Friday, July 31, 2009

Social Networking for Your Small Business

By now, if you are paying any attention at all to small business publications, you know that social networking and Internet communication skills are essential. Tools like Twitter, Facebook, and LISTSERVS can help a business bring in new clients and remind old clients to come back for more business. Sometimes it may seem that the media is bombarding us with tips on how to use these and other tools more effectively and I know at times even I become overwhelmed. Regardless, the barrage of information is quite useful, once you get past the feeling of "Oh no, not another networking article". I have learned so much this summer from actually reading every article I come across on social networking and Internet tools that I feel that I must once again, share. Below are links to articles that I have read recently.

Social Media 101: Use Twitter to Attract Prospects and Engage Customers - Must sign up to read full article. Signing up is free.

Facebook, Twitter and More: The New Rules of Social Networking

6 Things You Should Never Do on Twitter or Facebook

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Bad Year for Tomatoes

I am not the biggest tomato fan but I was nevertheless looking forward to tomatoes from my garden and was very disappointed to learn that my tomatoes had succumbed to late blight. In trying to figure out what had happened, I discovered that this is a widespread problem this year throughout the Northeast. I have real sympathy for people who depend on their crops for income.

Here is one of many stories on how late blight is affecting retailers in the region and also, what you backyard gardeners can do to prevent its spread.
The New York Times
By DAN BARBER
Published: August 8, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Training new employees in social media

Your new hire may have a Facebook account (you searched for them before the interview, right? No crazy frat party photos?), but do they know how to use social media for business purposes? It can be tricky to transition from the personal to the professional on the web, and new employees, no matter what their comfort level, could probably use some social media training.

In “How to Train New Employees in Social Media,” Ben Parr of Mashable suggests writing a social media policy, testing employees knowledge of social media tools, making a list of required reading, and then handing over the reins without policing their activity.

Ready to write your company's social media policy? Read 10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy first.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Rising Health Care Costs are Tough on Small Business

From the U.S. PIRG press release:

Small business owners are being crushed by rising health care costs, and feel left out of the current health care debate in Washington, according to a new report released by U.S. Public Interest Research Group this month.

The new report, The Small Business Dilemma, which surveyed hundreds of small business owners and managers across the country, makes clear that small business owners want and need health care reform.

According to the 14-page report:

•Small businesses value health insurance as a key to business success because it allows them to attract better employees.
•78% of small business owners surveyed who do not offer coverage would like to do so.
•80% of those who would like to offer coverage cite the expense of coverage as a reason why they don't
***
Also, Small Businesses Struggle to Offer Healthcare from Black Enterprise cites a survey commissioned by Aflac, "the largest provider of supplemental insurance in the United States", finding that "small business owners are taking drastic measures to remedy their company’s insurance dilemma."

Friday, July 24, 2009

More Information About the Stimulus

Every day, new information about the stimulus package and how the money is being distributed is talked about in print, online, and television media outlets. The information is overwhelming and confusing and will continue to remain that way until all of the stimulus money has been spent. Over time, recovery websites have tried to make information about the stimulus available in the easy to use maps, charts, and webcasts. Below are links to a few websites that will help provide information on how the money is being spent and where the money is going, as well as a few random articles that deal with other aspects of the stimulus.

Site Maps Stimulus Spending - Information about maps available on the national recovery webpage that help show how much funding is being distributed to each state, how much funding is being provided to each state by each federal department, how the funding is flowing to individual contractors, and how many jobs are being created in the locations.

NYWORKS Webcasts - Available on the NYS Recovery website, these webcasts focus on broad topics related to the stimulus package, including Energy Funding Opportunities, which will air on July 30th at 1:00 P.M.

Businesses Underbidding for Stimulus Projects

How Many Jobs is the Stimulus Creating? Depends Whom You Ask

Budget Boss Defends Stimulus, Sees Joblessness Up

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

More reasons to Tweet

Here on the blog we’ve been talking about Twitter and have offered some reasons that small businesses might want to participate in the world of 140 character messages. Now Twitter itself is telling you why your business should be tweeting, and what you can get out of the service.

Check out Twitter 101, a collection of how-to information, best practices and case studies for the business twitterer. Why the new info? It looks like Twitter will be rolling out commercial applications for Twitter users, including fee-based analytics and account verification tools in the next few months. Before they ask you to pay for a Twitter service, they want to make sure you understand its value.

While we’re on the subject of social media and why you should care, here are a couple of lists on using Facebook and LinkedIn for your business:

32 Ways to Use Facebook for Business

33 Ways to Use LinkedIn for Business

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Copyright Minefield

While there are a few obvious rules regarding the application of copyright law, reasonable people may disagree about some situations. I tend to take a more liberal approach, so I am recommending these more rigidly positioned entities.

Copyright Clearance Center deals with different licensing packages. Ask Before You Act is hot on getting permission for copyrighted material, even things others might consider fair use. The site's put together by the Software & Information Industry Association, the principal trade association for the software and digital content industry, who run a vigorous anti-piracy campaign.

Also, Deciding What Information Is Fair to Use.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sigh. What About Signage?

I've invested a good chunk of my time on the importance of signage to small business owners. Eight months on writing a book, and nine more months on developing a website. I'm invested in this, which is why you've gotten to read a multitude of posts from me on the subject.

One feature in both book & website is the idea that a well-designed, well-constructed sign is a fantastic marketing device for a business. A sign should not be some afterthought - a random appendage thrown together at the last minute.

Recently I read an article titled "Good Marketing Begins After Sale is Made," which holds out the thought that effective marketing should be about repeating a consistent message, "from the way your receptionist answers the phone to what your business card looks like," and that, "in these difficult economic times, we must be communicating on every front."

Which I agree with, wholeheartedly. I held out a glimmer of hope that its author would also touch upon signage as yet another marketing channel where a company's message could be emphasized to potential consumers.

Sigh. He did not.

Instead, I will say it here again: signs work for a business every hour of every day, and that, for most retail and service operations, it's a more cost-effective means of marketing than TV, radio, Yellow Pages, or print. It is a space as geometric as any 1/4 page ad, and requires the need for a concise expression of a business message as important as any radio script or website home page.

It is part of the marketing mix, and I'll keep harping on that until it becomes a common feature in articles on small business marketing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Got bandwidth?

About a week after Google announced its plan to launch an open-source operating system, Microsoft announced it will launch a “free version of its dominant Office software that users can access over the Web,” according to Jim Finkle’s article from www.wired.com. The web-based operating systems and applications will allow users to create, store and share information quicker and for less money. This is a great concept but there may be a downside. Is there enough bandwidth to support more people accessing the Internet and more people participating in bandwidth-demanding activities?

Small Business Key to Economic Recovery

Is small business the key to the economic recovery? Past recessions have shown that small business tends to bounce back quicker than big business. Individuals who have been laid-off or fired turn to entrepreneurship to get back into the workforce, in turn creating more jobs and more money for the economy. In my opinion, small business bounces back quicker due to a resiliency that big business does not have. Small business tends to weather difficult times better than big businesses. These points lead to the conclusion that small business IS the key to an economic turnaround. Below is information that supports my opinion.

Will Small Business Lead the Jobs Recovery?

Why Small Business Will Win in this Economy

Small Businesses Most Likely to Lead Economic Recovery

Small Business Role in Economic Recovery

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Crowdsourcing - putting our heads together

Last week, I heard a really interesting story on NPR. As part of a series on legislating, lobbying and money, NPR posted a photograph of a room full of lobbyists during a recent Senate session on health care reform on its website. The reporters then asked viewers to help identify faces in the crowd- to give names and organizations for the lobbyists in the room. Folks had a lot to say about how all these lobbyists made them feel about our legislative system, but they also provided many of these names, a process NPR identified as “crowd sourcing.” Check out the story and the interactive image here.

"Crowdsourcing" is a new term for me, but not for many in the business world. According to Wikipedia, crowdsourcing is “the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call.” Now usually, I wouldn’t turn to Wikipedia for a definition, but in this case, user generated content seems perfectly appropriate.

There are lots of examples of crowdsourcing in business. Take Threadless: the online t-shirt retailer receives scads of t-shirt designs submitted by professional and amateur artists. Website visitors then vote for their favorites, and those top ranked designs are put into production, and sold on the site.

It’s certainly not a new concept in journalism either. News websites and reporters solicit viewer reports on the weather, gas prices, or even injuries at amusement parks.

And how about the news coming out of Iran during the height of the recent election protests? The State Department asked that Twitter delay its system updates, so that we wouldn’t lose contact with Iranian Twitter accounts. The “crowd” was informing our major news networks, and was an invaluable source of information.

New York Foundation for the Arts

There is a great deal of great information on the NYFA website for artists: job listings, grants opportunities, goings-on. Added to that are podcasts (video presentation vignettes) on a variety of subjects of interest to artists. There is one in particular that most artists would find useful: Protecting Your Art with Paper: Consignment Agreements, Invoices, and Other Basic Legal Forms and another entitled How to Get through the Recession. In the Business of Art area, artists can find advice on finding funding, legal guidance, web marketing, NYS tax issues, and exhibiting or performing. You can also find affordable seminars on the grant process.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Starting a business and unemployment benefits eligibility

An SBDC client is considering forming a corporation to operate his potential business. By incorporating, will he lose eligibility for the NYS unemployment benefits he is now collecting? What if the corporation is dormant for a period of time as he get his business together - can he collect benefits during this start-up period?

The answer is...it depends:

From http://www.labor.state.ny.us/ui/claimantinfo/beforeyouapplyfaq.shtm

Q: What if I want to start my own business?

A: Notify the Telephone Claims Center before you take any steps to start a business. Unless you are enrolled in the Self Employment Assistance Program (SEAP), these activities may result in the loss of unemployment insurance benefits. For more information on SEAP, click here.

You are considered to be employed if you are engaged in operating or starting a business either by yourself, with a partner or in a corporate arrangement. Time spent during the day or evening or on weekends preparing to start or actually operating a business may be considered employment even though no sales are made nor any compensation received.

To contact Telephone Claims Center (TCC) staff:
Call TCC toll-free at 1-888-209-8124 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. If you live outside of NYS, call toll-free at 1-877-358-5306.
Hearing impaired individuals, who have Telephone Device for the Deaf (TTY/TDD) equipment, may contact the Telephone Claims Center by calling a relay operator at 1-800-662-1220 and requesting the operator to call 1-888-783-1370. Service at this number will only be provided to callers using TDD equipment.
The TCC is less busy on Thursday and Friday afternoons. During heavy call loads, such as after a Monday holiday, callers may hear a message that all representatives are busy with other callers and it will be necessary to call back to speak with a representative regarding your claim.
Write: New York State Department of Labor, P.O. Box 15130, Albany, NY 12212-5130
Fax: 518-485-7377. Be sure that your Social Security number appears at the top right hand corner on all pages. Save your fax confirmation sheet as we do not confirm the receipt of a fax or written correspondence.

Q: What is the Self Employment Assistance Program (SEAP)?
A: State and Federal legislation has established the Self Employment Assistance Program (SEAP) which provides certain eligible individuals the opportunity to start their own businesses while collecting unemployment insurance benefits. In order to be considered eligible for this program, you must first be identified by the State's profiling system as likely to exhaust benefits.

If you are interested in participating in this program or wish to obtain additional information, contact your local Division of Employment Services office nearest you. Click here for the office locations.

You must comply with program requirements and receive written acceptance into the SEAP program before you can start or operate your own business while collecting benefits.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, July 13, 2009

Motorcycle Trends

Last May, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics released Motorcycle Trends in the United States. While I'm not sure how many of our clients are venturing into the currently-dicey transportation market, this report would provide them with current data on sales (in units), demographics, accident figures, and registration figures. If you do have a client, send them this link. Helmet is optional.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Google Chrome OS

"Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of the Google Chrome OS according to Google's blog Post, "Introducing the Google Chrome OS." "Google positioned the new Chrome Operating System as the 'natural extension' of Chrome, the Internet browser Google introduced to acclaim in 2008 and which now has 30 million users" according to "Google vs. Microsoft: Net giant readies own operating system," a USA Today article. Google Chrome OS is an open-source operating system with clear goals: provide easy, fast access to the Internet, where computer users spend a lot of time. Google plans to release the open-source code later this year and the operating system might be seen on netbooks in 2010.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

YouTube for Instruction

You've probably seen some silly or entertaining tidbit on youtube but the amount of truly useful information on there is growing. I was happy to find a demonstration of how to put my lawnmower together after I re-read the instructions and still wasn't clear on what they wanted me to do. I searched for the brand on youtube and up popped a video showing the thing. When I wanted to understand how cement patios were repaired I could watch someone talk through the process and explain the differences between the different products. It is a great resource for businesses to demonstrate how a product is used or assembled. Instead of leaving a help desk number as the only recourse when there is a problem, a web address for an informational video might be more useful. Complementary health practitioners could show how ear candling or neti pots work or a autobody work specialist can demonstrate how they remove dents. Instructional videos can be another loop in the business-owner's marketing toolbelt.
So, there is one more reason to visit youtube besides learning to use chopsticks or solve a rubik's cube.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Who are these entrepreneurs?

Did you know that most entrepreneurs were married and had children when they started their businesses? Would you guess that a little more than half of new business owners had interest in becoming entrepreneurs during their college years? How about that the average birth order of entrepreneurs is 2.2 and the average number of siblings is 3.1? These are just some of the interesting factoids from the July 2009 Kauffman report, “The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation.” This study examined the backgrounds, life histories and motivations of 549 company founders from a variety of industries, generating a different perspective on today’s entrepreneur.

But what’s the future of entrepreneurialism in the U.S.? We’re counting on small businesses to help us out of the recession, but the age distribution of our population is getting older. What’s going to happen to entrepreneurialism in this country when there are fewer young people to start businesses? Don’t despair – those baby boomers aren’t fading into retirement, many are starting businesses, which may lead to a different kind of entrepreneurship boom. Read more in another Kauffman report, “The Coming Entrepreneurship Boom.”

(Thanks to Linda Willett for finding and pointing out these interesting reports!)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

"What was once known colloquially as Cash for Clunkers has been given the official government name of CARS – Car Allowance Rebate System. As soon as President Obama signed the bill, scammers were already thinking up ways to take advantage of the system. Here’s an explanation of how the new law works and how you can take advantage of it legally."

Also
From the official website - primary color, not shockingly, is green.

While the CARS Act makes transactions on and after July 1 potentially eligible for credits under the CARS program, interested dealers and consumers may want to wait until all of the detailed issues that must be addressed in the implementing regulations are resolved and the final rule is issued. Issuance will occur around July 23.

Important Things to Know

*Your vehicle must be less than 25 years old on the trade-in date
*Only purchase or lease of new vehicles qualify
*Generally, trade-in vehicles must get 18 or less MPG (some very large pick-up trucks and cargo vans have different requirements)
*Trade-in vehicles must be registered and insured continuously for the full year preceding the trade-in
*You don't need a voucher, dealers will apply a credit at purchase
*Program runs through Nov 1, 2009 or when the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first.
*The vehicle that you are trading in is required to be destroyed. Therefore, the value you negotiate with the dealer for your trade in is not likely to exceed its scrap value. The law requires the dealer to disclose to you and estimate of the scrap value of your trade-in vehicle.

Lots of other details explain just how much of a rebate one can get. The short answer: depends on the fuel efficiency of the new vehicle vs. old one.

Friday, July 03, 2009

How to Tweet Effectively

For many months after learning about the social networking tool Twitter, I failed to see its benefit for small business owners. I have since developed a new outlook on Twitter and its usefulness. In the past, when I discovered information that was not only incredibly pertinent to our clients and business advisors but also time-sensitive, I would ponder ways to distribute the information in a useful and timely manner. Now I "tweet". Below are articles that will help you "tweet" to the maximum effect.

How to Tweet to be Useful, Helpful, and Get Re-Tweeted"

Social Media is How You Need to Communicate

A Businessperson's Guide to Using Twitter

Google vs. Bing

I read an article in USA Today Written by Edward C. Baig, "Google vs. Bing: Bing holds its own in search-off." In the article, Baig compares Bing and Google and identifies some pros and cons of each. He admitted he "Googled 'Bing versus Google'" but it did not occur to him to Bing the search. It seems Google users are conditioned; Googling is a way of life. It is, after all, a verb in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. When Bing entered the playing field, about a month ago, I ignored it due to my instinct to Google and my comfort with Google's familiarity. After reading Baig's article, I decided to take a closer look at Bing. To start, I Binged "Bing versus Google" and came across www.google-vs-bing.com. This site offers a side by side comparison of each search engine for users. After some time on both Google and Bing, Bing is starting to grow on me. I prefer the layout of Bing over Google; it is easy to navigate with fewer clicks. It will take time and testing for me to think to Bing something before I think to Google something, if that ever happens. Bing is certainly worth a closer look, but for now, when I need the number to a pizza place or I want to learn basket weaving, I'll likely turn to Google.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Profitability Report

Inc. Magazine has a tool called the Profitability Report or How Does Your Company Stack Up?, a calculator to determine whether or not your company is measuring up as compared to their compiled financial data on privately held companies across a number of industries. Put in your annual revenue and it will calculate what your numbers should look like.
If you click on any of the industry links, it will run down gross profit margin, EBITDA margin, return on equity/assets, accounts receivable days, operating profit/sales.
It is guide created by Sageworks who do benchmarks for private companies.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Paper or plastic? Your reading preferences

"Do I love books or do I love reading?"

That's the question Ann Kirschner asks herself in this piece, "Reading Dickens Four Ways" published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. When discussing Little Dorrit in her book club, the author decides to experience the book in four ways: paperback, audiobook, Kindle, and iPhone. You'll have to read the article to discover her preferences, but what are yours?

This discussion also reminds me of how we get information out to you all - how do you like to read what we send? How about your clients? I've done a lot of reading from the computer screen (grad school = no money for printing articles I only needed once), but not everyone is comfortable with that. Do you have the capability of just saving a few of the PDFs we send instead of the whole package? You probably do, but if you're not sure how, please give us a call. Do you find that you're printing out a lot of information for less techno-savvy clients? We're always interested in what happens after our research is complete. We also have a new version of Adobe in the office, so if you have any trouble with the PDFs, please let us know.