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Before You Export: 5 Tips for Gathering Market Intel

By kmurray, Contributor and Moderator
Published: April 15, 2015 Updated: April 15, 2015

Did you know that more than 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States? That’s a staggering number – and perhaps even more so is this figure: only one percent of U.S. small businesses are selling to those consumers.

The benefits abound when it comes to selling Made-in-America goods and services internationally. In addition to the cultural exchange inherent when developing global relationships, U.S. businesses – including small, minority- and women-owned businesses – can grow faster, hire more employees and pay higher wages.

There’s a huge global market for your small business offerings, so here are a few insights from experienced exporters to consider as you go about gathering international market intelligence.

  1. Explore the commercial side as well as the cultural and economic aspects of the new prospective market – You’ll want to get a full picture of doing business here, which goes beyond the walls of the workplace and business processes.
  2. See what your products are up against – Be aware of the competition to determine if this is really a place for you and, if so, strategize accordingly to maximize your business’ success.
  3. Check out your prospective customers – Research the market thoroughly through online data, published material and reviews in addition to conversations you’ll have with them directly.
  4. Commercial Service’s catalog shows – Get your name in front of prospective customers at a low cost with help from U.S. Commercial Service trade specialists located in international markets. They’ll translate your company profile into the local language, display your marketing materials, collect sales leads from interested local buyers and assist you as you follow up with local contacts.
  5. Be prepared to show your product(s) at trade shows – Put your product on display and your best business face forward at trade shows, which you can do successfully with these 35 tradeshow essentials.

If you are ready to explore exporting, here are a few resources that can help you take the first steps:

About the Author:

kmurray
Katie Murray

Contributor and Moderator

I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!

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Spring has sprung: Entrepreneurs pitch their ideas at two DC events this past weekend

By Javier Saade, SBA Official
Published: April 14, 2015 Updated: April 14, 2015

During this past weekend Nate Yohannes, my Senior Advisor, and I did the startup pitching rounds in our nation's capital.

Javier and team

On Friday night Nate was a judge at Mark Cuban's Recess, the college version of ABC's Shark Tank ("from dorm room to board room"). Recess is a music tour/music festival (like SXSW), entrepreneur speaker series and pitch competition with the winning prize of $10k towards your student loan (thanks to USA Network) and a flight to Hollywood, California to pitch to Cuban and his venture capital fund. Chip Conley, cofounder/ Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy at Airbnb was on hand too and provided advice to startup players in the room.  Cool stuff.

On Saturday, ABC's Shark Tank made a stop in Anascotia's Hive 2.0 as they seek to cast a diverse set of startups and entrepreneurs to pitch their famous judges live on TV.  The show's casting directors are traveling the country seeking to hear from folks across all walks of life looking to inject their small businesses with the capital they need to grow with the added bonus of some tube time. 

I closed the event with remarks about how important and critical their work is and the programs our agency offers to them #smartboldaccessible. Folks from the Minority Business Development Administration at our sister, the Department of Commerce also did the rounds earlier in the day. In Anascotia about 50 companies made speed pitches to the show's producers.

All good and a great complement to DC's Tidal Basin peak Cherry Blossoms in full amazing bloom as I write this, similar to the entrepreneurs' ideas and opportunities we heard.

By the way, Hive 2.0, we look forward to your and many other ecosystem applications to the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition which launched Friday.  Click here for details.

About the Author:

Javier Saade
Javier Saade

SBA Official

Javier Saade is the Associate Administrator of the US Small Business Administration’s Office of Investment and Innovation.

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Celebrating Earth Day with the SBA

Published: April 14, 2015

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has taken a dual approach to sustainability this Earth Day. The SBA is leading by example by reducing the environmental impact of our own operations while continuing to offer resources to small businesses who are interested in “going green.”

Since 2008, the SBA has reduced its total greenhouse gas emissions by 17%. In addition, the agency has recycled over 1,000 lbs. of electronics through an innovative partnership with the U.S. Postal Service and increased the percentage of alternate fuel (hybrid, low greenhouse gas emitting and flex fuel) vehicles in the agency’s fleet up to 72% of the total fleet, among other successes. For more information on SBA’s sustainability activities please see the agency’s latest Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan.

For businesses interested in reducing their own environmental impact, the SBA has several resources. The SBA’s online green business guide and energy efficiency guide contain a wealth of information related to green marketing, environmental grants and loans, ecolabeling, energy saving tips and more. In addition, the SBA is one of six agencies that support the E3 (Economy, Energy and Environment) program. The E3 program is a coordinated federal and local technical assistance initiative that helps communities work with their manufacturing base to adapt and thrive in a new business era focused on sustainability.

SBA’s 504 loan program also provides financing for major fixed assets, such as equipment or real estate, and it includes provisions that support increased energy efficiency and renewable energy production. Incentives within the program are available to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy production including larger loan maximums per project for projects that reduce a borrower’s energy consumption by at least 10 percent and for projects that generate renewable energy or renewable fuels, such as biodiesel or ethanol production.

At SBA we see Earth Day as a day to celebrate the strides we have made at the agency while continuing to promote the many opportunities for small businesses to grow and innovate, while also creating a stronger and more sustainable economy.

About the Author:

Donna Butler
Donna Butler is the Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Chief Administrative Officer of the US Small Business Administration.

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SBICs - A Compelling Option for Banks

By Javier Saade, SBA Official
Published: April 7, 2015

The day after the NCAA Championship game (this year Duke v Wisconsin) is always fun because people talk about the entire tournament, a celebration of our universities’ most capable athletes.  The people I saw today had a lot to say on that front, but we focused on the business at hand during the discussion at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.  

There were about 35 people in attendance, most of them bankers wanting to learn more about Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) vehicles and opportunities for banks specifically.   What makes the compelling case for banks to invest or own SBICs are many, but from a regulatory perspective there are two reasons:
 

1) Exemption from the Volcker Rule: Bank investments in SBICs are exempt from the 3% cap set forth by the “Volcker Rule” under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (PL-111-203)

2) Community Reinvestment Act (CRA): Investments in SBICs are presumed qualified for CRA credit. 

Javier

We discussed the history and evolution of the SBIC program established in 1958, it was in fact the 2nd SBA program, after the 7(a) Loan Program, signed into law by President Eisenhower.  These funds are designed to facilitate the flow of long-term capital to America's small businesses.  The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) does not provide capital directly to businesses. Instead, the SBA licenses and provides fund level debt for private investors to capitalize professionally managed investment funds (known as SBICs) that in turn finance American small businesses.  

Today, SBICs manage about $24 billion of assets spread across 300 private-public partnerships comprised of private equity, venture capital and structured lending strategies. With authorization to invest $4 billion annually, the program operates at a zero-subsidy cost to the American taxpayer.  Further development of SBICs’ $1 billion Impact Investment Fund and Early Stage Initiative are key to enhancing capital flows to where investment gaps are widest.

The folks I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with and talk to the bankers about these opportunities were:

Prabal Chakrabarti, Senior Vice President and Community Affairs Officer, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Carmen Panacopoulos, Senior Financial Institution Relationship Manager, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Ammar Askari – Regulator and Community Development Expert, OCC Community Affairs Department and author of "Small Business Investment Companies: An Investment Option for Banks"

Carl Kopfinger – Senior Vice President, Community Capital Group, TD Bank

Ken Willis – First Vice President and Director of Housing & Community Development, Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston

Jonathan Kivell – Managing Director, Commerce Street Capital

This is one of a series of events that my staff and I have been having with banks around the United States and we look forward to doing more.

 

About the Author:

Javier Saade
Javier Saade

SBA Official

Javier Saade is the Associate Administrator of the US Small Business Administration’s Office of Investment and Innovation.

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Using the Phone to Market Your Business

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: April 7, 2015 Updated: April 7, 2015

With more and more customers contacting companies online, it may seem as if your business phone doesn’t matter much anymore. But if you aren’t taking advantage of the many ways your company’s phone can be used as a marketing tool, you’re selling your business short. Your business phone is a crucial element in conveying your brand, promoting your business and convincing prospects to become customers. Try these tips for using your phone to market your business.

Get a toll-free phone number. No one wants to spend money calling a business. If you serve (or want to serve) customers outside your local area code, a toll-free number makes these people more likely to call you. Toll-free numbers also create the impression that your business is professional and successful. Even if you only own one location, for example, a toll-free number can make you look like less like a mom-and-pop business, and more like a larger chain.

Obtaining a toll-free number that spells out a relevant word is less important than it used to be as a marketing tool, but it still helps by making your business phone number (and, by extension, your business) more memorable. Depending on your industry and brand, it can also inject humor and reflect the personality into your business—such as junk removal company 1-800-GOT-JUNK, or a landscaping company with the number 1-800-NO-WEEDS. 

Answer professionally. Your phone presence may be the first impression a potential customer has of your business, so make sure everyone who answers your phone knows what type of marketing message you want to convey, and how to convey it. Include this information in your employee handbook—and be specific. For instance, smiling when answering the phone will make employees sound more cheerful. You can create one or a few standard greetings employees should use when answering the phone, including key information such as the company name and their names or departments within the company.

Attention spans are short today and customers are in a hurry, so keep your greetings brief and easy to understand. Lengthy greetings run the risk of employees rushing through them or customers getting impatient. At the same time, convey the “flavor” of your business brand. For example, a landscaping business could answer with, “It’s a beautiful day at Spring Green Landscaping! This is Susan; how may I help you?”

Use on-hold messaging creatively. Don’t let customers sit in silence when they are put on hold, or they may think they’ve been disconnected. Go beyond on-hold music to create on-hold messaging that educates customers about your business, products and services, as well as entertains them. Search online for on-hold messaging, and you’ll find many companies that can script, record and produce custom on-hold messages for your business, interspersed with a wide range of music.

What kinds of information should you include in your on-hold messaging? Here are some ideas:

  • Tips related to your business: A landscaping service could offer seasonal tips for garden care. For example: “Spring is here, so don’t forget to aerate your lawn—or have Spring Green do it for you!”
  • Information about new products or services: “Are you trying to save water? Spring Green now offers a full line of water-wise plants, plus xeriscape design services.”
  • Answers to frequently asked questions: For example, if prospects frequently call you for price quotes, you can offer some general information, such as, “Our weekly lawn-care service starts as low as $79 a month.”
  • Special offers, sales or events: “Our annual Annuals Extravaganza is here! During the month of April, save 25 percent off all annuals.”
  • Interesting, funny or surprising facts: “Did you know the world’s biggest dandelion grew 14 feet high? Keep your weeds under control with our weekly service.”

For every bit of information you provide in your hold message, include a call-to-action. “Ask about our…” “Visit springgreen.com/quote to get a price quote in minutes” or “Make an appointment to…”

Don’t overwhelm customers with too much information on hold. Think in terms of quick “sound bites” of information, interspersed with on-hold music. Know the average wait time your customers spend on hold, and record an on-hold message “loop” long enough that customers don’t end up hearing the same thing over and over. Three to six minutes is a standard loop length.

Keep your brand in mind. The music, tone of voice and information used in your on-hold messaging should reinforce your business brand, as well as appeal to your target customers. For instance, a child-care center might record its message with a warm, soothing motherly voice and play children’s music on hold. A personal trainer or fitness club could use an enthusiastic voice and play high-energy music.

By using these tactics, you can transform your business phone from a ho-hum necessity to a marketing powerhouse.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

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8 Small Business Tax Preparation Mistakes to Avoid

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: April 2, 2015

Tax time brings with it a sense of urgency and pressure, and mistakes inevitably follow. Tax deductions go unclaimed, paper trails go awry and costly surprises can result.

Here are eight of the most common tax preparation mistakes that small businesses make, plus some tips for mitigating them.

Start a business last year? Write off the expenses

New business owners can write off the expense they incurred before technically opening their doors for business. Don’t overlook this important deduction. Read more in How to Write Off the Expense of Starting your Business.

Car deductions

A lot of confusion exists about what constitutes a legitimate business driving deduction. SBA guest blogger Barbara Weltman clears the air in her blog “Driving for Business.” What is business driving? “When you travel from your office to see a customer or vendor, this constitutes business driving. Whether travel from your home to another location is a business trip depends. If you commute from home to your office (and back), this is a nondeductible personal expense. If, however, you work from a home office for which you claim a tax deduction, then travel from home to any business location (and back) is treated as deductible business driving.”

The mileage deduction for tax year 2014 is 56 cents per mile.

Another big mistake that business owners make is to limit their deductions to mileage. If you can prove that they are business expenses, you can also deduct other costs including gas and oil, tires, insurance, lease payments, tolls and parking fees. Read more.

Don’t forget the small stuff

Petty cash purchases, magazine subscriptions, educational classes and more. These “small” expenses can add up quickly. Make sure you track all your expenses and check with your tax advisor about what you can and can’t deduct.

Don’t exaggerate your deductions

Your accountant can ensure you don’t overdo or exaggerate your deductions – something that can raise the possibility of an IRS audit. For example, many small business owners mistakenly assume that they can deduct 100% of meal costs while traveling or client gifts. They are actually only partly deductible.

Likewise, if your expenses are a lot higher this year than last or not considered typical for your industry or business type, the IRS may get inquisitive.

It’s not all about the IRS

The IRS is only one piece of the tax pie; don’t forget about your other tax obligations – property, payroll, local taxes, excise tax, self-employment taxes, etc. These can all come back to bite you if you aren’t compliant in a timely manner.

Separate personal and business

Intermingling your personal and business bank accounts is a big cause of confusion around tax time, making it hard to track income and expenses. Furthermore, if you operate a home business, make sure you keep that space distinct and separate from the rest of the home so that you can correctly claim the home office deduction.

Avoid payroll mistakes

Payroll tax compliance is something that many small business owners struggle with. The financial consequences of getting it wrong aren’t pleasant either. Statistics show that approximately 40 percent of small businesses incur an average of $845 per year in IRS penalties. To make sure that your payroll taxes are deposited correctly, outsource your payroll function to a payroll company. The benefits often far outweigh the fees. Read more about the five payroll tax mistakes to avoid from Barbara Weltman.

Keep your records up-to-date

This is a common problem for small businesses and often leads to missed opportunities for reducing your taxable income for the year. Make sure your expenses are reconciled, tracked and supported with receipts (the IRS requires it). Spend time each week to review your accounts – receivable, payable, credit card transactions, cash flow, etc. if your business is growing, consider accounting software (which synchronizes all your financial transactions and activities in one centralized dashboard) or retain the services of an accountant.

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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SBIR Pulse: A “Start Up Hub” For Entrepreneurs Looking to Make A Difference

By Javier Saade, SBA Official
Published: March 31, 2015

Interview #3: David Zipper, Managing Director at 1776

Incubators, accelerators, and startup hubs are an emerging and important part of the high-tech ecosystem. These entities support entrepreneurs and startups in early stages and later on in getting to market through networking, trainings, mentorship, and by providing capital. In this month’s SBIR Pulse, we interview David Zipper, the Managing Director at 1776, a global startup hub in areas including education, energy & sustainability, health, and transportation & cities.  1776 manages an incubator in Washington, DC with 260 startup members, as well as a seed fund and the Challenge Cup pitch competition for entrepreneurs worldwide. In his role at 1776, David oversees partnerships as well as their Growth Accelerator for startups.

1776

SBIR Pulse: What made you decide to take your job at 1776?

As cliché as it sounds, I felt I could make more of a difference working at 1776 than anyplace else.  From 2009 to 2013, I oversaw economic development strategy for Mayors Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray in Washington DC.  During that time, Washington's tech sector grew substantially, but it wasn't particularly connected to the global policy infrastructure based in the city, such as the federal government, think tanks, or associations.  1776 offered an opportunity to bridge that gap.  That struck me as an incredibly exciting vision for improving society.  And it still does.

SBIR Pulse: What do you see happening in the entrepreneurial space that is different and more exciting now than just a few years ago?

I think there is greater awareness about startups among large organizations that haven't previously thought a lot about entrepreneurship.  Some of the strongest partnerships we've built at 1776 have been with organizations like MedStar Health, Philips, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools – groups that have only recently made a strategic decision to innovate in partnership with entrepreneurs. 

SBIR Pulse: 1776 focuses on initiatives in education, health, energy, and cities? Why these areas? What support does 1776 provide?

While these sectors are critical to lives led around the world, there is a general consensus that innovation is needed to improve performance and cut costs.  It is notoriously difficult to scale in these environments, given there are relatively few potential customers if you're trying to sell to a mass transit agency or a school system – and given the complex procurement systems.  1776 is designed to help entrepreneurs navigate through these challenges, often through mentoring and curricula.. 

SBIR Pulse: Can you talk about a "success story" for 1776 in supporting an early stage startup?

RideScout helps people choose from a variety of transportation options (bike, walk, bikeshare, metro, drive, etc.) when taking a trip within a city.  The company showed great promise, so we introduced them to a variety of mentors, made a number of connections to city leaders nationwide, and used our 1776 Seed Fund to invest in their growth.  RideScout was ultimately acquired by Daimler in August 2014, which was a happy outcome for all involved.  Today, the company is active in over 70 cities across the United States.

SBIR Pulse: Do you see a connection between SBIR and 1776 in driving the startup ecosystem?

Definitely.  Most 1776 startups are in heavily regulated sectors like health and education that have very strong SBIR programs, so it’s a terrific tool for them.  And the vast majority are looking at social problems that the federal government cares about, like gaps in teacher training or avoidable hospital readmissions. Furthermore, any good entrepreneur will immediately appreciate the value of the non-dilutive capital that SBIR offers. 

SBIR Pulse: Please tell the Pulse readers about the Challenge Cup. How can the SBIR-community get involved?

The Challenge Cup is 1776’s signature annual event, as it gives us a chance to meet and support entrepreneurs.  About 30 early stage startups in education, health, energy, and cities take part in pitch competitions in 16 cities around the world. We welcome the SBIR community to join us.

To view the full interview, please go to: www.SBIR.gov.

About SBIR Pulse

SBIR Pulse provides interviews with individuals from the different corners of the high-tech start-up ecosystem. This ecosystem includes business experts, investors, incubators and accelerators, government and political leaders, and of course – entrepreneurs themselves. The interviews provide readers with perspectives on how SBIR is impacting small businesses, driving innovation, and leading to technological solutions that improve local economies while addressing national priorities. The interviews also provide information that the SBIR community can use on different programs and initiatives.

About SBIR & STTR

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are collectively the largest single source of early-stage capital for innovative small companies in the United States. Via these programs, the federal government invests over 2 billion dollars in early stage and high growth American entrepreneurial firms to develop and commercialize technologies that strengthen our nation's defense, improve the health of our citizens, and enhance education. Over the past 30 years, SBIR/STTR has been a springboard for many breakthrough innovations including 3-D printing, minimally invasive robotic surgery, and LASIK technology, and has driven advancements in fields such as nanotechnologies and educational games for learning. For more information on the program across the 11 Federal agencies that operate programs, please visit www.SBIR.govand see this recent blog post. For timely updates and resources follow us on Twitter (@SBAgov, #SBIR) to stay connected!

This blog was produced by Ed Metz, Betty Royster, and Lindsay D’Ambrosio.

About the Author:

Javier Saade
Javier Saade

SBA Official

Javier Saade is the Associate Administrator of the US Small Business Administration’s Office of Investment and Innovation.

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The “A” is a Peach of Southern Awesomeness and Possibility

By Javier Saade, SBA Official
Published: March 26, 2015

On Thursday, the Metro Atlanta Center hosted two events that touch the very nerve center of the programs housed at SBA's Office of Investment & Innovation which I am honored and proud to lead.   Before I get into what went on in the Big Peach, let me paint the picture.  According to our gracious hosts at the Chamber, the city proper is home to about half a million people but 8300 square miles make up 28 counties that form Atlanta's metro area 5.3 million making it the region's vibrant business capital.  Furthermore, over 40 percent of the city's population has a college degree which when combined with the entire metro area generates about $270 billion in economic activity. 

But even with those impressive stats, there are gaps in the entrepreneurial small business community that deal with access to patient capital and risk capital for technology intensive businesses.   We are seeking to help close those gaps.SBIR Road Tour

So it is fitting that one of the two events I participated in was the Southeast leg's third stop of the SBIR Road Tour (wwww.sbirroadtour.com) #sbirroadtour which our Administrator kicked off in Louisville, KY earlier this week, ribbon cutting and all.  We oversee America’s Largest Seed Fund, formally known as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs - and we decided to take it on the road. 

These highly competitive programs provide the needed impetus for many advanced technology firms to move from idea to commercialization, supporting our country’s innovation driven economy.  Since the programs’ inception, there have been over 150,000 awards totaling about $40 billion to help this country’s innovators and de-risk technology investments needed to keep our country competitive.   Annually, thousands of American innovators gain access to $2.5 billion in non-dilutive seed capital through the SBIR/STTR programs.

While these programs are national in scope, not all communities have fully utilized this opportunity.  We recognize that American innovation is not restricted by geographic boundaries, and to ensure that all of America’s future innovators are aware of this advantageous funding opportunity, SBA and 11 federal agencies are taking the show on the road and embarking on a 20-state SBIR Road Tour.  The SBIR Road Tour “Seeding America’s Future Innovations”, is a nationally focused outreach initiative targeting advanced technology communities, including women-owned and minority-owned firms, in states that have underutilized this funding opportunity.

The second event we put together with Regional Administrator Cassius Butts and his very capable Atlanta based team was a roundtable with local investment management ecosystem players to discuss regional characteristics of principal investing.  We talked about barriers to capital access, innovative ideas surrounding regional ecosystems and the specific realities of the challenges in Atlanta.  There was a lot of interest in the SBIC program for sure.

I came away with a great sense of respect and admiration for the ATL, aka the 404, a great regional hub continually striving to improve and build on its incredible mix of ingredients.

About the Author:

Javier Saade
Javier Saade

SBA Official

Javier Saade is the Associate Administrator of the US Small Business Administration’s Office of Investment and Innovation.

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4 Ways to Better Manage Irregular Income

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 25, 2015 Updated: March 25, 2015

Dealing with an inconsistent income is one of the hardest and most stressful aspects of being a solo entrepreneur. One minute it’s a feast, next a famine, and it’s hard to predict which is coming next.

This isn’t just a problem for your nerves; not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from makes cash flow predictions impossible and budgeting a pipedream. Even if you work like crazy one month, the next month could bring a dry spell and all that hard income you pocketed away quickly gets reabsorbed into keeping you afloat.

While unpredictable income is not something that will ever go away, here are four things you can do to better cope with the highs and lows.

Keep your personal and business finances separate

Any accountant will tell you that maintaining a separate bank account for your personal expenses (checking and savings) and business finances is essential. Not only does it make record keeping and tax preparation a lot easier, it also helps you manage and arrange your finances (aka budgeting).

If you have an online accounting system in place, you can also sync your business bank account with it and automatically import and track expense transactions – providing a dashboard view of your cash flow. If you work with a tax preparer or CPA, it will also make getting them the reports they need a lot easier.

Draw a salary

Once you have your business account set up, make a habit of drawing funds from it on a scheduled basis, much like claiming a salary. Perhaps once a week or twice a month, transfer funds into your checking account to pay your personal bills.

How much you draw depends on your household budget, but a good rule of thumb is to calculate the bare minimum amount you need to pay off your personal expenses and other non-business obligations, like health insurance. This bare minimum should be your baseline salary.

While there may be times when you need to draw more out of your business bank account to pay for vacations and other expenditures, try to maintain a consistent schedule and salary amount – this will help avoid the temptation to be frivolous when times are more prosperous.

Set money aside for lean months

If you do land a windfall client, set aside the money in your savings account (not your personal checking account) so that you can draw on those funds to help tide you over (and alleviate stress) during lean months.

In this setup, you’ll pay your bills from your personal checking account, deposit payments from clients into your business account and use a separate savings account to deposit whatever’s left over after you’ve paid yourself a salary.

Get an idea of your trending income

Predicting cash flow isn’t easy when you don’t know where your next client or project is coming from. However, historical analysis should give you some idea of what your average income is over 12-24 months and give you a better sense of the levels of income that you need to maintain moving forward. If your baseline income tracks lower than your personal budget, consider cutting expenses or finding new business.

In summary… Taking the time to gain insight into your expenses, understanding your income target and drawing a salary accordingly can make your finances a lot more sustainable. It’s a simple model, but it works.

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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Use Lean Planning to Optimize Management

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: March 24, 2015

If you own a business then you have a lot to gain by adopting lean business planning to help you manage better. Don’t bother to do a full formal business plan unless you have to have one for a bank, investors, partners or some other real reason. Instead, do a lean business plan – it’s easy, just a few critical bullet points and lists and essential numbers – and use it to manage better.

“Lean business planning” is what I’m calling a new kind of business planning that’s appropriate for the short attention spans and rapid change we live in.

Why lean? The business meaning of the word lean started last century with lean manufacturing, which was also called “the Toyota way.” That focused on a cycle of continuous improvement that was called PDCA, for “plan-do-check-adjust.” It was adopted in this century by Eric Ries and Steve Blank with their work on lean startups, which is also a process of continuous improvement in steps or cycles, in that case related to starting with what they call a minimum viable product and building a business Plan Do Check graphicwith frequent reviews and revisions.

I say lean business planning because I think it makes perfect sense to apply the same idea of starting with the minimum and reviewing regularly and improving over time to business planning.

It’s especially applicable to business owners because we tend to dismiss business plans as something that only startups need. They take a lot of work. They become obsolete very quickly. But what if we redefined business planning as a streamlined simple lean plan as part of a process that redefines the PDCA idea into a planning version that I’d call PRRR for plan-run-review-revise.

To make that work, the plan itself has to really be easy to do and simple, while its content should be very meaningful and useful in moving the business towards goals. Here’s what I propose:

  1. Strategy is simple bullet points serving as reminders of target market and business offering. Strategy is focus. Don’t do wordy explanations for outsiders – just the bullet point reminders for the team.
  2. Tactics, more simple bullet points, serving as reminders of the main tactics to execute strategy. These would be the key points of marketing plan and product plan, like pricing, channels, features, messages, media, etc. No long descriptions, just bullet points and key numbers.
  3. Concrete specifics include dates, deadlines, performance metrics, assumptions, milestones and task responsibilities. These are lists to be used by management to make ongoing performance more collaborative and more manageabPlan Run Review graphicle.
  4. Sales forecast, expense budgets and projected cash flow.

With my idea of lean planning, that original lean plan is just the first step in that PRRR cycle. It’s a process, not a plan. The plan is reviewed every month in a management meeting that looks at performance and goals, develops collaboration and accountability, and revises the plan.

That makes a business plan not a long boring formal document, but a useful set of lists and tables. It’s what’s going to happen and when; who’s responsible for what; and what’s expected for sales, expenses and cash.

It’s short, simple, streamlined, just big enough to steer the business. Just big enough to meet the business need. It’s about results. It’s about managing a business. Accountability. Metrics. Priorities. It starts simple and grows organically.

If you’re curious about it, I’ve put up a website that lays it out in detail, at leanplan.com. It will eventually become a book, but it’s always going to be a free website, with all the contents of the book remaining on the web for free.

(Images: from leanplan.com) 

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 44 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including The Plan As You Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press, 2008.

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