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Related News

You may be small (for now) but you can still grow and succeed

(By David Fant, owner of Market Mapping plus and chair of SBAM’s Strategic Communications Advisory Committee. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

What do Microsoft, Apple Computer, and Amway Corporation all have in common? And, what is their relationship to small business? It is interesting to note that ALL big businesses started as small businesses. Rockefeller did not start as a huge corporation. Rather, he began small and grew from humble beginnings. Consider this: Amway Corporation, a $9 billion + company, started with two people. Apple Computer, a $350 billion company, started with just two people. Microsoft Corporation, another $350 billion company, started with just two people. Combined, these companies employ over 500,000 people – and that number is even greater if you count the independent sales force of Amway Corporation. So, what does that mean to you?

It does not mean you will become a company worth billions of dollars or that growing so large even has to be your goal. Rather, what it means is that you are the seed for growth. Expansion, growth, diversification are all the watch words of business today. Each of the above three companies became who they are by starting with one product, selling it well, then diversifying into other related fields. How do you go about growing?

1. First, look at what you do and analyze exactly how you can be the best in the market. Look at what you do well, and what you need to improve. Are expenses in line with revenue? Are you spending excessive amounts of money on things you don’t really need? Is your staff doing their job and selling like they should? If you’re a company of one, what is your sales process like? Are you invoicing your clients and collecting those fees or do you shrug your shoulders and say, “they will pay when they can?” Don’t forget, you do the work, you get paid. Don’t ever make an exception on that point.

2. Second, if you’re ready to grow, what areas do you work on first? My recommendation is finding new ways to sell more of what you make. If you have saturated your local market, can you expand geographically? If so, expand the market area for your company and expand sales. Don’t forget to factor in the added cost of servicing clients who are further away from your headquarters.

3. Third, diversify. Adding new products/services to your company’s portfolio is a great way to grow income as well as spread the risk of sales over more than one product line or service. One way to diversify is to purchase an existing company with similar products/services or who have the product/service you want to start to offer. They come with a staff, expertise and customer base that you won’t have to reinvent.

4. Fourth, find a new, undiscovered product or service. At one point in my business life I kept getting phone calls from prospective customers about finding homeowners who live on a body of water. The answer was “sorry, but that database doesn’t exist.” After about eight years of this, I decided there has to be a way. I did some research and analysis and two years later created a nationwide database of Waterfront Homeowners. It is unique in the market and to this day, no one has duplicated this niche database. 

Will you become the next Amway? Microsoft? Apple? Maybe not, but then again, you never know. What you do have the potential to become if you haven’t already is a small business with big impact. Find your niche, serve it well, expand and diversify when able – stay the course – you’ll find great success.

David Fant is the owner of Market Mapping plus and chair of SBAM’s Strategic Communications Advisory Committee.

How do you plan to grow? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

2012 Will Be a Breakout Year for Small Business, and a Great Year for Michigan

growth(By Rob Fowler, SBAM President and CEO. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

I’m feeling more upbeat about Michigan’s economic future than I’ve been in a decade. The blocks are coming together to create a foundation of dynamism and job growth, and entrepreneurs are going to lead the way.

There are a lot of reasons I have such a positive outlook. SBAM’s semi-annual Barometer survey of 600 small business owners in October found that 86 percent of small business owners say their business outlook for the next six months is good or somewhat good. They are anticipating the enactment and energizing impact of business tax reform on January 1 and a fair percentage of them say they are already planning to hire more workers. I also talk every day with entrepreneurs, and I’m amazed at the number of them who tell me that, because they’ve spent the last few years getting their operations lean, mean and efficient, they are now thriving and looking forward to expansion and job growth.

Their optimism is being driven by a number of factors. First of all, the business tax reform I noted above is a jolt of energy aimed directly at the small, family-owned businesses in your town. Despite what you may have heard, the new, simplified Michigan Business Tax does little or nothing for big business, or big banks or “big oil.” Instead, it puts more money in the hands of entrepreneurs who will use this tax savings to invest in their operations, their workforce and their communities. 

Secondly, small businesses recognize that they finally have strong allies in the governor’s office, the state House and the state Senate who understand entrepreneurs and are willing to make the tough votes that support small business job creation. Small business owners have elected men and women who have proven they are friends of small business. These lawmakers have demonstrated their vision of a better Michigan by simplifying our tax structure, working for a common sense regulatory environment and supporting “economic gardening” that builds home-grown small businesses and employment. 

Challenges remain. Chief among them is that there are still some legislators who claim they are “friends” of small business at the same time they propose polices that would crush entrepreneurship. But guess what? Small business owners are the ones who decide who their friends are. SBAM, as their association, holds policymakers to a high standard if they want to be known and recognized as friends of small business. We will continue to be vigilant in monitoring votes and telling lawmakers’ constituents when we approve or disapprove of their representatives’ actions.

2012 is going to be a great year for small business and a great year for Michigan. Entrepreneurs are going to be stepping on the accelerator and getting their business operations into high gear. They are going to be hiring more workers --- one, two, a half dozen at a time – and those numbers will be multiplied across thousands of small employers in every corner of the state. It’s important now to stay the course on policies and taxes and trust that small business owners, the men and women who are your neighbors, will take the tools in hand and finish the job of reinventing our state. 

(What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Rob's prognosis for Michigan? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.)

IRS releases income tax withholding tables reflecting 2013 changes

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

As employers begin issuing 2013 paychecks, here is a summary of new withholding rates and changes affecting Social Security and Medicare rates, directly from the IRS.

Updated tables, which were issued by the IRS after President Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, show the new rates in effect for 2013. They supersede tables issued on December 31, 2012. The newly revised version of IRS Notice 1036 contains the percentage method income-tax withholding tables and related information that employers need to implement changes for 2013.

Employers should also begin withholding Social Security tax at the rate of 6.2 percent of wages paid following the expiration of the temporary two-percentage-point payroll tax cut that was in effect for 2011 and 2012. And the tables incorporate the new 0.9 percent Medicare tax (in addition to the 1.45 percent withheld by employers).

Employers should start using the revised withholding tables and correct the amount of Social Security tax withheld as soon as possible in 2013, but not later than February 15, 2013. For any Social Security tax under-withheld before that date, employers should make the appropriate adjustment in workers' pay as soon as possible, but not later than March 31, 2013.

Employers and payroll companies will handle the withholding changes, so workers typically don't need to take any additional action, such as filling out a new W-4 withholding form.

As always, however, the IRS urges workers to review their withholding every year and, if necessary, fill out a new W-4 and give it to their employer. For example, individuals and couples with multiple jobs, people who are having children, getting married, getting divorced or buying a home, and those who typically wind up with a balance due or large refund at the end of the year may want to consider submitting revised W-4 forms.

Biggest business trends in 2013 - part two

By Steven Strauss

Last week, I began my annual look at the Top Trends in Small Business. This week we get to the Top 5 and what is interesting about the overall list is that it is dominated by changes to the way we work, mostly due to technology, but additionally, because of shifting attitudes and values.

Which brings us to No. 5:

5. The rise of the solopreneur: I thought I was probably onto something last year when I launched my new venture TheSelfEmployed, but little did I realize that the rise of the self-employed army would turn out to be a trend that is actually altering work itself. Whether it is Fortune Magazine stating “Welcome to the age of the freelancer,” small business expert Barry Moltz stating that “Micro startups are everywhere,” or columnist Jan Norman noting that “almost 17 million Americans are now solopreneurs, 900,000 more than in 2011” there is no mistaking that there is a new class of independent, creative, take-charge small business solo entrepreneurs on the rise.

4. You are headed to the clouds: The next three trends can all be lumped together under the title “The changing nature of work.” Here, what we see is that cloud computing is no longer a stranger to small business. Indeed, a Dell survey not long ago found that 69% of small businesses preferred to purchase software and applications as an Internet service – in the cloud – rather than as an off the shelf product. That same poll stated that those surveyed planned on adding three additional cloud-based services as the year progressed.

Cloud computing, Software as a Service, call it what you will, is proving to be a cheaper and easier way to do business and as such, is the new way that business will continue to get done.

3. Say hello to my little friend: That we are living in the time of mobile work is no surprise, but beyond that, we are quickly leaving even the laptop in the dust. Forrester Research states that 55% of businesses consider smartphone support a “high or critical priority.” And more than half of those same companies indicated they also now need to support tablets.

The challenge for the small business is that we normally rely on what is known as BYOD – Bring your Own Devise. While a smart choice and certainly a less expensive option than buying everyone a smartphone or tablet, it comes with security risks. When people are tapping into your system from anywhere on any devise, security breaches are far more possible.

This in turn means that your security systems and software must be top-notch. As one online security expert put it, it is not a matter of if you will be hacked, but when and how bad.

2. Virtual is the new physical: According to a piece in Entrepreneur Magazine, if you are looking for the workplace of the future, you are not going to find it. “”Who says there’ll be an office at all?” asks Tom Austin, vice president at Gartner, a Stamford, Conn.-based technology research firm. “Already we work from Starbucks, in the car and at our kids' softball games.””

The article then goes on to profile a company called Floor64. “The media and consulting company maintains a brick-and-mortar space in Sunnyvale, Calif., but also runs a bunch of Skype-powered chat rooms for remote workers--many of which are buzzing for most of the day. “These [chat rooms], more than anything else, represent our 'office,'” says CEO Mike Masnick, “and they don't exist in physical space.””

And what is fueling this radical shift from the physical to the virtual are all of the trends that make up this column: Cloud computing, powerful mobile devices, technology, new places to work, etc.

1. Happy days are here again: For the past few years, the dour economic news permeated my annual trends column. In 2013, happily, the opposite is true. Not only is there scant bad news to be found above, but