Workshops to Help Economic Gardening Sprout Across Michigan

The Small Business Association of Michigan, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and Public Policy Associates, Inc. are hosting a series of free workshops to help local officials and economic development professionals understand economic gardening. The workshops will be held Sept. 9 in Saginaw, Sept. 20 in Traverse City, Sept. 21 in Lansing, Sept. 28 in southeast Michigan and Sept. 29 in Grand Rapids.

These workshops are an opportunity for you to learn first hand what economic gardening can mean for you and your community.

These free workshops will enable you to hear directly from MEDC officials as well as other economic gardening experts.  You will:

  • Learn the basics of economic gardening:  What it is, where it came from, and why it makes sense for Michigan.
  • Hear about the State’s plans for making economic gardening part of our overall economic development strategy, including a Pilot Program launching on October 1.
  • Learn how you can partner with the state to strengthen local efforts to support growth-orientated companies.
  • Leave with concrete ideas to start the planning process to proceed with an economic gardening strategy in your area.

LectureTools adds 7 jobs in prep for product launch this fall

If the mother of invention is necessity, then it might also be the surrogate parent of start-ups. LectureTools, a University of Michigan spin-out that is reinventing educational materials, makes a good argument for it.

The 1-year-old start-up got its start late in 2009 when a small group of graduate students approached U-M Prof. Perry Samson, co-founder of Weather Underground, about reinventing the software program for educational materials, such as course packs, handouts and quizzes. That grass roots movement turned into $650,000 in National Science Foundation grants that allowed U-M students and Samson to redesign the software from the ground up.

"It's more efficient," says Jason Aubrey, sales and marketing director and co-founder of LectureTools. "The design is much better and the usability is a lot nicer."

The Ann Arbor-based firm plans to debut its product this fall at U-M, thanks to the work of a team of 10 employees and several interns, up from the company's three original founders. LectureTools is working with the university's Office of Tech Transfer and another company to fully integrate the program with U-M's infrastructure and begin marketing it beyond Ann Arbor.

Tried and True: Direct Mail Marketing Still Holds Value in an Electronic World

By David Fant, owner of Market Mapping plus. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

Tips and Tricks for a Successful Campaign

Today everyone seems to be leaning toward Social Media, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach out to clients with marketing messages. While there is great value in these web-based strategies for communicating, direct mail still holds appeal when coupled with an electronic twist – and of course executed well.

When considering a direct mail/e-mail campaign, or really any marketing campaign, it’s important to remember the goal: generate sales. Direct mail and e-mail share a number of characteristics that are important to understand when developing a marketing strategy. Here are a few:

1. Both direct mail and e-mail are personal programs. Anything that is not specifically addressed to the recipient is deemed “junk mail” or “Spam” and instantly discarded.

2. Targeting is EVERYTHING. Why advertise to people across town, if there are four other companies between you and your prospective customer. Focus on where your customers are coming from and maximize your frequency of contacting them by mailing fewer pieces. For example, 2,500 pieces mailed once will generate less response/sales than 500 pieces mailed five times to a targeted list.

3. Don’t try to sell the farm. Pick one or two items to feature and get customers into your store or to consider your business, to your website or to call to discuss options you have available for them to buy.

4. Remember: focus on selling the benefits of buying your products/services over the features. What’s in it for the recipient? A computer with a 500 GB hard drive is a feature of the machine. The ability to store 5000 songs or 2300 pictures is a benefit of the machine.

5. Look for direct mail to acquire new customers and e-mail to retain those customers. The Direct Marketing Association recently conducted a study that discovered people still prefer a direct mail offer in their mailbox over an e-mail solicitation for companies new to them. Most people are leery of e-mails and links in e-mails, making direct mail a strong choice to get people to actually look at your message and create some familiarity with your brand. Direct mail is ideal for capturing new customers. E-mail is preferred for customer loyalty and ongoing promotion.

6. TRACK PERFORMANCE! It doesn’t matter if you are using direct mail or e-mail. It’s extremely important to track how your campaign is performing. Key coding who you are mailing to (age, income, family status, interests) is simple and allows you to track when people respond. Remember, each mailing gives you more information about who is responding and who is not responding. From this data, you can fine tune future mailings and become more accurate and cost effective.

7. Be cautious when buying an e-mail mailing list. The rate of outdated e-mail addresses is high, so verifying and spot checking accuracy is important. Also ensuring the vendor will refund you for bad addresses is critical.

8. Partner with a quality list broker to develop your direct mail or e-mail list. A good list broker will help you with all of the above issues and will have resources that you may not now know about to help make your campaign a success.

The key to any campaign is to design the most powerful offer you can. Find the best, most targeted list available for your business and design a piece that competes with the other mail in a prospects mailbox. Remember, what it looks like is less important than what you’re offering and who you are offering it to.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What would interest you? What would YOU like to see/have?

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

Steven Strauss Column: To Groupon or Not to Groupon?

My partner would like us to jump on the Groupon bandwagon for our bike shop and do a promotion with them, but I remain unconvinced. What’s the real deal, anyway?

My wife has always wanted to try Yoga, but for one reason or another, never did. Then one day she stumbled upon an offer from Groupon that was too irresistible to resist: 10 classes for $50. So she signed up and has been going to her classes for the past few weeks. She’s hooked and it looks like the Yoga studio has created a new customer, which of course is the idea.

But is that typical?
Not always. There is a lot to be said for these new breed of group discount buying sites like Groupon or Living Social, not the least of which is that for the consumer, they offer some unbelievable deals. But one main question that small business owners must answer is whether they will be able to convert all of these new looky-loos into return, repeat customers.

If not, then Groupon and its kin are not loss leaders, they are just losses. So the question of the day is whether you should jump on the Groupon bandwagon. Here are the pros and cons to consider:


Exposure: Undoubtedly, maybe the best part of Groupon is that the huge discounts offered by your business via the site will expose your business to a huge number of new people. That’s tough to beat. In an era when there is just so much darn competition, the ability to make an impression on a lot of potential new customers is not to be underestimated.
Sales: The correlation to all of this exposure is that you will sell more, maybe a lot more. People love a bargain and they love to save money, especially these days. So by offering steep discounts on what it is your business sells, you will no doubt sell more. Now, will you be able to make a profit? That is the question.

Advertising and Marketing: Another significant factor when considering the Groupon model, aside from increased sales, is that it can also be viewed as a unique way to advertise, market and/or brand your business. I always say that being in business is like being in a room without the light on – no one knows you are there. You turn on the light by marketing and advertising your business – that is how new people know you are out there.
So in that vein, if nothing else, a Groupon-type campaign will turn the light on and expose your business to a lot of new people.

OK, so there is a lot of good to be said for Groupon. There is also a lot of bad to be said.


Conversions? What do you get when you offer a steep discount to the masses? Masses looking for a steep discount. They may not necessarily be looking for your auto detailing service, but can’t pass on the deal. The problem then, and the problem is, will you be able to convert that bargain-hunter into a real, ongoing customer willing to pay your normal prices?

Not a few small businesses who have tried this model have answered that question, “no.”
Loss Leader: Groupon, Living Social, etc. promote loss leaders. Same question: Will you be able to go from loss to leader?

Capacity: I once had a colleague who really wanted to get his pizza restaurant reviewed by the local paper. So we put together some press materials and lo and behold, the restaurant critic bit and came out a few weeks later. That next Friday, there was a five-star glowing review in the paper.

Marketing gold, right?


It was a total disaster for my friend. He was completely unprepared for the onslaught of customers that stormed his establishment that night, that weekend. He ran out of dough early, did not have enough wait staff on hand, the line grew to an hour and a half long, etc. In the end, he pissed a lot of people off.

Business Next radio: exclusive interview with Gerald Moore, the new Michigan District Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration

How the U.S. Small Business Administration can help you be a more successful small business owner. Business Next radio host Michael Rogers talks with Gerald Moore, the new Michigan District Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Business Next 
is part of the new MichiganBusinessNetwork.comInternet radio network. Hear great tips and ideas for growing your business on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays at 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. (Repeated at 3 p.m., 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.)

Tune in to from your PC or mobile device and get the advice you need to be a successful entrepreneur!

“The Best of Business Next” will air on at 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

Don't forget to become a fan of the "Business Next" Facebook page! Got an idea for guests and topics for “Business Next”? Forward to Michael Rogers at 

Mobile Technology Association of Michigan (MTAM) Partners with SBAM

The Mobile Technology Association of Michigan (MTAM) announced that it has partnered with the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) to offer enhanced membership benefits to its members.

“This new strategic partnership between SBAM and the Mobile Technology Association of Michigan brings tremendous added value to small business owners,” says SBAM President and CEO Rob Fowler. “It focuses the power of tens of thousands of small business owners across the state of Michigan to provide outstanding product and service opportunities, and helps advance our shared vision of a more entrepreneurial economy in the state.”

The Mobile Technology Association of Michigan is a trade association for the mobile industry, including carriers, manufacturers, hardware developers, software developers, wireless system installers, tower manufacturers/installers, mobile marketing vendors, advertisers, users of the technology, and anyone else interested in Mobile.

For more information on the benefits available to Mobile Technology Association of Michigan members, including access to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan group health insurance, visit or contact MTAM at

Business Next radio: How can mobile technology help make your small business more successful?

Business Next radio host Michael Rogers talks today with Linda Daichendt, Executive Director/President, Mobile Technology Association of Michigan.

Business Next 
is part of the new MichiganBusinessNetwork.comInternet radio network. Hear great tips and ideas for growing your business on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays at 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. (Repeated at 3 p.m., 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.)

Tune in to from your PC or mobile device and get the advice you need to be a successful entrepreneur!

“The Best of Business Next” will air on at 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

Don't forget to become a fan of the "Business Next" Facebook page! Got an idea for guests and topics for “Business Next”? Forward to Michael Rogers at or 517-267-2209.

SBAM Chairman Yan Ness profiled in online magazine

Yan Ness, CEO of Online Tech in Ann Arbor and the 2011-12 chairman of SBAM, was profiled recently in Concentrate. Excerpt: 

Ness is an avowed proponent of economic gardening - policies that help small firms like his, a data center company with 25 employees, grow organically and sink deep roots. "If you look at that group, it's the only one that creates net jobs over a long period of time," Ness says. 

Read the rest of the article here

Federal Exchange Rules

Last week, Health and Human Services (HHS) released their much-anticipated rules on health insurance exchanges.  Comments are due Sept. 28, and the Small Business Association of Michigan, along with our Washington-based affiliate National Small Business Association, will submit comments which we will begin to draft in the coming weeks.  If you have comments that you would like to submit for consideration, please email them to

In short: the rules provide significant flexibility for states to customize their own exchanges, and were far from the proscriptive 800-page document expected. Below are some of the key provisions in the regulations.

Creation/Certification of Exchanges

  • States will be allowed to partner to create regional exchanges, or maintain them within a state’s borders.  
  • State exchanges will be allowed to either be active purchasers (negotiators) or restrict their role to the creation of an open marketplace – the regulations don’t clarify this beyond what was in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
  • States that are shown to be working on creating an exchange are given some flexibility on the certification deadline of Jan. 2013 before HHS will step in and establish an exchange in that state.
  • The HHS approval process for exchanges would function much like that now used for Medicaid or CHIP state plans, but certification also would require that state exchanges operate a reinsurance program.

Small Business Health Options Plan (SHOP)

  • The rules do not specify a minimum participation requirement for participating in a SHOP exchange, it does seek comments specific to this.
  • SHOP Qualifies Health Plans (QHP) are only allowed to change rates at a uniform time and cannot change rates for an employer during a plan year.  
  • Exchanges are encouraged, but not required, to provide calculators that allow employees to calculate their premium share for particular plans after the employer contribution to aid employee choice.
  • SHOP exchanges enroll small employers, or, if a state elects after 2015, large employers.  Small employers have 100 or fewer employees, or at the election of a state prior to 2016, 50 or fewer.  Part-time as well as full-time employees are included in the count.  Employers must have at least one employee to qualify; sole proprietors do not qualify.
  • Qualified employers can either offer coverage to their employees only through the SHOP exchange that covers their principle place of business or through multiple SHOP exchanges covering the primary workplaces of their employees (for an employer with workers in multiple states).

Administration of Exchanges

  • The regulations do allow for a nonprofit entity to run an exchange, but it would have to be appointed and overseen by the state.
  • Exchanges can contract with other entities, including state Medicaid agencies, provided they are NOT insurance companies, to carry out some of their duties.
  • States will be allowed to have separate governing boards for the individual and SHOP Exchanges; however HHS will require coordination and information sharing.
  • With regard to insurers and brokers, the regulations assert that a majority of voting board members must not have a financial conflict of interest, and also that a majority of voting members must have experience relevant to health care financing or delivery or public health or health policy.  
  • Exchanges must have conflict of interest, ethics, and transparency standards and board members must disclose financial conflicts of inte

Are You a Small Business C-Corp? Be Cautious About Reorganizing Just to Take Advantage of the New Six Percent Corporate Tax Rate

From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine

Business tax reform, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, eliminates the job-killing Michigan Business Tax (MBT) and the MBT Surcharge, replacing it with a 6 percent corporate income tax on C-corps only.

If you are a C-Corp and a small business, you really need to talk to your CPA about the several strategies available to you, advises Angela McGarry, a Lansing-based CPA who testified in favor of business tax reform this spring before the State Senate.

“If your profit is going to be consistently over $50,000 a year then, you might want to consider an S-election or some other entity, but that also has its complications,” says McGarry. “You’re going to want to consult with a CPA to do the conversion from a C-Corp to an S-election. It’s important to get an appraisal, because if in the future your business becomes very successful and you want to sell you have to be careful of the built in federal gains tax. You’ll wish you had an appraisal if that ever happens. Again, it’s a complicated issue and you need to talk to your CPA.”

McGarry says she believes that overall, the new tax law changes are going to be very beneficial to small businesses. It will give them extra dollars to spend on labor or that extra piece of equipment they need in their business,” she says.