Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Practices to Protect Your Small Business from Employee Lawsuits

From SBA.gov:

Getting sued by current or former employees happens more often than you might think. In fact, the number of lawsuits filed regarding wage-and-hour laws alone in 2011 went up 32 percent from just three years prior. Don’t be too busy to check in and ensure you aren’t breaking laws or otherwise opening yourself up to a potential lawsuit — no small business owner has the time, or money, for that.

There’s a plethora of advice out there on the subject of protecting your business from lawsuits. Before you read on, remember, you should always consult your legal counsel to ensure you are complying with federal and state laws. Laws regarding certain practices, such as non-compete agreements, vary widely from state to state.

SBA has compiled a list of some of the most helpful tips from around the Web.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Holiday Retail Lesson for Small Business: Be More Like Amazon

Here are three things we just learned about Christmas commerce in 2013:

1. Lots of shoppers skipped the mall, even as retailers kept slashing prices. Store traffic in the week leading up to Dec. 22 sank 22 percent, with sales growing at the smallest rate since 2009, ShopperTrak reports.

More from Business Week.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Blog Series - Affordable Care Act

There is a lot of information and then there are even more questions about doctors who are accepting Affordable Care Act.  There is also plenty of discussion and questions involving how patients can find doctors that do accept Affordable Care Act coverage.  Here are links to article and information provided both by the federal government and the news agencies.

I feel I must give a disclaimer regarding information provided from the news agencies.  These articles are to give you an idea of what people are saying and hearing, and there is no guarantee that what is being reported is accurate or current.

Factsheet: What You Should Know About Provider Networks

What’s a provider network? 

A provider network is a list of the doctors, other health care providers, and hospitals that a plan has contracted with to provide medical care to the plan’s members. These providers are called “network providers” or “in-network providers.” A provider that hasn't contracted with the plan is called an “out-of-network provider.”

From Healthcare.gov

Can I keep my own doctor?

Where can I find provider information?

What is the news reporting?

When will the Government Start Forcing Doctors to see Obamacare Patients

Top Hospitals Opt Out of Obamacare

The doctor won’t see you? Analysts warn ObamaCare plans could resemble Medicaid

Obamacare: Fewer options for many

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Vast Majority Of US Businesses Say Intellectual Property Is Not Important (oy)

This post is licensed CC-BY SA 3.0, and may be shared and reposted with attribution. Please include a link back to the original, which will contain the most up-to-date version.

by Gabriel J. Michael

Last year, the USPTO released a widely cited report entitled “Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: Industries in Focus.” This report emphasized the importance of IP to the U.S. economy, claiming “the entire U.S. economy relies on some form of IP,” and estimating that “IP-intensive industries” accounted for 40 million American jobs and 35% of the U.S. GDP in 2010.

While many pro-IP groups hailed the report as demonstrating the importance of IP to the American economy, the report was widely panned by critics who pointed out that the definition of “IP-intensive industries” was so broad as to be meaningless. Indeed, according to the report, the number one IP-intensive industry by employment in the United States was… grocery stores. Although supporters of stricter IP regulation and enforcement continue to rely on the report to justify policies relating to copyrights and patents, the vast majority of the report’s purported economic benefits were attributed to trademarks.

USPTO’s report was released in March 2012, and received a lot of attention. Just one month prior, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released the findings of a survey on business use of intellectual property. While a few sites picked up on the NSF report last year, it received far less media attention than it deserved. Why? Perhaps because it turns out that if you actually ask, the vast majority of businesses report that intellectual property is not important to them.

Infojustice.org was among the few noting that the NSF’s findings directly contradict the USPTO report. The initial NSF report, published in February 2012, reported data from 2008. However, it has recently been updated to include data from 2009 and 2010.

But wait – surely I’m making all this up. If “IP-intensive” industries account for 40 million jobs and 35% of GDP, intellectual property must be very important to businesses. What’s this “vast majority,” then?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

SBA Revises Size Standards for Utilities and Construction Sectors

SBA Revises Size Standards for Utilities and Construction Sectors

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) issued two final rules in the Federal Register today, revising size standards for firms in two North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) sectors, namely, Utilities (Sector 22) and Construction (Sector 23).

Size standards define the maximum size a firm can be and still be considered a small business. The revised standards reflect changes in marketplace conditions and public comments that SBA received to its earlier proposed rules.

New size standards will enable more businesses in these sectors to obtain or retain small business status; will give federal agencies a larger pool of small businesses from which to choose for their procurement programs; and will make more small businesses eligible for SBA’s loan programs.

For industries in Sector 22, Utilities, SBA increased revenue-based size standards for three industries and changed the basis for determining business size from megawatt hours to number of employees in 10 electric power generation, transmission, and distribution industries. SBA retained the current 500 employee size standard for the one remaining industry (NAICS 221210) in the sector.

The final rule also removes Footnote 1 from SBA’s Table of Size Standards, which stated that a firm was small if it, including its affiliates, was primarily engaged in the generation, transmission, and/or distribution of electric energy for sale and its total electric output for the preceding fiscal year did not exceed 4 million megawatt hours.

More than 400 additional firms will qualify as small under these new size standards for Utilities and become eligible for SBA’s loan and federal procurement programs.

A summary of current and revised size standards in sector 22, Utilities can be found HERE.

The SBA increased two size standards in Sector 23 (Construction) and retained the current size standards for the remaining industries in the sector. Specifically, SBA increased the size standards from $7 million to $25 million for firms in the Land Subdivision industry, and from $20 million to $25.5 million for businesses engaged in Dredging and Surface Cleanup activities, which is an "exception" to the size standard for NAICS 237990, Other Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction.

Nearly 500 additional firms will qualify as small under the new construction size standards and become eligible for SBA’s loan and federal procurement programs.

A summary of current and revised size standard in sector 23, Construction can be found HERE.

The new small business size standards will be effective January 22, 2014. To review the rules and public comments, go to www.regulations.gov. Each final rule has a separate RIN number, specifically:
Sector 22, Utilities – (RIN 3245-AG25).
Sector 23, Construction – (RIN 3245-AG37).

The SBA is reviewing size standards by taking into account the structural characteristics of individual industries, including average firm size, the degree of competition, and federal government contracting trends. This ensures that small business size definitions reflect current economic and market conditions in those industries. The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 requires SBA to review all size standards at least every five years.
SBA issued a “Size Standards Methodology” White Paper, which explains how SBA establishes, reviews and modifies its small business size standards. This paper is available online at http://www.sba.gov/size. Also available on this site is the latest about SBA’s revisions to small business size standards. For details click on the article “What’s New with Size Standards.”

Monday, December 23, 2013

How Small Businesses Can Get Tax Deductions for Charitable Giving

Most small businesses make charitable donations. In fact, surveys have shown that about 75 percent of small business owners donate some portion of their profits — about 6 percent on average — to charitable organizations each year.

As we’re in the midst of the holiday season (and tax season looms), many small business owners are likely considering charitable contributions and wondering how such donations might impact the bottom line in terms of tax deductions. First, it’s important to choose the right charity and avoid certain pitfalls that could leave you in a bind.

Read more from SBA.gov.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Blog Series - Affordable Care Act

Many employers are still unsure as to their obligations under the Affordable Care Act.  The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace is a new program that simplifies the process of buying health insurance for small businesses. In 2014, SHOP helps employers with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees shop for, choose, and offer their employees high quality private health plans that fit their needs and budget. Beginning no later than January 1, 2016, SHOP will be available to employers with 100 or fewer full-time equivalent employees.

To start coverage on January 1, 2014, you must select a plan to offer your employees and your employees must enroll in the plan by December 15, 2013. We intend to extend this deadline to December 23, so check back here for an update. After this initial enrollment period, you may enroll in SHOP on a rolling monthly basis.

The deadline to enroll is always the 15th of the month for coverage to be effective the 1st of the following month. For example, if you enroll by April 15th, coverage will begin May 1st. If you enroll between April 16th and April 30th, coverage will begin June 1st.

After you've offered your employees coverage, make sure those who accept the offer submit their enrollment forms to the agent, broker or insurance company.

The following links provide additional answers to your questions or the option to sign up for email updates.

NYS Health Plan Marketplace FAQ - Click on Small Business Marketplace in the box on the left of the webpage.

Key Facts About the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace

Affordable Care Act Email Updates

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top 10 U.S. and International Cities Poised for Growth

Whether you are looking to move operations to pro-business locations with low barriers to entry or seeking to meet customer demands in growing markets, your mid-sized business needs to seek out places that share certain characteristics: thriving local economies, an availability of educated workers, a favorable tax and regulatory climate, quality infrastructure, and a high quality of life. Consider the ten cities listed below. All offer many opportunities while being relatively bereft of the restrictive taxes and regulations that can choke growth.

These cities — half in the U.S. and half outside it — combine growing economies and low barriers to entry. These are the types of places you should look when you are looking to expand your midsize business.

More from Middle Market Center.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Downtime Calculator for your disaster recovery

From the DataCave:

You know that when your business experiences downtime, your services, employees, and operations will be impacted, but have you ever been able to place a dollar figure on what that impact would be? The Cost of Downtime.

Let our Downtime Calculator give you an answer! This tool takes several different factors into account, such as your business’ number of employees, sales volume, and how any amount of downtime you encounter could impact your bottom line. If you have ever experienced downtime in the past, this calculator can provide you with a financial estimate for the business impact it may have had.

We encourage you to use this tool to get a good grasp on just how damaging downtime can be to your business, and to better educate yourself on the importance of having a disaster recovery plan in place

Friday, December 13, 2013

Things NOT to ask on a job interview: Lou Grant and Mary Richards

From the pilot of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, September 1970:
LOU GRANT (Edward Asner)
How old are you?

MARY RICHARDS (Mary Tyler Moore)
[Straightforwardly] Thirty.

LOU
No hedging? No "How old do I look?"?

MARY
Why hedge about it? How old do I look?

LOU
Thirty. What religion are you?

MARY
Mr. Grant, I don't know quite how to say this, but you're not allowed to ask that when somebody's applying for a job. It's against the law.

LOU
You wanna call a cop?

MARY
No.

LOU
Good. Would you think I was violating your civil rights if I asked if you're married?

MARY
Presbyterian.

Blog Series - Affordable Care Act

About 1.2 million people have now gotten coverage through “Obamacare” nationwide. As of December 9th, 314.146 New Yorkers have completed applications, with 100,881 enrolled. Coverage starts as soon as January 1, 2014 and can begin any month after that.

There has been a lot of speculation as to what obligations small businesses will have when it comes to their their employees and the Affordable Care Act.  Media sources have spread inaccurate and unsubstantiated information regarding the law.  The best place to get non-opinionated information are the government websites at the following links.

Federal Affordable Care Act for Small Business Website

The Federal Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace makes it possible for small businesses to provide qualified health plans to their employees.

For 2014, the SHOP Marketplace is open to employers with 50 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees (FTEs). You may qualify for tax credits if you use SHOP.

If you're self-employed with no employees, you can receive health coverage through the individual (not business) application process.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

100 Best Websites For Entrepreneurs

We've searched high and low to bring you the first annual list of FORBES 100 Best Websites For Entrepreneurs. Whether you’re seeking advice on raising capital, scaling your business or looking for general industry insight, these sites are worth reading.

The picks here are arranged in no specific order. Selected unscientifically, they have been chosen for their ability to address a range of topics of interest to entrepreneurs. Frequent posts and content quality helps get a nod. The list is a combination of practical tools – sites to crowdsource funding like Rock The Post or AngelList, or sites with educational resources, like Stanford’s eCorner – and inspirational advice from bloggers like Seth Godin and Steve Blank.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Consumers rage against lousy customer service

From Arizona State University:

A new customer-rage study shows more American consumers than ever are dissatisfied with the products and services we buy. Also, despite companies’ big-money efforts to create customer-care programs, we’re less happy with the service received when we complain. The study shows 56 million American households experienced at least one problem during the past 12 months, and about $76 billion in revenue was at stake for the businesses involved.

"The moral of the story: Don’t invest in improving your customer service unless you’re going to do it right," says Professor Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, which helped design the survey. "If a company handles your complaint well, then you typically become a more loyal customer. However, if they don’t, then you become 12 percentage points less brand loyal than if you never complained at all."

This independent study is based on one originally conducted by the White House in 1976. The 2013 version is the sixth study wave, offering a clear comparison of customer satisfaction over the years.

From NBC News:

Customers are angrier than ever and no wonder: they're losing. The good news is with a few inside tips, they can get the satisfaction they deserve.

According to the 2013 Customer Rage Survey, customers are complaining more since 2011. And the tables have tipped: more than half the time consumers complain, they don't get results.

But as long as you have a reasonable complaint, there's no reason to just sit back and take it.

The four key consumer frustrations cited in the report -- too few customer service reps, too many automated phone menus, spending too much time dealing with the problem, and having to contact the company four times to get a result -- each have solutions.

*But here's something consumers can do.*

"Need to contact a company? Or have them call you? Get customer service faster and easier."

Go to GetHuman.com. Companies have more phone numbers and contact options than ever. GetHuman shows you how to get through fastest.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Email Marketing Mistakes that Could Cost You Big in 2014

While we are knee-deep in the holidays, 2014 is right around the corner. And if you’re like the majority of small businesses, email marketing will play an important role in your promotional efforts throughout the New Year. Don’t let the following small but common mistakes keep you from achieving your marketing goals!

Making it difficult for people to recognize you

For 68 percent of consumers, familiarity with the person sending the email is the top reason why they decide to open. Take the time to double check the “From Name” and “From Email Address” you’re using to send your emails.

More from the ASBDC.

Attracting Manufacturing Investment in American Communities

To compete in an increasingly global economy, the United States must come up with innovative strategies that will lead to economic growth and job creation around the country. The ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership’ (IMCP) seeks to enhance the way we leverage federal economic development funds to encourage American communities to focus not only on attracting individual investments one at a time, but transforming themselves into globally-competitive manufacturing hubs.

An administration-wide initiative led by the White House and the U.S. Department of Commerce, the ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership’ will encourage communities to devise comprehensive economic development strategies that strengthen their competitive edge in attracting global manufacturers and their supply chains. IMCP specifically brings together the resources of multiple federal departments and agencies involved in economic development.

In Phase One of the of the ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership,’ 44 communities were awarded a total of $7 million to support the creation of economic development strategies that recognize the community’s comparative advantages as a place to do business, invest in public goods, and encourage collaboration between multiple entities to expand the area’s commercial appeal to investors.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker has announced that the competition for Phase Two of the ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership’ is now open.

More from the White House website.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Pinterest For Business: Don't Let Pinterest Pin You To the Wall

Pinterest offers a unique platform to business – a way to organically promote products while adding a personal touch through the creation of storyboard to support brand mission. Originally used by individuals as a way to discover and share items of interest, brands discovered a platform rich in active consumers and influencers. Pinterest has 4x the conversion per click of Twitter and a 27% higher conversion rate than Facebook, plus it drives 3x the traffic to sites than YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google+ combined.

Now Pinterest is currently exploring promoted pins, which will show as regular pins with a “promoted label.” Time will tell the direction of promoted pins and the ROI on campaigns, but the introduction of this new business model has brands more interested than ever in Pinterest.

MORE from SmallBusinessNewz

Friday, December 06, 2013

As Holiday Shopping Season Gets Underway, FTC Reminds Internet Retailers to Ensure Consumers Have Access to Warranty Informatio​n

Federal Trade Commission staff is asking top Internet retailers to review their websites to ensure that they provide complete and accurate information about product warranties before consumers make their online purchases, as required by the FTC’s Pre-Sale Availability Rule.

The Rule requires retailers to make warranties available at the time of purchase for all warranted consumer products that cost more than $15. However, a recent staff survey found several instances of Internet sellers offering warranted consumer electronics and appliances for sale without disclosing complete warranty information.

“During the busy holiday shopping season, it’s especially important that consumers get the information they need to make informed buying decisions,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Internet sellers can help by making sure their websites are providing complete and accurate warranty information.”

The letters also inform the Internet sellers that they can comply with these obligations easily online by, for example, using a clearly-labeled hyperlink, in close proximity to the description of the warranted product, such as ‘get warranty information here’ to lead to the full text of the warranty.”

The letters note that FTC staff plan to revisit the websites after 90 days to ensure compliance with the regulations. The FTC cannot disclose the names of the warning letter recipients, as that is nonpublic information.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

5 Reasons You Need To Give Away The Recipe For Your Secret Sauce

Don’t be afraid.

Every professional services firm (marketing, business consulting, accounting, medical, law, et al) in the history of ever struggles with content marketing. Not necessarily from a tactical perspective, although “finding time” to create content is often a presumed obstacle in these organizations. But the biggest issue is fear. Companies that are paid for what they know instead of what they make are paralyzed by the thought of giving away their “proprietary processes” and “secret sauce” through a content marketing initiative.

“Why would we write a blog that explains how we do things? Then our competitors will know our what we know, or our customers won’t need to hire us,” they say. (And they DO say this. All the time.)

WHY? See the answer from SmallBusinessNewz

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

America's SBDC Biz Blog Listed as Forbes' "100 Best Websites for Entrepreneurs"

Burke, VA - The America's SBDC 'Biz Blog' was featured on Forbes.com on November 12, 2013 as one of the "100 Best Websites for Entrepreneurs." The article stated that they searched high and low for the best of the best. Whether an entrepreneur was seeking capital, growing their business or just looking for general assistance the Top 100 sites listed were "worth reading." Natalie Robehmed, Forbes Staff wrote "America's Small Business Development Center blog presents friendly lessons from founders who have been there and done that."

"Recognition from Forbes is a real tribute to our blog contributors and partners. Content from leaders like Gina Watkins of Constant Contact, Ramon Ray, Eric Spellman, Benetrends and so many others is what makes us successful, relevant and a premier resource for our SBDC business advisors and their small business clients," said Charles "Tee" Rowe, President & CEO, America's SBDC.

The America's SBDC Biz Blog was launched in 2011 with over 12 contributors, all Sponsors or Partners of the Association. The blog boasts a variety of posts from low-cost marketing techniques to franchise funding opportunities. The blog is featured in the America's SBDC weekly Newsletter and posts are also shared via Facebook & Twitter. Its a valuable resource for our SBDC Professionals, their clients and small businesses all over the country.

America's SBDC (Small Business Development Center) Network is a partnership uniting private enterprise, government, higher education and local nonprofit economic development organizations. It is the Small Business Administration's largest partnership program, providing management and technical assistance to help Americans start, run and grow their own businesses. With about 1,000 centers across the nation, America's SBDC network provided business consulting to approximately 200,000 clients, training for more than 400,000 attendees, and other forms of management and technical assistance to approximately 600,000 small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs last year.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

IRS to Employers: Hire Veterans by Dec. 31 and Save on Taxes

From the IRS (Tax Tip 2013-15):

IRS to Employers: Hire Veterans by Dec. 31 and Save on Taxes

If you plan to hire soon, consider hiring veterans. If you do, you may be able to claim the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit worth thousands of dollars.

You must act soon. The WOTC is available to employers that hire qualified veterans before the new year.

Here are six key facts about the WOTC:
1. Hiring Deadline.  Employers hiring qualified veterans before Jan. 1, 2014, may be able to claim the WOTC. The credit was set to expire at the end of 2012. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 extended it for one year.
2. Maximum Credit.  The tax credit limit is $9,600 per worker for employers that operate a taxable business. The limit for tax-exempt employers is $6,240 per worker.
3. Credit Factors.  The credit amount depends on a number of factors. They include the length of time a veteran was unemployed, the number of hours worked and the amount of the wages paid during the first year of employment.
4. Disabled Veterans.  Employers hiring veterans with service-related disabilities may be eligible for the maximum tax credit.
5. State Certification.  Employers must file Form 8850, Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit, with their state workforce agency. They must file the form within 28 days after the qualified veteran starts work. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s WOTC website.
6. E-file.  Some states accept Form 8850 electronically.
For more about this topic, visit IRS.gov and enter ‘WOTC’ in the search box.

Additional IRS Resources:

How to Increase Email Marketing Conversions

Spending on email marketing is projected to reach $2.5 billion by 2016, but even all that money doesn't guarantee conversions. To help boost your email marketing conversions, check out the tips in the following infographic by Monetate.

Among Monetate's suggestions:

Avoid batch and blast. Your customers aren't all the same, so why send everyone the same email? Segmented email campaigns produce a much higher click-through rate than undifferentiated messages.


Read more at Marketing Profs.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Top 10 Mistakes for Businesses To Avoid When Dealing With a Disaster

Business Continuity Strategies Offered at Free SBA/Agility Webinar

What are the biggest and most common mistakes business owners make when dealing with a disaster? Whether it’s property damage caused by a flood, or the loss of sensitive data thanks to a hacked email account, how you respond within the first few hours of the crisis can make or break your small business.

Get tips on how to avoid the costly mistakes that could put the safety of your clients and your organization at risk at a free webinar hosted by Agility Recovery and the U.S. Small Business Administration on Tuesday, December 10. True stories about business owners’ pre-disaster missteps, plans not followed and errors made—as well as what they learned during the recovery phase, will be discussed.

SBA has partnered with Agility to offer business continuity strategies through its “PrepareMyBusiness” website. Visit www.preparemybusiness.org to access previous webinars and for additional preparedness tips.

The SBA provides disaster recovery assistance in the form of low-interest loans to homeowners, renters, private nonprofits and businesses of all sizes. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov/disaster.


WHAT: “The Top 10 Most Common Mistakes During a Crisis”

WHEN: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 -- 2 to 3 p.m. EST

HOW: Space is limited. Register at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/625471417.