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30 Do’s And 20 Don’ts In Starting A Small Business

Small scale businesses are easier to set up compared to the middle or large scale businesses that require more time, feasibility reports, ad...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sources Of Federal Government Help For Small Businesses

This isn't meant to be an all inclusive listing .... but will get you off to a decent start at least. For links to some of the mentioned sources, click on the associated button listed at the left under Support Services.

There are several programs in the various branches of government, including small business loans, contracting, and of course direct non-dilutive investment via SBIR and STTR grant programs.

The Small Business Administration manages many of these programs.

For example, agencies within DOD have a wealth of information and support for small businesses seeking government contracts.

The NIH and other granting agencies have legislated budget set-asides specifically for their SBIR programs and, although not part of the budget set-aside, the STTR programs also facilitate start-ups.

Another legislative example is the Bayh-Dole Act, that allows non-profits such as universities to own intellectual property (IP) generated off of government research grants. While not specifically in support of start-ups, the B-D Act helps new company formation out of univerisities and other non-profit reseaerch institutes based on grant-funded IP. The fees for filing patents with the USPTO are lower for small entitites than large companies too.

The list goes on.....

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Annual Business Exam

The holiday season and resulting festivities have passed. January and February can offer a great time to reflect on your business, particularly because you’re probably also pulling your financial data together for tax purposes. What a great time of year this is to review your business and establish your coming year’s operating goals. Think of this as an annual health check-up for your business, much like the annual exam you get for your personal health. And just as you exhibit certain symptoms when you’re not quite right, so will your business. Keeping as close an eye on your business as you do on your health allows you to get a head start on “treatment”, often preventing a small problem from turning into a crisis.

1) Review 2010. What were your goals? Did you accomplish what you wanted to? What went well for you? What took you by surprise? What could use improvement? Did you meet new people? Did you learn new skills? What was your biggest obstacle? Have you overcome this obstacle, or does it still require a solution? Did you lose any clients? If so, why? Did you gain new clients? How? Did you lose employees? If so, why? Did you hire new employees? How are they working out? All this information provides you with a baseline.

2) Set your 2011 goals. Is there something that you’ve been meaning to do, or always wanted to do that you keep putting off? Or maybe you’ve got a great idea, but haven’t moved beyond the idea stage. Perhaps the coming year is just the time to tackle this project. Often a project is large enough that it is the sheer size of it that deters us from getting started. Break the project into all the steps needed to fulfill it. By breaking the project down to smaller components it becomes a manageable size. That way you can start to take one step at a time. It may be a project that requires more than one year to accomplish, and that’s okay. This could be the year you actually get it started. After all, it will never happen if you don’t take those first steps.

3) Make your goals quantifiable. Create a reasonable timetable for each step. If you are unsure, talk to others who have done a similar project about what steps they took, how long each took, and all the associated costs. Identify where you will get the money from to accomplish your goal. If you can identify alternate sources, then you are more likely to succeed.

4) Thank your clients. Without them you wouldn’t exist. You will find that if you take them for granted they will disappear and reappear with your competition. There are many ways to let your clients know that you appreciate them. If you are a business that has a physical location, have a customer appreciation day. Have food and entertainment available at no cost to them. If you provide services you may want to offer a referral discount. Or your thanks can be given in a public forum through an advertisement. Social media is another avenue for thanking your clients and providing special offers for being a client. Even though we are an online culture now, it is wonderful if you can remember them with a card or other surprise at the holidays and on their birthday. Genuine interest goes a long way.

5) Ask your clients how else you can fill their needs. This helps maintain a client’s loyalty, as well as gives you a good feel for new product and service offerings that you may want to offer. It also helps keep communication channels open.

6) Thank your employees. You may have discovered that it can be difficult to find the appropriate match for employees for your business. When you have good help, be sure to let them know it.

7) Talk with your employees about their 2011 goals. Find out if they were satisfied with their 2010 employment. If you have an open relationship with your employees this will not be difficult. You will also discover areas that your employee would like to grow into or contribute to. They will excel at what they do if they are part of setting their goals. If you have a closed relationship, be prepared to hear what they think you want to hear.

8) Look around you. How has your industry at large changed? Have you kept up with these changes? What courses, networking, and mentoring can you find to help you stay abreast of the industry? How has your immediate market area changed? Have you gained business because someone has shut down? Will you lose business if someone else fills in where they left off? Is there any new competition entering the market? It’s is not always possible to foresee all that will happen, but being in touch with these issues certainly makes a big difference in your ability to keep your piece of the pie.

As you can see, your annual check-up follows a pattern of reflect, plan, take action. With these steps you will be aware of what is likely to happen and be able to adapt to change as needed. Growing your business is a continuous process, just as monitoring your own personal health and well-being is.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Stressed Out?

Most of us have been stressed working at home at some point. Aside from the stress of having to find new clients and new jobs, we often encounter stress because jobs come in unsteady streams. Some days our to do list is almost empty, and the following days it seems like we can hardly keep up.

Deadlines can be overwhelming, and when one is stressed the brain is no longer focused on creativity and action.

When stress levels stack up, here what to do. First, reduce stress by stopping. Sounds a bit basic, and it's really hard to do but take a break and when you come back to it you will be able to concentrate better.

The next step is to find a way to deal with your stress. A simple way is to avoid the circumstance that leads to our stress--but often this is not feasible. Another way is to change how we react to stress but that takes time to find a way that will work for you.

The easiest and fastes fix is to set a few simple strategies in place that will keep us in control of your time...and your sanity.

Tips for dealing with working at home stress-

1) Eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Reduce or eliminate caffeine (coffee, black and green tea, cola drinks, and chocolate). Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can make you feel more anxious.

2) Exercise. It relieves tension and provides a timeout from stressful situations.

3) Try to take time everyday to slow down and do something you enjoy, even if it is just for a few minutes. Reading a magazine, playing with your dog, listening to music, reading a book or any other activity that helps you forget the stresses of your day can calm you and help you remember what is important.

4) Work at being cheerful and optimistic. Use humor to lighten difficult situations.

5) Take very long, relaxing deep breaths anytime you notice you're feeling stressed.

6) If the nature of any of your tasks allow it, call upon a colleague who can help you. If you've never done this before, now is the perfect time to start. The nice thing about this sort of arrangement is your colleague will most likely send jobs your way when he or she gets overloaded.

7) Organizing and simplifying your life. If one of your main sources of stress is the sheer number of things that need to be done, getting organized should help you feel more at peace. A good sense of organization will also make you more efficient. Simplifying your life also should help you feel less overwhelmed.

Set Achievable Daily Goals. If you finish a task ahead of schedule, start the next... but stick to a definite cut-off time each day. What you are doing this week is set up a system that will continue to work for you.

Follow these tips and before you know it, your home business dream will be on track once again.

For more tips on dealing with stress check out my new website http://www.stressfreeliving.weebly.com

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How Should Government Encourage Small Business Growth And Entrepreneurship?

The government should encourage small business by doing absolutely nothing.

That's right -- nothing ...

It should stop altogether making up incentive/punishment programs to get businesses to do what the government wants them to do. And it should stop trying to "level the playing field"; which, of course, is just another way to intervene on behalf of their political allies.

As a small business owner all you want is predictability and stability from your government -- not more carrots to chase or sticks to avoid. The more small business "incentives" they legislate, the more chaos and distortion they inject into the business environment.

You want to encourage small business growth? It's simple. Stop trying to "help" us with elaborate schemes. You want more competition? Stop fooling around with basic market dynamics to protect your political allies.

Do that, and everything will work out fine.

I would never solely trust the "invisible hand" to manage a just and fair marketplace. A certain amount of regulation is required to protect consumers. That I accept, completely understand, and support.

However, when government picks and chooses which industries and businesses it will promote and support, and develops "programs" to appease special interests and manipulate outcomes under the guise of "helping small business," then it has crossed a not-so-fine line. So this is not about regulation. It's about unnecessary, unproductive, meddling for purely political reasons.

Every new business incentive/punishment program the government creates automatically spawns people intent on "gaming" the system, and builds entirely new -- otherwise useless -- entities designed to help more people participate in that gaming.

Then more legislation is passed to address the problems government just created, more gamers are generated, and so on and so on. You almost have to play -- at least defense -- to survive, and that just shouldn't be the case, especially if you are playing by the established rules.

So just tell us what the deal is. Not what it might be or could be. Then stick with the deal for a reasonable period of time so we can plan. Remove the gamesmanship. All we're looking for is stability.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What Are The Hottest Ideas Or Trends For Small Business Start-Ups?

Below are the top 10 observed as "Hot" recently on the SCORE airwaves:

** On line administrative assistant

** Services to the elderly- transportation, errands etc

** Pet Care and Training Services

** Federal government contracting to tap stimulus funding coming through 123 federal agencies in almost every field of endeavor

** "GREEN " Environmental initiatives in almost every venue

** Maintenance, Repair and upkeep of foreclosed properties

** Non-profit organizations for community development chasing grants

** Self-Help Guides for Business

** Training on all aspects of small business Management

** On-line Books

Successful small businesses are developing enterprises in these fields through market research and business plans to deliver unique products and services - then pricing them and comparing them to the existing market, the competition and client demographics to determine feasibility before applying for financing and launching an enterprise.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Are The Key Challenges Faced By Start-Ups In The Launch Stage?

There are many obstacles, but most of these you can overcome by good preparation, or otherwise along the way. Preparation is key in the seed-phase, the phase before the launch stage .... in which you incorporate, write your business plan, get funding etc.

I would say there is one real key challenge in the launch stage: finding customers BEFORE you start your company.

The reason this is so important is twofold .... (1) having customers guarantees cash-flow, which is critical to survive, and (2) you are certain that there is demand for your product before you start. Many ideas that looked brilliant on paper have failed in the market because no one was willing to buy the product or service, no matter how great it might be.

To be more specific also consider these potential land mines .....

1. Homework - Often times start-up leadership is focused only on the technology or product and not with the business, financial, and marketing needed to make a viable long term business. It's the "build it and they will come" mentality of starting a business which doesn't fly well with today's VC community. Do your homework. If you can't, find help. But get it done before you go ask for money!

2. Focus - In order to do the homework, it takes focus. Too often again this conflicts or takes a back seat to the technology or product. The rationalization being that if the product or technology is awesome enough the rest of the boring business stuff "will just fall into place" later. Wrong again. Your starting a BUSINESS.. focus on that.

3. Mavericks - Its bound to happen in any start-up where experts are involved. While bringing incredible knowledge and experience to the venture, it generally comes at the cost of things like team cohesion and the ability to focus on business fundamentals. Mavericks tend devalue what they don't understand or feel is unimportant, this especially true when business or marketing tasks are involved.

4. Finance - Good pro forma financials are a must when pitching a VC or angel, yet many aren't willing to invest in a good financial consultant experienced in launch stage start-ups. This is a big huge mistake and could end up costing the company dearly down the road, assuming you even get funded in the first place. Be smart, find a good financial consultant. They are worth every penny.

5. Patents - Get that IP patent process going early and often. VC's like to see you have IP protection in the works. A company without IP is simply a reseller of other peoples ideas.

I would also recommend reading Venture Hack blog and checking out The Funded. Both are excellent sources of information for starting your own company and trying to raise capital.

Venture Hacks

The Funded

A final tip .... under promise and over deliver. Never promise a client something you cannot deliver. Manage their expectations and do your very best to exceed them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Looking For A Simple Accounting Program For Your Small Business?

QuickBooks is a good accounting package for a small business. At the end of the year when you have to get all of your records together to file a tax return you may appreciate the little bit of extra detail afforded by QuickBooks.

Another program you might want to consider is the Sage Peachtree Premium Accounting 2016 package, which is less expensive than QuickBooks while still affording good coverage for the basics in accounting.

For an excellent pricing on QuickBooks and Sage Peachtree First Accounting take a look at this resource: Trinity

For a look at open source alternatives you might want to look at this resource: Osalt

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Do Small Businesses Resist Having A Website?

I've read several sources that say 55% of small businesses don't have websites at all. I'm not sure how accurate that is ... but still, this is shocking to me. I suppose it may have something to do with not seeing an immediate return on investment, both in money and time. Perhaps many of these folks are not web-literate also. However, they should see the benefit of at least having a simple page up for directions and contact information. Something which would be easily inserted in print advertising and business cards. Personally, I do assume a company that I cannot find on the internet either doesn't exist anymore or is a very small operation.

It does seem a completely missed marketing opportunity to not have a website, especially as these days you can have something professional on line at a very low cost.

Some common reasons cited for why a Small Business doesn't have a website include ....

1. Not tech savvy, and unsure what to put on or how to have it done.

2. Budget is always an issue with startups and most existing small businesses (especialy intodays economy), and they need to really understand the value for their particular industry.

3. Time ... its one more thing for them to have to "manage". So many small businesses might do a site once, and never go back to look at it again.

4. People over 40 don't see the value or need as much for a website for more than just directions to the location or the most basic of information. Some don't even think its necessary at all.

To businesses that have so little IT awareness that they don't think a website is necessary, they need to remember that their clients may be more forward thinking. If they have no website then presumably they are not using the internet at all for business and are missing out on online word of mouth. They also are unable to track what is being said about them online by their computer literate clients, and this might do them a big disservice. A bad review by a client that you don't know about can escalate and get out of hand. Some kind of basic web presence and Social media understanding really is a must for a business, however big or small.

Although there are reasons some small businesses don't have websites ... there's really no excuse today for not having one. The potential benefits to your bottom line far outweigh any reluctance holding you back from having a web presence. It just plain makes good business sense.

For help navigating the process and how you can get personal assistance .... including a customized quality business website ... I strongly recommend visiting SBI to learn more. Simply click here .... SBI

Monday, January 10, 2011

Marketing Tips For Growing A Small Business

On the marketing front, I would suggest that small business leverage the internet instead of spending large amounts of money on traditional, outbound marketing, such as radio, TV and newspapers.

A solid inbound marketing strategy will deliver more results for little or no money (you need to be smart enough to value your time). First you must make sure you have a strong web presence from a website or blog. That website needs to be optimized with the right keywords that will reach your target persona.

Then, the small busniess needs to create great content to the site that will interest that target persona. Something that their friends will want to see also. Create lots and lots of content. This too is optimized to the identified keywords.

Then promote that great content through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Facebook more for B2C and LinkedIN more for B2B.

This all takes a bit of time to establish. To get quicker results now, the second part of the equation is to convert those visitors into leads. Create offers that will be placed on your website as a call to action. Once the visitor sees the call to action and click to it, they will be taken to a landing page with a form. The offer has to be good enough to get someone to fill out the form! But once they do, it is a lead.

Your lead nurturing program that follows can be email campaigns if the visitor is not necessarily ready to buy now, or you can cal them up right away. Depends on the industry and the offer.

The third component is analyze. Have a way to analyze everything so you can make adjustments to your content, offers, calls to action, and landing pages.

In the end, you will have a very productive communication system with your current and potential clients.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Inventory Management Tips For Small Business

First off .... keep in mind that there is no one single technique which is 'best' for managing inventory. It depends on the operational environment.

Here are some Best Principles regarding managing inventory which apply across all operational and financial environments:

1. Have only what you need.

2. Ensure that it is in Fit-For-Use condition at all times.

3. Know where it it at all times.

4. Maintain Critical Characteristics within accepted tolerance.

5. Be able to access it when needed.

Not to scare you but Inventory Managementthis question encompasses an entire field of study. It all depends on your business. Large product requires different techniques than small product. Cheap products require different techniques than expensive products. Heavy produc t...... and so on.

The size of your operation is also a factor. Managing inventory is a 1,000 square foot retail back room can use a very light weight technique while a 100,000 sf or more operation usually requires a warehouse management system and some sort of automated pick controls.

I would start with ensuring that your inventory accuracy is at least 95% and preferably above 99% - in fact, the higher the better. You should have a process that keeps it there - it's no good starting the year with a 100% accurate picture of your stock and then allowing it to fall into chaos.

If you don't have accuracy, then pretty much anything else you try to do will falter.

I recommend the following book on the subject:

"Inventory Record Accuracy" by Roger B. Brooks and Larry W. Wilson.

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 605 Third Avenue, New York

ISBN: 0-471-13224-1

Although accuracy is the primary driver, depending on what you have and how you choose to measure accuracy, it's not necessary to strive for perfect inventory if you have extremely low cost product and high pick costs. Focus on the business first and put in place a system that balances inventory costs, labor, and capital costs.

For more ides I suggest reading the article Top 10 Ways To Make Managing Inventory Easier

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ecommerce Ideas For Small Business Owners

If a retail company has a physical store and they want to venture into this world of e-commerce to create an additional revenue stream .... and/or compliment their physical store presence and advertising .... then I would highly suggest working with groupon.com as a strategic marketing campaign.

The normal results after using the service are getting the store on the map of peoples’ minds where many had never seen or heard of the company .... and it will generate first time customers, absent customers and referral customers.

Many one location shops are only known to a small percentage in the immediate area, however groupon.com would fulfill a strategic marketing plan one could only dream of if one didn’t have a large marketing budget. The other great part about groupon.com’s service is you don’t pay any money upfront, only if the deal gets a green light from members and your cash register starts making a “cha-ching” sound.

You may want to have a conversation with groupon.com to get more details .... you can contact them at 877. 788.7858. Or you can peruse their web page where they explain their service/product at GroupOn http://www.grouponworks.com

You will also need a solid merchant account system set up which also accommodates online ordering. Elite Processing has one of the best reputations in the Merchant Account arena. I highly recommend you learn more about what they can do for you by visiting their website here:

Elite Processing Systems - Merchant Accounts

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I hate change and so do you

I hate change.  Honestly, by the time I figure out how to make money with my business, I don't want to change anything. 

Then along comes this “everything is a commodity” web based sourcing mentality and the new on line and social network media connecting method and now we have to figure out how to master these paths to acquire customers and grow our business. 

Here's 2 simple ideas and ways of thinking I've found that might save you the stress and fear of change that this Web and on line based world has created.

These 2 ideas and ways of thinking should help you
• continue to use your best and most familiar skills
• not have to change your current favored time proven paths to growth
• stay in your familiar comfort zone
• become quite comfortable with the Web and social media and use it like pros.

1. Perspective, how you view the web and its challenges:
– It may be helpful to realize that Its really not a change nor a challenge to our core skills and who we are as business people at all.
– Its just a new "delivery and connecting" system.
– It’s not really an unknown at all, Its the good old connecting with prospects path "wearing different clothes"  so to speak.

2. Your familiar methods for reaching out, are still applicable and usable: You still can use the same familiar and comfortable skills for getting business, gaining a reputation as the “go to” person, establishing leadership and visibility.

Example 1: Selling skills are still selling skills just deployed via different media today - The media changes, the method of connecting changed, but the core ability of the person who can sell, the process of making an approach and moving through to a "yes" has not changed.

Here's what I mean by that:

1. As you always have before, search how-where folks source but this time look for their on line routes to information, research decision makers, influencers, read and participate via blogs, join into "the family" of targeted audience types via networks, where they gain their insights reading on line, where they go for info and use it 

2. Google is a great tool for doing that.

3. So, in reality, you don't have to change your familiar process. You just change the "how" and "where" of how you gain traction, visibility, reputation, prospects, become the "go to" expert by using the paths of the on line media that best connects with the right audiences for you.

Its simply re-tooling our unique ways, paths and outlets of “selling” or delivering our expertise, services, products and solutions into an on line connected world instead of face to face, or via ads, or brochures.

Example 2: Public speaking, featured speaker skill
1. If we use and are relying on public speaking to gain traction then use webinars, record a you tube.

2. You can reach an audience far greater than speaking at a conference although you still should continue to do that.

Example 3: Writing skills as you route to growing business, a following and a “expert” reputation:

1. If writing is how you go after markets and establish yourself as the expert "go to" person, blog on line both in your own and participate in blogs that your target audience looks to for ideas, guidance and insights.

2. Create an e-zine an online magazine of sorts. Invite your target audiences to read your writings.

3. Use an on line newsletter as well. Find your target audience in the same way you would find it before and use their established on line sources for learning and discussion information to post your writings. 

4. Post to the trade journals in their on line magazine versions.

See what I mean. 

The Web based-online connection-communication concept is not unfamiliar territory, its not a change at all from your comfort zone, just in the paths in which you “prospect”, “reach out”, "public speak" or use "article writing" as your way of gaining traction and customers.

Seeing the web and on line tools in this way can take the fear of change away that the web based world represents and instead, help us demystify and use our web based world to thrive.

Try some of these ideas and ways of thinking out. As you do, I think your fear of the "rules of the game" change from the impact of the web will evaporate and you will be once again “full speed ahead” on very familiar and comfortable footing to grow and profit yet still be “you” without making any drastic changes at all.

Regards, Neil Licht

Neil Licht -"Here We Are"- Its all about getting, keeping and growing customers

    How to Re Tool messaging and sales approaches to Capture Business in our "everything's a commodity" mentality Market Place