Friday, February 26, 2010

What Comes Next? - Post-recession Advice

Every business owner knows that during a recession, it is difficult for any business to maintain previous levels of income. But after a recession ends, how does a company bounce back? Below are some articles that offer tips and success stories that will help your business exit the recession prepared for the turn around.

9% of Companies Emerge from the Recession Stronger - Here's How (BNET - Harvard Business)

How to Reach an Audience Forever Changed by the Recession (Chief Marketer)

Build a Better Facebook Page

It’s all well and good to talk about the best business uses of Facebook and the best strategies for creating Facebook Fan Pages. But pictures and examples are worth a thousand words.

That’s why this piece from Mashable is particularly helpful:
5 Fantastic Facebook Fan Page Ideas to Learn From

Some tips:

You can have a great looking fan page, but your fans are still going to want to DO something. Good example: Gap’s Baby Gap tab encourages parents to post pictures of their Gap-clad tykes.

Remember that fans want to get something useful from your Page. You can customize your landing page to spell out the reasons to become a fan (like prizes!), just like Walgreens.

If you’re not sure how to build a custom landing page for your Fan page, just follow the links to this article, How to Build a Facebook Landing Page for Your Business.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are You Cut Out to Be an Entrepreneur?

Take The Test.

Twenty questions you need to ask yourself. Developed by Babson College professor Daniel Isenberg, this piece is from The View from Harvard Business.
***
This is rather entrepreneurial: Caring for Pets Left Behind by the Rapture
For a fee, this service will place your dog or cat in the home of a caring atheist on Judgment Day. By Mike Di Paola, Bloomburg Business Week

Many people in the U.S.—perhaps 20 million to 40 million—believe there will be a Second Coming in their lifetimes, followed by the Rapture. In this event, they say, the righteous will be spirited away to a better place while the godless remain on Earth. But what will become of all the pets?

Bart Centre, 61, a retired retail executive in New Hampshire, says many people are troubled by this question, and he wants to help. He started a service called Eternal Earth-Bound Pets that promises to rescue and care for animals left behind by the saved.


(Hat tip to Steve Bissette.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Source Guide for Renewable Energy

If you are a business in the renewable energy industry or your business has been looking for renewable energy company, then I suggest you bookmark The Source for Renewable Energy, "a comprehensive buyers guide and business directory to more than 16,000 renewable energy businesses and organizations worldwide".

There are many different types of renewable energy businesses that have no clear NAICS or SIC code yet. With no clear classification code, it is difficult to create business lists using our business directory databases. The Source for Renewable Energy allows searchers to "locate renewable energy businesses by geographic location, by product type, by business type and by name, or search for renewable energy businesses using keywords". For example, I could create a list of US Electric Vehicle Battery Manufacturers, a list of US Renewable Energy Trade Associations by Business Name, or a list of Ocean Energy System Component Businesses in the World. As yet, I have not gone to the Source and left empty-handed. With so many categories, chances are good that you will find an answer as well.

* If you are a Renewable Energy business and you are not in this directory, I highly suggest contacting Renewable Energy Advertising Services to be added.

Beware Health Insurance Scams

I still get faxes, a technology that I'd given up for dead. Mind you, most of these are "blast" faxes, promoting fabulous six-day cruises, or great breaks on group health insurance. (In response to this sentence, we'll now likely get "blast" email comments.)

Surely, I'm not alone, and this recent article from National Underwriter proves that. It quotes extensively from recent comments made by the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, stating that small businesses, self-employed individuals, and recently-uninsured people are targeted by plans that prove to be ineffective or worthless.

Periods of high unemployment are especially vulnerable times for those in need, making these scams even more reprehensible.

A money quote:

"Typically, the Coalition said, bogus plans promise full health coverage, affordable premiums, and easy signup regardless of preexisting conditions. Victims often must join a fake trade association or union. This ploy, it was explained, reinforces the illusion of affordable and legitimate group health coverage.

The scams pitch consumers with insurance agents, telemarketing, blast faxes, TV ads, emails and even crudely printed signs stapled to telephone poles. Web sites encourage easy online signup and enhance the appearance of legitimacy, the Coalition related."

If any of our clients in New York State have questions about such offers, or, worse yet, feel that they've been victimized, then they are encouraged to contact the New York State Insurance Department as soon as possible.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Microbusiness Research Institute (MRI)

The Microbusiness Research Institute (MRI)is an organization dedicated to examining the realities and challenges facing the smallest businesses.
"Over eighty percent of the growth in the number of businesses in the United States between 1992 and 2002 came from a surge in the number of microbusinesses (firms with fewer than five employees). Right now, more than nine in ten U.S. firms are microbusinesses."

There are white papers available on the site including one called Microbusiness and the Human Economy There is also a Profile of Microbusiness.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Liquor licenses

Looking for licensed purveyors of alcohol in New York State? I found my Reference USA search for wholesalers surprisingly unsatisfactory. Then I went to the source, the New York State Liquor Authority's web page. Specifically, the Public Query System is quite useful.

One can search by:
premises name or the trade name.
license serial number.
location of the premises.
name of the principal for the license.

One can also use the Advance Search
Find a license according to the City, County, Zip Code, Dates, License Category (on-premise, off-premise, wholesale) and License Status. You may also download the search results, though I had more luck with the Excel than the text, which formatted strangely.

A peculiarity in the system, though, is that out-of-state registrants all show up in the records for Albany County. Thus, the 690 cureent wholesale records are not actually applicable to Albany County.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Appliance swap out - Save energy & money

My washing machine died around the holidays. Thanks to my procrastination and the laundromat around the corning, I managed to go hold out on buying a new one until this Saturday. Good timing, Amelia! Buying a new energy efficient machine this weekend made me eligible for New York's Great Appliance Swap Out, New York's energy-efficient appliance rebate program.

If you're thinking about buying an ENERGY STAR refrigerator, freezer or washer there's still time to apply for the rebate. The program runs until February 21st, and according to the website, there's still more than $12,000,000 in remaining funds.

If you're planning to recycle your older model, you could get $105 for a refrigerator, $75 for a freezer or $100 for a washer. If you need a refrigerator, washer and dishwasher you can get a bundled package and save $555.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Operation: Start Up and Grow 2010


The SBDC at Onondaga, along with the Syracuse District SBA is presenting Operation: Start Up and Grow on Thursday, March 18 in Syracuse, NY. This is a resource day for veterans and has been a very successful event in the past. The SBDC and SBA have received a lot of good feedback from veterans who attended this event.


This all day event, is at no-cost to veterans, and includes breakfast and lunch.

Please feel free to pass the information on to any veteran that may be interested in attending.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Obama Outlines Latest in a Series of New Small Business Proposals

from the THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary, via the SBA Press Office

President Obama Outlines Latest in a Series of New Small Business Proposals
Successful SBA programs expanded to increase working capital, help
businesses refinance

WASHINGTON – Friday, February 5, in Lanham, Maryland, President Obama proposed the
expansion of two critical Small Business Administration (SBA) lending programs, aimed at allowing small businesses to refinance and increasing limits for working capital. These are both legislative proposals designed to help small businesses through what continues to be a difficult period in credit markets.

President Obama said, “The true engine of job creation will always be businesses. What government can do is fuel that engine: by giving entrepreneurs and companies the support to open their doors, expand, and hire more workers. Today, we're taking another step towards assisting small business owners get the capital they need to grow and hire.”

SBA Administrator Karen Mills said, “These proposals will provide us with two effective tools to help small businesses meet specific challenges brought on by the recession. First, in the tight credit market of the last two years, lines of credits have been cut for small firms. Raising the limit on SBA Express loans to $1 million will mean more small business owners will have quicker access to this source of capital to help restock inventories and support larger revenue sales, and literally take that next step to grow their business and create new jobs.
Second, thousands of good, creditworthy businesses find themselves caught by declining real estate values as a result of this recession. With many of them now facing mortgages coming due in the next few years, the ability to refinance into SBA’s 504 loan will give them the chance to lock in long-term, stable financing, as well as protect jobs by protecting small businesses from foreclosure.”

Details of the President’s new small business initiatives:

1. Expand SBA’s existing program to temporarily support refinancing for owner-occupied commercial real estate loans:

The Administration is proposing legislation to temporarily allow for the refinancing of owner-occupied commercial real estate (CRE) loans under the SBA’s 504 program, which provides guarantees on loans for the development of real estate and other fixed assets. Currently, 504 loans cannot be used for the refinancing of maturing debt. This change would respond to the difficulties many current, solvent borrowers face in refinancing existing commercial real estate loans.

Businesses with a loan maturing in the next year who are current on all loan payments will be eligible. Lenders that are refinancing mortgages for existing
customers will make a loan for up to 70 percent of the current property value;
and SBA will help finance the remaining 20 percent. For new lenders taking on
a refinancing project, SBA will take on a greater share of financing, up to 40
percent. SBA’s proposal for a temporary, zero-subsidy CRE refinancing program
would be funded through additional fees for refinancing projects, not through a
Congressional appropriation. This proposal will help refinance up to $18.7 billion
each year in commercial real estate that might otherwise be foreclosed and
liquidated.

2. Temporarily increase the cap on SBA Express loans from $350,000 to $1
million:

The President is proposing to temporarily increase the maximum SBA Express
loan size to $1 million, which would expand the program’s ability to help a broad range of small businesses through a streamlined approval process. Unlike traditional 7(a) loans, lenders can use their own paperwork for SBA Express loans, which can be structured as revolving lines of credit. Currently, these Express loans are capped at $350,000 and carry a 50 percent guarantee. Fees would cover virtually all of the added costs of this proposal.

These proposals complement the President’s broader small business agenda - a key part of his overall jobs plan. The other elements of the small business agenda include:
• Extending small business expensing and bonus depreciation for 2010. Eliminating capital gains taxes for small businesses in 2010.
• A Small Business Jobs and Wages Tax Credit that would cut taxes for more than 1 million small businesses by paying up to $5,000 for every net new job and covers payroll taxes on overall wage increases in excess of inflation.
• A proposal to transfer, through legislation, $30 billion to a new Small Business Lending Fund that will support lending by community and smaller banks.
• Additional SBA lending proposals, including an extension of the Recovery Act programs that eliminate fees and raise guarantees on SBA’s two largest loan programs and permanent increases in the maximum loan sizes for major SBA programs.


###
AN SBA Fact Sheet on these proposals is available here.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Most Common Passwords of All Time

For some reason, I have always thought that a password should be super-secretive and only understood by a few select individuals. When I first heard in a movie that the four most common passwords were "God", "Love", "Sex, and "Power" (which the below articles do not list as the four most common), I thought that those 4 words were very poorly-chosen passwords. Later, I learned that weak passwords involve many elements, including a lack of variation in capitalization or not using numbers and/or symbols. The below articles let you know what the weakest passwords you could pick are and how to make sure your password isn't easy to figure out.

Top 20 most common passwords of all time revealed: ‘123456,’ ‘princess,’ ‘qwerty’

The top 500 worst passwords of all time

If you find your password on one of these lists, I highly recommend changing it.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Recalls

In view of recent news, here is a useful site sent to me by a friend: www.recalls.gov
Here you can look up recalls by class of product and see if you have anything to worry about. You can also search by agency, as well as simply read about recent recalls. It's most useful if you have a product in mind, since there are about a million products say, in the medical category that would never apply to the lay person. So rather than wade through everything, you can type in the product to see what comes up.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Answering questions on the fly in Twitter

Next time you have a tax question, consider going to Twitter for the answer.

TurboTax now has a group of folks on Twitter, prepared to answer tax questions on the fly.

You can read more abou their set-up here:
http://mashable.com/2010/02/01/turbotax-twitter/

Or just go straight to the source and their Twitter feed here:
http://twitter.com/teamturbotax

To see the questions they are answering, click on any of the @username links in the answers.

Will they be able to keep up with the questions as the tax deadlines approach? It’s hard to tell. Still, it’s a good example of a useful service application for Twitter. Do you know any small businesses that might be able to create goodwill with their customers (or SBDC clients?) by answering their questions on Twitter?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Survey customers without invading their privacy

Though it may feel as though it is a losing battle, concerns about privacy permeate the national dialogue, from fears about identity theft to potential TSA full-body scans at airports.

For many businesses, engaging in customer research can mean walking a fine line between gathering vital information for you and intruding on the customer's privacy.
It's a tough nut. You need to know who your customers really are and the reasons behind their buying decisions. But crossing the line to find out too much can be downright perilous.


Here are seven tips.