en Getting Started With Exporting: Training and Educational Resources to Help You Take the First Steps <p>With two-thirds of the world&rsquo;s purchasing power in foreign countries, exporting represents a big opportunity to tap in to new markets, expand your customer base, and grow your business.</p> <p>However, getting started with exporting can sometimes feel like a complex maze of regulations, policies, and other barriers. To help small businesses understand how to overcome these barriers and prepare to sell internationally, the federal government has several free training and educational resources that enable entrepreneurs to chart the path to exporting success.&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li> The <a href="" title="link to">Small Business Administration</a> provides a wide range of online and in-person training related to exporting. The <a href="" title="link to course">Introduction to Exporting </a>course helps determine if exporting makes strategic sense for your business and whether you are ready to take the next steps. The <a href="" title="link to Business Planner">Export Business Planner</a> is a free, customizable document that enables you to work through the critical processes of export planning.</li> </ul> <ul> <li> Through its network of trade finance specialists located in 19 U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEAC) throughout the country, the SBA provides training and counseling on trade financing and U.S. government export financing programs to both lenders and small businesses. USEACs are a valuable resource for small business exporters, combining the international marketing expertise of Commercial Service staff with the trade financing expertise of SBA (and in some cities, the Export-Import Bank) staff in one location. <a href="" title="link to Export Assistance Center information">Find an Export Assistance Center near you</a>.</li> </ul> <ul> <li> Free and low-cost training and counseling on exporting is also available through the Small Business Administration&rsquo;s <a href="" title="link to district offices">District Offices</a>, <a href="" title="link to Small Business Development Centers">Small Business Development Centers</a> and <a href="" title="link to Women's Business Centers">Women&rsquo;s Business Centers</a>. <a href="" title="link to local training resources">Find local training and counseling resources in your area</a>.</li> </ul> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="link to BusinessUSA">BusinessUSA</a> has a full set of free tools to help you <a href="" title="link to exporting information">explore exporting</a>, including a <a href="" title="link to BusinessUSA exporting wizard">step-by-step wizard</a> that determines how prepared you are and finds customized resources for your specific needs. <a href="" title="likn to exporting tool for financing">Another wizard</a> helps you find resources on how to finance exporting that will enable you to expand your business. The site&rsquo;s <a href="" title="link to Exporting 101">Exporting 101</a> section is a comprehensive overview of how to sell overseas and includes <a href="" title="link to market research tools">market research tools</a>, <a href="" title="link to consulting support">consulting support</a> and other <a href="" title="link to additional exporting information">information</a> that enables you to learn about exporting. In addition, you can locate <a href="" title="link to training and exporting events">free training and other exporting events</a> in your area.</li> </ul> <p>For more on exporting, including information on Small Business Administration export loan programs and other financial assistance, go to <a href="" title="link to"></a>.</p> Small Business Matters International Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:32:55 +0000 plester 1099511 at Small Business, Big Impact: Celebrating Our Country and Small Businesses <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Independence Day is right around the corner, and across the U.S. we&rsquo;re preparing for our favorite 4<sup>th</sup> of July festivities &ndash; a day off filed with backyard barbecues, pool parties, fireworks and fun.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">While we celebrate our country and the challenges we&rsquo;ve overcome to achieve what we stand for today, there&rsquo;s no doubt that this profile of greatness includes our small business owners and entrepreneurs. Facing difficulties from every angle with passion and perseverance, these businesses may be small, but they have a big influence on our country.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>By the numbers</strong></span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><a href="" title="link to Office of Advocacy info">According to SBA&rsquo;s Office of Advocacy</a>, small businesses make up a whopping 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms, and have accounted for 63 percent of the net new jobs created between 1993 and mid-2013! Since the end of the recession (from mid-2009 to mid-2013), small firms accounted for 60 percent of the net new jobs.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">In fact, <a href="" title="link to Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Official Blog">over half of America&rsquo;s workers</a> either own or work for small businesses, which create two out of every three new jobs across the country. This strengthens not only local communities and economies, but bolsters the foundation of the economy nationwide.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>A sense of trust</strong></span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">In <a href="" title="link to Small Business Trends article">this article from Small Business Trends</a>, Scott Shane cites findings from a 2010 Pew Foundation survey that demonstrates how highly we regard our small business owners. Seventy-one percent of Americans see small business &ldquo;as a positive influence on the way things are going in this country.&rdquo; In the United States, small businesses are viewed more favorably than most institutions.&rdquo;</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Additionally, 86 percent of American respondents indicate that they trust small businesses &ldquo;a great deal&rdquo; &ndash;&nbsp;nearly thirty percent <em>more</em> than they indicated trusting big businesses. Clearly, small businesses and their owners are held in high esteem.</span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">From the quantitative to the qualitative, it&rsquo;s easy to see the positive impact of small businesses. And at SBA, we support and celebrate those entrepreneurs. For instance, our annual <a href="" title="link to National Small Busienss Week blog post">National Small Business Week</a> events recognize the contributions of small businesses. And all year round, our staff, partners and <a href="" title="link to local assistance">resources are available</a> to make sure you have what you need to succeed in your business ventures.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">So this Independence Day, we&rsquo;ll be counting your entrepreneurial spirit and hard work as we celebrate what makes this country great.</span></p> Small Business Matters Wed, 25 Jun 2014 11:54:22 +0000 kmurray 1092661 at 4 Ways to Market Your Business This Father’s Day <p>Father&rsquo;s Day is less than two weeks away, and if this year is similar to last in predictions for spending, it can be a profitable time for your business. A 2013 survey by the <a href="">National Retail Federation</a> indicated that shoppers would spend more than $100 on a gift for Dad &ndash; more than $12 billion in total spending. Here are a few ways to get in on the action this year.</p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;"><strong>Give the gift of togetherness</strong></p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;">When it comes to Father&rsquo;s Day gifts, we often think of getting something for Dad that he can enjoy on his own. Consider an approach that lets him have a good time with the family as well. For example, if you own a restaurant or caf&eacute;, try a father-child special for a dine-in experience. Or if you have a hardware store, hold a workshop that allows kids to come in with their fathers to make something they can take home. They&rsquo;ll walk away with a great experience &ndash; and a birdhouse (or something) as a memento.</p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;"><strong>Cater to kids</strong></p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;">Own a brick-and-mortar store? Highlight merchandise for Father&rsquo;s Day by bringing it front and center. Arrange your items so that kids can see and reach what they might buy Dad. Like kids&rsquo; cereal in a supermarket, bringing things to eye level can go a long way to attract attention. Even if they&rsquo;re not spending their <em>own</em> money, they can certainly carry purchasing power in influencing the other parent!</p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;"><strong>Make it easy</strong></p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;">Buying gifts is never easy, so help your customers out by creating a gift guide. You can offer suggestions by price, interest or audience (child, spouse, parent). With emails and social media, especially, you can get the word out that you have the perfect gift for Dad. You can also highlight particular gifts you think may be hot-ticket items. If you can, take the extra step by offering free gift-wrapping (or shipping, if you run an online store) as an extra incentive as the holiday gets closer.</p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;"><strong>Create a buzz</strong></p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;">If you don&rsquo;t think you&rsquo;re in the business of offering specific Father&rsquo;s Day specials, you can still acknowledge the occasion! Get in on the action with social media, for instance. Ask fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter to share photos of special moments with Dad, funniest pictures of Dad, etc. It&rsquo;ll be a great way to engage your customers and foster a sense of community.</p> <p>Regardless of your type of business, what you provide or sell, there&rsquo;s a way to incorporate Father&rsquo;s Day into your marketing and sales tactics. Check out our <a href="">insight from marketing expert Rieva Lesonsky</a> for additional ideas and inspiration for holiday marketing.</p> Small Business Matters Marketing Wed, 04 Jun 2014 14:44:00 +0000 kmurray 1081021 at Free Trade Agreements: What You Should Know for Your Small Business Exports <p>Interested in exporting your small business&rsquo;s goods or services outside the United States? Have you heard of free-trade agreements? Here&rsquo;s what you should know about how they can benefit you in the exporting process.</p> <p><strong>What is a free-trade agreement? </strong></p> <p><a href="" title="link to">A free-trade agreement</a>, or FTA, is an agreement between two or more countries where the countries agree to take steps to make trade between the countries&rsquo; businesses easier and faster.&nbsp; FTAs reduce trade tariffs and non-tariff barriers, such as import quotas, and also cover protections for investors and intellectual property rights.</p> <p>For the United States, the main goals of trade agreements are to:</p> <ul> <li> Reduce barriers to U.S. exports</li> <li> Protect U.S. interests competing abroad</li> <li> Enhance the rule of law in the FTA partner country or countries</li> </ul> <p>Ultimately, it&rsquo;s easier and cheaper for U.S. companies to export to these trading partner markets, because &nbsp;FTAs help create a more stable and transparent trading and investment environment, which reduces risks for you as a small-business exporter.</p> <p><strong>With which countries does the U.S. have an FTA? </strong></p> <p>As of January 1, 2014, the United States has 14 FTAs in force with 20 countries:</p> <ul> <li> Australia</li> <li> Bahrain</li> <li> Chile</li> <li> Colombia</li> <li> DR-CAFTA: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, &amp; Nicaragua</li> <li> Israel</li> <li> Jordan</li> <li> Korea</li> <li> Morocco</li> <li> NAFTA: Canada &amp; Mexico</li> <li> Oman</li> <li> Panama</li> <li> Peru</li> <li> Singapore</li> </ul> <p><strong>Other benefits of FTAs</strong></p> <p>Some other kinds of benefits often found in FTAs are:</p> <ul> <li> The ability for a U.S. company to bid on certain <strong>government contracting opportunities</strong> in the FTA partner country</li> <li> The ability for a U.S. investor to get <strong>prompt, adequate and effective compensation</strong> if its investment in the FTA partner country is taken away by the government</li> <li> The ability for U.S. <strong>service suppliers to supply their services</strong> in the FTA partner country</li> <li> Protection and enforcement of <strong>American-owned intellectual property rights</strong> in the FTA partner&nbsp;country</li> <li> The ability for U.S. exporters to participate in the <strong>development of product standards</strong> in the FTA partner country</li> </ul> <p>Learn more at <a href="" title="link to"></a> and find out what else you should know about exporting by exploring the resources below!</p> <p><strong>Related Resources</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="link to A Small Business Guide to Exporting: Part 1 - Getting Started article">A Small Business Guide to Exporting: Part 1 - Getting Started</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to A Small Business Guide to Exporting: Part 2 - Getting Financing article">A Small Business Guide to Exporting: Part 2 - Getting Financing</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to Interested in Exporting? These Four Resources Can Help article">Interested in Exporting? These Four Resources Can Help</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to 6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business’ Readiness to Export article">6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business&rsquo; Readiness to Export</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to Is There a Form for That? An Introduction to Commonly Used Exporting Forms for Your Small Business article">Is There a Form for That? An Introduction to Commonly Used Exporting Forms for Your Small Business</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to 8 Ways the U.S. Government Can Help You Finance Your Small Business Exports article">8 Ways the U.S. Government Can Help You Finance Your Small Business Exports</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters International Managing Mon, 19 May 2014 10:23:01 +0000 kmurray 845261 at 5 Ways to Honor the Military this Memorial Day <p>Did you know that May is Military Appreciation Month? And with Memorial Day coming up, it&rsquo;s a perfect opportunity for your small business to honor the service of our veterans and military men and women. Here&rsquo;s a look at some ideas to consider from that go beyond a traditional discount on products or services with <a href="" title="link to article">inspiration from Kathryn Hawkins</a>, who writes extensively on business and entrepreneurship.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Collections for troops</strong> &ndash;&nbsp;Host a collection for items deployed troops need. Let customers know via email newsletters and social media &ndash; in addition to in-store signage &ndash; that you&rsquo;ll be gathering items to send overseas. Check out efforts like <a href="" title="link to Operation Gratitude">Operation Gratitude</a> for specifics about how you can help and what our soldiers need.</li> </ul> <ul> <li> <strong>Discounts and free offers</strong> &ndash;&nbsp;Customize a special offer for those who present military ID, such as 20 percent off your product or service. If you can afford it, toss in a little something extra with a purchase. Run a restaurant? Sweeten the deal with free dessert at the end of the meal.</li> </ul> <ul> <li> <strong>Volunteering </strong>&ndash;&nbsp;Know a local military family in need? Round up employees to donate time and materials to help out on a project or effort. For example, says Hawkins, if there&rsquo;s a need for a home renovation project and you run a hardware store, you can donate tools or building materials. Own a nursery? Offer plants or flowers. If you have a caf&eacute;, consider providing a meal or lightening the cooking load with help in the kitchen.</li> </ul> <ul> <li> <strong>Highlight soldiers&rsquo; stories</strong> &ndash; Through email newsletters, Facebook or your other social media channels, pay respect to those who have fallen and express gratitude for those you know who are currently serving. Invite customers to share their stories as well. This kind of effort is great to add another personal (and memorable) touch to your business relationships. &nbsp;</li> </ul> <ul> <li> <strong>Parades </strong>&ndash; Does your town or city host a Memorial Day Parade? Many do, and they ask local businesses to sponsor floats to support the cost of the parade. This is a great way to show your support and honor service members, and it also gets your business name out there in a unique way to parade-goers or to folks watching on television. Check in with your local chamber of commerce to learn what&rsquo;s happening in your area.</li> </ul> <p>However you decide to honor the military this year, customize your effort to make it work for your business. And don&rsquo;t forget to record what you do and share it on your website, social media or through email. Your customers and community will be glad to know what you&rsquo;re up to and the successes that benefit the military community.</p> Small Business Matters Managing Marketing Wed, 07 May 2014 10:12:51 +0000 kmurray 837131 at A Mother’s Day Reminder for Momtrepreneurs: 3 Ways to Make and Take Time for You <p>You&rsquo;re an entrepreneur. You&rsquo;re a mom. You&rsquo;re a momtrepreneur! Running a business is hard work &ndash; and raising kids at the same time means your &ldquo;work&rdquo; days probably seem never-ending. While you&rsquo;re busy managing various responsibilities, it&rsquo;s important to make sure you&rsquo;re taking time for yourself too. After all &ndash; a healthier, happier you means can contribute to a healthy business as well!</p> <p><strong>Take a lunch break!</strong></p> <p>Think skipping lunch means more time for valuable contributions to your business? Think again. As <a href="" title="link to article">this article from Fast Company</a> points out, even a 20-minute break will help you stay more concentrated and energetic for the rest of the day. Science is on your side &ndash; working <em>longer</em> doesn&rsquo;t mean you&rsquo;re working <em>smarter</em>, so step back while you enjoy your meal. You&rsquo;ll come back refreshed and reinvigorated for a more productive afternoon.</p> <p><strong>Delegate!</strong></p> <p>As a small business owner, you wear a lot of hats &ndash; distribute some! Make sure you&rsquo;re not trying to do everything, or you&rsquo;ll find that you&rsquo;ll be too exhausted to do anything. Having a trusted team and employees you can count on can go a long way in reducing your stress levels and freeing you up from the day-to-day nitty-gritty.</p> <p>Self-employed? Consider <a href="" title="link to outsourcing article">outsourcing</a> to a virtual assistant to free up some of your time. This person can help you manage a variety of tasks &ndash; from answering emails to arranging travel schedules and engaging on your social media networks. You may not have employees, but that doesn&rsquo;t mean you have to go it alone.</p> <p><strong>Take a vacation!</strong></p> <p>Like an extended lunch break, vacations provide time to recharge. It may be challenging to think about leaving your business to get away for a long weekend or to take a trip for a week, but consider these benefits cited in a recent <a href="" title="link to Forbes article">Forbes article</a> in which people reported a better life perspective and more motivation to achieve goals; feelings of greater creativity; and a reduction in conflict and tension in the workplace.</p> <p>If those reasons aren&rsquo;t enough to convince you, think about the health benefits &ndash; or consequences of avoiding vacations. Studies have shown that never taking time off can ignite issues ranging from health problems to burnout. And business psychology expert Sharon Melnick, Ph.D., has written that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, and 70% of visits to healthcare providers are because of stress-related conditions. If you think you don&rsquo;t have time for a vacation, you <em>know</em> you don&rsquo;t have time for these negative situations.</p> <p>With all you have going on with your business &ndash; and the business of raising kids &ndash; it&rsquo;s easy to lose track of the importance of making sure you&rsquo;re also taking care of yourself. Take this time and consider these tips to help you do just that.</p> Small Business Matters Managing Mon, 05 May 2014 12:05:06 +0000 kmurray 834701 at Exporting University – Enroll Anytime! <p>If you&rsquo;re interested in exporting your small business&rsquo; goods or services &ndash; or are an exporter already &ndash; you probably know about the <a href="" title="link to exporting information">wealth of information we have here at</a> and the resources available over at <a href="" title="link to"></a>. But another great source of knowledge is <a href="">Export University</a>, a series of courses designed for all stages of exporting.</p> <p><strong>What is Export University?</strong></p> <p>Export University was designed by the <a href="" title="link to District Export Council site">District Export Council</a>, a volunteer non-profit organization associated with the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce.</p> <p>Its courses are designed to help U.S. companies start exporting and develop skills in expanding international sales, so whether you&rsquo;re just starting out or have been in the exporting arena for some time, Export University can be a resource for you.</p> <p><strong>How does it work?</strong></p> <p>There are three series of courses that can provide you with the tools you need to organize your export operations: Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced. Courses are adapted at the local level to make them as applicable as possible to the local industries and needs. Although particular features such as exact course syllabus and price may vary slightly by location, here&rsquo;s what you can expect according to the series&rsquo; descriptions available online:</p> <ul> <li> <strong>The 100 Introductory Series</strong> is designed for all levels of personnel at companies that are primarily new to exporting. This is the series to start with if you&rsquo;re looking for skills to identify and communicate with buyers, banks, logistics intermediaries, and others in developing the basis for an export transaction. Topics include export procedures and regulations; managing international sales orders; logistics; and more to help build your international business.</li> <li> <strong>The 200 Intermediate Series</strong> is suited for managers at exporting companies who are responsible for developing and fine-tuning operations to increase a firm&#39;s export volume. Topics may include how to promote products in target markets; free trade agreements; market research; identifying trade contacts; and more.</li> <li> <strong>The 300 Advanced Series</strong> is designed for executives responsible for developing and adjusting the strategic direction of an exporting firm. Topics may include how to adapt products to individual markets; protecting intellectual property; taxes and financing; and others. &nbsp;</li> </ul> <p>Export University classes are either half-day (morning or afternoon) or full-day (8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.) courses. For the most advanced topics, there may be two-day courses, but they don&rsquo;t last longer than two days.</p> <p><strong>Who are the teachers? </strong></p> <p>So who&rsquo;s imparting this exporting wisdom during your courses? Export University presenters are international trade practitioners who are associated with or recruited by members of the District Export Council, a group of private-sector individuals appointed by the Secretary of Commerce to provide mentoring on exporting. They present course material drawing from their extensive expertise in international trade.</p> <p><strong>How can I sign up?</strong></p> <p>To find Export University courses being offered in your state, select your state on the <a href="" title="link to map">map featured on this page</a>. If there are no courses being offered close to you, contact your <a href="" title="link to local Export Assistance Center info">local U.S. Export Assistance Center</a> or District Export Council and request a list of local upcoming courses.</p> <p>You can also search the Export University website for nationwide webinars being offered in the future. Some Export University courses are taught via webinar and are open to all U.S. companies nationwide.</p> <p><strong>Related Resources</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="link to Interested in Exporting? These Four Resources Can Help article">Interested in Exporting? These Four Resources Can Help</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to 6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business’ Readiness to Export article">6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business&rsquo; Readiness to Export</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to Is There a Form for That? An Introduction to Commonly Used Exporting Forms for Your Small Business article">Is There a Form for That? An Introduction to Commonly Used Exporting Forms for Your Small Business</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters International Mon, 28 Apr 2014 21:45:51 +0000 kmurray 831381 at Let’s Celebrate National Small Business Week – Across the Country and Online <p class="rtecenter"><img alt="" height="255" src="/sites/default/files/images/SBA_NSBW_2014_HEROBOX_GENERIC(1).jpg" title="small business image" width="545" /></p> <p>It&rsquo;s that time of year again! SBA is gearing up for <a href="" title="link to NSBW site">National Small Business Week</a>, May 12-16. And like last year, we&rsquo;re taking the show on the road to celebrate small businesses across the United States. We&rsquo;re excited for this year&rsquo;s activities, which will include forums and panels about trends in small business, innovation, financing, business growth &ndash; and more. There will also be matchmaking events and networking opportunities.</p> <p>The week will kick off in San Francisco on May 12, followed by events in Kansas City, Boston and Washington, DC. We&rsquo;ll wrap up in our nation&rsquo;s capital by honoring small businesses from across the country, culminating in the announcement of 2014&rsquo;s National Small Business Person of the Year.</p> <p>Check out the full conference schedule <a href="" title="link to NSBW site">here</a>.</p> <p><strong>Join Our Webinars and Online Events</strong></p> <p>Throughout the week, you can also participate in our <a href="" title="link to NSBW site">webinars and online events</a>, including &ldquo;<a href="" title="link to event registration">Making It Big: Small Biz Success in a Mobile World</a>&rdquo; with Conduit Mobile on Wednesday, May 14 at 9am ET. Join us &ndash; online or in person in New York City &ndash; to learn how you can better take advantage of the technology already at your fingertips to transform your mobile and digital experience and grow your small business&rsquo; bottom line.</p> <p>And that&rsquo;s just one of the great events you can anticipate! Check out other webinars happening throughout the week:</p> <p><u><strong>Monday, May 12</strong></u></p> <ul> <li> <a href=";t=71&amp;do=register&amp;s=&amp;rID=435&amp;edID=293" title="link to event registration"><strong>Smart Small Business Travel: Strategic Ways to Increase Your Return on Travel </strong></a>| 4-5pm ET&nbsp;| with Marriott and Visa Rhonda Abrams<br /> Despite the clear upside, many small business owners limit travel because of cost or a reluctance to be away from their business. Travel is an investment in your business. And like any investment, you want to maximize your return. Get advice and tips on how to do just that from small business expert Rhonda Abrams.<br /> <em><strong><a href=";t=71&amp;do=register&amp;s=&amp;rID=435&amp;edID=293" title="link to event registration">&gt; Register now</a></strong></em></li> </ul> <ul> <li> <strong>[SOLD OUT] Growing Your Business with Direct Mail</strong> | 6-7pm ET | with the United States Postal Service<br /> Learn about the value direct mail offers as part of an overall marketing strategy.&nbsp;Gain insight on how mail can be used to acquire new customers, and establish relationships that keep them coming back.&nbsp;</li> </ul> <p><u><strong>Tuesday, May 13</strong></u></p> <ul> <li> <a href=";t=71&amp;do=register&amp;s=&amp;rID=435&amp;edID=293" title="link to event registration"><strong>Small Business: Big Benefits</strong></a> | 4-5pm ET | with Colonial Life<br /> Choosing between offering a robust benefits package or cutting back on total offerings is a challenge for many small businesses. Learn about &ldquo;voluntary benefits&rdquo; that can allow you to strengthen your existing benefits packages at little or no additional cost.<em><strong><a href=";t=71&amp;do=register&amp;s=&amp;rID=435&amp;edID=293" title="link to event registration"><br /> &gt; Register now</a></strong></em></li> </ul> <p><u><strong>Wednesday, May 14</strong></u></p> <p><strong><strong style="font-size: 12px;">[SOLD OUT] </strong></strong></p> <ul> <li> <strong>Achieving Big Customer Loyalty in a Small Business World: 10 Tips to Create A Killer Customer Loyalty Program</strong> | 3-4pm ET | with Manta<br /> Learn about the best approaches to jump-start your small business&rsquo; customer loyalty program, including how to make sure that your program fits your business&rsquo; needs and how to get positive ROI from a digital customer loyalty program.<br /> &nbsp;</li> </ul> <p><u><strong>Thursday, May 15</strong></u></p> <p><strong style="font-size: 12px;">[SOLD OUT]&nbsp;</strong></p> <ul> <li> <strong>Practical Marketing &ndash; A Five-Step Marketing Program for Small Biz</strong> | 3-4pm ET | with YP<br /> Gain insight about how to get the most from your marketing time with a 5-step practical marketing plan focused on &quot;doing&quot; &ndash; not marketing theory.</li> </ul> <p><strong>How Can You Get Involved?</strong></p> <p>You can still register for events in <a href="" title="link to event registration">Kansas City</a>, <a href="" title="link to event registration">Boston</a> and <a href="" title="link to event registration">Washington, D.C</a>. Can&rsquo;t travel? Join our webinars and tune in for the <a href="" title="link to NSBW site">live-streaming webcasts</a>&nbsp;of all events as they happen.</p> <p>Keep an eye on the&nbsp;<a href="" title="link to NSBW site">event website</a>&nbsp;and follow SBA on&nbsp;<a href="" title="link to SBA Twitter page">Twitter</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="" title="link to NSBW Facebook page">Facebook</a>&nbsp;for more details as the event approaches.&nbsp;If you tweet, get in on the conversation with the official hashtag: <strong>#SBW2014</strong>.</p> Small Business Matters SBA News and Views Fri, 25 Apr 2014 22:58:01 +0000 kmurray 829851 at Quick Tips for Greening Your Small Business <p>Being &ldquo;green&rdquo; or environmentally friendly is probably not a new idea to you as a small business owner. In the last few years especially, the discussion of green business practices, services and products has become so prevalent that it&rsquo;s often no longer the exception &ndash; but expected &ndash; to run a more earth-conscious operation. Consider these ways to green your business without breaking the bank.</p> <p><strong>Reduce travel with virtual meetings</strong></p> <p>Do you find yourself traveling for business or to meet clients? Consider reducing the number of in-person meetings you might do and go virtual instead! You&rsquo;ll reduce your fuel consumption, which is good for you and the environment. Plus you&rsquo;ll save money with all the free online conferencing tools available. A number of free and low-cost <a href="" title="link to article about web-based sharing sites">web-based sharing sites</a> have features that allow you to video conference, share screens, use text chats, upload documents, simulate a white board and more. An added bonus? Think of the time you&rsquo;ll save by not hitting the pavement. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Ditch the disposables (cups, cutlery, etc.)</strong></p> <p>Did you know that in just one year, the average American office worker goes through around 500 disposable cups? <a href="" title="link to article about disposables">It&rsquo;s also been reported</a> that Americans throw out enough paper disposable cups, forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times! But you can make it easier to not be a part of this statistic in the workplace.</p> <p>Instead of supplying the office with paper and plastic goods for coffee and lunches, switch to cutlery you&rsquo;ll keep! Sure, you might spend a few more dollars up front establishing a stock of cups, plates and silverware &ndash; but you&rsquo;ll make that money back <em>and</em> keep more trash from landfills. Looking for an even better deal? Visit a discount or thrift store to score your new kitchenware for less than you might pay otherwise.</p> <p><strong>Save energy &ndash; with paper!</strong></p> <p>Sure, you&rsquo;ve heard about using sleep modes for devices and unplugging when electronics aren&rsquo;t in use. But did you know that your business&#39; paper use is another area to save energy? Paper manufacturers in the U.S. consume a significant amount of energy each year producing paper. Then there&rsquo;s the energy spent harvesting and shipping trees, and shipping paper products to your business!</p> <p>To optimize your use of this valuable resource, be sure to use double-sided printing and copying. Even better &ndash; distribute or reference documents electronically instead, if possible. When making your paper purchases, select products with a high recycled content; then continue the trend and recycle as much of it as you can when you&rsquo;re through!</p> <p>This is just the beginning of what you can do to have a &ldquo;greener&rdquo; business operation. For more tips and insight, check out SBA&rsquo;s <a href="" title="energy efficiency guide">energy efficiency</a> and <a href="" title="green business guide">green business</a> guides. From energy savings calculators to industry-specific materials and more, you&rsquo;ll find a wealth of information about being an environmentally responsible small business owner.</p> <p><strong>Related Resources</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="link to Greening Your Small Business – Which Steps and Investments Should Your Business Make? blog post">Greening Your Small Business &ndash; Which Steps and Investments Should Your Business Make?</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to From the Home Office to Main Street: The Ultimate Guide to Green Small Business! blog post">From the Home Office to Main Street: The Ultimate Guide to Green Small Business!</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to How to Become a “Green” Business Consultant blog post">How to Become a &ldquo;Green&rdquo; Business Consultant</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters Managing Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:09:15 +0000 kmurray 827131 at Local Resources Explained – Women’s Business Centers, Export Centers, Veteran Business Outreach Centers, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers <p>You know from our blog post <a href="" title="link to blog post">SBA, SCORE, and SBDCs Explained &ndash; 3 Essential Local Resources for Small Business Owners</a> that there are a number of resources available to help your business succeed.</p> <p>There are also a few resources available to specific small-business audiences such as women, veterans and those interested in guidance about exporting or government contracting.</p> <p><strong>1. Women&rsquo;s Business Centers (WBCs)</strong></p> <p><a href="" title="link to Women's Business Centers info">Women&#39;s Business Centers</a> (WBCs) provide counseling, training and networking opportunities for women across the United States and its territories. With a network of nearly 100 educational centers, women around the country can receive tailored assistance to help them start and grow their small businesses. WBCs seek to &quot;level the playing field&quot; for women entrepreneurs, who still face unique obstacles in the business world.</p> <p>Offerings vary by location, but you can expect to come into a WBC and get help with questions about developing a business plan; financing and funding sources; certifying your business; bookkeeping; and more.</p> <p><a href="" title="link to SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership">SBA&rsquo;s Office of Women&rsquo;s Business Ownership</a> (OWBO) oversees the WBC network, which provides entrepreneurs (especially women who are economically or socially disadvantaged) comprehensive training and counseling on a variety of topics &ndash; and in several languages.</p> <p><strong>2. Export Assistance Centers</strong></p> <p><a href="" title="link to export assistance info">Export Assistance Centers</a> are customized for small business owners and entrepreneurs interested in taking their business global. There are a number of unique challenges you&rsquo;ll face in the business of exporting, but rest assured that there&rsquo;s help tailored for your needs!</p> <p>Staffed with professionals from SBA, Department of Commerce, Export-Import Bank and other public and private organizations, Export Assistance Centers can help you with a variety of topics:</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Trade Counseling</strong>: planning and strategy; legal and regulatory issues; documentation and product requirements; trade problems; trade finance and insurance</li> <li> <strong>Business Matchmaking</strong>: contact lists and identifying potential partners; trade missions; trade shows; in-country promotions</li> <li> <strong>Market Intelligence</strong>: country and industry reports; customized market research; background reports; trade data and analysis; commercial diplomacy</li> </ul> <p>Some Export Assistance Centers even have SBA representatives who are available to help you with all of your <a href="" title="SBA export financing">SBA export financing</a> needs.</p> <p><strong>3. Veteran Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs)</strong></p> <p>If you&rsquo;re a veteran interested in entering the business world from the military word, then consider the services available from your local <a href="" title="link to Veteran Center info">Veterans Business Outreach Center</a>. One of sixteen centers available can assist you with business topics that are unique to you and questions you may have as you enter into your business ventures. So, what can you expect?</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Pre-Business Plan Workshops</strong>: You&rsquo;ll have the chance to work directly with a business counselor during entrepreneurial development workshops.</li> <li> <strong>Concept Assessments</strong>: You&rsquo;ll get help gauging your entrepreneurial needs and requirements.</li> <li> <strong>Business Plan Preparations</strong>: Important to all business owners is a business plan, so you&rsquo;ll get help developing and <a href="" title="maintaining a business plan">maintaining a business plan</a>.</li> <li> <strong>Comprehensive Feasibility Analysis</strong>: Following the preparation of your business plan, a VBOC will help you identify and analyze its strengths and weaknesses. You&rsquo;ll use the analysis results to revise the strategic planning portion of the business plan, with the ultimate goal being to increase the likelihood of success.</li> <li> <strong>Entrepreneurial Training and Counseling</strong>: Working with other SBA resource partners, VBOCs conduct entrepreneurial training and counseling sessions specifically for service-disabled veteran entrepreneurs.</li> <li> <strong>Mentorship</strong>: When needed, VBOCs conduct on-site visits to ensure you&rsquo;re following your business plan. Additionally, VBOCs review monthly financial statements to determine if you should change your business plan to achieve targeted goals.</li> <li> <strong>Other Business Developmental Related Services</strong>: VBOCs also provide assistance and training in topics such as <a href="" title="exporting">exporting</a>, <a href="" title="franchising">franchising</a>, <a href="" title="marketing">marketing</a>, accounting and more.</li> </ul> <p>As you can see, these extensive services can go a long way to help you on your way to success with a career in small-business ownership. Another great benefit of visiting a VBOC is the chance to meet other entrepreneurs like yourself &ndash; the opportunity to network and exchange experiences with folks going down a similar path can also be tremendously valuable.</p> <p><strong>4. Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs)</strong></p> <p>If you&rsquo;d like to go into business with some of the biggest customers around &ndash; the government &ndash; then you&rsquo;ll probably benefit greatly from visiting a <a href="" title="Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs)">Procurement Technical Assistance Center. </a>They provide local, in-person counseling and training services (either for free or at a nominal cost) to enable you to succeed with government contracting. Here are some questions you can expect to answer when you visit a PTAC:</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Is my business ready for government contracting? </strong>It&rsquo;s not the simplest task to pursue government contracts, and can be especially challenging for your company if you don&rsquo;t have the resources to handle a contract. A PTAC representative can sit with you one-on-one and determine if your business is ready, and help position you for success.</li> <li> <strong>Where do I register? </strong>There are numerous databases to register with to get involved with the government marketplace, including the Department of Defense&rsquo;s <a href="" title="Central Contractor Registration (CCR)">Central Contractor Registration (CCR)</a>, <a href="" title="GSA Schedules">GSA Schedules</a>, and other government vendor sites. A PTAC representative can help you determine where and how to register.</li> <li> <strong>Is my business eligible for any small business certifications? </strong>Did you know that some government contracts are set aside for businesses with special certifications? Examples include <a href="" title="woman-owned">woman-owned</a>, <a href="" title="small disadvantaged businesses">small disadvantaged businesses</a> and <a href="" title="HUBZone">HUBZone</a> businesses. A PTAC representative can help you obtain these certifications if you&rsquo;re eligible.</li> <li> <strong>What about contract opportunities? </strong>A PTAC representative can look into past contracts to see what types of contracts have been awarded to businesses like yours. This will give you a good idea about the overall business landscape and potential competition. A PTAC can also help you identify and bid on a contract, and if you are awarded the contract, measure your performance and help with contract audits.</li> </ul> <p>So regardless of who you are and what kind of business you&rsquo;re starting &ndash; or the type of business you&rsquo;d like to do &ndash; SBA and its resources partners are here to guide you along the way. You don&rsquo;t have to go it alone. These <a href="">and others</a> are available to help you start up, succeed and grow</p> Small Business Matters Mentoring and Training Wed, 02 Apr 2014 11:56:21 +0000 kmurray 813121 at Is There a Form for That? An Introduction to Commonly Used Exporting Forms for Your Small Business <p>If you&rsquo;re a small business owner interested in exporting &ndash; or are already navigating the international arena &ndash; you know there&rsquo;s a lot to get organized. The resources available from <a href="" title="link to"></a> can help you with all the stages, from training and market research to information about financing. also offers a wealth of information about <a href="" title="link to documents information">documents that are used in exporting</a>. Here&rsquo;s a rundown of a few of the most common.</p> <p><strong>Common Export Documents</strong></p> <p><em>Commercial Invoice</em>: A commercial invoice is a bill for the goods from the seller to the buyer. Governments often use them to determine the true value of goods when assessing customs duties.</p> <p><em>Export Packing List</em>: An export packing list features much more detail than a standard domestic packing list. It lists the seller, buyer, shipper, invoice number, shipment date and more. It also itemizes quantity, description, type of package (such as a box or crate), the weight and even more details.</p> <p><em>Pro Forma Invoice</em>: An exporter prepares a pro forma invoice before shipping the goods. It lets the buyer know the goods to be sent, their value and other key information. It also can be used as an offering of sale or price quote.</p> <p><strong>Transportation Documents</strong></p> <p><a href="" title="link to airway bill information"><em>Airway Bill</em></a>: Airway bills are required for any airfreight shipments and are shipper-specific. For example, USPS, Fed-Ex, UPS, etc. have individual airway bills</p> <p><a href="" title="link to bill of lading information"><em>Bill of Lading</em></a>: A bill of lading is a contract between the owner of the goods and the carrier. A straight bill of lading is non-negotiable. A second, negotiable type is known as a shipper&#39;s order bill of lading. This can be bought, sold or traded while the goods are in transit. The customer <a href="" title="link to Bill of Lading information">usually needs an original as proof of ownership to take possession of the goods.</a></p> <p><em><a href="" title="link to EEI information">Electronic Export Information (EEI</a></em>): This is the most common of all export control documents. It&rsquo;s required for shipments above $2,500 and for shipments of any value requiring an export license. It has to be electronically filed via the <u>AES Direct</u> online system, which is a free service from Census and Customs. If you&rsquo;re shipping to Canada, you don&rsquo;t need an EEI unless an export license is required.</p> <p><strong>Export Compliance</strong></p> <p><a href="" title="link to Export Licenses information"><em>Export Licenses</em></a>: An export license is a government document that authorizes the export of specific goods in specific quantities to a particular destination. Some countries require an export license for most or all exports; others require it only under special circumstances.</p> <p><strong>Certificates Of Origin </strong></p> <p><em>Generic Certificate of Origin</em>: Some countries require a Certificate of Origin (CO) for either all or just certain products. In many cases, a statement of origin printed on company letterhead is sufficient, although some countries require that it be notarized. You should verify if a CO is required with the buyer, an experienced shipper/freight forwarder or the Trade Information Center.</p> <p>Check out <a href="" title="link to"> </a>&nbsp;for more information about these and more, including documents required for shipping specific products and destination-specific requirements. You can also visit <a href="" title="link to BusinessUSA exporting information">Business USA&rsquo;s Exporting Portal</a> for additional resources.</p> <p> <strong>Related Resources</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="link to A Small Business Guide to Exporting: Part 1 – Getting Started blog post">A Small Business Guide to Exporting: Part 1 &ndash; Getting Started</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to A Small Business Guide to Exporting: Part 2 – Getting Financing blog post">A Small Business Guide to Exporting: Part 2 &ndash; Getting Financing</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to Small Business Exporting – Insights from National Small Business Week 2013 blog post">Small Business Exporting &ndash; Insights from National Small Business Week 2013</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="link to 6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business’ Readiness to Export blog post">6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business&rsquo; Readiness to Export</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters International Mon, 10 Mar 2014 12:13:53 +0000 kmurray 805181 at Celebrating Your Small Business Accomplishments <p>Have you celebrated your small business&rsquo; accomplishments lately? In a few weeks, we&rsquo;ll be tuning in to watch the Oscars &ndash; the Academy Awards &ndash; an occasion that acknowledges the finest achievements in the film industry in the last year. If you haven&rsquo;t had the chance to step back and celebrate what you&rsquo;ve achieved, here are a few ways this popular event can inspire you.</p> <p><strong>From the movie business to small business&hellip;</strong></p> <p>The Oscars feature categories that award many aspects of films &ndash; from the costumes that each filmgoer can easily see to the &ldquo;behind-the-scenes&rdquo; work that may not be as apparent to viewers once a film hits theatres. The same can go for your small business.</p> <p>Think about the parts of your business, for instance, that are readily apparent to customers &ndash; like your website or store displays; then there are those elements that are just as crucial to success &ndash; like HR or the finance department &ndash; that may operate in a &ldquo;behind-the-scenes&rdquo; fashion.</p> <p><strong>And the award goes to&hellip;</strong></p> <p>Here are a few ideas about translating popular award categories to your business.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Best Supporting Actress/Actor</strong> &ndash; Acknowledge your team and the roles they&rsquo;ve had in helping the business achieve success and reach goals. Maybe there was one project that stands out where someone went above and beyond what was required. Or perhaps another employee took on a task that didn&rsquo;t involve his primary skillset, but he stepped up and got it done. These are great supporting actors to have &ndash; and they should be celebrated!</li> <li> <strong>Best Foreign Language Film</strong> &ndash; Language is tough &ndash; even when you&rsquo;re speaking the same one! Take this award as a chance to make note of achievements when your business faced communication challenges, either internal or with a customer, and overcame them. Misunderstood client made happy? Tension among a project team mediated? Translating those challenges into successes and learning opportunities is a great accomplishment.</li> <li> <strong>Best Visual Effects</strong> &ndash; Did your agency deliver some stunning creative pieces to a client? Did your landscaping business create yard art from a formerly dead patch of grass? Think back to what you&rsquo;ve made possible over the last year thanks to your and your team&rsquo;s creativity and vision.</li> <li> <strong>Best Costume Design</strong> &ndash; Costumes are extensions of characters, conveying who they are with a unique look and feel, accessories, etc. Similarly, your storefront or website does the same for your business &ndash; a visual representation of what your business is. Have you had a favorite window display over the year that attracted a lot of customers? Did you redesign your website or freshen it up? Here&rsquo;s your chance to really make note.</li> <li> <strong>Best Picture</strong> &ndash; Ah! The coveted Best Picture Award ultimately celebrates how well everyone collaborated &ndash; from directors, producers, writers, actors &ndash; to produce the best possible product. Take a look at the big picture of <em>your </em>business. How well do you think you fared? How well did your team come together to deliver and succeed? Did you connect with your target audience as you hoped? It&rsquo;s a great opportunity to reflect on a job well done, so congratulations!</li> </ul> <p><strong>&ldquo;I&rsquo;d like to thank the Academy&hellip;&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>Well, you probably don&rsquo;t &ndash; but thank the people who&rsquo;ve made your business successes possible by celebrating some of these achievements and acknowledgements with them. Maybe you can make an evening out of it, which could also be a great team-building occasion. If not, a spirited email or presentation over morning coffee can help you get your message across and jazz people up. After all, you&rsquo;re celebrating not only a great year that&rsquo;s just gone by &ndash; but a bright future built on a solid foundation of success.</p> Small Business Matters Managing Wed, 19 Feb 2014 12:08:33 +0000 kmurray 797461 at How Your Small Business Can Spread the Love to Your Community <p>Valentine&rsquo;s Day is upon us, and we know that businesses large and small incorporate this holiday of love into sales and marketing efforts with the hope that customers will spread a little more love their way. But <em>another</em> great way to acknowledge this amorous day is to spread a little love yourself &ndash; back to the community that supports your business. Read on for insight about making the most of your volunteer efforts.</p> <p>Giving back through volunteering is a great way to show the value you place on your community &ndash; and your business can benefit as well. Alyssa Gregory, an entrepreneur and small business expert, points out a few <a href="" title="link to related article">potential returns</a> when you lend a hand to others:</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Networking</strong>: Getting out into your community gives you the chance to develop new relationships and strengthen existing ones.</li> <li> <strong>Marketing</strong>: Representing your business is a surefire way to send a message about what you&rsquo;re all about. You have the opportunity to make a positive, memorable impression that will stay with people.</li> <li> <strong>Skill development</strong>: If you&rsquo;re volunteering services that are a regular part of your offerings, you may have a unique opportunity to strengthen them in a different context. If you&rsquo;re giving your time for a different activity, it&rsquo;s a chance to learn something new and potentially translate those lessons into your business practices.</li> </ul> <p>So, how can you make the most of your efforts to spread the love this Valentine&rsquo;s Day &ndash; and beyond?</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Find a cause that speaks to your passion!</strong> We all want to spend time doing what we love. And as a small business owner, you may not think you have much time to spare &ndash; that&rsquo;s why you should find something that complements your existing business efforts or draws on a passion for you and your team. <a href="" title="link to Volunteer Match website">VolunteerMatch</a> can help you find opportunities specific to your interests &ndash; from animals to board development &shy;&ndash; and your availability.</li> <li> <strong>Pump up your team!</strong> Are you hoping to get others to join you? Get them excited and make it easy for them to participate. If you can afford it, order matching t-shirts or gather everyone for a meal afterward to discuss. It&rsquo;ll serve as a great team-building activity and provide an opportunity for conversation about future efforts.</li> <li> <strong>Get the word out!</strong> Press releases, Facebook updates, tweets and more. Let people know that you&rsquo;re getting out there to help your community. If the organization you&rsquo;re volunteering with also has a social media presence, don&rsquo;t forget to tag them or use their handle &ndash; they&rsquo;ll appreciate the additional publicity as well. &nbsp;</li> </ul> <p>Lending a hand to the less fortunate or providing your product or service to an organization in need are great ways to show you care about the community that makes it possible for you to do business. And the support you&rsquo;re able to show for your community is sure to be appreciated.</p> <p>So this Valentine&rsquo;s Day, skip the box of chocolates and share the sweetness of the holiday with the deserving people and causes in your neighborhood.&nbsp;</p> Small Business Matters Managing Mon, 10 Feb 2014 16:10:44 +0000 kmurray 794921 at Interested in Exporting? These Four Resources Can Help <p>Did you know that nearly 96 percent of consumers live outside the United States? And two-thirds of the world&rsquo;s purchasing power is in foreign countries. As the numbers show, the international marketplace is a big one. So if you&rsquo;re interested in exploring the world of exporting &ndash; or have gotten started but could use some guidance &ndash; check out these resources to help.</p> <p><strong>Export Assistance Centers</strong></p> <p>Did you know that assistance centers across the United States exist to help small business owners and entrepreneurs <em>exclusively</em> with exporting topics?</p> <p><a href="" title="link to United States Exporting Assistance Centers">United States Exporting Assistance Centers</a> (USEACs) are staffed by professionals from the SBA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Export-Import Bank and other public and private organizations. USEACs can help you understand the global marketplace and get you organized to join in and succeed. Some USEACs also have SBA representatives who are available to help you with your <a href="" title="SBA export financing">SBA export financing</a> needs. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Export Business Planner</strong></p> <p>The <a href="" title="link to Export Business Planner">Export Business Planner</a> is a downloadable tool that you can save and customize as you explore your exporting options.</p> <p>The Planner starts with an introduction to exporting and helps you determine your export readiness, then walks you through training and counseling information; marketing plan and financial materials; transportation and documentation details and more.</p> <p>The Planner also provides practical worksheets, templates and forms, in addition to a glossary of industry terms and even more helpful resources.</p> <p><strong>;s FAQ</strong></p> <p> is an ideal export resource. And its <a href="" title="link to's Frequently Asked Questions">frequently asked questions page</a> is great to browse, as they&rsquo;ve organized responses by categories. From exporting basics to trade agreements and regulations, this is a good place to start if you&rsquo;re looking to learn more but aren&rsquo;t quite sure where to start. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>USTDA Consultant Database</strong></p> <p>The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) maintains a database of companies and individuals who provide fee-based consulting services to small businesses interested in importing and exporting.</p> <p>Almost all contracts with USTDA are reserved for small businesses, most of which are opportunities for technical experts qualified in the areas of energy and power; project finance; health; manufacturing; mining &amp; natural resources; telecommunications and information technology; transportation; and water and the environment.</p> <p>Your business may be small, but there&rsquo;s a big opportunity in selling your product or service overseas. And this handful of resources can help put you on the path to international success.</p> <p><strong>Related resources</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business’ Readiness to Export blog post">6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business&rsquo; Readiness to Export</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="8 Ways the U.S. Government Can Help You Finance Your Small Business Exports blog post">8 Ways the U.S. Government Can Help You Finance Your Small Business Exports</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters International Mon, 27 Jan 2014 12:34:36 +0000 kmurray 791101 at How to Maximize the Effectiveness of Facebook for Your Small Business <p>Does your small business maintain a Facebook page? Are you thinking about venturing into social media with a presence on this ever-growing social network? Mari Smith, often referred to as &ldquo;The Queen of Facebook,&rdquo; <a href="" title="link to Mari Smith article">offers some insight</a> to help you use it most effectively.</p> <p><strong>Understand the fundamentals</strong></p> <p>Before jumping head first into Facebook, consider some fundamental questions. Ask yourself:</p> <ul> <li> Why am I on Facebook in the first place? &nbsp;</li> <li> What am I trying to do here?</li> <li> Am I trying to just generate fans and get better sentiment for my brand or actually sell product or improve customer service or just get visibility?</li> </ul> <p>Have a clear idea of what your goals are with your Facebook account so that you can measure your successes properly &ndash; and not based on standards that don&rsquo;t fit what you&rsquo;re trying to accomplish.</p> <p><strong>Think strategically</strong></p> <p>Smith says, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s really a matter of strategically thinking through what content you are posting in a manner that people are top of mind. You are top of mind because they have built this relationship with you and you&rsquo;re in their news feed, sharing valuable content and sparking interest.&rdquo;</p> <p>Be smart about what you decide to post on Facebook &ndash; what are you trying to achieve with each update? Smith adheres to an 80/20 rule. So, 80% of the time you engage on Facebook, you&rsquo;ll share &ldquo;a mix of your content, articles, resources and tools.&rdquo; For the other 20% of the time, you&rsquo;ll post content that asks for the sale or lead.</p> <p>This mix can add a lot of value to your page, which Smith suggests updating once or twice a day. With a varied approach, you won&rsquo;t be bombarding visitors with requests for sales all the time, but you&rsquo;ll be memorable because of interesting content that resonates with people and gives them a positive impression.</p> <p><strong>Be realistic </strong></p> <p>&ldquo;One thing to keep in mind as a small business owner is that just because you have 1,000 fans, all 1,000 of those people are not seeing your posts. It could be a fraction of those.&rdquo; Smith warns that the misconception of views is something she sees a lot with Facebook use. In reality, she says, only between 2% &ndash; 48% of page fans will see your updates.</p> <p>So what&rsquo;s Smith&rsquo;s recommendation for small business Facebook use? She suggests approaching it &ldquo;from the standpoint of generating email leads and gently guiding people to cross into your funnel, your e-mail list, your blog, your website and looking into your offers.&rdquo; Used effectively and realistically, Facebook can be a powerful contender in your arsenal of marketing tools.</p> <p><strong>Related Resources</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="Step Up or Get Left Behind - How to Improve Engagement with Your Facebook Fans blog post">Step Up or Get Left Behind - How to Improve Engagement with Your Facebook Fans</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="7 Ways to Use Facebook to Grow Your Email Marketing List blog post">7 Ways to Use Facebook to Grow Your Email Marketing List</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="The Social Storefront – How to Sell Your Products and Services on Facebook blog post">The Social Storefront &ndash; How to Sell Your Products and Services on Facebook</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters Marketing Thu, 23 Jan 2014 11:19:34 +0000 kmurray 790461 at Government Contracting and Certification – What’s It All Really Mean? <p>&ldquo;Government contracting.&rdquo; &ldquo;Small business certification.&rdquo; You&rsquo;ve heard the phrases before, but what do they really mean? And does it really matter for <em>your</em> small business? Maybe &ndash; and maybe not. Let&rsquo;s cut through all the noise and define these phrases in a meaningful way for your entrepreneurial endeavors.</p> <p><strong>What is government contracting?</strong></p> <p>Government contracting is the process that lets you sell your goods or services to the government and its various agencies. The government has a contract, or agreement, with you whereby it purchases what you do or make. And U.S. government agencies buy a <em>lot</em> from small businesses &ndash; nearly $100 billion worth of goods and services each year! From market research to janitorial services, if you want to make the government your customer, there&rsquo;s a good chance there&rsquo;s a need for what you offer.</p> <p><strong>So, what does it mean to be certified as a &ldquo;small business&rdquo;?</strong></p> <p>Being certified as a &ldquo;small business&rdquo; is only significant <em>if </em>you&rsquo;re interested in government contracting. Why? Because there are certain set-asides that the government must adhere to when they&rsquo;re looking to buy goods or services &ndash; there&rsquo;s a percentage of business <em>set aside</em> for different kinds of companies, including small businesses. (Others include <a href="" title="link to women-owned business info">women-owned</a>, <a href="" title="link to veteran-owned business info">veteran-owned</a>, etc.) So if you want to be a contender in the federal marketplace, your small business has to meet official criteria to be eligible for government contracts.</p> <p><strong>How do I certify my business as small?</strong></p> <p>First, make sure you <em>do, </em>in fact, have <a href="" title="link to small business qualifications info">a small business</a>. For most industries, SBA defines a &quot;small business&quot; either in terms of the average number of employees over the past 12 months, or average annual receipts over the past three years.</p> <p>Then, when you know you adhere to the size standards, you <a href="" title="link to registration info">register for government contracting</a>. This process <em>also</em> serves the purpose of &ldquo;certifying&rdquo; your business as small.</p> <p><strong>Where can I get some help?</strong></p> <p>Starting out in government contracting can be overwhelming, but SBA has resources to help:</p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="link to The Government Contracting Classroom">The Government Contracting Classroom</a>: Online, self-paced training courses to fill you in on the government contracting landscape &ndash; from starting out to special programs</li> <li> <a href="" title="link to Procurement Technical Assistance Centers">Procurement Technical Assistance Centers</a>: PTACs offer local, in-person counseling and training services to businesses that want to sell products and services to federal, state and/or local governments.</li> <li> <a href="" title="link to Selling to the Government – Get Started With These 5 Steps blog post">Selling to the Government &ndash; Get Started With These 5 Steps</a>: A five-step plan that summarizes the process of entering the federal marketplace, plus links to additional resources.</li> </ul> Small Business Matters Government Contracting Tue, 21 Jan 2014 11:44:48 +0000 kmurray 789981 at Optimism Runs High for the Independent Workforce <p>2013 was a good year for independent workers &ndash; and the future looks even brighter. Self-described contractors, freelancers, consultants, temps, &ldquo;solopreneurs,&rdquo; and microbusiness owners surveyed for <a href="" title="link to MBO’s Third Annual Independent Workforce Report">MBO&rsquo;s Third Annual Independent Workforce Report</a> are feeling optimistic about their employment status. Check out these positive figures if you&rsquo;re thinking about joining their ranks.</p> <p><strong>Independents have a positive impact on the economy</strong></p> <p>The MBO study reports a 5% increase in independent workers when compared to 2012 &ndash; up to 17.7 million. And with these numbers comes a noteworthy contribution to the economy. Independents generated nearly $1.2 trillion in total income both globally and locally, up a whopping 20% from 2012. They also spent over $150 billion on non-payroll/contractor expenses.</p> <p><strong>Independents hire other independents</strong></p> <p>The vast majority of independent workers are &ldquo;solopreneurs&rdquo; and don&rsquo;t have traditional employees, but that doesn&rsquo;t mean they work alone. Through contract hiring over the past year, 26% of independent workers spent a total of $96 billion to hire the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers.</p> <p><strong>Independents want to grow their businesses</strong></p> <p>One in seven independents plan on building a bigger business, which means that close to 2.5 million independent workers will launch businesses that will create additional traditional jobs and ignite even greater economic activity.</p> <p><strong>Independents are feeling less burdened</strong></p> <p>As it becomes more conventional to have an independent work style, independents are finding more tools and solutions to overcome challenges they face. Concerns over retirement, project pipelines, benefits, self-marketing and job security all fell slightly from the 2011 base year.</p> <p><strong>Independents are happy in their work</strong></p> <p>Job satisfaction remains strong among independent workers, with 64% reporting that they are highly satisfied with their work style. Most plan to continue as independent workers, with 77% saying they will either continue as &ldquo;solopreneurs&rdquo; (63%) or grow a larger business (14%).</p> <p>These independents &ndash; representative of all ages, professions, educational levels and geography &ndash; are part of a workforce that&rsquo;s predicted to grow to 24 million workers by 2018. Will you be a part of it?</p> <p>If you&rsquo;re thinking about starting your own small business, <a href="" title="link to resources to start a business">check out our resources</a> to get you started. SBA is here to help you succeed &ndash; so let us know how we can do just that.</p> <p><strong>Related Resources</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title=" The Early Years of Entrepreneurship: A Step-by-Step Approach to Surviving and Thriving blog post">The Early Years of Entrepreneurship: A Step-by-Step Approach to Surviving and Thriving</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters Managing Starting Thu, 16 Jan 2014 11:34:01 +0000 kmurray 789131 at SBA’s Mentor-Protégé Program <p>Is your small business part of SBA&rsquo;s <a href="" title="link to 8(a) Business Development Program page">8(a) Business Development Program</a>? Have you considered entering the <a href="" title="link to Mentor-Protégé Program page">Mentor-Prot&eacute;g&eacute; Program</a> to develop your business and compete more successfully for federal government contracts? As either the mentor or the prot&eacute;g&eacute;, there&rsquo;s a lot to be gained from participating. Here&rsquo;s how it works and the requirements to participate. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>How does it work? </strong></p> <p>The Mentor-Prot&eacute;g&eacute; Program fosters private-sector relationships between small businesses. It&rsquo;s designed to allow approved small businesses &ndash; as mentors &ndash; to provide various kinds of assistance to their prot&eacute;g&eacute;s, which are other eligible 8(a) participants that are still in the developmental stage of the <a href="" title="link to 8(a) Business Development Program page">8(a) Business Development Program</a>.</p> <p><strong>What are the benefits?</strong></p> <p>The benefits go both ways in this program. As a mentor or prot&eacute;g&eacute;, you&rsquo;ll have the opportunity to learn and grow as a small business and prepare for greater success in the realm of government contracting.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Technical and management assistance</strong>: Prot&eacute;g&eacute;s can benefit from their mentors&rsquo; expertise, resources and capabilities. In passing along this knowledge, mentors can hone their skills and note potential areas for improvement.</li> </ul> <ul> <li> <strong>Prime contracting</strong>: Mentors can enter into joint-venture arrangements with prot&eacute;g&eacute;s to compete for federal contracts so they can sell their products or services to the government.</li> </ul> <ul> <li> <strong>Financial assistance in the form of equity or loans</strong>: Mentors can own equity interest of up to 40% in prot&eacute;g&eacute; firms to help them raise capital.</li> </ul> <ul> <li> <strong>Qualification for other SBA programs</strong>: Prot&eacute;g&eacute;s can obtain other forms of SBA assistance as the result of good standing in the Mentor-Prot&eacute;g&eacute; program.</li> </ul> <p>The Mentor-Prot&eacute;g&eacute; Program also expands SBA&rsquo;s efforts to identify and respond to the developmental needs of 8(a) clients.</p> <p><strong>What are the prot&eacute;g&eacute; requirements?</strong></p> <p>To participate in the program, prot&eacute;g&eacute;s must:</p> <ul> <li> Be in the developmental stage of the 8(a) Business Development program</li> <li> Have never received an 8(a) contract</li> <li> Be less than half the size standard for a small business based on its primary SIC code</li> <li> Be in good standing in the 8(a) Business Development program and current with all reporting requirements</li> </ul> <p>Prot&eacute;g&eacute;s can only have one mentor at a time.</p> <p><strong>What are the mentor requirements?</strong></p> <p>To participate in the program, mentors can be a business that have graduated from the 8(a) Business Development program, in the transitional stage of the program, or a small or large business. Mentor businesses must also:</p> <ul> <li> Have favorable financial health, including profitability for at least the last two years</li> <li> Be a federal contractor in good standing</li> <li> Be able to provide valuable support to a prot&eacute;g&eacute; through lessons learned and practical experience gained from the 8(a) BD program (or through general knowledge of government contracting)</li> <li> Make at least a yearlong commitment to the prot&eacute;g&eacute;</li> </ul> <p>A mentor will usually have one prot&eacute;g&eacute; at a time, but may have more with SBA authorization.</p> <p>Want to learn more or apply? Contact your <a href="" title="link to district office page">district office</a> to apply for the Mentor-Prot&eacute;g&eacute; Program, or call (800) 827-5722 with any questions.</p> <p>Related Resources</p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="link to 8(a) Business Development Program page">8(a) Business Development Program</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters Government Contracting Mentoring and Training Mon, 13 Jan 2014 12:52:26 +0000 kmurray 786741 at Tips for Young Entrepreneurs During National Mentoring Month <p>As a young entrepreneur, you may be looking for advice or guidance as you consider starting your own business. A great place to turn? A mentor.</p> <p>And January is National Mentoring Month. Every year, this month highlights the positive role that mentors have in helping shape the success of young people &ndash; from the classroom to the working world. Read on for more about why and how to get started with a mentor.</p> <p><strong>Why should I have a mentor?</strong></p> <p>According to the <a href="" title="link to Startup Genome Report">Startup Genome Report</a>, statistics show that entrepreneurs and startups are more likely to succeed with the help of an effective mentor. That may not come as a surprise &ndash; a mentor brings with him or her a wealth of knowledge, experience and insight that you won&rsquo;t find anywhere else.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>An insider perspective</strong></li> </ul> <p style="margin-left:.5in;">Aside from the &ldquo;been there, done that&rdquo; know-how a mentor can pass along, consulting with one can be a great way to gain a fresh perspective and broaden your outlook. Especially if you&rsquo;ve been developing your ideas solo, having a sounding board in a business mentor can offer a sanity check or an outlet to help focus your ideas.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>A sophisticated skillset</strong></li> </ul> <p style="margin-left:.5in;">If you feel that you&rsquo;re struggling with a particular task as you&rsquo;re trying to start your business, a mentor can help. From accounting to technology, many mentors have a particular area of advanced skills. So as you gain high-level industry insight, you can also further your technical abilities essential to your future business.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>A vast network</strong></li> </ul> <p style="margin-left:.5in;">With years of experience, a mentor likely has an enviable network of industry connections. The importance of networking can&rsquo;t be understated, so expanding your network with the help of a mentor can be a great way to meet potential partners, customers and decision-makers in your target market. A personal introduction can strengthen that new tie when compared to meeting someone randomly at an event.</p> <p><strong>How can I find a mentor?</strong></p> <p>Two great options to consider for mentorship are <a href="" title="link to SCORE description">SCORE</a> and <a href="" title="link to Small Business Development Center description">Small Business Development Centers</a>.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>SCORE</strong></li> </ul> <p>Sponsored by SBA, <a href="" title="link to SCORE site">SCORE</a> is a nonprofit network of retired business executives, leaders and volunteers who provide free and confidential counseling, mentoring and advice. It has more than 358 chapters with 13,000 + volunteers who share their expertise through<a href="" title="link to SCORE chapters map"> in-person</a> and <a href="" title="link to SCORE online mentoring">online mentoring</a>.</p> <p>SCORE counselors often have a specific area of expertise for all stages of business. While your primary counselor will be your main point of contact, he or she can help identify and introduce you to other specialists &ndash; from accounting and marketing to management and technology.</p> <p>In addition, the <a href="" title="link to SCORE website">SCORE website</a> is chockfull of great resources, including <a href="" title="link to SCORE templates and tools">how-to guides and tools</a>, <a href="" title="link to SCORE online workshops">online workshops</a> and more. You&rsquo;ll also find a listing of its local branches that operate in-person workshops.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Small Business Development Centers</strong></li> </ul> <p>Also sponsored by the SBA, <a href="" title="link to Small Business Development Centers page">Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)</a> are partnerships primarily between the government and colleges or universities that provide educational services to small business owners and entrepreneurs at any stage of the business process. They offer technical assistance through confidential one-on-one counseling, training seminars, assistance with SBA loans, business plan guidance and more.</p> <p>Find your <a href="" title="link to Small Business Development Centers page">nearest SBDC</a>.</p> <p>So if you&rsquo;re getting started with ideas to start your own business and are looking for some guidance, consider reaching out to a business mentor to help you succeed.</p> <p><strong>Additional Resources</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="link to 8 Things you Can Do to Be Taken Seriously as a Young Entrepreneur blog post">8 Things you Can Do to Be Taken Seriously as a Young Entrepreneur</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="How to avoid the pitfalls of being a young entrepreneur">6 Tips for Avoiding the Common Financial Pitfalls of Being a Young Entrepreneur</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="Tips for Borrowing Startup Funds from Friends or Family">6 Tips for Borrowing Startup Funds from Friends or Family</a>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</li> </ul> Small Business Matters Mentoring and Training Starting Wed, 08 Jan 2014 13:31:47 +0000 kmurray 785481 at New Year, New Hires – Growing Your Business With New Employees <p>If the new year could mean new hires for your small business, there&rsquo;s a lot to think about. Here&rsquo;s some insight to consider from experts interviewed for SBA&rsquo;s Learning Center Series, &ldquo;<a href="" title="link to Learning Center video series">Strategies for Growth</a>.&rdquo; They&rsquo;ve shared some lessons they&rsquo;ve learned that can help you develop a plan for expanding your team.</p> <p><strong>Short and sweet job descriptions</strong></p> <p><a href="" title="link to video">Casey Wilson</a>, Retail Industry Manager, Maryland Small Business Development Center, asserts the importance of a clear, well written job description: &ldquo;The position needs to be well defined in how it will contribute to the business&rsquo;s growth and success. It doesn&rsquo;t have to be complicated, but direct and to the point with the main responsibilities for the person.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Communicate your vision and mission</strong></p> <p>Wilson also stresses the important of being able to clearly communicate your company&rsquo;s vision statement &ndash; and mission statement, which is how you&rsquo;ll accomplish that vision. Be able to &ldquo;explain your reason for being&rdquo; in a 30-second elevator pitch in an interview.</p> <p>By clearly communicating &ldquo;who&rdquo; your company is and how you accomplish your goals, you&rsquo;ll have a better idea during the interview process if a potential hire will be a good fit in contributing to your business&rsquo;s success.</p> <p><strong>Incentivize current employees</strong></p> <p>Your current employees may be a great resource for new hires. Some business owners, like <a href="" title="link to video">Jeanna Sellmeyer</a> of ASSET Group, Inc., offer cash incentives to employees who refer qualified candidates. If those candidates become part of the team and stick around for a certain amount of time &ndash; usually a year &ndash; that referring employee gets a little something extra in the next payroll.</p> <p>Your employees can help bring in talent on par with your standards; after all, they don&rsquo;t want to compromise their own jobs. Making it financially work their while to help grow the company can help keep your employees motivated and give you confidence that you&rsquo;ll have promising prospects.</p> <p><strong>Clients can help </strong></p> <p><a href="" title="link to video">Mary Tappouni</a> of Breaking Ground Contracting has said that clients can be a great source of advice on personnel decisions. Customers that her company has had for years have become friends, and she values how they can look at potential hires not only as someone who might be a good fit for the company, but also as someone they&rsquo;d want to do business with.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s important that as the company grows, Tappouni says, clients feel comfortable that the people you&rsquo;re hiring will take care of them with the same level of quality that&rsquo;s always existed in the business relationship.</p> <p>So, involve some of these trusted clients in the interview process and gather feedback as you move forward with making a decision.</p> <p><strong>Additional Resources</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="Steps to Hiring your First Employee">Steps to Hiring your First Employee</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="4 Interview Questions that get to the Heart of a Candidate's Potential">4 Interview Questions That Get to the Heart of a Candidate&rsquo;s Potential</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters Managing Thu, 02 Jan 2014 12:18:26 +0000 kmurray 783931 at Cybersecurity Essentials for Small Businesses <p>You may be hearing the term &ldquo;cybersecurity&rdquo; more frequently these days and wondering how it applies to your small business &ndash; if at all. It does. Cyber threats are an issue for everyone, and small businesses are becoming more common targets for such threats and crimes because they often have fewer preventative or responsive resources. So, what do you need to know? Here are some essentials as featured in <a href="" title="link to online training">one of our latest online trainings</a>.</p> <p><strong>What is cybersecurity?</strong></p> <p>With the help of technology and best practices, cybersecurity is the effort to protect computers, programs, networks and data from attack and damage.</p> <p><strong>Why is cybersecurity so important? </strong></p> <p>Consider all the information you have that needs to be secure:</p> <ul> <li> Personal information for employees</li> <li> Partner information</li> <li> Sensitive information for customers/clients</li> <li> Financial and sensitive business information</li> </ul> <p>It&rsquo;s essential to do your part to keep these details safe and out of the hands of those who could use your data to compromise you, your employees and the foundation of your small business. Think it can&rsquo;t happen to you? Think again:</p> <ul> <li> CNN <a href="" title="link to CNN report">reports</a> nearly half of the data breaches that Verizon recorded in 2012 took place in companies with less than 1,000 employees.</li> <li> A Symantec <a href="" title="link to Symanec report">report</a> showed that 31% of all attacks in 2012 happened to businesses that had less than 250 employees.</li> <li> A different Symantec <a href="" title="link to Symantec report">report</a> showed cyber attacks were up 81% in 2011.</li> </ul> <p><strong>What are common cyber threats and crimes?</strong></p> <p>There&rsquo;s a broad range of information security threats. Some of the most common include website tampering, data theft, denial-of-service attacks and malicious code and viruses.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Website tampering</strong>: Website tampering can take many forms, including defacing your website, hacking your system and compromising webpages to allow invisible code that will try to download spyware onto your device.</li> <li> <strong>Data theft</strong>: Data theft can come in various forms, and the problems that come with it depend on what kind of data is stolen. Some examples include: <ul style="list-style-type:circle;"> <li> Theft of computer files</li> <li> Theft of laptops, computers and devices</li> <li> Interception of emails</li> <li> Identity theft</li> </ul> </li> <li> <strong>Denial-of-service attacks</strong>: A denial-of-service attack happens on a computer or website and locks the computer and/or crashes the system with which you&rsquo;re working. This results in stopped or slowed workflow and prevents communication. The ultimate goal of this kind of attack is to prevent you from conducting business with your internet-connected systems.</li> <li> <strong>Malicious code and viruses</strong>: These threats are sent over the internet and aim to find and send your files; find and delete critical data; or lock your computer or system. They can hide in programs or documents and make copies of themselves &ndash; all without your knowledge.</li> </ul> <p><strong>What can I do to protect my business?&nbsp; </strong></p> <p>The first step to protecting the information in your business is to establish comprehensive security policies &ndash; and keep them up to date. Make sure your employees know <em>and</em> adhere to your policies and best practices for internet, email and the desktop. Here are just a few to keep in mind:</p> <ul> <li> Don&rsquo;t respond to popup windows telling you to download drives</li> <li> Don&rsquo;t allow websites to install software on your device</li> <li> Don&rsquo;t reply to unsolicited emails</li> <li> Use screen locks and shut off your computer at the end of the day</li> </ul> <p>Ensure that your computer hardware and software are updated regularly on all devices throughout the company. Change passwords periodically and use firewalls to protect your systems. You should also consider backing up your data on a regular basis so that if anything is compromised, you have a copy.</p> <p>Want to learn more about how to help make your business more cyber secure? Check out our self-paced <a href="" title="link to online cybersecurity course">online training course, &ldquo;Cybersecurity for Small Businesses,&rdquo;</a> which features more tips and additional resources to help you along the way.</p> <p><strong>Related articles:</strong></p> <p><a href="" title="link to Do Small Businesses Need to Worry About Cyber Security blog post">Do Small Businesses Need to Worry About Cyber Security?</a></p> Small Business Matters Managing Mentoring and Training Mon, 23 Dec 2013 13:17:21 +0000 kmurray 782501 at Government Contracting – Resources to Help You Succeed <p>If you&rsquo;re just getting started in the world of government contracting, you&rsquo;re not alone if you&rsquo;re feeling a bit overwhelmed! Entering the federal marketplace is one unlike any other &ndash; but there are specialized resources to help you succeed. A great one to take advantage of is a Procurement Technical Assistance Center.</p> <p><strong>Procurement Technical Assistance Centers</strong></p> <p>Administered by the <a href="" title="Defense Logistics Agency link">Defense Logistics Agency</a>, <a href="" title="link to Procurement Technical Assistance Centers website">Procurement Technical Assistance Centers</a> (PTACs) provide local, in-person counseling and training services to businesses that want to sell products and services to federal, state and/or local governments.</p> <p>PTACs are hosted by organizations such as universities and local chambers of commerce, and the training and assistance they provide is usually free. Located in 49 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam, their expertise can help you&hellip;</p> <p><strong>Determine if your business is ready for government contracting</strong><br /> Pursuing government contracts can be challenging, especially if you&rsquo;re unfamiliar with the particulars of the landscape. If you don&rsquo;t have the resources to handle a contract, you may find that you&rsquo;re in over your head. A PTAC representative can sit with you one-on-one and determine if your business is ready, and help position you for success.</p> <p><strong>Register in the proper places</strong><br /> There are numerous databases to register with to get involved with the government marketplace, including <a href="" title="System for Award Management link">the System for Award Management (SAM)</a>, <a href="" title="GSA Schedules">GSA Schedules</a> and other government vendor sites. A PTAC representative can help you sort through the databases, provide insight about where you need to register and provide guidance about how to proceed with the registration process.</p> <p><strong>See if you are eligible in any small business certifications</strong><br /> Some government contracts are set aside for certain businesses with special certifications, such as <a href="" title="woman-owned businesses link">woman-owned</a>, <a href="" title="small disadvantaged businesses link">small disadvantaged businesses</a> and <a href="" title="HUBZone link">HUBZone</a>. A PTAC representative can help you determine if you&rsquo;re eligible for any and then let you know how to obtain these certifications.</p> <p><strong>Research past contract opportunities</strong><br /> A PTAC representative can look into past contracts to see what types of contracts have been awarded to businesses like yours. In addition, a PTAC can help you identify and bid on a contract, and if you are awarded the contract, measure your performance and help with contract audits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PTACs offer a wealth of information, experience and insight into government contracting, so <a href="" title="link to find nearest Procurement Technical Assistance Center">find your nearest one</a> today so you can make the government your business&rsquo; next customer! For additional information, you can also check out the site for the <a href="" title="link to Association of Procurement Technical Assistance site">Association of Procurement Technical Assistance</a>.</p> Small Business Matters Government Contracting Thu, 12 Dec 2013 11:34:10 +0000 kmurray 776741 at 5 Ways to Market Your Business for the Holiday Season <p>The holiday season is quickly approaching, and the time is now to make sure you get the most of your marketing efforts to help secure sales success in the coming months. Here are a few budget-friendly ideas to help get you started.</p> <p><strong>Social Media Contests</strong></p> <p>If your small business has a social media presence, contests on Facebook and Twitter are often a popular way highlight your brand and engage with customers, reminding them that your product or service is available &ndash; and a potentially great gift idea. With a few rules, a clever hashtag and incentive such as a prize or discount on your offerings, you can drum up excitement about &ndash; and draw people in to &ndash; your business.</p> <p><strong>Extra Appeal for Your Loyal Customers</strong></p> <p>Take this time to make your loyal customers feel extra special &ndash; it may come back to you by way of additional business and referrals. Without breaking the bank, you can provide special offers, sneak previews, free shipping or secret sales.</p> <p><strong>Special Events or Open Houses</strong></p> <p>Make your small business stand out by hosting an open house or special event at your store or restaurant. Use it to showcase holiday season gifts, menus and merchandise so customers can get a glimpse of your seasonal goods in advance. Pair the browsing with light refreshments &ndash; a mug of hot cocoa or a glass of cider &ndash; to get people in the holiday spirit. On their way out, give a special offer or coupon that invites customers back to make their purchases at a discount.</p> <p><strong>Holiday Help</strong></p> <p>This is a great idea from Illana Bercovitz at <a href="" title="link to Small Business Trends article">Small Business Trends</a>: use social media to offer helpful tips during a stressful holiday season. Consider your industry, product or service and related advice you could offer to make customers&rsquo; lives easier. &ldquo;Everyone appreciates useful advice and your customers will thank you for pushing content that makes their holidays slightly less stressful,&rdquo; Bercovitz says. Use an original hashtag to maintain brand awareness across platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.</p> <p><strong>Email</strong></p> <p>Although it&rsquo;s often considered overused, email remains inexpensive and easy to implement when it comes to maintaining contact with existing customers. That&rsquo;s a key to remember &ndash; to be effective, email marketing should be used with folks you have already done business with or who have expressed an interest in your business and have requested email from you (otherwise known as permission marketing).</p> <p>Keep these tips in mind if you plan to use email to support your holiday marketing efforts:</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Keep the e-mail short and sweet. </strong>Link directly to the content of interest so you make the process as easy as possible for your customers.</li> <li> <strong>Clearly state the email&rsquo;s intent in the subject line.</strong> For example, &quot;A Special Offer Just for You. Thanks for Your Business in 2013.&rdquo;</li> <li> <strong>Be festive in your design. </strong>Appeal to the sights of the season with a special design for the holidays.</li> <li> <strong>Follow online marketing rules. </strong>Don&#39;t forget that online marketing is regulated, so whatever tactics you employ be sure to follow <a href="" title="link to government guidelines about email marketing">government</a> guidelines that apply to list management, SPAM and other guidelines.</li> </ul> <p>For more great holiday marketing insight, check out this recent post from guest blogger Rieva Lesonsky, &ldquo;<a href="" title="Start Now to Plan Your Holiday Retail Marketing Campaign article">Start Now to Plan Your Holiday Retail Marketing Campaign</a>,&rdquo; and our 2012 <a href="" title="link to holiday marketing web chat">web chat</a> with Caron Beesley.</p> Small Business Matters Marketing Wed, 23 Oct 2013 11:23:37 +0000 kmurray 755186 at 9 Cyber Security Tips for Small Business Owners <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Small businesses are becoming a larger target for criminals seeking to access sensitive data because attackers are well aware that small businesses have limited resources or personnel dedicated to information system security. In an effort to combat cyber-attacks, the Department of Homeland Security established October as <a href="">National Cyber Security Awareness Month</a> to educate the public about cyber security and to prepare the nation in the event of a cyber-incident.</span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Here are 9 cyber security tips for small business owners: </span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>1.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Use the FCC&rsquo;s Small Biz Cyber Planner to create a cyber security plan</strong></span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">The <a href="" style="font-size: 12px;">Small Biz Cyber Planner</a> is valuable for businesses that lack the resources to hire a dedicated staff member to protect themselves from cyber threats. The tool walks users through a series of questions to determine which cyber security strategies should be included in the planning guide, and generates a customized PDF that serves as a cyber-security strategy template.</span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>2.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Establish cyber security rules for&nbsp; your employees</strong></span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Establish rules of behavior describing how to handle and protect personally identifiable information.&nbsp; Clearly detail the penalties for violating cyber security policies.</span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><em><strong>3.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong></em><strong>Protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious code</strong><br /> Install, use, and regularly update antivirus and antispyware software on every computer used in your business. Such software is readily available online from a variety of vendors. </span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>4.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Educate employees about safe social media practices</strong></span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Depending on what your business does, employees might be introducing competitors to sensitive details about your firm&rsquo;s internal business. Employees should be taught how to post online in a way that does not reveal any trade secrets to the public or competing businesses. This type of safe social networking can help avoid serious risks to your business.</span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>5.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Manage and assess risk</strong></span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Ask yourself, &ldquo;What do we have to protect? And, what would impact our business the most?&rdquo; Cyber-criminals often use lesser-protected small businesses as a bridge to attack larger firms with which they have a relationship. This can make unprepared small firms a less attractive business partner in the future, blocking potentially lucrative business deals.</span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><em><strong>6.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong></em><strong>Download and install software updates when they are available</strong><br /> All software vendors regularly provide patches and updates to their products to correct security problems and improve functionality. Configure all software to install such updates automatically.</span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>7.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong><strong>Make backup copies of important business data and information</strong><br /> Regularly backup the data on every computer used in your business. Critical data includes word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files, and accounts receivable/payable files. Backup data automatically if possible, or at least weekly.</span></span><br /> &nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><em style="font-size: 12px;"><strong>8.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong></em><strong style="font-size: 12px;">Control physical access to computers and network components</strong></span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft, so make sure they are stored and locked up when unattended.</span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><em style="font-size: 12px;"><strong>9.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong></em><strong style="font-size: 12px;">Secure Wi-Fi networks</strong></span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">If you have a Wi-Fi network for your home business make sure it is secure and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, configure your wireless access point or router so that it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID).&nbsp; In addition, make sure that passwords are required for access. It is also critical to change the administrative password that was on the device when it was first purchased.</span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Click <a href="" style="font-size: 12px;">here</a> for a list of cyber security events and webinars.&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><em style="font-size: 12px;">Source:&nbsp;</em><a href="" style="font-size: 12px;" title="FCC PDF"><em>FCC&#39;s Cyber Security Tips for Small Business</em></a></span></span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong style="font-family: arial, helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;"><em>Other Related Resources</em></strong></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><a href="" style="font-size: 12px;"><em>Federal Communications Commission &ndash; Cyber Security for Small Business</em></a></span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><a href=""><em>Learn more about National Cyber Security Awareness Month</em></a></span></span></p> <p><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><a href=""><em></em></a><em>- Federal government&rsquo;s website to help protect you online</em></span></span></p> <p align="center">&nbsp;</p> <p align="center">&nbsp;</p> Small Business Matters SBA News and Views Fri, 18 Oct 2013 00:02:01 +0000 ngoriel 754840 at Over 50 and Ready to Start a Business? Free Resources To Inspire You to Make it Happen <p>Over 50 and thinking of starting your own business? Looking for real-world, actionable information to start your own business?<img alt="Image of encore entrepreneurs" height="172" src="/sites/default/files/images/Untitled(1).png" style="float: right;" title="Image of encore entrepreneurs" width="442" /></p> <p>Entrepreneurs over the age of 50 are one of the fastest growing groups of new business owners. Perhaps you are looking to turn a hobby into a business and finally have the resources to do so. Or you want the flexibility or supplemental income that running a business or being your own boss affords. With a lifetime of experience, skills and connections under your belt, why not?</p> <p><strong>Making it Happen</strong></p> <p>Take, for example, Portland-based husband-and-wife team Dave Faul and Sandra Yates, who started <a href="" title="link to Wash n’ Roll Pet Grooming site">Wash n&rsquo; Roll Pet Grooming</a> business after more than 25 years of employment in the women&rsquo;s apparel and real estate industries respectively. Both Faul and Yates were animal lovers, but when Faul suggested that they start a business washing dogs and cats in a van parked a client&rsquo;s curbs, Yates said, &ldquo;Thinking he was nuts was an understatement.&rdquo; However, after three years in business, Wash n&rsquo; Roll has expanded to two vans and serves the entire Portland metropolitan area.</p> <p>Faul began research for a new business when he realized his job could evaporate in a corporate merger&nbsp;or store closure. He learned that the U.S. has a $30 billion pet industry. He also looked at&nbsp;who spends a lot of those dollars. &ldquo;The baby boomers, whose children are getting older or who are&nbsp;empty-nesters, are willing to spend money on keeping their fur kids happy,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>Sounds a common enough business venture, but mobile pet groomers weren&rsquo;t prevalent in the Northwest at the time. Faul attended a pet grooming school in Albany for six months, and Yates wrote a business plan.</p> <p>In need of funding, they approached local&nbsp;bankers who said the business had to operate for two or three years before they could get a business loan; instead, the couple paid their own startup costs. They also received assistance from <a href="" title="link to SCORE site">SCORE</a>. SCORE members volunteer as counselors for small entrepreneurs. &ldquo;They were&nbsp;really helpful,&rdquo; Yates said, &ldquo;and it was surprising that it was all free.&rdquo;</p> <p>Growing mostly by word of mouth, the business now has three part-time and three full-time&nbsp;employees.</p> <p><strong>More Nuggets of Wisdom</strong></p> <p>Other entrepreneurs who have found success at 50+ talked to <a href="" title="link to AARP site">AARP</a> and offered the following useful tips for aspiring encore entrepreneurs:</p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;">&quot;<em>Find a business mentor. I went to&nbsp;</em><em>SCORE</em><em>. Having a good mentor helps you cut through the BS. They will tell you like it is. Do you have a good idea? Will your concept work? Once you&#39;re 50, you don&#39;t want to waste your time</em>.&quot; <strong>Annemarie du LeBohn, 51, launched a motivational speaking business after a former career in corporate marketing.</strong></p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;"><em>&quot;Develop your team, people who will help you take your business where you want it to go. For me, it&#39;s my business coach, website support and others. Take the risk and have fun. Unlike during my younger years when I wanted to prove myself and was driven to &#39;be successful,&#39; this time around it&#39;s about leaving a legacy and pursuing dreams. It&#39;s about incorporating my business and retirement goals with my personal values.&quot; </em><strong>Barbara Hyatte Boustead, 61, a licensed clinical social worker for 37 years, runs&nbsp;</strong><a href=";Larger_Image=More+Info"><strong>Mary&#39;s Daughter</strong></a><strong>&nbsp;to provide daily money management services to older adults and veterans.</strong></p> <p style="margin-left:.5in;">&quot;<em>Know your product and know how to sell it. If you are familiar with the saying, &#39;selling ice to Eskimos,&#39; you will be aware of the necessity as an entrepreneur to develop good salesmanship. You must develop the ability to sell, or better put, to convince people to buy. Also, think carefully about how to market your product, and be 100-percent confident about the merit of your product or service. My long career in the arts taught me one important lesson: if the main door is shut, look for the side or back door. They always exist and are much less guarded</em>.&quot; <strong>Yuval Zaliouk, 74, a former orchestral conductor, who at age 50, (while still conducting) started </strong><a href="" title="link to Almondina Cookies site"><strong>Almondina Cookies</strong></a><strong>, an online cookie business.</strong></p> <p><strong>Inspired? &ndash; Free Resources that Can Help You Start your Encore Business</strong></p> <p>Check out SBA&rsquo;s <a href="" title="link to Encore Entrepreneurs section">50+ Entrepreneurs</a> web guide for tools, resources and training that can help you assess your readiness to get started and walk you through the steps involved in starting a business &ndash; including connecting you with a free mentor, finding the right business type (home-based, online, etc.), as well as the legal and regulatory steps involved such as incorporating your business, getting the right permits and so on.</p> Small Business Matters Starting Wed, 25 Sep 2013 11:36:47 +0000 Caron_Beesley 754109 at Leaving Military Life for Entrepreneurship – 5 Essential Resources That Can Help <p>More than 250,000 service members transition each year from the military to civilian life. These men and women are proven leaders and they have the skills and experience needed to be outstanding business leaders. And the figures prove it &ndash; one in seven veterans are self-employed or small business owners, and about one quarter of veterans say they are interested in starting or buying their own business.&nbsp;</p> <p>If this sounds like you, there are a number of exciting resources and programs that can help you start and grow your business.</p> <p>Here&rsquo;s a round-up of five essential resources that can help you leverage the power of new social media programs to connect with and learn from experts; find a mentor; access discounted resources such as computer equipment and software; benefit from reduced franchise fees; and, of course, get vital training, counseling and help in your community.</p> <ol> <li> <strong>Veterans Business Outreach Centers</strong></li> </ol> <p>Funded primarily by the SBA as a public-private partnership&nbsp;between the SBA and the Veterans Resource Centers of America, <a href="" title="link to Veteran Business Outreach Centers">Veterans Business Outreach Centers</a> (VBOCs) provide entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling, mentoring and referrals for eligible veterans owning or considering starting a small business. <a href="" title="link to find a Veteran Outreach center">Find a center near you</a>.</p> <ol> <li value="2"> <strong>Veteran Fast Launch Initiative </strong><img alt="" height="169" src="/sites/default/files/images/vet fast launch.png" style="float: right;" title="Veteran Fast Launch Initiative logo" width="263" /></li> </ol> <p>For years, <a href="" title="link to SCORE website">SCORE</a> has provided free mentoring services to small business owners. But in 2011, it launched its <a href="" title="link to Veteran Fast Launch Initiative">Veteran Fast Launch Initiative</a> in partnership with the Wal-Mart Foundation. The initiative provides veterans and active duty military members (and their spouses) with free or significantly discounted resources for starting businesses, such as computer software and business services (provided by major corporate partners such as Microsoft, Cisco, Constant Contact and others). Participants also get access to training in how to start and how to grow a successful/profitable business and are assigned a knowledgeable and highly experienced mentor to guide them every step of the way.</p> <ol> <li value="3"> <strong>VetNet by Google</strong></li> </ol> <p>Powered by Google+, <a href="" title="link to VetNet">VetNet</a> is designed to provide a full spectrum of business resources and connect veterans who are re-entering the working life or looking to start a business. VetNet partners include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce&rsquo;s&nbsp;<a href="" title="link to Hiring Our Heroes program">Hiring Our Heroes</a>&nbsp;program, the <a href="" title="link to Institute for Veterans and Military Families">Institute for Veterans and Military Families</a>&nbsp;(IVMF) and&nbsp;<a href="" title="link to Hire Heroes USA">Hire Heroes USA</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The program is also targeted at veterans looking for employment opportunities; it also features numerous resources for veteran entrepreneurs including regular online training sessions held via interactive hangouts (Google+ speak for a live video web chat or event).</p> <p>Topics vary &ndash; from how to conduct market research to building your business team and more. Class participants can also attend follow-up forums in Google+ where they can pose any questions they have about previous training sessions and connect with other veterans. Check out all upcoming classes and events <a href="">here</a> (click on &ldquo;Entrepreneur Track&rdquo;). You can also download workbooks and other resources to help you start and grow your business.</p> <p class="rtecenter"><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/pic 2.png" style="width: 336px; height: 240px;" title="screenshot of VetNet website" /></p> <ol> <li value="4"> <strong>SBA&rsquo;s Veteran-Owned Business Guide</strong></li> </ol> <p>&nbsp;SBA&rsquo;s&nbsp;<a href="" title="link to veteran business guide">Veteran and Service-Disabled Veteran Small Business Guide&nbsp;</a>is a one-stop portal with links to programs and resources, financing information, government contracting opportunities and other resources.</p> <p class="rtecenter"><img alt="" height="257" src="/sites/default/files/images/pic 3.png" title="screenshot of SBA’s Veteran-Owned Business Guide" width="305" /></p> <ol> <li value="5"> <strong>VetFran Directory &ndash; Franchising Opportunities for Vets</strong></li> </ol> <p>If&nbsp;you want to be your own boss but are wary of the startup risks, buying a franchise can be an appealing alternative. The&nbsp;International Franchise Association (IFA)&nbsp;estimates that one out of every seven franchises in the U.S.--more than 66,000 businesses in total--is owned and operated by a veteran.</p> <p> For veterans considering buying a franchise, there are added incentives. The <a href="" title="link to VetFran program">VetFran</a> program, started by the International Franchise Association, for example, provides financial incentives to veterans, such as franchise fee that are not available to civilian franchise investors. To date, more than 500 franchise companies participate in the program. A current list of participating companies and the discounts they offer is available on the <a href="">VetFran</a> site.</p> <p><strong>Related Blogs</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="link to 10 Tips for Veteran-Owned Businesses Seeking to Sell to the U.S. Federal Government article">10 Tips for Veteran-Owned Businesses Seeking to Sell to the U.S. Federal Government</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters Starting Wed, 18 Sep 2013 11:36:03 +0000 Caron_Beesley 753702 at 3 Signs That Social Media Might Not Be the Right Fit for Your Small Business <p>Small-business social media use has become a barometer of our times for industry analysts who are eager to gauge the impact the economy and new technologies have on the way small firms do business.</p> <p>And despite a few sluggish years, the latest data suggests that small businesses are turning to social media in droves in an effort to increase sales (source: <a href="" title="link to Forbes">Forbes</a> and <a href="" title="link to Manta">Manta</a>). The problem is, no matter how much time they spend, some small businesses are not reaping rewards.</p> <p>Why is this? The problem is that small businesses are expecting leads and sales, and while social media can definitely be a lead generator, Forbes reports that the expectations that small businesses have of social media is completely out of whack with how they are actually using it. Setting up a social media page, then posting promotions and events and hoping the sales will follow just isn&rsquo;t going to cut it. Social media is not another direct marketing channel; it&rsquo;s a patience game. It&rsquo;s a place to answer customer service questions, to get to know your followers and build community.</p> <p>But the question, &ldquo;What should I be doing on social media?&rdquo; is one that won&rsquo;t go away for small business owners, eager to take advantage of Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. So if you&rsquo;ve ever asked what your business should be doing on social media, take a step back and consider whether it&rsquo;s actually a good fit for your business at this point in time.</p> <p>To help you decide, here are some signs that social media may not be right for your small business:</p> <p><strong>Do you have a website?</strong></p> <p>Do you have a website to act as a hub of information and back up your social media presence? Social media should never be considered the be all and end all of your online presence. If a user can&rsquo;t find out more about who you are or what you sell online, then don&rsquo;t get social. In addition, your website functions as a repository of other content that supports your social media strategy &ndash; blogs, white papers, and ebooks should all be housed on your website and then amplified and shared on social media networks. Your website is also home to lead capture devices that you promote on social media such as your newsletter sign-up page, customer surveys, event registration pages and so on.</p> <p>Bottom line: a website lends your business and your social media presence credibility. Build that first before you get social.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>How are your other marketing activities doing?</strong></p> <p>Think of social media as the outer circle of your marketing efforts (your website is at the core). Between the two, there are a number of marketing must-haves that you should put in place before you get going on social media. Social media may be free, but it only works as part of a wider, integrated marketing strategy.</p> <ul> <li> <strong>Get your logos and brand imagery in order</strong> &ndash; Make sure you have and are happy with your company logo and any other brand imagery that you use and that they are implemented consistently across all your marketing materials. Sounds obvious, but growing small businesses can sometimes go through frequent iterations of their corporate look as they try to establish a brand identity. Google Plus, Facebook and Pinterest are highly visual, so it&rsquo;s important to get it right.</li> <li> <strong>Claim your profile on search listing profiles </strong>&ndash; If you are a local business, claim your listing on Google Plus, Bing, Yahoo, Yellow Pages, etc. When people search for your business or the types of services you offer online, these listings are likely to show up prominently and help you get found. Add basic information to build out your profile.&nbsp; Don&rsquo;t forget to add your personal profile to LinkedIn, too.</li> <li> <strong>Start a newsletter </strong>&ndash; eNewsletters are a great way to connect directly with those who want to hear about your business. You have a captive audience there; your message is delivered to their inbox and allows for a deeper conversation. It&rsquo;s also a useful tool to help you spread the word about your social media presence.</li> </ul> <p><strong>Do you have the staff and resources to support social media?</strong></p> <p>Social media is a commitment that you shouldn&rsquo;t take lightly. It may be free, but if you are going to be successful at it, you need to commit the right resources. Getting online once or twice a day and posting an update isn&rsquo;t enough. If you want social media to work for you as a lead generator, then you&rsquo;ll need to throw some headcount at it &ndash; someone who can write blogs, search and listen to what is being said about your industry, your business and your products or services. Someone who can gauge and track what type of content people are responding to.</p> <p>I mentioned earlier that answering customer service questions is going to be a big part of &nbsp;your social media efforts. This means that whoever is monitoring and posting content needs to be qualified &ndash; they don&rsquo;t need to be a social media whiz, but they should know something about your company, its values, goals and customers.</p> <p>Furthermore, be prepared to involve them in team meetings so they are informed about all elements of the business. In the same vein, make sure that each department &ndash; from sales to billing to product development &shy;&ndash; are aware and engaged with your social media efforts so that they can provide the appropriate responses to issues, learn from feedback and hear what the customers are saying.</p> <p>Social media is not just some throwaway marketing strategy; it&rsquo;s a public face of the company. So be prepared to understand the commitment you are making.</p> <p><strong>Related Articles</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="" title="Don’t Be a Social Media Marketing Skeptic – Learn Where and How to Start article">Don&rsquo;t Be a Social Media Marketing Skeptic &ndash; Learn Where and How to Start</a>.</li> <li> <a href="" title="7 Tips for Getting more from Your Customer E-Newsletter article">7 Tips for Getting more from Your Customer E-Newsletter</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="8 Ways to Strengthen Your Email Marketing Offers and Calls to Action article">8 Ways to Strengthen Your Email Marketing Offers and Calls to Action</a></li> <li> <a href="" title="How to Use Social Media to Do a Better Job of Customer Service article">How to Use Social Media to Do a Better Job of Customer Service</a></li> </ul> Small Business Matters Managing Marketing Mon, 09 Sep 2013 11:21:14 +0000 Caron_Beesley 752931 at Starting a Business? Learn How to Easily Create Your Business Plan <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Are you thinking about starting a business? One of the first things you will need is a business plan.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Business plans are essential in helping entrepreneurs prepare, manage and direct their businesses, however, creating a plan can be intimidating and time consuming. It&rsquo;s also hard to even know where to start.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">As a part of SBA&rsquo;s mission to help small businesses grow and succeed, the agency has created a <a href="" style="font-size: 12px;">Business Plan Tool</a> &nbsp;which helps simplify the process.&nbsp; The tool consists of eight steps which include:</span></p> <p style="margin-left:40.8pt;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">1.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Cover page [Company name, address, phone and logo]</span></p> <p style="margin-left:40.8pt;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">2.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Executive Summary [An introduction to your business]</span></p> <p style="margin-left:40.8pt;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">3.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Company Description [High-level review of your business]</span></p> <p style="margin-left:40.8pt;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">4.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Market Research [Description of your target audience]</span></p> <p style="margin-left:40.8pt;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">5.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Product/Service Line [Description of your product or service]</span></p> <p style="margin-left:40.8pt;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">6.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Marketing and Sales [Your marketing and sales strategies]</span></p> <p style="margin-left:40.8pt;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">7.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Financial Projections [How your business will meet financial obligations. The plan includes four spreadsheets which allow you to easily plug in your numbers.]</span></p> <p style="margin-left:40.8pt;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">8.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Finish up [Once you have completed steps one-seven, you can print your plan in either a Word or PDF document.]</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">To get started, create an account or log into <a href="" style="font-size: 12px;"></a>.&nbsp; Once logged in, you can easily move through the step by step process of inputting your information into the sectioned templates.&nbsp; You also can move at your own pace through each section, save your work, and email the plan.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">After you completed your business plan, <a href="" style="font-size: 12px;">let us know what you think about the tool</a>. &nbsp;Your feedback is valuable to us.</span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Small Business Matters SBA News and Views Starting Fri, 06 Sep 2013 20:07:07 +0000 anbazemo 752898 at Finding Expert Business Advice & Resources for Hispanic Entrepreneurs <p><a href="" title="link to local assistance"><img alt="" height="237" src="/sites/default/files/images/Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 4_05_01 PM.png" style="float: right;" title="image of local resources map" width="296" /></a>Are you getting ready to launch your business, but in need of some expert guidance? Or could you use some insight about how to manage and grow your existing small business?</p> <p>There are plenty of self-proclaimed professionals out there who will clamor to help you achieve your goals &ndash; but at a cost. So don&rsquo;t get scammed &ndash; rely on SBA&rsquo;s trustworthy resource partners who counsel, mentor and train small business owners and entrepreneurs either for free or at a low cost. And in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month coming up, take note of the resources available that are aimed specifically toward supporting Hispanic business growth.</p> <p><strong>1. Small Business Administration (SBA) District Offices</strong></p> <p>SBA&rsquo;s district offices can be found across the country. They provide free or low-cost advice and counseling on a variety of small business issues, including guidance on SBA loan options, the application process and small-business-friendly banks.</p> <p>Local offices also provide regular in-person and online training and workshops on a variety of topics including government contracting opportunities; disaster preparedness; assistance for veterans and minorities; the SBA loan process and more.</p> <p>And if you&rsquo;re rebuilding your business following a federally declared disaster, there&rsquo;s specialized help available. Through SBA&rsquo;s disaster field offices, you can receive counseling and guidance with the disaster loan assistance process.</p> <p><strong>What Not to Expect</strong>: SBA local offices don&rsquo;t help you process any loan paperwork, because you must work through your bank for an SBA loan. Keep in mind that the SBA itself doesn&#39;t provide direct loans; your lender will submit your loan package to the SBA for approval. SBA offices also don&#39;t provide grants for start-ups or for-profit businesses. <a href="" title="link to loan information">Learn more</a> about the SBA loan process and other financing options.</p> <p>Find your <a href="" title="link to district offices page">SBA District Office</a> now.</p> <p><strong>2. SCORE - Counselors to America&#39;s Small Business</strong></p> <p>The SCORE Association (previously known as Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a nonprofit network of retired business executives, leaders and volunteers who provide free and confidential counseling, mentoring and advice to small business owners nationwide.</p> <p>Sponsored by the SBA, SCORE has more than 358 chapters with 13,000 + volunteers who share their expertise through<a href="" title="link to SCORE chapters map"> in-person</a> and <a href="" title="link to SCORE online mentoring">online mentoring</a>. SCORE counselors often have a specific area of expertise for all stages of business &ndash; whether you&rsquo;re starting, growing or exiting. While your primary counselor will be your main point of contact, he or she can help identify and introduce you to other specialists &ndash; from accounting and marketing to management and technology.</p> <p>In addition, the <a href="" title="link to SCORE website">SCORE website</a> is chockfull of great resources, including <a href="" title="link to SCORE templates and tools">how-to guides and tools</a>, <a href="" title="link to SCORE online workshops">online workshops</a> and more. You&rsquo;ll also find a listing of its local branches that operate in-person workshops.</p> <p><strong>What Not to Expect</strong>: SCORE volunteers don&rsquo;t provide small business financing or legal advice. Depending on the nature of your business concerns, you may be better served by a lawyer.</p> <p>Find <a href="" title="link to SCORE locations map">SCORE locations</a> near you.</p> <p><strong>3. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)</strong></p> <p>Also sponsored by the SBA, <a href="" title="link to Small Business Development Centers page">Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)</a> are partnerships primarily between the government and colleges or universities that provide educational services to small business owners and entrepreneurs. They offer technical assistance through confidential one-on-one counseling, training seminars, assistance with SBA loans, business plan guidance and more.</p> <p>SBDC professionals can help you at any stage of the business process and are attuned to specialized business needs, including those of veterans, women, youth and other minority groups. In addition to free counseling and other low-cost training and services, several SBDCs (funding permitting) also operate resource centers that provide free use of PCs, business software and access to advice from counselors and a library of business publications.</p> <p><strong>What Not to Expect</strong>: As with SCORE, SBDCs don&rsquo;t provide financing or legal advice. (But many SBDCs have local partnerships with legal service providers and law offices that may provide free consultations to SBDC referrals.) In addition, not all of the services SBDCs are free, but may come at a low cost.</p> <p>Find your <a href="" title="link to Small Business Development Centers page">nearest SBDC</a>.</p> <p><strong>4. Additional Resources for Hispanic Entrepreneurs</strong></p> <p><a href="" title="link to The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) site">The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC)</a> actively promotes the economic growth and development of Hispanic entrepreneurs across the country, representing the interests of more 3 million Hispanic-owned businesses nationwide. It can connect you with over 200 local chapters, which help provide technical assistance to Hispanic business associations and entrepreneurs. Find a<a href="" title="link to local Hispanic Chamber information"> local chapter near you</a>.</p> <p>As an agency within the US Department of Commerce, the <a href="" title="link to Minority Business Development Agency site">Minority Business Development Agency</a> provides technical assistance and access to capital, contracting opportunities and markets for small businesses owned and operated by minority populations. With a network of more than 40 <a href="" title="link to Minority Business Development Agency business centers information">business centers</a> and a wide range of domestic and international strategic partners, the MBDA can help you access the resources you need to help your business succeed.</p> Small Business Matters Managing Mentoring and Training Starting Wed, 28 Aug 2013 11:45:49 +0000 kmurray 752090 at Small Business Exporting – Insights from National Small Business Week <p><em>&ldquo;When you &ndash; as a small business &ndash; export, you strengthen our economy back here at home and help create real jobs for real people.&rdquo; &ndash;</em>Cory Simkek, Director, USEAC (Dept. of Commerce) St. Louis, MO<img alt="" height="189" src="/sites/default/files/images/iStock_000020447326Small.jpg" style="float: right;" title="Image of globe" width="289" /></p> <p>This year, small businesses across the country were celebrated during the 50<sup>th</sup> National Small Business Week, an annual event acknowledging the contributions of America&rsquo;s entrepreneurs. Of the many topics discussed during the sessions, expert panels and Google + Hangouts, insights about exporting abounded during the daily &ldquo;Growing and Going Global&rdquo; panels.</p> <p>So, how can you take your business to the next level by selling overseas? What do you need to be successful in exporting? What resources are available to help your small business export endeavors? These experts came together to answer these questions and more. Here are highlights from their discussions.</p> <p><strong>What kind of help can I find &ndash; especially if I&rsquo;m in the early stages of exploring exporting opti</strong><strong>ons for my small business?</strong></p> <p>The value of mentoring and networking can&rsquo;t be overstated. Many of the panelists encouraged aspiring exporters to reach out to their local resources for expert help from <a href="">SCORE</a> and <a href="">Small Business Development Centers</a> (SBDCs). The skilled volunteers at these organizations provide counseling and guidance &ndash; at no cost to you &ndash; to help you get started or guide you in the right direction toward export success. You can use SBA&rsquo;s <a href="">Local Assistance Tool</a> to find your nearest office.</p> <p>Another resource mentioned during the session in Seattle came from Pru Balatero, Washington Regional Manager of SBA International Finance Programs. He&rsquo;s a fan of the <a href="">&ldquo;Take Your Business Global&rdquo; training course</a>, available in the online Learning Center. It can help you generate questions that you may not have previously thought of before you meet with a potential mentor or program representative, he explained.</p> <p>Danielle Ellingston of the Washington Department of Commerce STEP Grant Program touted the benefits of visiting <a href=""></a> and using its &ldquo;<a href="">Country Commercial Guides</a>&rdquo; to help you conduct research. offers information about trade shows, training, finances and more.</p> <p><strong>Are there financial resources or programs available to help my exporting efforts? </strong></p> <p>Yes! SBA has a number of programs to help, and again Balatero gave us the scoop. The <a href="">International Trade Loan Program</a> (ITL) provides small businesses with financing options for a combination of fixed asset, working capital and related debt refinancing. Do you need additional equipment, machinery or improved facilities to meet an order request? The ITL can help.</p> <p>Are you looking for working capital to support labor or to buy raw materials to produce more of your product? The <a href="">Export Working Capital</a> (EWCP) loan can be tailored specifically to a purchase order, contract or multiple contracts on a revolving line of credit basis. It also has a quick processing time.</p> <p>John Brislin, Director of Seattle&rsquo;s Regional Office of Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, also shed some light on products available to help finance and in insure your exports. The Ex-Im Bank website has a <a href="">section devoted to small business owners</a>, so check out the programs and offerings they have, including <em>Global Credit Express </em>(a working capital line of credit) and various trade credit insurance options.</p> <p>These SBA programs can help you access the capital you need to export, and the bank will also help you work through other questions you may have about your finances and exporting. On the St. Louis panel, we heard a few examples. For instance, what are your precise capital and cash flow needs? To what extent is there foreign exchange risk? What happens if things don&rsquo;t go as planned? You can discuss these kinds of issues with your bank to mitigate the credit and foreign exchange risks you&rsquo;ll face as a seller.</p> <p><strong>How can I best prepare for when I use one of these resources? </strong></p> <p><em>&ldquo;What&rsquo;s critical to understand is that when you go to one of these resources &ndash; whether it be a mentor or organizations that have the resources you need to complete that transaction &ndash; is that you be prepared to effectively talk with them.&rdquo;</em> &ndash; Terry Chambers, SBDC, International Trade, Export Readiness Center</p> <p>&ldquo;Do your homework,&rdquo; says Ellingston. Make sure you really know your product or service that you&rsquo;re planning to export. Have an idea of the market you want to go into and make sure to have done research. Get a good sense of where you want to go so your mentors and advisors can help you figure out how to get there.</p> <p>A business plan was another agreed upon essential during the Seattle panel. Brislin also highlighted the importance of providing recent financial information or analysis with your plan. Wondering where to get started with yours? Check out SBA&rsquo;s &ldquo;<a href="">Build Your Business Plan</a>&rdquo; tool, which guides you through the process of creating a basic, downloadable business plan. You can develop your plan in smaller chunks of time, save your progress and return at your leisure.</p> <p><strong>How do I figure out where I should I export my product or service? </strong></p> <p>Ellingston indicated that people generally explore exporting starting with countries they&rsquo;re familiar with, where they have spent time growing up or have family. This is a good place to start, she says, but you should also be aware that there might be other markets that are a better fit for your product. Ask yourself: Where have I been successful already? Where does that market exist elsewhere in terms of GDP per capita, culture of the people, what kinds of products those people are looking for, etc.? Again, check out;s &ldquo;Country Commercial Guides&rdquo; to help you examine your market.</p> <p>Another way you can gain insight about where there may be success &ndash; or where you should maybe <em>avoid</em> exporting &ndash; is by checking out industry association meetings, according to Brislin. And Tony Clayton of Clayton Agri-Marketing, Inc. suggested also attending trade shows. See who&rsquo;s there, what kind of products they&rsquo;re exporting and find out what problems they&rsquo;re facing. With everyone in one place for a few days, he said, it&rsquo;s a great time to learn secrets and gain insight about market interests. &nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Additional Resources:</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="">U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs)</a> &ndash; Your local USEAC is staffed by professionals from the SBA, the Department of Commerce, the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, and other public and private organizations to provide export assistance for your small business.</li> <li> <a href="">6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business&rsquo; Readiness to Export</a></li> <li> <a href="">8 Ways the U.S. Government Can Help You Finance Your Small Business Exports</a></li> <li> <a href="">SBA&rsquo;s Export Express Loans</a> &ndash;&nbsp;This short video describes SBA&rsquo;s Export Express Program, a loan program designed to help small businesses achieve exporting success.</li> </ul> Small Business Matters International Managing Mentoring and Training Wed, 14 Aug 2013 11:37:18 +0000 kmurray 751193 at