around and become positive. I would like to argue that the same numbers that make most people cringe are the reason why you should start your business right now. Unemployment is at 9.4% for the country and there are 5.4 individuals for every job posted. So why don't you change from being someone who is unemployed and applying for the same job as 4 and a half other people, and start your own business.

Starting Over — as an Entrepreneur (Wall Street Journal)

Laid Off in 2008 - Start a Business in 2009 (Entrepreneur) - Stories from three entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses during a recession.

How to Start a Business During the Recession (eHow.com)

Best Small Businesses to Start in a Recession (About.com)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Second Chances on the Web

It was only last year that Facebook surpassed MySpace in Web popularity, but MySpace’s visitor count has totally leveled off, while Facebook continues to grow (at the end of 2008 Facebook had 220 million visitors, MySpace had 125 million).

Is there any hope for MySpace? Can a site this big reinvent itself and survive? History says no. Can you even remember the search engines you used before Google? Still, MySpace is making an effort, and perhaps focusing on the music scene where its unique music player has an advantage over the other social networking sites.

Read more from CNN: Can once-cool MySpace stage a comeback?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

2009 Small Business Credit Card Survey

The National Small Business Association's 2009 Small Business Credit Card Survey (12 pp PDF) "provides a detailed view of how small businesses are utilizing their credit cards, how their credit-card companies are treating them, and the impacts of deteriorating credit-card terms on their business. Small business credit-card usage is on the rise..."

SMALL BUSINESSES
Using credit cards in the past 12 months to finance their firms
December 2008-49 percent
April 2009-59 percent.

Reporting worsening credit-card terms
December 2008-69 percent
April 2009-79 percent reported worsening terms

Experiencing credit-card issuers reducing credit lines
December 2008-28 percent
April 2009-33 percent

Paying off their credit cards each month
December 2008-50 percent
April 2009-40 percent

"In past recessions, economic recovery has been led by the creation of millions of new, small businesses. However, unlike previous periods of economic uncertainty, today’s entrepreneurs are severely limited in their ability to finance new business ventures by leveraging the value of their home, borrowing from friends and family, or securing a traditional loan. This leaves one clear, often unattractive, option: credit cards."

ALSO, from the International Franchise Association, The impact of the credit crisis on the franchise sector (28 pp PDF)








Monday, June 08, 2009

Public Libraries During a Recession

This article appeared a few months ago, so my bad for not getting it out there earlier. It's written by a public librarian in the Detroit area, and it chronicles how libraries have become such a vital part of a community that has experienced a great deal of economic turmoil.

In many ways, what her library - and her role within it - reminds me of our centers, and how they can become a pathway to opportunity for our clients. Both librarians and business advisors act as willing providers of ideas, services, loan programs, etc., to an audience badly in need of hearing about them.

Hence, this article. Hope you like it.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Screencasting

This week I’ve had a few instances where I was troubleshooting technology issues or trying to explain how to use an online tool over the phone. All this, “Do you see the blue box in the upper right corner?” made me long for a tool where I could show someone else what’s happening on my screen. Hardly a new idea, screencasting might be just what I need to create some digital tutorials.

Stephen Abram (Special Libraries Association Past President, SirsiDynix) has put together a handy blog post (dated June 4, 2009) on screencasting for the newbie, with lists of free software and advice on making good tutorials.

SBTV.com

At the conference, someone at some point taught me about a valuable online resource for both our clients and us titled Small Business Television. SBTV.com "is the first television network on the web devoted 100 percent to the small business market - from business start-ups to established enterprises." Topics include Green Business, Reinvent Your Career, and Wellness in the Workplace, as well as typical topics such as Marketing, Management, and Franchising. The hompage also has links to small business articles and information provided by "experienced business advisors".

Touched by an Angel

Asheesh Advani, president of Virgin Money USA, gives hope for entrepreneurs looking for angel investors during the recession. In an article from Entrepreneur "You Can Still Find an Angel Investor," Advani offers three keys for entrepreneurs looking for angel investors: resilience, patience and persistence. By focusing on those three keys when pursuing prospective angels and keeping in mind that “In 2009, angel investors want to hear you tell them about earnings growth, and the decision to invest is based on how much affinity they have for the business concept and the principal owners,” entrepreneurs will likely strike the angel’s interest.

Another bit of hope comes from Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban. He states in an article from the Dallas Morning News, “In this environment, there is a great opportunity to start small, build slowly and, as the economy hopefully gets better, accelerate your growth.” He recently launched his “Mark Cuban Stimulus Plan.” Cuban sees entrepreneurs as the ticket out of the recession. He discusses launching a business that starts small, is quick to become self-funding and creates jobs in the community.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Developing an Internet Strategy

About.com: Management
Developing an Internet Strategy For Your Company
Here is a series of articles on how companies can think about the Internet presence, as an important aspect of any marketing plan, better to in advance determine what approach to take. With all the various Web 2.0 tools about, it pays to plot a course with goals in mind so that you're stumbling out on the scene half-dressed. There are many books written on the subject, but just dabbling into the many blogs and magazines online to see what is going on.

A couple of places to check out:

Danny Demichele, Internet Strategist

Now, New, Next : The Monitor Talent Group Blog
Harvard Business Publishing

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Website: Estimated Construction Costs

Earlier today, I spoke with a very helpful woman at R.S. Means. Some of you might know that this company compiles & publishes a wide variety of publications that provide construction cost data. They're well-used in the construction and contractor industries.

I called looking for a product that might help provide a client with a rough estimate of a commercial construction project in a specific part of New York State. Instead of being told about a book costing several hundred dollars, I was surprised to hear that R.S. Means offers their Quick Cost Estimator on their website.

It requires you to register (also free). Once there, you enter in the "Building Type" (there are 75 types of commercial structures listed in the drop-down menu), then the square footage, then the ZIP code of the project's location.

Clearly, the results are a rough estimate (and they are ONLY pertinent to the building itself - there's no consideration for the cost of building, say, a parking lot, or for landscaping, etc.). You get a "low," "medium," and "high" cost figure (I was told that you should err on the side of caution, and use only the "medium" or "high" figure).

That's the free stuff. Of course, R.S. Means offers a subscription-based product called CostWorks. A free trial is available (and it's a sure-fire invitation to hear from their sales force). This site allows you to enter more precise information about the project, so as to get a more accurate cost estimate for a project of a given size, in a given location.

News you can use . . .

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Industry Data: Sex Sells in a Recession

Advertising AgeImage via Wikipedia

"Is Recession Sex Even Better Than Makeup Sex?" That's the intriguing title of this article from Advertising Age by Jack Neff, subtitled "Or Could Analytics, Marketing Be Behind Rising Sales of Personal Lubricant, 'Sexual-Enhancement Devices'?"

"The recession hasn't taken any edge off the sexual-accessories trade and may well have helped: Data show that such things as his-and-hers lubricants and mass-market sexual-enhancement devices are producing fireworks in supermarket and drug-store aisles." It is considered a Bright Spot: "Opportunities for the marketing and media industries in an otherwise bleak year."

"First-quarter sales of personal lubricants soared 32% to $41.2 million, according to Information Resources Inc."

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