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Conozca a Angelique Adjutant, Oficial de Relaciones Públicas en la Oficina de Distrito de Puerto Rico e Islas Vírgenes

By AshleyC
Published: March 7, 2013 Updated: October 28, 2013

Angelique Adjutant, Public Affairs SpecialistCuando un amigo o familiar te pregunta qué haces para ayudar a las pequeñas empresas, ¿qué les dices?

Les digo que soy responsable de fortalecer la presencia de SBA en la comunidad, para que otros puedan realizar sus sueños de independencia económica, de crear empleos y proveer para miles de familias.  La SBA tiene una misión extraordinaria que siempre respaldaré.

 

De todas las cosas que la SBA hace para las pequeñas empresas, ¿cuál es tu favorita?

Tendría que ser la creación de oportunidades. Oportunidades de aprendizaje, mejoramiento, crecimiento y éxito para los pequeños empresarios.

¿Existe una “historia de éxito” de alguna pequeña empresa en particular que te venga a la mente cuando piensas cómo la SBA ayuda a las personas?

Me vienen a la mente muchos empresarios exitosos, y me siento afortunada de haber podido conocerles y contar sus historias.  Pero si tuviera que escoger sólo una, sería la de Jatniel Vázquez, fundador y presidente de Jayvee Air Conditioning en Bayamón, Puerto Rico.  De orígenes humildes, hoy Jatniel es dueño de una exitosa empresa dedicada a sistemas de aire acondicionado industriales y comerciales que genera más de $2 millones en ventas anuales; emplea a más de 15 personas, le paga la carrera de Ingeniería a su hermana, emplea a miembros de su familia y le compró a su madre la casa de sus sueños.  ¡Y todo eso antes de cumplir 30 años!  Jatniel se benefició de los programas de préstamos garantizados de SBA para expandir su negocio y crear empleos.

¿Tienes algún consejo para empresarios y dueños de pequeñas empresas en general?

Empieza pequeño pero siempre piensa en grande.

¿Algo más que desees añadir?

Sí. Como en todo lo demás, la perseverancia es crítica en el alcance de los sueños de cualquier persona. Para citar a Winston Churchill, “nunca te des por vencido, nunca, jamás”.

 

About the Author:

Women Business Owners – How to Get the Start-Up Boost You Need with Accelerator and Mentoring Programs

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 7, 2013

Start-up accelerator programs are popping up all over the country offering industry-focused programs and support for a variety of business owners. Although traditionally focused on high-tech businesses, accelerators now serve a variety of entrepreneurial needs, including those of women, through programs that facilitate mentoring and education, access to investors, and networking opportunities.

Take for example The Women’s Small Business Accelerator of Central Ohio, a nonprofit organization launched last year, with a mission to support women as they launch and grow small and micro businesses. The accelerator, located at 403-409 W. Main Street in Westerville, is just over 6,000 square feet of co-working space divided into four suites, two conference rooms, two kitchens, a creative space, and a training space that accelerator participants can lease at a reduced rate. The accelerator offers approximately 35 office spaces, including private offices and cubicles, available to women-business owners at or below competitive market rates (as low as $225 per month).

To further assist women small business owners, the accelerator offers peer-to-peer support, mentoring, and education (on topics such as writing a business plan with the final goal to secure funding).

The Attraction of Business Accelerators to Start-Ups

A growing segment of the entrepreneurial community, business accelerators clearly offer start-ups many benefits. Yes, the potential access to investors and financing is a huge draw, but for many business owners the attraction comes in the access to mentoring and guidance from a group of experts that incubators or accelerators can provide.

Many of the programs offered are structured and offer a clear path in support of strategic business success. Programs such as The Women’s Small Business Accelerator of Central Ohio typically include educational sessions and interactive monthly roundtables facilitated by small business experts where business owners get to brainstorm real-business challenges and scenarios.

Choosing the Right Accelerators for Your Business

It’s important to screen any potential accelerator. Even though the application process can be quite rigorous, do your due diligence first. Who sponsors the group? Can they really bring experts and investors to the table? Research online and talk to previous participants. Have any of them received the funding they needed? Is the accelerator in the right vertical or industry that matters to your business?

Other Sources of Mentoring and Local Assistance for Women Business Owners

There are several alternatives to business incubator or accelerator programs that women business owners can tap. Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) are one option. Located nationwide, WBCs provide women entrepreneurs with in-person assistance and business counseling programs that can help them start and grow successful businesses. WBCs offer guidance and training on a variety of topics, including business planning and management, marketing, and loan advice.

If you think you need the services of a hands-on expert, take a look at the mentoring and counseling services offered by SCORE. With a network of over 13,000 volunteers (all of whom have business management and ownership experience), SCORE provides free and confidential counseling, mentoring and advice to startups and small business owners nationwide. SCORE mentors can help with specific functional advice such as marketing, accounting, and business planning or overall business guidance.

Additional Resources

For more resources, guides and tools to help women-owned small businesses to start up, operate and grow, check out SBA’s Women-Owned Business Guide.

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Should Former Independent Business Owners Look At Franchise Ownership?

By FranchiseKing, Guest Blogger
Published: March 6, 2013 Updated: September 23, 2016

Sometimes, the best-laid plans don’t pan out.

Take business ownership, for instance. Think about how many businesses are started and closed in the US every year. Not every business makes it. But, every small business owner wants to make it. Why else would someone risk their money, and commit the time and energy needed to be their own boss?

Working For Yourself

I’ve been my own boss since 2001. I call the shots. I decide my marketing budget. I decide how much of a salary I take out of my business. I choose when to take a vacation. I choose my days off. I have total freedom and control.* It is as fantastic as it sounds. I don’t plan on giving it up.

A few years ago, a business attorney referred someone to me who was interested in franchise ownership. I contacted the gentleman, and our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hi, Jack! I’m returning your phone call from yesterday. The message you left on my voicemail said that you were referred to me because you were thinking of looking at franchise opportunities.”

Jack: “Yes, Joel. An attorney friend of mine knows of you, and he told me to call you for information and advice.”

Me: “Great. So, why are you thinking about looking into franchise ownership?”

Jack: “I had a pretty successful business for 10 years, but I recently had to shut it down. It turns out that the CFO I hired messed up the books big time, and I had to liquidate everything. I owned several retail stores. I’m kind of at a crossroads here. I’m hoping that you can help me find a good franchise.”

Me: “I’m sorry to hear that you lost your business. This must be a pretty rough time for you.”

Jack: “It is. I was doing pretty well, too. Put my kids through college, and enjoyed the fruits of my labor. I’d like to find another business. I was thinking about a franchise.”

Me: “Well Jack, I’d be happy to work with you, but here’s my fear: you’ve been an independent small business owner already. You’ve been the guy running the show, right?”

Jack: “Correct. I was the boss. I made the rules. But, I have to tell you; I think that it would be really hard for me to work for someone else…you know, go out and get a job.”

Me: “I totally understand. I can see where you’re coming from.”

Jack: “Yep. No ‘job’ for me, thank you very much.” 

Me: “Well, you do know that if you buy a franchise you’ll have to follow someone else’s system. In franchising, there are a lot of restrictions…a lot of rules, and I’m a bit concerned that some of them may be kind of tough for you to adhere to since you’ve been the one making the rules for the past several years.”

Jack: “Joel, let me share something with you; I’m almost 60 years old. I’m probably not going to be able to find a good job, for what I’d need to be paid. It’s just not realistic. If I were to find a good franchise to own, I really would have no choice but to follow their system. And, I know I could do it, Joel.”

Jack Did It

After our conversation, I was able to spend time on the phone with Jack. He was able to convince me that he would adapt quite well to a franchise business. He spoke from the heart, and I felt that he was really sincere about following someone else’s system.

Jack and I were able to come up with some ideas, and he ended up buying a B2B franchise.* He was even able to get his sons involved, and they eventually took over the business.

It’s a great story, and I’m glad that things worked out for them. But, should all former independent small business owners look into franchise ownership?

My answer is no, and it’s because of the rules.

Transitioning from rule-maker to rule-follower is a tough one. It’s one of those things that sound pretty good on the surface…during the planning stage, but when reality sets in, it may not be a pretty picture.

Independent small business owners that have been around for a while-and that have a reasonable track record of success, know a lot about business. They may have some great ideas…ones that the executive team may not want to hear.

There’s a real potential that egos could collide, and I haven’t seen that many good things come of situations like that.

If you’re a former independent small business owner, and you’re thinking of going the franchise route this time, make sure that you’re really ready to use someone else’s business system.

If you can do that, you may end up like Jack.    

*Non US Government Links

About the Author:

FranchiseKing
Joel Libava

Guest Blogger

The Franchise King®, Joel Libava, is the author of Become a Franchise Owner! and recently launched Franchise Business University.

How Minimum Advertised Pricing Impacts Your Retail or Online Store’s Marketing Efforts

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 6, 2013 Updated: March 6, 2013

If you run an online or retail business, did you know that you might be prohibited from advertising a manufacturer’s products below a certain minimum price?

Minimum advertised pricing (MAP) policies are particularly critical to manufacturers who sell their products for online resale, given the ease at which consumers can now conduct online and mobile price comparisons. MAP policies are also established to help small businesses compete and sell on service and value, rather than entering into a price war with cost-cutting big box stores.

But how legally enforceable are these minimum advertised pricing policies and, as a small business owner, is there a way to get around them in your sales and marketing practices?

The Truth About Minimum Advertised Pricing

Minimum advertised pricing only relates to “advertised” pricing and is perfectly legal under U.S. antitrust statutes. So, essentially, you are limited to advertising MAP-protected products at a certain price, but you can sell these products at any price you choose (often guided by the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price or MSRP).

What Does this Mean for Online Businesses?

Under typical MAP agreements, online retailers can’t “display” any prices that fall below the MAP price. But which part of an online store actually represents advertising display space has caused quite a bit of controversy. For example, say a product is listed on a site for $10. Once a coupon code or other incentive is applied, the actual shopping cart price could come down to $8. Is that still considered “advertising” since a transaction technically hasn’t yet occurred, or is it a commitment to buy and outside the scope of a MAP agreement?

The difference between an advertised price and an actual price that you may be charged has come under scrutiny by U.S. Circuit Courts and FTC rulings, which tend to agree that an actual price displayed in a secure/encrypted shopping cart isn’t subject to MAP – because it’s technically not advertising space, but represents an actual storefront. So in an online world, an actual price may legally end up being a lot lower than the MAP-required advertised price.

In fact, manufacturers are often advised to focus their MAP policies on advertised prices in paid search ads, shopping comparison ads, and internet landing pages but not in shopping carts or other point of sale interfaces.

Look for Alternative Ways to Discount

While it’s not always advisable to lead with price in your marketing efforts, look for other ways to attract customers without breaking any MAP agreements. For example, many manufacturers are okay with your offering free shipping, coupon codes, or a “buy-one-get-one at a discount,” if MAP doesn’t protect that other item. Essentially, as long as the dollar value of the MAP-protected product isn’t reduced, then you are okay. Be careful with coupon codes. It’s safer to advertise the coupon—not the product that it can be applied against—so as not to imply that you are advertising the MAP item at a reduced price. Instead, be clear about what items are excluded from any coupon code promotion.

The Bottom Line

If you are unsure about how your online advertising and marketing practices may border on breaking any MAP agreement you have with a manufacturer, talk to them or consult a legal attorney. Manufacturers do monitor their dealers for potential violations and the law is constantly in flux on this one, so do your due diligence.

For more information about the legality of MAP policies, check out the Federal Trade Commission Guide to Antitrust Laws.

 

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Meet Angelique Adjutant, Public Affairs Specialist in Puerto Rico and USVI District Office

By AshleyC
Published: March 5, 2013 Updated: March 5, 2013

When a friend or family member asks what you do to help small businesses, what do you say?

I say that I am responsible for reinforcing SBA’s presence in the community, so that others may realize their dreams of financial independence, of starting a business of their own, of creating jobs and providing for thousands of families. The SBA has the most extraordinary mission – one I will always support.Angeique

 

What’s your favorite thing about what the SBA does for small businesses?

It would have to be the creation of opportunities. Opportunities for small business entrepreneurs to learn, improve, grow and succeed.

Is there a particular small business “success story” that comes to mind when you think about how the SBA helps people?

There are many successful small business owners that come to mind, and I am grateful to have been able to meet them and tell their stories.  But if I had to choose only one, it would have to be Jatniel Vázquez, founder and president of Jayvee Air Conditioning in Bayamón, Puerto Rico.  From very humble beginnings, today Jatniel owns a successful enterprise engaged in industrial and commercial air conditioning systems, generating more than $2 million in annual revenues; he employs over 15 people, provides for his younger sister’s education in Engineering, employs his family, and bought his mother the house of her dreams.  And all this before turning 30! Jatniel took advantage of SBA loan programs to expand his business and create jobs.

Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs and small business owners out there?

Start small but always think big.

Anything else to add?

Yes. As with anything else, perseverance is critical to achieving one’s dreams. To quote Winston Churchill, “never, ever, ever, ever give up”.

About the Author:

Buying a Small Business Overseas – 5 Tips for a Smooth Transaction

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 4, 2013

Interested in buying a business overseas? Whether you’re looking to expand into new markets or are just planning on funding your retirement plans outside the U.S., there are a number of steps you should take to ensure your new venture goes smoothly. Everything from business practices; legal and regulatory requirements; navigating an international sale deal; and language and cultural differences will come into play.  

Here are some considerations and issues to bear in mind as you go about buying a business in a foreign country.

Language

If English isn’t the first language in the country where you intend to buy a business, then learning the local language should be your first priority. If you can’t do this, then you will need to think long and hard about your motivation and determination for going the distance in this new territory.

Measure the Risks to Your Capital Investment

No matter how much capital you have, to lessen the risk, be sure to factor in the many variables that come from buying and running a business. Factor in cost overruns, delays getting started and unforeseen expenses. For example, don’t always assume that cheap labor is always going to be quality labor—you get what you pay for. You’ll also incur many of the employment expenses you incur in the U.S. such as benefits, taxes, sick leave, and social security.

Work with an Expert

As with any overseas venture, one of the most important things you can do when buying a business abroad is to consult an expert. Accountants, lawyers, tax attorneys, and real estate brokers, can all help you succeed with your cross-border purchase. To ensure the best representation, work with experts who have experience in the location and industry in which you are buying a business. But you’ll also need to find in-country experts who are familiar with business and regulatory matters in the country you intend to buy a business.

Do Your Research About Cross-Border Deals

It goes without saying that any business venture requires research, so here are some issues you should bear in mind:

  • Laws and Regulations – Legal and tax regulations overseas can be even more complicated than in the U.S. for business owners. Licenses and permits, for example, can take several months if not years to be granted. You’ll also need to understand how the country handles expatriation of taxes on profits on foreign business owners. Much of this information can be found online, but for more information, reach out to local in-country small business organizations, business leaders and chambers of commerce.
  • Understand the Buying Process – As you seek advice, be sure to ask about the negotiation and valuation process involved in buying a business. What’s included in the sale? You don’t want to be left with a hollow shell of a business when you thought you were getting furniture and fixtures too.
  • Pay Heed to the Competition – As an outsider, it can take a tough skin to make a success of a small business in a foreign location. Be ready for that—look for ways to test the waters of the community before you take the plunge. Also look to the competition to understand your market potential—is there a gap or untapped need that you think your business can serve?
  • Determine How You Intend to Manage Your Business – Will you re-locate yourself (that brings with it a raft of immigration factors), or will you manage it from the U.S. with on-site staff? Could you keep the current owner and hire him or her as an employee? Know your options before you hit the negotiation stage, and weigh the benefits of each.

Be Prepared to Connect and be Agile

Last but not least, buying and running a business—let alone an overseas business—requires tenacity, agility, and deep personal connections. So do your research, weigh the pros and cons, have a plan and heed laws and regulations. But above all, be true to your ambition and drive. Some of the best small business owners succeed not because they stick to the rulebook, but because they look for ways to take the initiative and forge a path for themselves.

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How to Move Up and Become Part of the Supply Chain to Larger Companies

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 28, 2013 Updated: September 23, 2016

Looking for ways to become a supplier to a larger company?

A recent study showed that after a small supplier lands a big purchase order or a contract from a bigger company, the small company’s revenues go up 250 percent and they create about 150 percent more jobs in just two or three years. This is a great opportunity both for small business and for the economy.

But how can a small business go about landing a contract to be part of this lucrative business growth opportunity? Here are some tips, tools and resources that can help you get there.

Do Your Research And Plan Your Strategy

Breaking into a new market or new client base requires planning. This blog offers some tips for finding larger companies that would be a good fit for your business; getting that important first meeting; refining your sales pitch; and alleviating any perceptions about your “small” business status: How to Up the Ante and Start Selling to Larger Companies.

Use Available Resources – #1: “Supplier Connection”

Large U.S. multinational companies also know the value that supply chain networks have for them and their customers and have strengthened their efforts to reach out to small suppliers. For example, several large firms have come together to create a single, standard online application – called the Supplier Connection – that allows small suppliers to market themselves to many large U.S. firms at the same time. These firms include Office Depot, Bank of America, Dell, Facebook, Kelloggs, UPS, Pfizer and more.

The Supplier Connection portal is open (free of charge) to U.S. small businesses that have less than $50 million in revenue, or have less than 500 employees and that provide the following goods or services:

  • Facilities support
  • Food and beverage manufacturing
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Lab supplies and equipment
  • Logistics
  • Professional, marketing and technical services
  • Service parts
  • Software

The program is part of the Obama Administration’s American Supplier Initiative, which was created to encourage companies to use small businesses as suppliers. Check out the Supplier Connection website for more information. These FAQs are also a useful resource.

Use Available Resources – #2: Your Network and Assistance Programs

Tradeshows and industry conferences are a great way to network and meet potential customers. Even if you don’t have the budget to exhibit yourself, simply attending can provide a great venue to meet the bigger players in your industry or target market.

Other avenues to explore include your local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Development Center (many host events and networking sessions that showcase larger companies in your region).

If you need one-on-one help or counseling, consider a free mentor from SCORE. These folks have walked in your shoes, whether as business owners or executives, and can help you formulate and execute a growth strategy into new markets.

Don’t Forget the Largest Customer of All - Selling to the U.S. Government

The largest purchaser in the world just happens to be the U.S. federal government, which plays a major role in fostering the growth of supply chains filled with innovative small businesses. You can read more about the ins and outs of this market opportunity from the SBA here, the agency also offers several online courses that can bring you up to speed on how to sell to the U.S. government. Another option is to partner with businesses that already hold or are bidding on government contracts. This process, known as sub-contracting, provides a useful point of entry into this market (which operates quite differently than the private sector).

The government also offers programs that help specific business groups such as veteran-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and others, gain access to the federal marketplace.

These blogs also offer insight into the business of selling to the government:

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

What’s a Small Business for Tax Rules?

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: February 28, 2013

The SBA uses a number of definitions for “small business,” depending on the industry. So, too, does the tax law, which has various definitions of “small business” for different tax breaks. These definitions are based on employees, revenues, expenditures and assets. Confusing? You bet! Here’s a list to help you.

Employee-based definitions

  • DbK retirement plan. This type of qualified retirement plan, which has yet to be utilized because of lack of IRS guidance, combines a pension with a contributory element (like a 401(k) plan). It is limited to companies with 500 or fewer employees.
  • Disabled access credit. A tax credit of 50% of costs between $250 and $10,250 (maximum credit of $5,000) can be claimed for the cost of making a company more accessible to the disabled. The company can have no more than 30 full-time employees during the preceding year; there is also a gross receipts (revenue) test explained later.
  • Employer wage differential credit for activated reservists. Employers with fewer than 50 employees can claim a tax credit for continuing to pay wages to employees called to active duty.
  • Retirement plan start-up credit. A tax credit of up to $500 for the administrative costs of starting a qualified retirement plan can be claimed by a company with no more than 100 employees who have compensation over $5,000 in the preceding year.
  • Savings incentive match plans for employees (SIMPLE) plans. These are retirement plans to which employees and employers both contribute. SIMPLE plans can be used by a business with 100 or fewer employees who received compensation over $5,000 in the preceding year.
  • Simple cafeteria plans. Cafeteria plans are used to offer a menu of fringe benefits to employees. A simple version, which avoids the need for testing for discrimination, can be used for a company with 100 or fewer employees on business days during either of the two preceding years.
  • Small employer health insurance credit. A credit of up to 35% of premiums paid in 2013 by employers can be claimed by a company with no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) with average wages of less than $50,000. The full credit applies for up to 10 FTEs; a reduced credit is allowed for 11 to 25 FTEs.

Revenue-based definitions

  • Accrual method exception for small inventory-based businesses. While, most firms with inventory must use the accrual method of accounting to report their income and expenses, “small” firms can use the cash method. Small firms are those with average annual gross receipts of no more than $10 million in the three prior years (fewer years if the company hasn’t been in business for three years).
  • Bad debts deduction. Small businesses performing services in certain fields (e.g., law, accounting) can write off bad debts on the non-accrual experience method, which means they don’t accrue service-related income expected to be uncollectible. This accounting rule applies only to companies with average annual gross receipts for the three prior years of no more than $5 million.
  • Corporate AMT exemption. Small C corporations are exempt from the alternative minimum tax. This exemption applies only to those with average annual gross receipts of no more than $7 million ($5 million for the first three-year period).
  • Disabled access credit. The credit described earlier can be claimed by a company with gross receipts of no more than $1 million in the preceding year (see the employee definition above).
  • Late filing penalties for certain information returns. Businesses must report certain payments to the IRS by set dates. Reduced penalties for the failure to meet this obligation apply to companies with average annual gross receipts of no more than $5 million for a three-year period.
  • UNICAP rules. These rules impact when expenses can be deducted. There is a small reseller exception for property acquired for resale; the exception applies to companies with average annual gross receipts of no more than $10 million for a three-year period. There is a simplified dollar value last-in, first out (LIFO) method for applying the UNICAP rules; the method applies only to companies with average annual gross receipts of no more than $5 million for a three-year period.

Expenditure-related definition

  • First-year expensing. The cost of machinery and equipment can be deducted upfront rather than depreciated over a number of years if total annual investments in these assets do not exceed a dollar limit. For 2013, the full expensing deduction of up to $500,000 can be claimed as long as purchases don’t exceed $2 million. This dollar limit is reduced for excess purchases; no deduction applies once purchases for the year exceed $2.5 million.

Asset-related definitions

  • Shifting the burden of proof to the IRS. Whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor or whether compensation is “reasonable” can be shifted to the IRS for a business with a net worth not in excess of $7 million.
  • Small business stock. Gain on the sale of qualified small business stock in certain C corporations acquired after September 27, 2010, and before January 1, 2014, is not taxable if the stock is held more than five years (a partial break applies for stock acquired before or after these dates). The stock is “qualified” only if the corporation’s gross assets do not exceed $50 million when the stock is issued and immediately thereafter.

Conclusion

There are many tax breaks exclusively for small companies. Knowing whether you are eligible for a particular one depends on the tax law’s definition. If you’re unsure, talk with your tax advisor.

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BigIdeas4SB or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

7 Quick Tips for Better Business Communications

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: February 27, 2013

It used to be that most of the business world understood that simple, clear business writing was a powerful skill. We needed to communicate, explain and convince people in memos, proposals, plans and reports. Simple sentences worked better. Clear and concise worked better.

Maybe I care more about writing than the next person because I’ve spent so much of my career dealing with business plans: writing them for years, then getting them funded and, more recently, reading them. I read more than 100 business plans a year. They’re shorter than they used to be, for sure; but the qualities that make something readable—including good writing, spelling and grammar, are as important as ever.

But writing has been diluted, for sure, with the forward march of email, websites—and now Facebook and Twitter and text and rushed communications with two thumbs while trying not to bonk the other people sharing the sidewalk. So writing, spelling and grammar seem out of style; but still, some writing comes up all the time. The business plan is just the most obvious example. Beyond that:

  1. In email
  2. In blog posts
  3. In comments to blog posts
  4. In social media updates
  5. Plans, memos, reports
  6. In text or sms messages? I’m not sure about that one. What do you think? The obvious abbreviations are so tempting ... but does that have to spread into the rest of our writing. I forgive “idk” in a text but not in a memo (it stands for I don’t know). 

So here are some of my suggestions for minding the writing without ignoring that it’s relegated to many kinds of in-between and compromise contexts, like text and on smartphones. And with business plans too, of course.

  1. Use short simple sentences. Use periods more often to end sentences. Separate your points into shorter sentences.
  2. Get to the point fast. Put the headline first—then explain. People skim emails and memos. Don’t bury the main point in a dumpling-like mass of explanations.
  3. Stop using apostrophes to show plural. Apostrophes are for contraction (don’t) or possession (Ralph’s or Mary’s opinion). Stop putting an apostrophe every time you have a plural noun. It’s balls and bats, not ball’s and bat’s.
  4. Then and than have different meanings. Then is time and sequence, as in first we do this and then that. Than is comparison, like more than and less than.
  5. Simple words are better. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Don’t incentivize people when you can motivate or encourage them instead. Use things; don’t utilize them. The phrase “outside the box” is inside the box. Are we really all engaging all the time?
  6. Although it does take an extra effort to hold down two fingers at once or add a keystroke to capitalize words, it looks better. Capitalize your words like you learned in second grade.
  7. Don’t write long emails with multiple topics and points. Make each email have its own topic and subject line. Your recipients will get your point faster and better than way.

While it’s apparently true that we live in a world of video, and books and print media are in a decline, technology has also put writing into almost every obscure corner and extra little piece of time in our lives. Not just for business plans. In all cases, let’s do it well.

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

Sole Proprietorship—Is this Popular Business Structure Right for You?

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 27, 2013 Updated: February 27, 2013

If you’re starting a business, you may be wondering how to legally structure it. Should you incorporate, become an LLC, or operate as a sole proprietor?

Over 70 percent of U.S. businesses are owned and operated by sole proprietors or sole traders.

But what does being a sole proprietor involve and is it the right structure for your small business? Here’s what you need to know about the advantages and disadvantages of being a sole proprietor.

What is a Sole Proprietor?

A sole proprietorship is basically an unincorporated business owned and run by one individual (no partners are involved), with no distinction between the business and its owner. As a sole proprietor, you are entitled to all profits and are responsible for all your business’s debts, losses and liabilities.

A sole proprietorship is the easiest business structure to form (you only need to get a license or permit and register your business with your local government) (hence its popularity). It is also a simple structure to maintain with few forms and little business administration needed. Many freelancers, consultants and independent contractors operate as sole proprietors for ease and convenience.

SBA’s Sole Proprietor Guide offers more details about the process of starting a business as a sole proprietor and the steps you’ll need to follow.

What Are the Advantages of Being a Sole Proprietor?

As mentioned above, the ease of starting and operating a sole proprietorship is one of the reasons this business structure is hugely popular. Also, sole proprietors are relatively unencumbered by government regulations and can run their business autonomously without the need to report to partners, shareholders and board members. You control all your own decisions and the money you make.

Sole proprietors have the benefit of reporting tax on any income earned through their own personal tax return, rather than filing separately as a business – which can save time and hassle. You also won’t need to prepare a balance sheet for your company.

Sole proprietors also have a lot of flexibility when it comes to their careers. You can easily close your business without too much bureaucracy, or work on a full or part-time basis for another employer without worrying about answering to anyone about your own business affairs (aside from your clients, of course) – another reason this is a popular option for freelancers, many of whom hold down two jobs!

What About the Disadvantages?

One of the reasons many new business owners seek to incorporate instead of being a sole proprietor is the liability issue.

You may not think now that you need protection against liability, but what if a client holds you in breach of contract or threatens to sue you? Can you afford to put your personal assets at risk to satisfy any claims against your business? As a sole proprietor, there is no legal distinction between the owner and the business. This means that you are personally liable for all business losses and debts. Business incorporation can limit your liability as a business owner, essentially putting your personal assets off limits if anyone brings a judgment against you. So sole proprietors are inherently exposed to risk that incorporating as a corporation or limited liability company can help alleviate. 

Other disadvantages can potentially impact your bottom line and growth plans. For example, banks typically require that businesses incorporate before they’ll lend them money, leaving you to rely on savings, credit cards and other sources of capital. Then there’s the perception issue – being an incorporated business can give you a more professional appearance to potential clients.

Finally, because you aren’t required to produce financial statements or a balance sheet, your financial controls might not be as sharp as the need to be and this could be detrimental in the long term.

The Bottom Line

If you are starting a business, operating it as a sole proprietor can afford many benefits:

  • Ease of start-up (from an administrative perspective)
  • Lower start-up costs (incorporation involves forms, fees and sometimes legal advice)
  • Quicker and simpler tax preparation
  • Autonomy of business decisions and control of profits

Then again, it’s important to consider the downsides.

  • Liability – If you run a business that could expose you to risk in the form of debt or lawsuits (e.g., industries such as a child care or a food service business), then operating as a sole proprietor could leave your personal assets vulnerable.
  • Raising capital can be hard
  • Lack of financial controls
  • Lack of professionalism

If you still have questions, there are a number of counseling resources in your community that can help, including Small Business Development Centers. Find them here.

Additional Resources

For a complete guide to your available business structure options and how to set them up refer to SBA’s Choosing a Business Structure guide.

If you think incorporation might be right for your small business, check out this recent blog: Top 10 Questions about Small Business Incorporation Answered.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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