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Small Business Development Center Helps Washington Companies STEP Up to the Global Marketplace

By Peter J. Cazamias, SBA Official
Published: October 13, 2017

The Washington State Small Business Development Center (WSBDC) has perfected the art of building productive partnerships to help Washington companies, notably rural ones, achieve export success. 

WSBDC International Trade Specialist Vern Jenkins and Grant County Economic Development Council Certified Business Advisor Allan Peterson leveraged contacts at the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), and Grant County’s Sister City relationship with Gunpo City, South Korea to arrange for Eastern Washington businesses to visit South Korea and meet with interested importers of U.S. products and services.

That trade mission to Seoul took place in April, 2016.  Jenkins and Peterson effectively leveraged another important partner, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), to recruit companies to join the mission.  SBA’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) helped finance a portion of the travel for Washington small businesses.

Five Washington small businesses participated in the 2016 mission, four supported by STEP funds.  The success and positive feedback from participants led to a second mission in June, 2017, this time making stops in Seoul and Tokyo, Japan.  The WSBDC engaged the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO) as a partner for matchmaking in the Tokyo market. Nine Washington small businesses participated in 2017, including three that participated in the 2016 mission.  Eight of the nine participants were STEP funded.

Here are some small business exporting success stories resulting from those two missions:

Cascade Organic Flour of Royal City, WA was one of the companies that participated in both missions.   Thanks in large part to their global market expansion, Cascade has tripled grinding capacity for its Organic flour products and hired six new employees.  This is significant job growth in a small rural town of about 2,200. 

Eckenberg Farms of Mattawa, WA, a company that grows and bales hay, participated in the 2017 mission where they sold the entire inventory of their 2017 harvest, nearly $25 million. They also picked up two new potential customers in Japan, which contributed to their opening of an extension office in Richland, WA and hiring an additional six employees. 

Fresh Nature Foods, home of the Fresh Picked Chickpea in Spokane, was a 2016 participant.   Fresh Nature Foods began as a small family farm dating back four generations.  The 2016 mission, their first overseas trade endeavor, helped lay the foundation for active global market participation.  They have since gone to Hong Kong on their own, with support from STEP funds, and are growing sales into China and the Netherlands.

Glacia Nova, an  Auburn company that bottles natural water from Mt. Rainier Glacier participated in the 2017 and is currently exploring options for SBA financing to support export working capital to support sales in the Asian markets of Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and China. 

Excellent market intelligence from the WSBDC and Washington Department of Agriculture, and STEP funding from SBA, delivered locally by the Washington State Department of Commerce, have provided great stepping stones for area  small businesses to find success in the global marketplace. 

The WSBDC continues to work with these clients and to explore additional opportunities for STEP funding and SBA export financing as they make plans for another Trade Mission in 2018.

Effective leveraging of partnerships and dedicated commitment to their clients has made the Washington SBDC a stellar example of the role SBDCs can play in helping U.S. small businesses achieve global market success!

Visit the SBDC’s site to learn more about their resources for small businesses. 

Learn more about the State Trade Expansion Program at the website. 

SBA has a great site where you can find out more about export financing options. Click on the links for more information about the WSBDC trade missions, and enjoy the trade mission video.

About the Author:

Peter J. Cazamias
Peter J. Cazamias

SBA Official

Peter J. Cazamias serves as the Associate Administrator for SBA's Office of International Trade.

St. Louis Company Grows Over 200 Percent by Looking to Export Markets

By Peter J. Cazamias, SBA Official
Published: October 11, 2017

David and Linda Shogren are the duo behind U.S. International Foods LLC, a Missouri-based small business that specializes in exporting high quality food and grocery products abroad. Focusing primarily on Asia, they match American-made goods with local cultural preferences.

The rise of middle class markets in these developing countries has sparked an increased demand for quality Made-In-America products.  Mr. Shogren’s two decades of food marketing and sales experience positioned him well to start a business to fulfill these demands.  

Since 2011, the Shogrens have taken advantage of some key local resources, including the University of Missouri Small Business Development Center’s Office of International Trade, which helped them to draft their first international business plan.

In addition, the company has secured both an Export Express loan and an Export Working Capital loan, both guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, to offer open account terms on a wider basis and facilitate working capital to support increased sales.

The sustained access to capital has allowed U.S. International Foods to continue along a strong growth trajectory over the years, leading to an increase in both sales and employees. Recently, the SBA’s Office of International Trade had an opportunity to speak with the Shogrens to dive deeper into their rapid expansion into the global marketplace.  

SBA: Tell us about your company.

David & Linda Shogren: Our mission is to export food and grocery products made here in the United States to customers overseas – primarily Asia. Our products include a variety of things like cereals, dried fruit, nuts, soups, snacks, confectionary products, and more. Our customers are supermarkets, and distributors that supply supermarkets, as well as some e-commerce. China was the original focus and our first market; now, we are expanding into contiguous markets from there including Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Korea.

What inspired you to begin your own company?

D: In short: I love food and I love to travel! I was working for a domestic food broker at the time that represented manufacturers here in the U.S. Around 2011, a new supervisor came aboard who wanted to begin to focus on selling internationally. I became the international project manager and started developing a plan to go global. US International Foods started off as a subsidiary of that company in 2011, and we were able to buy and operate it on our own in 2014.

How did you first hear about the resources you eventually utilized - like the Small Business Development Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration?

D: First, we went to the World Trade Center in St. Louis to hear their suggestions. Starting a conversation there got us into the flow of international support organizations around town. Within the first year or so, we took the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) training, where we were introduced to a local Small Business Development Center counselor who helped us to write our first export business plan. From there, we were introduced to the SBA as well.

How did you utilize the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) to expand your company?

D: After connecting with the World Trade Center, we signed up for their weekly newsletter which is where we first learned about the STEP program. We jumped on the opportunity to apply for funding. We’ve used the STEP grant every year since then to get funding to attend trade shows and trade missions abroad. We leverage these funds so we can travel more, particularly to shows in China like the SIAL Show. We also utilized the STEP program to test the feasibility of expanding our operations to the Middle East. In February of 2017, we traveled to Dubai to attend a different food show.

How have your company’s annual revenues or number of employees changed since securing SBA financing?

D: It has helped us grow a lot.  We have grown in both revenue and employees. In 2013, our total sales were about $800 thousand. This year, in 2017, we are on track to hit $3 million in sales. A lot of our sales are through large customers on long payment terms. We would not have the cash flow to make those big sales without the SBA. In fact, three of the retailers we sell to in Asia are in the top 15 global retailers. The bigger the retailer the longer the payment terms are, so we need that financing to do business with them. With the SBA Export Working Capital Loan, we have been able to sell on open account terms: the guarantee let us get the loan and the loan lets us sell to those customers.

L:  Adding to David’s point, selling to bigger retailers because we used SBA’s financing gives us a lot of credibility in the market. In turn, that makes it easier to other large customers.  

L: We started with just two and currently, we have 5 employees. However, we indirectly support a lot more employees than that given our focus on Made-in-America goods. I don’t think we’d have employees right now if we hadn’t gotten the financing through the SBA. 

What advice do you have for other companies that are considering selling abroad?

D: Step number one, go to the SBA.  The other more general idea is when I travel overseas; I meet a lot of people from different countries. I focus on what we have in common with these people. The issues that exist in the grocery industry abroad are the same for me here, regardless of the country. I think of commonalities to overcome the language and culture barriers and I focus on how to solve a problem for a customer. You also have to keep at it and you do not expect to have that big sale at first. Exporting is a slow process.  One expression I use in talking with suppliers about exports is selling for export is like making good barbeque: it’s low and slow. 

To learn more about the counseling, training, and financial tools available to help your small business sell abroad and to find the offices located closest to you, please visit: www.SBA.gov/local-assistance

About the Author:

Peter J. Cazamias
Peter J. Cazamias

SBA Official

Peter J. Cazamias serves as the Associate Administrator for SBA's Office of International Trade.

Business Equipment Financing & Leasing: 7 Key Tips to Know

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: October 11, 2017

Should you finance or lease business equipment?

Although both options help break down the overall cost of business equipment into smaller amounts, they are very different in how they’re set up.

If you decide to finance your equipment, you own it outright because you are purchasing the equipment and spreading out the purchase price over several years. You maintain ownership during and after all the payments have been made.

When you lease equipment, the lender owns the equipment and you’re paying for the use of it. Now there are different types of leases so it’s important to understand when you should use a capital lease versus when to use an operating lease.

A capital lease is more commonly used than an operating lease. If you plan to take ownership of the equipment at the end of the lease, then a capital lease is the right option. For example, if you are leasing a piece of machinery that you will use for a long time, you most likely will need a capital lease. Now keep in mind, there are many benefits that come along with owning equipment such as claiming the depreciation of it.

An operating lease is used if you are acquiring business equipment and you plan on replacing it at the end of your lease term. The rental cost of an operating lease is considered an operating expense for the business. Most likely operating leases are used for high-tech equipment, copiers, and computers.

When you decide what type of equipment your company needs there is much more to consider than overall costs of buying or leasing, you also should consider maintenance, tax deductions, flexibility, etc. Here are seven key tips to consider when it comes to business equipment financing & leasing.

Tip #1 – Be ready to clearly describe how the business equipment will benefit your business. An equipment financing provider may want to know a projection of increased revenues and cost savings gained from the use of the equipment.

Tip #2Review your credit report/scores and organize your financial information before contacting an equipment financing provider. Expect the equipment financing provider to request this information and be prepared to explain any issues.

Tip #3 – Don’t assume you’ll get the best terms from your bank or equipment manufacturer’s captive finance company. Take the time to compare rates, lease terms, fees and options that are available to you.

Tip #4 – Review your business credit report and update any information that is outdated or incorrect prior to contacting an equipment financing provider. If you have any negative information reporting, be prepared to explain it to a potential finance provider.

Tip #5 – Do not submit multiple lease applications to various companies. When a lessor sees inquiries from other leasing companies it raises questions as to why other lessors rejected your application. Choose an equipment finance provider that caters to your kind of business for a greater chance of approval.

Tip #6 – Know the difference between a fair market value lease and a $1 purchase option lease. A FMV lease provides low monthly payments, great flexibility at the end of the lease term and tax advantages. If you choose the $1 purchase option lease you’ll get to purchase the equipment at the end of the lease for $1. Compared to the fair market value lease, the monthly payments will be higher, but you’ll also have depreciation and other tax incentives as well.

Tip #7 – Combine multiple business equipment purchases under one lease. To keep things simple and cost effective it’s best to identify what types of equipment your company needs and bundle the leasing into one single payment. Doing this can possibly enable you to get a better deal compared to the latter.

Business equipment financing and leasing provides business owners the ability to increase revenues and keep up with new technology or machinery. With equipment financing, a credit savvy business owner can save money and avoid spending large sums of money on business equipment 

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

Take Your Small Business Global

By Peter J. Cazamias, SBA Official
Published: September 27, 2017

Is your business struggling to thrive?

If you’re finding it hard to stay afloat—be it by maintaining a profit or maximizing your outputs, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of International Trade has a solution that can help your business succeed.

SBA runs the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), a grant program that helps small businesses grow.   So far, with a combined investment of over $103.1 million in funding from Congress, the SBA has supported thousands of small businesses increase export opportunities to over 126 international markets. 

Now, it’s your chance.  You can apply for STEP financial assistance in your state, territory, or commonwealth to help your business enter and succeed in the international marketplace.  Here are some examples:

  • Participate in a foreign market sales trip:  You can join a team of export specialists to make your products and/or services available in one or more international markets. 
  • Get your website translated in different languages:  If you have a website, STEP funding will allow you to reach more customers through multiple translations. You’ll be able to increase the number of visitors to your website and before you know it, right at your fingertips, you can get orders from other countries.
  • Attend an international trade show:  By attending an international trade show, you will be in the company of buyers from all over the world interested in purchasing U.S. goods and services. It’s an opportunity to schedule meetings with potential customers and potential distributors.  STEP clients have signed new sales deals on the spot, and others have gained numerous prospects for purchase orders in a short period of time.

These are just a few of the many ways you can expand your business globally and increase sales.  Now more than ever, it’s easier to generate new international business opportunities and increase your sales potential.  Let us help you STEP into your destiny!  Getting started is as easy as 1, 2, 3:

  1. Visit our website     
  2. Click on the map to learn about available STEP opportunities, and
  3. Make a connection so you can to take your small business global

 

About the Author:

Peter J. Cazamias
Peter J. Cazamias

SBA Official

Peter J. Cazamias serves as the Associate Administrator for SBA's Office of International Trade.

Dress the Part: How to Use Employee Dress to Market Your Business

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: September 8, 2017

Last week, I went to a restaurant where the servers didn’t wear uniforms. In addition, there was no consistency in the street clothes they wore. One waitress was in jeans and a pink T-shirt, another was clad in all black, and the hostess sported a glamorous floor-length dress. It was a bustling place, and I got confused about which of the people hustling through the restaurant were actually employees and which were customers. It drove home the importance of employee uniforms and dress codes in marketing a business.

Your employees’ appearance plays a big role in your business brand. Employees are the “face” of your business for your customers, so it’s important their attire reflects and enhances your brand.

Benefits of Employee Dress Codes
Creating a dress code or uniform guidelines for your employees has many benefits for your business.
  • Reduces confusion: As my restaurant experience exemplifies, when customers can easily spot employees to provide help or answer questions, they’re more likely to be satisfied with their experience at your business. That makes them happier customers more likely to come back—and recommend your business to others.
  • Builds brand awareness: Uniforms serve as a silent marketing tool, promoting your business to anyone who sees them. For example, if your employees visit customers’ homes to provide services, such as lawn care, uniforms serve as an advertisement to neighbors who happen to see them.
  • Morale/team building: Following a uniform policy or dress code reminds employees they’re all on the same team. It also puts them in the frame of mind to represent your business, reminding them when they’re on the job, they need to embody your business’s values.
  • Creates uniformity: Dress codes and uniforms convey to customers they will receive the same level of quality and service no matter who they interact with at your business, and no matter which location of your business they visit.
Developing a Dress Code or Uniform Policy
To create a business uniform or dress code, keep these factors in mind:
  • What roles do employees play? Uniforms or dress codes must be appropriate for different roles within your business. A salesperson who calls on B2B clients in their offices must dress differently than a technician who visits those offices to service copier equipment. Your uniform or dress code should allow employees to perform their duties comfortably and safely.
  • What style of dress best conveys your business brand? Is your brand efficient? Chic? “Alternative”? Conservative? Natural? Your brand and your target customers’ expectations will dictate what your uniforms should look like. For example, if you own an accounting firm that serves Fortune 1000 clients, T-shirts and jeans would never be appropriate attire. On the other hand, that might be the perfect uniform for wait staff at a trendy gastropub.
  • What type of dress code will improve employee morale? Consider giving employees some input into uniforms and dress codes, especially in creative industries. You don’t want employees to feel forced into a cookie-cutter mold. Look for a middle ground that gives employees a consistent look while still allowing them to display personality.
How to Convey and Enforce Dress Codes
  • Include employee dress code or uniform information in your employee handbook. The more detail and examples you can provide, the better. Be concrete and specific. Terms like “professional” or “stylish” may not mean the same thing to you as they do to your employees. (For example, distressed jeans are currently very stylish, but rarely look professional.) Also include rules for hairstyles, facial hair and general grooming. It’s a good idea to include visual illustrations of “do’s and don'ts.” Some styles of dress commonly prohibited even in casual workplaces include hats or baseball caps, ripped or dirty clothing, revealing or athletic clothing, T-shirts with slogans or pictures on them, and sandals.
  • Consider creating different dress codes or uniforms for different times of year, such as hot weather. You can also have different dress codes or uniforms for different job functions, such as customer-facing employees or back-office staff.
  • Be sure your dress codes don’t discriminate against employees on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, age, appearance, size or other factors. Learn more about discrimination and dress codes at the EEOC website.

To get employees to support and comply with your uniform or dress code policy, emphasize that the goal is not to quash individuality, but to enhance your business brand and image while promoting teamwork. Once your employees understand the value of the dress code as a marketing tool, they’re more likely to embrace it.

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

Write an Executive Summary

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: July 20, 2017 Updated: July 25, 2017

Most business owners have a general idea of the executive summary that comes with the traditional business plan.  However, in the real world, summaries come up much more often than just in the business plan. How to create the summary, and how to use it, depends on the business objective.

 The summary you say every day

I’ve always liked “Say your business plan every day,” which I heard first from Jim Blasingame, small business advocate.  Business is normally chaotic, so a quick reminder is a good idea.

Start with a sentence or two describing the fundamental strategy. Keep that in mind as you go through the day.

  • What do you do for whom?
  • How do you do it differently?
  • Why are you particularly good at it?

Add a sentence or two highlighting your most important tactics. It might be low or high price, high value, distribute via the web, market via social media, focus on repeat business, or whatever.

Then add the next major milestone you’re working towards. Maybe that’s some number, like 100 lunches in a day or 1,000 subscribers. Maybe it’s the new website launch, or the new product, or the new location. Give yourself an attainable nearby goal that is measurable.

Remind yourself once a day by reciting your personal business summary.

Create written summaries for special uses

Every business has to provide business summaries from time to time. For these you want to focus on the specific details so you can tailor your summary to your real business needs.

The general summary for publications and listings

Have a good summary on hand for general use. Think of it as a marketing document whose key goals include defining a target market and sending a message to that market. Often it starts with a tagline that comes straight from your main marketing. Follow that with information that generates a call or inquiry. You have to fit word count to the words allowed in your situational summary. Within that word count, optimize the information you can include to generate interest, include a call to action, and the information needed to follow up, such as phone number or website.

The executive summary for business loans and allies

For these summaries you start with either the personal summary or the general business summary above. Tailor these summaries to the specific use. The summary of strategy, tactics, and milestones is more likely to be appropriate for banks, and the more sales oriented summary of product, market, and main messages is likely to be more appropriate for allies, partners, and vendors.

For a summary going to a bank, related to a commercial loan, you probably want to add a financial summary including recent annual sales and profitability. The bank will require submission of detailed financial information as part of the application, so you don’t need to go in detail in the summary. You should make sure to include two or three sentences on business history, and two or three sentences describing the management team. It is also common that you add a paragraph about how the money involved will be used to help your business.

The executive summary for investors

To create a summary to be sent or submitted to potential investors, it’s good to start with a description of the problem you solve, how you solve it, and why you are well positioned to offer such a solution. Being well positioned includes your secret sauce, like proprietary technology or a special position in the market.

Investors also want to know the highlights of the recent past, recent milestones met, and key milestones for the future. Often that’s a matter of projected revenues for the next three years; but in some cases, other measurements such as numbers of users or subscribers can be used even if they are free. Investors want to see growth and growth potential.

For investors you also have to include a description of the management team with key details from team members’ track records and backgrounds.

And always, form follows function

Build a repository of text summaries, somewhere in your business materials online with backup copies in print. These are texts you’ve used in the past. Business summaries and executive summaries have to meet specific objectives. Most businesses end up saving various versions of different summaries. They pull them up and tailor them to the specific need each time a need is found. 

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 .

Rethinking Insurance Coverage

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: July 13, 2017 Updated: July 13, 2017

Like most small businesses, you probably can’t self-insure (pay for losses out of pocket) because you can’t afford the risk for substantial financial exposure. You need insurance. But you may not have the type or amount of coverage that is necessary for your protection at this time. Most small business owners routinely renew policies year after year without thinking about how changes in their business affect their risk exposure and coverage needs. Here are some areas to reexamine before you automatically renew as well as other areas for which new coverage may be needed.

 

Vehicle insurance

If you have a vehicle used 100% for business, such as a truck or van, likely you have a commercial policy. Just check on the extent of coverage that’s currently on the policy when you renew.

But if you use your personal vehicle for business driving (not counting commuting which is personal) and have a personal policy, rethink your coverage. The personal policy on your vehicle may not cover you if you get into an accident when driving for business. You might have to pay out of pocket for damages to your vehicle, as well as injuries—personal and property—to a third party.

If business driving is only occasional, your personal policy may be fine. But if you use the vehicle primarily for business (driving to customers, worksites, or between multiple work locations; hauling tools and equipment; making deliveries; driving by “nonlisted drivers” such as employees), get a commercial policy—even though it may cost more.

 

Health insurance

Do you provide coverage for your staff? Do you have coverage for yourself and your family? Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Watch enrollment deadlines for coverage in 2018. Currently, open enrollment for individual coverage runs from November 1, 2017, through December 15, 2017 (it may be later for certain state-run plans). For those already enrolled in Medicare, the annual enrollment period to change coverage for 2018 runs from October 15, 2017, through December 7, 2017).
  • There is a new health care option for small employers (fewer than 50 full-time and full-time equivalent employees) that do not have a health plan, called a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA). This allows a small employer to reimburse employees for their individually-obtained coverage up to a set dollar limit (in 2017 it’s $4,950 for self-only coverage or $10,000 for family coverage, prorated for part-year coverage). Thus, you can help employees pay for their coverage on a tax-free basis; your payments aren’t subject to payroll taxes.

 

Workers’ compensation

You probably know that businesses in every state are required to provide this coverage to employees (including family members), although the rules and the cost vary from state to state. (NFIB offers a state by state comparison* of workers’ compensation laws.)

What you might not know, and may want to consider, is the option to cover yourself if you’re self-employed. Sole proprietors, partners, and limited liability company members who aren’t employees are usually not covered by workers’ compensation; state law may allow them to opt in. This may make sense if you’re in a trade or other business where injuries are common.

 

Basic business owner’s policy

A business owner’s policy (BOP) provides coverage for your property (equipment, inventory) and liability coverage (for injuries to third parties). When your policy comes up for renewal:

  • Determine the level of coverage you require now. If you’ve added expensive machinery, for example, you may want to increase your coverage.
  • Shop around. There are many terms and conditions in each policy (such as deductibles and exclusions), and these can affect cost. Compare coverage under different policies to see whether you’re (1) getting the coverage you expect and (2) paying the best price for the coverage you need.

Depending on the nature of your work, be sure that the policy is tailored to your needs. For example, an Artisan and Service Contractors Policy covers the unique risks of tradespeople who perform their services at customer locations. Also consider adding coverage to any BOP for data breaches, which provides funds for notifying and indemnifying customers and employees who are victimized when your company is hacked.

A BOP does not cover flood damage, so depending on your location, you may need separate flood insurance. This is available through the National Flood Insurance Program.

 

Other coverage

The types of insurance discussed earlier aren’t the only policies you may want or need. Some other examples:

  • Business interruption insurance. This helps you pay your bills if a storm or other event closes down your facility. Depending on the policy, it may also cover some lost profits.
  • Errors and omissions coverage. This usually is for professionals (“malpractice coverage”) to provide protection against errors and negligence in the performance of services.
  • Product liability insurance. If you are a manufacturer, wholesaler, or distributor, you may want coverage in case your products cause injury to others.

 

Cost

Making insurance decisions may come down to cost: you may want it but can you afford it (or afford not to have it)? You can buy coverage online or through an insurance agent (a person who typically represents one company) or an insurance broker (who represents multiple insurance companies and can provide you with a formal review of your risk exposure and potential solutions). Whether you decide to work with a broker, who is paid a percentage of the premiums so it doesn’t cost you anything, depends on how much time you have to do your own legwork and how knowledgeable you are about insurance.

 

*Links to non-government web site

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: @BarbaraWeltman.

How to Develop and Use a Good Executive Summary

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: July 6, 2017 Updated: July 6, 2017

Most business owners have a general idea of the executive summary that comes with the traditional business plan.  However, in the real world, summaries come up much more often than just in the business plan. How to create the summary, and how to use it, depends on the business objective.

The summary you say every day

I’ve always liked “Say your business plan every day,” which I heard first from Jim Blasingame, small business advocate.  Business is normally chaotic, so a quick reminder is a good idea.

Start with a sentence or two describing the fundamental strategy. Keep that in mind as you go through the day.

  • What do you do for whom?
  • How do you do it differently?
  • Why are you particularly good at it?

Add a sentence or two highlighting your most important tactics. It might be low or high price, high value, distribute via the web, market via social media, focus on repeat business, or whatever.

Then add the next major milestone you’re working towards. Maybe that’s some number, like 100 lunches in a day or 1,000 subscribers. Maybe it’s the new website launch, or the new product, or the new location. Give yourself an attainable nearby goal that is measurable.

Remind yourself once a day by reciting your personal business summary.

Create written summaries for special uses

Every business has to provide business summaries from time to time. For these you want to focus on the specific details so you can tailor your summary to your real business needs.

The general summary for publications and listings

Have a good summary on hand for general use. Think of it as a marketing document whose key goals include defining a target market and sending a message to that market. Often it starts with a tagline that comes straight from your main marketing. Follow that with information that generates a call or inquiry. You have to fit word count to the words allowed in your situational summary. Within that word count, optimize the information you can include to generate interest, include a call to action, and the information needed to follow up, such as phone number or website.

The executive summary for business loans and allies

For these summaries you start with either the personal summary or the general business summary above. Tailor these summaries to the specific use. The summary of strategy, tactics, and milestones is more likely to be appropriate for banks, and the more sales oriented summary of product, market, and main messages is likely to be more appropriate for allies, partners, and vendors.

For a summary going to a bank, related to a commercial loan, you probably want to add a financial summary including recent annual sales and profitability. The bank will require submission of detailed financial information as part of the application, so you don’t need to go in detail in the summary. You should make sure to include two or three sentences on business history, and two or three sentences describing the management team. It is also common that you add a paragraph about how the money involved will be used to help your business.

The executive summary for investors

To create a summary to be sent or submitted to potential investors, it’s good to start with a description of the problem you solve, how you solve it, and why you are well positioned to offer such a solution. Being well positioned includes your secret sauce, like proprietary technology or a special position in the market.

Investors also want to know the highlights of the recent past, recent milestones met, and key milestones for the future. Often that’s a matter of projected revenues for the next three years; but in some cases, other measurements such as numbers of users or subscribers can be used even if they are free. Investors want to see growth and growth potential.

For investors you also have to include a description of the management team with key details from team members’ track records and backgrounds.

And always, form follows function

Build a repository of text summaries, somewhere in your business materials online with backup copies in print. These are texts you’ve used in the past. Business summaries and executive summaries have to meet specific objectives. Most businesses end up saving various versions of different summaries. They pull them up and tailor them to the specific need each time a need is found.

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 .

14 Tips to Protect Your Business from Ransomware Attacks

By ngoriel, SBA Official
Published: May 17, 2017

Ransomware attacks are the fastest growing malware threats. On average, more than 4,000 ransomware attacks have occurred daily since January 1, 2016. Ransomware, a type of malicious software that infects and restricts access to a computer until a ransom is paid, affects businesses of all sizes. The good news is that there are best practices you can adopt to protect your business.

  1. Implement an awareness and training program. Because end users are targets, employees should be aware of the threat of ransomware and how it is delivered.
  2. Enable strong spam filters to prevent phishing emails (an attempt to obtain sensitive information electronically) from reaching employees and authenticate inbound email using technologies like Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) to prevent email spoofing.
  3. Scan all incoming and outgoing emails to detect threats and filter executable files (used to perform computer functions) from reaching employees.
  4. Configure firewalls to block access to known malicious IP addresses.
  5. Patch operating systems, software, and firmware on devices. Consider using a centralized patch management system.
  6. Set anti-virus and anti-malware programs to conduct regular scans automatically.
  7. Manage the use of privileged accounts based on the principle of least privilege: no employees should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed and those with a need for administrator accounts should only use them when necessary.
  8. Configure access controls—including file, directory, and network share permissions— with least privilege in mind. If an employee only needs to read specific files, the employee should not have write access to those files, directories, or shares.
  9. Disable macro scripts (tool bar buttons and keyboard shortcut) from office files transmitted via email. Consider using Office Viewer software to open Microsoft Office files transmitted via email instead of full office suite applications.
  10. Implement Software Restriction Policies (SRP) or other controls to prevent programs from executing from common ransomware locations, such as temporary folders supporting popular Internet browsers or compression/decompression programs, including the AppData/LocalAppData folder.
  11. Consider disabling Remote Desktop protocol (RDP) if it is not being used.
  12. Use application whitelisting, which only allows systems to execute programs known and permitted by security policy.
  13. Execute operating system environments or specific programs in a virtualized environment.
  14. Categorize data based on organizational value and implement physical and logical separation of networks and data for different organizational units.

Visit the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team  website for additional information on how to protect your business from ransomware attacks. 

Editor’s note: Best practices provided by the U.S. Government interagency guidance document, “How to Protect Your Networks from Ransomware”.

About the Author:

ngoriel
Natale Goriel

SBA Official

Hi, my name is Natale and I'm serving as a Moderator for the SBA Community. Our goal is to continually improve this site to meet your needs, so we appreciate your feedback and participation.

6 Tools Every Small Business Owner Needs to Succeed in 2017

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: January 12, 2017

The dawn of 2017 likely brings with it new optimism — not just in your personal life, but for your business as well. But are you ready to take on this new year wisely?

Before you start making sweeping changes in your small business, take a look at these six tools which can help you along the way. They’ll inform your business decisions (and maybe some personal ones, too.)

1. An accounting system

No matter how good your accountant is, s/he can’t read minds. Whether you prefer desktop or cloud-based models, make sure you have an accounting system on your side in 2017.

Keeping a record of your financial choices as you move through the year will make it easier to control your expenses and prepare for your next round of tax payments. And if your business ever gets audited, you’ll be so glad to have your accounting system to refer.

Not sure where to start? Try Intuit QuickBooks, Xero, Zoho, or Freshbooks.

2. A calendar

Who doesn’t love opening a new calendar or planner as the new year arrives? Choose a calendar that works for your lifestyle to better manage your time. A paper planner can help you stay organized by requiring you to pen in each detail, while a digital version can keep your schedule up-to-date at your fingertips.

Don’t forget to schedule important recurring dates like tax payments, employee pay periods and anticipated supply ordering dates.

3. Design tools

You don’t need to be an artist or a Photoshop wizard to create compelling graphics for your business. For everything from flyers to banners to social media posts, find the online tool that works for your business needs. Check out Canva, Pixlr, or GIMP.

Looking for a company to help you create and order physical marketing items? Try Vistaprint or Deluxe.

4. Sleep

You can’t deny it forever: When you’re tired and worn-out, your business just doesn’t run as well. Commit to getting more sleep in 2017, even if it’s just an extra half-hour each night.

Have a hard time breaking away from business matters right before bedtime? Keep your phone in the next room, and instead, rely on an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake you up each morning. Turning your bedroom into a no-phone zone might be just the thing you need!

5. An updated business plan

Last month, I noted that the end of the year is the perfect time to review your business plan and make updates as needed to benefit your company’s growth.

Now, it’s time to put that change into action. Remember that small changes can be as effective as large ones.

6. A mentor

Don’t dive into this year’s business goals without a mentor! Attend a SCORE workshop near you or online, and sign up to meet with a mentor. No matter where you are in your small business journey, a mentor can help keep you on the right track toward success.

About the Author:

bridgetwpollack
Bridget Weston Pollack

Guest Blogger

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.

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