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.