Archive for the ‘Small Business News’ Category.

Increase Sales by Answering Customers’ Questions

increasing revenueA small business owner slashes advertising budgets and doubles sales by answering questions customers had about his product and industry

By early 2009, his company, River Pools and Spas, a 20-employee installer of in-ground fiberglass pools in Virginia and Maryland, had a decline in orders from an average of six a month to barely two. That winter, four customers who had planned to install pools costing more than $50,000 each demanded their deposits back. For three consecutive weeks, the company overdrew its bank account.

Around this time, Mr. Sheridan began to overhaul his marketing. The company had been spending about $250,000 a year on radio, television and pay-per-click advertising. It would now cut the budget to about a tenth of that and focus on generating sales through informational blog posts and videos, what has become known as content marketing. But Mr. Sheridan took an unconventional approach to his content.

As a result, River Pools has recovered to exceed its peak pre-2007 revenue, and Mr. Sheridan, a 35-year-old father of four, has become something of a Web marketing guru. While he still owns a 33 percent interest in the pool company, his partners manage it day to day while he concentrates on his new venture, TheSalesLion.com. He recently spoke about his marketing approach in a conversation that has been edited and condensed.

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Changes to the 504 and 7(a) SBA Loan Programs

SBAThe Small Business Administration announced proposed changes to the 504 and 7(a) SBA loan programs this week, saying the tweaks would help streamline the application process and expand access to the programs.

The two SBA loan programs that would be affected by the proposed changes are the 504 and 7(a) programs. The 504 SBA loan program provides long-term fixed asset financing to small businesses, to be used for buying or improving land, buildings or equipment. The 7(a) SBA loan program aims to assist eligible small businesses in accessing credit when they are unable to do so elsewhere.

Both programs’ ultimate aims include facilitating job creation.

“Streamlining and simplifying has been a key focus of our agency over the last few years,” the SBA’s Karen Mills wrote in a press release. “The changes are the latest steps to reduce paperwork burden, with our eye on the larger goal of expanding access to capital and giving entrepreneurs and small business owners the financial resources to grow and create jobs.”

The proposed changes announced by the SBA include eliminating the personal resource test, which requires potential borrowers to “obtain a maximum level of personal finance resources.” Additionally, the SBA is proposing a revision to the rule on affiliation, which currently blocks potential applicants from obtaining loans under size standards, due to affiliations with other companies.

The proposed changes would also reduce the paperwork requirements for both loan programs and eliminate the “nine-month rule” for the 504 program, which limits businesses to including in their 504 project application expenses that have occurred only in the nine-month period prior to the date of application.

Lastly, the SBA is suggesting an increased accountability for the Certified Development Companies (CDCs), which are the “community-based partners for providing 504 loans,” as described on the SBA’s website.

The Networking Disconnect

To some people, ‘networking’ is a dirty word. They cringe when thinking about going to a networking event. The reason for that is that most people do it wrong.

I was at a large networking event with more than five hundred people a few years ago. When I went up to do my presentation I began by asking the audience: “How many of you came here today hoping to do a little business–maybe make a sale?”  The overwhelming majority of the people in the audience raised their hands. I then asked, “How many of you are here today hoping to buy something?”

No one raised a hand–not one single person!

This is the networking disconnect.

Employee Lawsuits, what should you do

Employee lawsuits are more common than you think.   When you run a small business, it’s easy to feel like your employees are friends or even family members. But in a court of law, they are your employees — and, as their employer, you should take steps to protect yourself and your company in the event that one of them sues you.

The FLSA: Learn It, Know It, Live It

The most common type of lawsuit brought by employees is a “wage and hour” case, or a dispute over whether or not you’ve adequately compensated them for hours they’ve worked. The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act addresses these issues, although each state, county, and city may have their own additional rules.

Most cases begin when “non-exempt” (or hourly, part-time) employees are treated like “exempt” (or salaried, full-time) employees. “Exempt” means exempt from the FLSA. In other words, salaried employees may work overtime without being paid extra, whereas hourly employees must receive overtime pay.

“There’s a booming industry in these types of cases, where employees are not getting paid time and a half,” says Keith Gutstein, partner at Kaufman Dolowich Voluck & Gonzo. He adds that that restaurants, hotels, gas stations, car washes, landscapers, and other cash businesses are at greatest risk.

No contract can waive an employee’s right to be protected by the FLSA. There is often an agreement to work overtime without being paid time and a half, Gutstein says, “but the fact is, it’s illegal, even though employer and employee are happy. After termination, they often realize they can go back and get all the overtime that is owed to them.” In fact, the FLSA compensates workers for up to three years of back overtime — and some states award twice that. Also, if you’re at fault, the FLSA doubles the award and requires you to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees, too.

To protect yourself, keep pristine records of employee hours and pay. Without records, an employee could claim any rate of pay and hours. Also, if the government gets wind that you pay workers in cash, it will investigate to insure that it’s collected all the tax revenue it’s due. Many times, in fact, an employee unwittingly triggers an investigation by filing for unemployment benefits.

Discrimination and Harassment

Many other employee lawsuits derive from behavior on the job, and, as such, can be tough to defend against. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protects employees from discrimination if they are a member of a “protected class” based on gender, age, race, and disability. (Sexual orientation and marital status are not protected under federal law, but they are in many states.) The EEOC will even prosecute on behalf of claimants, so your employee does not even have to retain a lawyer to launch such a suit.

In order to file a discrimination or harassment complaint with the EEOC, an employee must prove four things: that she’s a member of a protected class, that she’s qualified and performing the job in a satisfactory manner, that she’s suffered an adverse action (such as lack of promotion or termination), and that the adverse action was the result of membership in a protected class.

If a court allows the suit to proceed, it doesn’t mean the employee has won, it just shifts the burden back to the employer to prove that the adverse action was based on legitimate business reasons, Gutstein explains. “You have to rely on documentation—counselings, warnings, write-ups,” he says.

Your most important tool, however, is your employee handbook, which should outline company policies about discrimination and harassment, your disciplinary process, and should make clear that there is an open door policy for reporting any and all complaints about discrimination and harassment. There also must be appropriate training around these policies.

Assuming that you have an employee handbook and such practices in place, you can fall back on the Faragher/Ellerth defense, which allows an employer to file for a case to be dismissed because there was an open-door policy for reporting discrimination and harassment that the employee did not use before filing suit.

5 best practices to avoid employee  lawsuits

10 Business Card Mistakes You Might Be Making

Everyone should have a business card, right? Whether you have a business, a nonprofit, a local organization or are looking for a new job, you need a way to leave people with important information. But most make big mistakes on their cards.  Do you make these business card mistakes?

To write this post, I grabbed ten random business cards from a stack I received last week. So you can see I didn’t have to look far for examples.

So if you are ready, pull out your business card, lay it on the desk near your computer, pull out a pen or highlighter and be ready to identify the mistakes you are making

Here are the 10 business card mistakes people make:

  1.  Small font size
  2.  Glossy paper
  3.  Light font color
  4.  Design inconsistent with website
  5.  No links to social media sites
  6.  No email/web address or bad email
  7.  Printed on poor quality paper
  8.  Shares too much information
  9.  Includes no brand promise or tagline
  10.  Does not use back of card

More details in Tim Tyrell Smith’s article

4 states of the B2B buying decision process

In this article, Bob Apollo focuses on the concept that the B2B buying decision process typically occupy one of 4 states at any one point in time. These states are defined by two axes: whether or not your prospect has a clear vision of where they want to get to, and whether or not they have a clear idea of how they are going to get there.

4 States of the B2B Buyers Journey BandWThese 4 states:

  • Know where and how
  • Know where but not how
  • Know how but not where
  • Know neither where nor how

Are likely to result in dramatically different behaviors as they conduct their search for a solution.

Bob highlights some of the implications  and gives  some food for thought – in the remainder of this article.

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Top 10 Employee Handbook Mistakes

An employee handbook sets expectations and standards for employees.

In fact, an employee handbook is one of the best ways to protect your business from employee lawsuits and clearly communicate your company policies. The absence of a formal handbook or policy manual, or a poorly drafted one, puts you at a disadvantage to defend yourself should your business face a lawsuit.

Policies that are too specific and rigid can potentially limit an employer’s flexibility when dealing with real issues. Conversely, policies that are too general make it difficult for employers to hold employees accountable for their actions and behavior.

So how does an employer find the right balance? The first step is to be aware of the potential pitfalls. Download CalChamber’s “Top 10 Employee Handbook Mistakes” white paper and learn what your company can do to avoid them.

Download the Free White Paper

Brinker Ruling: 5 Lunchtime Takeaways for California Employers

On April 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court ruled in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court of San Diego that while employers are required to provide meal breaks to employees, they need not ensure that employees take them.

It’s a significant ruling for California employers because it clarifies the rules regarding rest and meal breaks. Equally important, it eases burdens by allowing employers to provide breaks on a schedule that meets their business needs.

For your reference, five takeaways from the Brinker decision:

1. “Early lunching” is permitted:

2. Employers must provide a second meal break after ten hours of work:

3. Employees are free to do what they want during their meal break:

4. Employers must provide both rest and meal breaks, but not in any particular order:

5. Employees must receive a rest period after 3.5 hours of work:

6. Bonus: Review your company’s meal and rest policies:

For more details click here

 The Brinker Decision Analysis and Guidance

Thomas Jefferson School of Law Helping Cash-Strapped Small Businesses

Struggling small businesses and aspiring nonprofits can get a helping hand from Thomas Jefferson School of Law and its Small Business Law Center.

The clinic provides organizations that can’t afford legal counsel with transactional help – from drawing up contracts and lease arrangements to forming entities and navigating the regulatory process.

“There is a huge need,” said TJSL professor Luz Herrera, the director of the Small Business Law Center (SBLC). “We really looking at individuals barely making a living and who would not otherwise be able to set up a business or set up a nonprofit.”

The clinic is staffed by TJSL students, who are guided during representation by a licensed California attorney. The practical experience attained by law students is a sizable side benefit of the program.

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JOBS Act, will it help you?

Today, President Obama signs the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act into law. For those of you who haven’t been following the JOBS Act, it is a bill that will make it easier for startups and small businesses to raise funds, especially through online crowdfunding.

As an entrepreneur myself, I’ve been watching the evolution of the JOBS Act very closely. It passed Congress last week through a 73-26 Senate vote and a 380-41 House vote, including an amendment designed to protect crowdfund investors in order to make it easier for startups to access financing.

 

Both statistics and anecdotal evidence tell us entrepreneurship is the key to job creation. So, while the JOBS Act doesn’t relate to the job market per se, I asked a few crowdfunding experts how it might impact the unemployment rate.

“Simply, the JOBS Act will make funding more accessible for startups by allowing non-accredited investors to participate in the funding rounds, and this alone, I believe will be the main factor driving the increase in new companies being founded. And with new companies comes the need to hire staff. Without a doubt, this will help the current unemployment rate,” said Tanya Prive, founder of Rock The Post, a social networking platform for entrepreneurs to fund and swap resources.

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