SBA Kicks Off Young Entrepreneur Series

The White House and the U.S. Small Business Administration announced today the launch of the Young Entrepreneur Series (YES), which will connect young and aspiring entrepreneurs with SBA officials, local business advisors and resources to help them start or grow their own small business. 

“For our economy to thrive in the 21st century, we must set about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs,” said SBA Deputy Administrator Marie Johns.  “Young Americans need to know that starting a business is a viable alternative to going to work for somebody else.  There is a clear and urgent need to create more jobs for young Americans, and encouraging business ownership is an important way to meet that goal.” 

SBA will hold five YES forums that will reach a broad audience, including young veterans, urban and rural entrepreneurs, and others.  

Dates and locations include:

  • November 7, San Diego, Calif., Veteran Young Entrepreneurs
  • November 9, Ames, Iowa, Rural Young Entrepreneurs
  • November 17, Charlotte, N.C., Young Entrepreneurs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions
  • November 29, Tahlequah, Okla., Native American Young Entrepreneurs
  • December  1, Milwaukee, Wis., Apprenticeship to Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship among young people remains below average and young entrepreneurs face unique challenges.  With youth unemployment twice the national average in many communities, particularly communities of color and veterans, the Obama administration recognizes a need to promote and better support the efforts of young people to create jobs for themselves and others. 

Many SBA programs, such as microloans, business counseling and training, are useful to young entrepreneurs.  The YES forums are part of a larger effort to reach out to young people and let them know the federal government has tools to help them start, grow and succeed as small business owners.  

The forums will be livestreamed at www.sba.gov/youngentrepreneurs.  Participants can also follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #SBAyes.  For more information or to watch the forums live, visit www.sba.gov/youngentrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship – the Loneliest Adventure

A recent blog article by one of my fellow Michigan entrepreneurs,  Nancy Sherman of southwest Michigan-based Business Success Unlimited, caught my attention recently as she pointed out some of the pros and cons of going into business for yourself. As any of those who’ve done it know, the costs (not including financial) can be very high – but so can the rewards.

In her article she pointed out one of the issues I hear about most often from entrepreneurs, the isolation.  They don’t have anyone else they can talk things over with to help make the decisions they need to make.  In previous corporate lives, they had co-workers, bosses, or employees – now they have themselves, especially when they’re just starting out or if they’re running a virtual business. And that can be difficult. Not that they’re depending on others to give them the answers, but we all know, sometimes it can help just to talk it thru with an impartial party.  Nancy’s article pointed out an interesting solution that I would recommend all small business owners explore for themselves. Learn about it below, and if you’d like a referral to a co-working center, I bet Nancy would be happy to help you out, just reach out to her at Nancy@thessbi.com .

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In my 30 years of being an entrepreneur, I have spent time in my home office, in my brick and mortar office and in the coffee shops and restaurants around my town. Each has their own good points and bad, but I think the thing that I like least about any of it, is that I have no one to share with, no one to talk to except the cats.

I was married for 22 years to a really great guy (we’ve probably got the best divorce ever — we’re still great friends), but he just didn’t get it. He would tell me, why don’t you get a real job. You’re home all day, why don’t you do the housework, or cook or clean or whatever. I couldn’t talk to him about the isolation, about the needs for others to be around. When the office phone would ring at 11 at night, he’d complain because I didn’t answer it, and when people showed up at my front door at 7 am on Sunday morning, there would be more complaining. Then when I got a “Real” office and had monthly rent to pay (to the tune of $5000), he’d shake his head and say things like “here we go again. You’re just playing dress up”.

It was not easy. And he was not alone in saying — and thinking — such things. My best friend was right there with him. She works for the government and has tried since the ’90s, to get me to apply for a job there as well. “But what about the benefits? The health insurance? The regular schedule? The paycheck? These are all valid questions, but when you’re an entrepreneur, someone who wants to do it for him or herself, these are really irritating comments.

If you’re like me, you get the frustration of being alone and want to find someone else who also “gets it” to talk to, to share with, to be close to. But how do you do this? You can go hang out at the coffee shops, spend money on drinks and pastries, and maybe talk with someone else for a few minutes, but you don’t really find friendship or business collaboration there. The same is true for a library or restaurant. And how comfortable is it to hold meetings in your home office?

Well, now there’s a great new way to work on your own business while being in the company of like-minded individuals who are also working on their own businesses. It’s a place to rejuvenate your thoughts and ideas, a place to work on the Internet, to get help and support from administrative professionals, a place to sit and chat in the lounge, meeting rooms, private conference rooms, kitchens — all the amenities of an office space without the cost and politics of businesses. It’s a co-work center and they’re springing up all over the world; not just this country but literally around the world. If you’re a homebased business, a freelancer, or travel for your company, find one and check it out. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

5 Keys to Achieving Fiscal Fitness For Small Business CEOs Planned For Fall

MICHIGAN- The Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) will present financial tools workshops in metro Detroit in during the fall.  “5 Keys to Achieving Fiscal Fitness,” a workshop to help the non-financial manager business owner achieve Fiscal Fitness is a state-wide training program designed to strengthen financial literacy and improve the ability to access capital businesses need to grow. The program is sponsored by Fifth Third Bank and events will be held in Waterford, Livonia and Detroit.

Topics to be discussed include:

  • Identifying problems using your balance sheet and income statement
  • Providing ways to increase your company’s cash flow
  •  Using breakeven analysis to improve decision-making
  • Planning the working capital to support your growth
  • How to keep your banker on your side

“5 Keys to Achieving Fiscal Fitness” will cost $25 per participant (Fifth Third clients can attend at no cost.) Classes will be held: 

  • September 28         Oakland County Business Center in Waterford
  • October 4                Schoolcraft College in Livonia
  • November 3            TechTown in Detroit

Networking and continental breakfast start at 8 a.m. and the seminar is from 8:30 a.m. until 12 p.m.  Register online or call (734) 487-0355 for more information.

 “In these trying financial times, Fifth Third bank recognized how important it is to reach out to business owners and help them become savvier in managing their business finances. Fifth Third Bank is proud to support the MI-SBTDC is these efforts.”  Dolores Sturdivant – Fifth Third Bank.

The Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) is a statewide business assistance program that provides one-on-one counseling, training and research support for Michigan small businesses. The Southeast Michigan Region serves Wayne, Oakland and Monroe counties is headquartered at the Eastern Michigan University College of Business in the Center for Entrepreneurship with full service locations at TechTown in Detroit, Schoolcraft College in Livonia, the Monroe Industrial Development Corporation and Oakland County Business Center.

Fifth Third Bancorp is a diversified financial services company headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fifth Third operates five main businesses: Commercial Banking, Branch Banking, Consumer Lending, Investment Advisors and Fifth Third Processing Solutions.  http://www.misbtdc.net/events.aspx

What do Apple Computer, Hershey’s, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and the Ford Motor Company have in common?

WASHINGTON – What do Apple Computer, Hershey’s, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and the Ford Motor Company have in common? These well-known corporations all started out as home-based businesses. In fact, more than half of all U.S. businesses are based out of an owner’s home.  Starting a home-based business has many rewards as well as challenges. Join chat host Boyd Wright to learn what it takes to grow a successful home-based business.

WHO:  Home-based business champion and small business owner Boyd Wright will host the July Web chat on “Growing a Home-Based Business: What You Need to Know.”  Chat participants can get valuable insight from Wright and learn more about working out of your house, starting a home-based business and managing the business within the law. Wright will answer questions on how to grow a home-based business, the benefits and the challenges.

WHAT:  SBA’s web chat series provides small business owners with an opportunity to discuss relevant business issues online with experts, industry leaders and successful entrepreneurs.  Chat participants have direct, real-time access to the web chats via questions they submit online in advance, and during the live session.  Chat participants can receive helpful tips and advice on how to grow their businesses.

WHEN:  July 28, 2011, 1 p.m. ET

Wright will answer questions for one hour.      

HOW:  Web chat participants can post questions online in advance and on July 28, join the live web chat by going online to www.sba.gov, and click on the web chat event under What’s New. 

To review archives of past web chats, visit online at http://www.sba.gov/tools/monthlywebchat/index.html

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Business Owner?

A frequent question we at Strategic Growth Concepts receive from small business owners, or potential small business owners is “How do I know if I can do this?  Do I have what it takes to own my own business?”.  And we have a lot of answers that we give in response that take into account their particular situation, and many tools that we use to help someone evaluate their potential success as small business owners.  However, I recently came across a list developed by Anne Mueller for American Express Open Forum entitled, ’10 Signs You Shouldn’t be a Small Business Owner’ that really caught my attention. 

When I clicked on the link I expected to see the usual, “make sure you have money to survive, make sure you’ve written a business plan, and make sure you have a survival ‘plan b’”, but that’s not what I found.  Instead I found an insightful list of items designed to help you take an in-depth look at yourself and your situation to determine if you have any chance of being successful as a business owner. It required the reader to be completely honest with himself/herself.

As any business owner (successful or otherwise) and any business consultant can tell you, owning a business of any size (even if its only you) is hard, really hard.  It requires sacrifice, and self-discipline, hard work, focus, and the ability to be many things to many people – most of which you have no idea how to be – and many times you have to be them all at once. So being a business owner is definitely not for everyone, and it is certainly a good idea to evaluate yourself and your personal situation honestly before taking the step of becoming one.  In our opinion, this article “10 Signs You Shouldn’t Be a Small Business Owner” is a must-read to help you make that decision, and it’s going into our ‘toolbox’ for use with our own clients.  We recommend you read it as well.

It’s Time to Register For ACE ‘11 (Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship)

The Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship is the place where Great Lakes region entrepreneurs gather to network, learn, and connect. Each year at ACE you’ll join an exciting, forward-thinking community of innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders – people like you who have the vision and drive to build new ventures for a new future. 

2011 will be the eleventh year for ACE! Each year the event gets bigger and better.  With more space at Ann Arbor’s Skyline High School, we will be showcasing more companies than ever, and will have more participation from regional support organizations. Combined with the anticipated 1200+ attendees, this year’s event will deliver extraordinary value, learning and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs, funding sources and partners alike. 

Program Includes:

  • A Showcase Presentation by Chuck Newman – CEO of ReCellular
  • The ACE Elevator Pitch Competition: Six pitches, judged by an investor panel with the winner recognized
  • Four Interactive Workshops With Enough Time to Attend Multiple Sessions: What Came First: Innovation or Opportunity?  Ask the Expert Where You Can Raise Your Own Questions.  The Entrepreneurs Search for Funding. From Idea to Business.
  • Exhibit Hall with Entrepreneurial Company Displays 
  • Presentation of Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest Awards
  • Refreshments and Networking 

Where: Skyline High School, Ann Arbor, Michigan 

When: 2:00 – 9:00 p.m. , January 31, 2011

Cost: $11 with pre-registration 

For more info: www.ace-event.org

Follow us: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn 

SBA’s Experts Offer Advice on Business Expansion in November Online Web Chat

SBA’s Experts Offer Advice on Business Expansion in November Online Web Chat Tuesday, November 30, 2010, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., ET

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Small Business Administration’s November web chat will offer advice to entrepreneurs looking to grow or expand their businesses. If you are considering expansion of your company’s product or service, the free web chat will help you learn how to make your next move.

WHO:    Sharon Miller, executive director of the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, will host the November web chat on “Expanding Your Business: What You Need to Know.”  The center is home to the SBA’s Women’s Business Center.  Miller will offer tips and advice on how to make the best business decision before taking on a new growth strategy.  Chat participants can get answers to their questions about what crucial items they should measure before considering expansion.

WHAT:   SBA’s web chat series provides small business owners with an opportunity to discuss relevant business issues online with experts, industry leaders and successful entrepreneurs.  Chat participants have direct, real-time access to the web chats via questions they submit online in advance, and during the live session.

WHEN:   November 30, 2010 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Miller will answer questions for one hour.      

HOW:    Participants can join the live web chat by going online to www.sba.gov, and clicking “Online Business Chat.”  Web chat participants may also post questions before the November 30th chat by visiting http://web.sba.gov/livemeeting/Nov10/.

To review archives of past web chats, visit online at http://www.sba.gov/tools/monthlywebchat/index.html.

Michigan Entrepeneurship Efforts Increasing, Partially Due to the Help Available to Budding Entrepreneurs

It has long been estimated that small businesses employ half of the private workforce, and generate about 70 percent of the country’s new jobs each year.   For many years in Michigan, entrepreneurship efforts became somewhat static as the entrepreneurs of the 1940′s, 50′s, 60′s and 70′s experienced significant growth and success due to the success of the automotive industry in the State.  Those companies became the large firms that have become quite well-known throughout Michigan, and provided many of the high-paying jobs that Michiganders enjoyed for many years.

However, in the last 10 years, as Michigan’s automotive industry has suffered, and manufacturing in the State experienced history-making downsizing, the people and politicians in Michigan began looking for alternatives to create sustainable jobs, and the focus once again turned to entrepreneurship.

Michigan’s Entrepreneurship efforts have increased steadily in recent years due in no small part to Federally-funded programs aimed at generating entrepreneurial efforts in the State.  Substantial progress has been made, and continues to be made due to the efforts of organizations such as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Ann Arbor Spark, Automation Alley, TechTown and many, many more.

This focus on entrepreneurship has led to an abundance of educational programs and conferences designed to provide information, resources, access to investors and much more for start-up and second-stage entrepreneurs.  Some events taking place in the next few weeks include:

If you haven’t considered entrepreneurship, now might be the time to start.  If you have considered it, but decided against it, now might be the time to take a second look.  And if you went for it, but can use a helping hand, make certain to register for at least one of these events.

SBA Seeks Small Biz Owners For Emerging 200 Initiative

DETROIT – The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Michigan District Office is seeking small business owners for its second round of the “Emerging 200 Initiative.” Last year, 16 Detroit-based small businesses successfully completed this in-depth training program for senior executives.

“We’re pleased, along with our partners, to offer the second round of Emerging 200 and its MBA-style program to Detroit,” said Richard Temkin, SBA Michigan District Director. “Graduates of the program have increased their revenue, created jobs and helped drive local economic growth in their communities. We hope eligible small businesses will take full advantage of this tremendous opportunity for Detroit-based businesses.”

Participation in e200 is free to qualifying businesses. Criteria for participation include having been in business for a minimum of three years, gross annual revenues of at least $400,000, and a business located within inner-city areas of Detroit. Participation is limited to 16 businesses.

The six-month training includes approximately 100 hours of classroom time per participant. It will focus on such topics as finance, market development, organization management, strategic planning and growth strategies. CEOs will also have an opportunity to connect with their peers, city leaders, and the financial community.

The following organizations are cosponsors of the e200 initiative:

• Detroit EconomicGrowth Corporation

• Detroit RegionalChamber

• Mayor’s Office ofTargeted Business Development

• Michigan EconomicDevelopment Corp.

• Michigan MinorityBusiness Development Council

• Michigan SmallBusiness&Technology Development Center

• TechTown

If you are interested in exploring this opportunity, please contact Constance Logan at (313) 226-6075, ext. 279.

Managing a Small Business While Holding Another Full-time Job

One of the difficulties I often hear about when speaking to relatively new small business owners is the need to find ways of balancing the various pressures – particularly for those who are starting their business while still employed full-time elsewhere.  The feeling of having ‘too many masters’ between your current job, your new business, and last but certainly not least, your family – can be over-whelming. 

Eventually it will come down to choices, but until that time, I know that every small business owner is interested in finding ways to satisfy all the demands on their time.  Therefore, when I came across this article in the American Express Small Business Forum, I thought it was worth sharing.  It contains good, thoughtful advice that every small business owner can use.  If you have additional suggestions that can benefit our readers, please share them in the comments below.

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by Trent Hamm, American Express Small Business Forum

When I was in the process of launching my internet business, The Simple Dollar, I was under a great deal of stress.  I was working a full time job while at the same time giving a ton of my time, emotion, and energy to making my new business take off.  On top of that, I also needed time for my wife and my children.

For more than a year, I was a complete overstressed wreck.  I didn’t sleep enough.  My anxiety level was quite high, causing me to overreact to every little thing.  I got sick several times, causing me to both miss time at my full time job as well as vital business startup time.  I also often felt like I was letting someone or something down in my life because there simply wasn’t enough hours in the day.

That period taught me several vital lessons about the dual difficulties of launching a business while still trying to maintain some semblance of personal finance security and a normal home life. 

First, recognize that you can’t do everything.  The more you try to take on everything, the more likely you are to begin letting people down – and letting yourself down.  That can be a downward spiral of failure and overcompensation that becomes difficult to escape from.

What can you do instead?  Spend some time honestly figuring out what the real priorities are in your life.  Many people will tell you that their family is a priority – and they may even believe that – but they’ll find themselves making other choices when it comes to crunch time, letting their family life suffer at the expense of a business.  If your true priority is your business, admit it to yourself and focus your energies there.  If your true priority is your family, admit that as well and accept that you may have to let your business lag a little.  If your true priority is maintaining your full time job, accept that your business will probably grow very slowly at first.  Once you have your priorities straight, it becomes much easier to determine which elements of your life deserve priority over others.

Another key step is to reduce your personal spending and financial burden.  Many people, when their lives are overfull with demands but their wallets are flush with income, will choose to commit to a much more expensive standard of living because of the convenience.  It’s easier to go out to eat – where you can relax for a bit before eating your meal – than to prepare something at home, right?  It’s also more expensive, which means that you’re more attached than ever to the very difficult personal balancing act you’re taking on.

That’s why a fresh commitment to personal frugality can be so vital as you balance full-time work and the launch of a business.  The less you require for your own personal spending, the easier the transition to a full-time businessperson can be.  Look into ways to reduce your personal spending without much pain.  Install a programmable thermostat and program it to have your air conditioner or furnace not run when you’re not at home.  Hold off on upgrading that car.  And, yes, eat at home as often as you can – learn how to prepare simple, tasty meals with inexpensive ingredients and remember that the slow cooker can really be your friend.

What finally happened with my own situation, you might ask?  Eventually, I made the difficult choice to walk away from my full time job, even though I was earning more from that job than I was from my business.  The reason?  I realized that my family was the highest priority in my life, more than my job or my burgeoning business.  This put my business and my full time job into conflict and I chose the one that made family choices easier for me.  Of course, the path to that decision was made much easier by a strong commitment to reducing my personal spending.

Virtual Trade Shows: More Cost-Effective Way of Generating Leads?

by Melanie Lindner

Want to save a bundle generating leads? Follow these steps.

Nine Steps For Tackling A Virtual Trade Show

Trade shows are an expensive but necessary part of doing business for David Appelbaum, senior vice president of marketing for BigFix, an Emeryville, Calif.-based information-technology security software maker.

“In the tech industry, you have to participate in trade shows to generate new leads,” says Appelbaum. “The problem is the uneven playing field for small and medium businesses. Bigger firms with a lot of money can get premium booth space, podium presentation time and top advertising on event programs and lanyard name tags. With the cost of your booth rental and all of that extra promotion you could easily spend up to $100,000 per show.”

Traditional trade shows have long been a convention-center-sized hassle. “At a physical show, you have hundreds of vendors in a crowded, noisy exhibit hall with competing messages,” says Appelbaum. “It’s really hard to know who’s worth talking to.” Throw in a recession and it’s little wonder that overall trade show revenue ($12 billion at last count in the U.S.) is expected to contract nearly 7% this year.

In Pictures: Nine Steps For Tackling A Virtual Trade Show

Hence the rise of virtual trade shows, designed to look and function like the real thing but that play out in real time in cyberspace. Entry fee: just $3,000 to $8,000. Better yet, you don’t need to be a computer wizard to participate. Revenue generated by North American web events hit $156 million last year, according to Frost & Sullivan’s 2009 World Web Events Services Market Report.

These virtual events can be designed to look like a convention center (complete with lobby, exhibit hall and networking lounge), a college campus, the top of a skyscraper in Paris, or anywhere else in the world. The savvier the crowd, the more realistic  and compelling the show. “I’ve been doing this for seven years, and one of the biggest changes I’ve seen is the improvement in computer skills of the sponsors and attendees,” says the founder of  an Illinois-based virtual events design firm. “More businesspeople are comfortable navigating through virtual space.”

Show hosts (event producers) pay an event firm $20,000 to $50,000 to create the custom virtual environment; they make the money back by charging exhibitors fees to set up their booths, make presentations and even buy additional, premium advertising.

Getting Started

Before you invest a dime in showcasing at a virtual trade show, get a feel for the environment. (Most shows are free for attendees.) You can also contact the show host (producer) to arrange a demo walk-through. “Browse” the booths and listen to a few seminars to get a feel for the style and length of presentations.

Unlike in the physical world, setting up a booth eats all of 30 minutes and takes no sweat. Some virtual design companies will construct a booth free of charge; all you have to do is set up a brief phone call to lay out the general design, and send them your materials (white papers, logos and audio and video clips) for formatting. If you’d rather do it yourself, you can log onto the web design firm Web site and work within a template wizard that walks you through the process.

Generating Leads

As for placement, “It absolutely helps drive attendees if you pay for prime real estate in the virtual exhibit hall,” says the founder of a virtual design firm. Generally, attendees “enter” the exhibit hall from one main doorway, so getting near that portal is important. Prime placement could run a few thousand dollars more, but it’s still significantly cheaper than a bad spot at a physical show for $25,000.

During designated show days (some events run a single day, others go on for months), have a representative from your company logged in and prepared to engage booth visitors. When an attendee visits your booth, their name appears in a sidebar list of all the people present, and you can greet them in the form of an instant message. When you IM visitors, they immediately see your name, business affiliation and title; for more information, they can click on your name to view your profile.

“Last month I worked my booth while on a flight from Atlanta to Portland,” says Jeff Pedowitz, chief executive of Alpharetta, Ga.-based marketing firm the Pedowitz Group. Pedowitz recently set up a virtual booth at the B-to-B Magazine show, where he says he ginned up some 50 leads for his marketing services. Not a bad return for a $5,000 investment.

The Most Expensive Mistakes Made by Small Business Owners

 By Kevin Hagen, Associated Content, Huffington Post

By avoiding some common costly mistakes, you can significantly improve your chances of making your business a success.

Small business owners may start out with high expectations, but according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, roughly 50 percent of them will fail within the first five years. Reasons for failure can be as varied as the risks involved in starting and managing any business. But there are some common mistakes that small business owners make that if avoided, can lead to the ultimate success and sustainability of their businesses.

Lack of planning. A great idea can be the inspiration for a small business, but the proper planning is what will get that venture off to a good start and keep it on track. As Steve Strauss, author of the “Small Business Bible,” points out, being aware of potential business problems before they arise is one way to avoid them. Every small business needs a realistic and comprehensive business plan, based on accurate and objective information. The plan should include a clear description of the business, the owner’s goals and the keys to success. It should also include an analysis of the competition, a marketing plan to position the business’ products and services, and a budget and cash flow projections.

Borrowing too much. Initial high expectations can work against small business owners when they lead to borrowing too much. It may take some time to start generating profits; large monthly debt payments in the early stages can sap critical cash flow that would be better invested in marketing and developing the business.

Spending too much. While a small business owner needs to have the necessary facilities and resources, spending too much on equipment and furniture, hiring too many employees and renting too much space can place too heavy a load on a start-up business. As pointed out by Nolo, it’s better to start on a shoestring. Then the business can be built up as it starts to generate profits and a positive cash flow.

Insufficient capital. While borrowing too much can sink a small business, insufficient capital can also derail even the best-laid plans. As indicated by Business Know-How, many small business owners underestimate how much money they will need and are forced to close before they have even had a chance to succeed. Small businesses can often take up to a year or more to really get going. It’s vital to have enough working capital to survive that period.

Inadequate pricing. Jay Goltz, writing for CNN Money, describes a home furnishings boutique that had great products and growing revenues, yet it was losing money. Goltz explains that entrepreneurs tend to concentrate on what they love. But every small business owner must also be the CFO. In the case of the home furnishings boutique, not paying sufficient attention to finances resulted in overlooking the need to raise prices.

Not seeking advice. In the Puget Sound Business Journal, Dennis and Margaret Purvine tell of a small business owner who landed a big contract, but because of an unusual pricing model and some onerous terms, the business ended up losing money on the deal. If the small business owner had consulted with an attorney to review the contract, this mistake could have been avoided. A small business owner may be an expert in a chosen field, but a small business needs help from legal, accounting, tax and other experts.
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Let the consultants at Strategic Growth Concepts help you avoid these mistakes and others so your company can continue to achieve growth.  Click HERE to be contacted for a FREE initial consultation.

How the Obama Administration Can Stimulate the Economy and Job Growth Via Small Business

Below is a statement from a group called the American Small Business League with a list of suggestions for the Obama Administration that they believe will stimulate the economy and create new jobs.  After reading, we’re very interested to know what you think, and if you agree, via your comments.

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Source: American Small Business League,  Tuesday November 17, 2009

PETALUMA, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The following is a statement by the American Small Business League:

Since President Barack Obama has said that we need to take all reasonable steps to stimulate the economy and create new jobs, the American Small Business League (ASBL) would like to propose these very reasonable steps to stimulate the economy and cut unemployment: http://whitehouse.blogs.foxnews.com/2009/11/12/white-house-to-host-jobs-forum-in-december/

  • Do not change the definition of a small business from being “independently owned” to include firms that are owned and controlled by venture capitalists. This would divert even more small business contracts away from legitimate small businesses and into the hands of wealthy investors.
  • Do not attempt to close the Small Business Administration (SBA) by combining it with the U.S. Department of Commerce or any other federal agency.
  • Honor your campaign promise to, “end the diversion of federal small business contracts to corporate giants.” The best way to do this would be to back H.R. 2568, the Fairness and Transparency in Contracting Act. The Obama Administration is currently awarding billions of dollars a month in federal small business contracts to corporate giants around the world. (e.g. Textron, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Rolls Royce, and Thales) By stopping this problem, H.R. 2568, would redirect more current federal infrastructure spending to small businesses in the middle class than any other proposal to date. http://www.barackobama.com/2008/02/26/the_american_small_business_le.php
  • Implement the 5 percent set-aside goal for women owned firms like you promised during the campaign. http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/SmallBusinessFINAL.pdf
  • Restore the SBA’s budget and staffing like you promised during the campaign. The current SBA staffing levels are at their lowest levels in 30 years. http://obama.3cdn.net/d14eb1b3649c4d6745_0evzmv02w.pdf
  • Eliminate the SBA fabricated exclusionary rules that reduce contacting opportunities for small businesses.
  • Abolish the Comprehensive Test Program, which allows contractors to avoid penalties for non-compliance and avoid submitting reports that are used to track compliance with their small business sub-contracting goals.
  • Enforce the “Liquidated Damages” clause in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which created a penalty for prime contractor non-compliance with its small business sub-contracting plans. This law has never been enforced.
  • Aggressively prosecute fraud and misrepresentation in federal small business programs. Misrepresenting the size of a firm in order to illegally receive federal contracts and subcontracts is a felony with penalties of up to 10 years in prison, a fine up to $500,000, cancellation of all contracts and debarment from selling to the government.

Please click here to watch a short clip about the ASBL’s concerns regarding the Obama Administration’s small business conference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JvT7Btd_9s

Members of the Small Business Community Are Invited to Participate in an Upcoming Live Webchat with US Small Business Administration Leader, Karen Mills

Members of the small business community are invited to participate in an upcoming live webchat with US Small Business Administration leader Karen Mills. Administrator Mills will be answering your questions via White House Live and the WH Facebook app on Monday, November 16 at 3:15pm. Read below for more information about the event or post your questions for Administrator Mills in the comments.

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From: Karen Mills

Subject: Small Business Financing Forum

Friend:

A few weeks ago, President Obama asked the U.S. Small Business Administration and Department of Treasury to convene a forum to discuss how we can best get credit flowing to small businesses to help them make it through this recessions, and put them in a position to grow and create jobs. We’re hosting the forum next week, and I want to make sure that everyone with a stake in our recovery has their voice heard. Which is why I’ll be taking your questions live in advance of the event this Monday, November 16th, at 3:15pm EST in a live video discussion through WhiteHouse.gov/live or through the White House’s live-chat application on Facebook. And whether you can make the chat or not, I’d like to invite you to submit a question ahead of time by emailing us in advance. We’ll post the full video of the chat afterwards. I’ll be able to share the concerns of small business owners I hear in the chat with the President and Secretary Geithner, at the Small Business Financing Forum and in our conversations and meetings afterwards. The President called for this forum because he knows that small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and that they’re driving our recovery. We want to open the doors and bring everyone who’s involved in this historic effort to the table — from Administration officials and Congressional leaders to lenders and small business owners like yourself – so we’ll also be streaming the conference at live WhiteHouse.gov/blog, Wednesday, November 18th, starting at 9am EST.

Warm regards,

Karen Mills, Administrator U.S. Small Business Administration

The Real Value of Joining a Local Chamber of Commerce

A new national study reveals that membership in a local chamber of
commerce can significantly boost a business’s image among consumers,
as well as among other businesses. In a scientific survey of 2000 U.S.
adults, The Schapiro Group, an Atlanta-based strategic consulting firm,
found positive perceptions of chamber members in a number of areas,
including overall favorability, consumer awareness and reputation, and
likelihood of future patronage.

The study, commissioned by the American Chamber of Commerce
Executives (ACCE), IBM, Administaff, Small Business Network, Inc., and
Market Street Services, showed that when respondents were told that a
particular small business was a member of its local chamber, they were
44 percent more likely to rate it favorably than study respondents who
were not told of the chamber affiliation. Respondents were also 63 percent
more likely to want to purchase goods or services from a small business
that is a chamber member.

chamber percentage graphic“We discovered that informing someone about a company’s chamber
membership opens the door to substantial increases positive perceptions
of that business,” said Alex Trouteaud, Ph.D., senior strategist for
The Schapiro Group. “There clearly is a feeling by our respondents that
chamber membership is synonymous with quality and desirability.”

To tap into this reservoir of goodwill, a small business should not only
join the local chamber of commerce and participate, but also make sure
consumers and other businesses are aware of that chamber affiliation. The
positive impact of perceived chamber membership is felt by big businesses,
too.

For example, when consumers believed that a restaurant chain was a
member of the local chamber of commerce, they were 40 percent more
likely to eat at the franchise in the future. And if a consumer believed that
one of the major automobile manufacturers was a member of its local
chamber,that consumer was 9 percent more likely to consider purchasing
his or her next car from that automaker.

“This study reinforces research done in 2005 about the perceived capacity
of chambers to lead businesses and lead communities,” said Mick Fleming,
president of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE).ACCE logo
“These new national findings point to even more direct benefits for
companies willing to be stakeholders in their local chamber.”

The study results had good news for chambers themselves, where
82 percent of respondents indicated that a local chamber of commerce
“creates jobs and promotes economic development.”

“The message from this national study is as simple as it is
ground-breaking,” said Jim Blasingame, small business expert and president
of Small Business Network, Inc. “Join your local chamber, be an active
participant in your chamber’s programs and be sure to let your customers
and prospects know you’re a proud chamber supporter when they come in
your business and when they see your marketing material.”

J. Mac Holladay, CEO of Market Street Services, an economic development
consulting firm based in Atlanta that helped create the study, said,
“It is refreshing to learn what we have suspected for years — that chamber
membership and community involvement are good investments.”

To review the report click here.

Detroit Regional Chamber Hosting Small Business Conference October 28th

The Detroit Regional Chamber will hold its annual small business conference Oct. 28, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. The day-long event, called Business InSight, will offer speed networking, panel discussions and a town hall meeting.

Mary Ellen Sheets, founder of Two Men and a Truck; Bob Fish, co-founder and CEO of Biggby Coffee; and Jeff Spilman, managing partner of S3 Entertainment Group L.L.C. will lead a session titled “Inside the CEO Mind.” Other speakers include: Marrianne O’Brien Markowitz, Midwest regional administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration; and Chris Holman, small business advocate for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. For more information about Business InSight 2009 click HERE.

SBA Launches New Online Training Course: Winning Federal Contracts – A Guide for Women Entrepreneurs

SBA logoWASHINGTON – Women who own small businesses will be able to use a new online U.S. Small Business Administration training course to learn how to identify and take advantage of federal contracting opportunities.  The new training course, Winning Federal Contracts: A Guide for Women Entrepreneurs, is part of an ongoing government-wide initiative to promote opportunities for women-owned businesses in the area of government contracting. 

This free online tutorial is a practical and easy to use guide that walks a woman-owned small business through the contracting process.  SBA is committed to ensuring that women-owned businesses receive at least 5 percent of federal contracts and believes better training opportunities are central to meeting this government-wide goal. 

Click HERE to learn more, and HERE to access the SBA training.

Market Research on the Cheap

One area of importance that is often overlooked by small business owners with too much on their plate, is Market Research – to get a good grasp of Market research graphictheir competitors, their target customers, their geographic market areas, and their industry.  As a result, many small business are operating in the dark – functioning on the ‘gut instinct’ of small business owners or their staff.  While that may work for a period of time, pretty quickly it becomes evident that you don’t know enough about what your competitors are doing, who exactly your most profitable customers are, and where exactly you can find those most profitable customers.

Having such information can help a cash-strapped small business owner specifically target potential customers that are most likely to be interested in his product or service, and to keep costs manageable since you won’t be spending money directing advertising/marketing efforts to groups that are unlikely to have interest in what you have to offer.  Knowledge of your market area allows you to know exactly where to find those highly profitable customers.  Being aware of what your competitors are doing allows you to find opportunities they may be missing and take advantage of them, and Industry knowledge allows you to insure that your company is ‘keeping up’ and that consumers needs will be met by the use of your product or service – as well as ways others in your industry are approaching their customers.

We at Strategic Growth Concepts are strong proponents of utilizing cost-effective ways to conduct Market Research to enable small businesses to gain every advantage possible.  We have developed a variety of tools to enable small businesses to capture the information they need, and are always available to assist you in this endeavor.  Should you have interest in learning ways that Market Research can help you more cost-effectively market your business, please contact us via our website or via email at info@StrategicGrowthConcepts.com.  In the meantime, please read the article below from Forbes for some excellent information and resources.

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Kern Lewis, 07.17.09, Forbes

Free data? It’s out there, if you know where to look.

Small business owners can be forgiven for shying away from projects without an immediate payoff. Cash is tight, customers are hurting and the future is uncertain.

Still, when it comes to understanding your customer base, the education process can’t stop. Tastes change, markets morph. If you rely on the same dusty old data that once anchored your business plan, you’re finished–maybe not tomorrow, or three months from now, but soon enough.

I’ll grant you that the returns on continuing market research are hard to measure, another reason that task gets pushed to the back of the line. The good news is that there’s a wealth of free information out there for those willing to pound a few hundred key strokes to find it.

This topic is so important that I will be dedicating two columns to it. This first one focuses on actionable data–the kind that you can truly put to work, as opposed to the stuff that’s merely “nice to have”–and where to find some of it for free. We’ll discuss the stuff you pay for (but not too much) in the next column.

In Pictures: 12 Innovative Marketing Tactics (That Won’t Break The Bank)

In Pictures: Seven Ways To Get The Word Out Locally

What constitutes actionable data? Here are three main categories:

Demographics. You can’t sell to people if you don’t know who they are, where they live and how much they have to spend. Demographics determine how to spend precious marketing dollars–for lists, advertising, direct mail, keyword testing (for online campaigns), and on and on.

I learned this lesson back in 2005 when I launched a new cash-flow-based loan product. I simply didn’t know which customers would be likely to leap at these loans. After a number of months and many thousands of wasted marketing dollars, we surveyed our new customer base and revised our original profile (turned out our core base were not just “wealthy households,” but more specifically, self-employed small businesspeople at least 45 years of age). Understanding those demographics honed my marketing strategy and boosted the return on those efforts.

Measurable preferences for specific product attributes. You can’t offer every bell and whistle. You have to know what matters most to customers.

When Allstate markets auto insurance, it picks one benefit to emphasize, such as “accident forgiveness.” In a separate ad it might focus on “peace of mind.” Each effort is targeted, not cluttered with a kitchen-sinkful of selling points. You need to know which benefits will resonate with your customers. Good research that answers that question is crucial to performance.

Behavioral trends. Once you know who your buyer is and what they want, you then have to know how they like to buy it.

Younger people tend to be more comfortable buying product and service online, for instance, while older folks still appreciate personal interaction with a salesperson. Conclusion: If you target Generation Y, you had better have a killer Web site, a presence on social networks, etc. If most of your customers use Twitter, you better use it too.

Now that you know what you’re looking for, how to find it for free?

Step one: Cast a wide net. Start searching the Web by name of industry and add qualifying terms like “market size” or “competition.” (Remember to put quotes around multi-word phrases.) Don’t just use Google;  tap other search engines, including outliers like www.cuil.com and Microsoft‘s new www.bing.com. You’ll be surprised how different the results are.

Two research-focused sites I like are www.marketresearch.com and www.quirks.com.  Quirks has a glossary of market-research terms, lists of vendors and a library of 2,500 articles searchable by topic. I recently looked for articles on telephone interviewing and came up with over 100 worth browsing. (Some of this material was behind a free registration wall, a minor inconvenience.)

Keep your eyes open for helpful material that you may not have been expressly looking for. While sussing out my competition (by typing in “marketing consultants” and “San Francisco” in the search box), I came across an article about what the average marketing consultant makes in the Bay Area. (I am doing better than I thought!)

Step two: Check government databases. The portal www.fedstats.gov is the gateway to multiple federal data sources brimming with demographic data. The mother lode, of course, comes from the Census Bureau, which presents detailed population and housing data, such as place of birth, education, employment status, income, value and age of housing units. The full data set, compiled every 10 years, is getting a bit long in the tooth, but to find specific neighborhoods that match your desired profile, it can’t be beat.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has gobs of useful stuff, too. Thinking about selling frozen filet mignon through the mail and want to know how much the average household earning at least $150,000 spends on beef? Check out the BLS “Consumer Expenditure Survey.” (The answer is $339 a year, by the way.) Just choose the demographic category most relevant to your product or service. You can also access regional breakdowns under the “Geography” tab in the left-hand navigation bar on the main page.

Step Three: Mine the trade associations. Some associations are better data trackers than others, but be sure to browse what they do have. I’ve used information compiled by the Yellow Pages Association to advise my clients on the relative merits of advertising in print or online Yellow Pages.

The bottom line about market research: It takes time and tenacity, so get to it. And I’ll be back in a bit to tell you what information is worth paying for–and what isn’t.

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