Resources

Economic Gardening: What’s in it for you?

By Rob Fowler, President and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan (from the association’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.)

I’d like to expand on a thought expressed in our previous Communiqué by 2010-2011 SBAM Chair Cynthia Kay. In the Nov/Dec issue of Focus, she wrote: “Whether you are a small company that wants to stay small, a potentially high growth firm or somewhere in between, successful economic gardening will positively impact our state and ultimately your business.”

In other words, although the implementation of economic gardening will have its greatest impact on fast growing second-stage companies, it’s important to remember that economic gardening policies will help all small business owners.

There are three reasons for this:
● Economic gardening is the quickest way to a turnaround of Michigan’s economy
● Economic gardening will create a “rising tide” that lifts the fortunes of all small businesses
● Economic gardening charts a pathway toward a genuine culture change in the state

Quickest Way to a Turnaround
The data is pretty clear. When jobs are created, they come from existing companies rather than the relocation of companies into the state. But when you peel back the data, most of those new jobs are created by a few very fast growing “second-stage” firms. If we concentrate on helping those firms, they will grow even faster and lead the way to an economic turnaround.

A “Rising Tide”

Fostering the growth of these second-stage companies creates jobs, which puts money in people’s pockets, which makes them better customers of small businesses and which makes them more productive taxpayers! A growing economy solves a lot of problems. I’ve long maintained that Michigan’s state and local government budget issues are not due to a lack of taxes – it’s due to a lack of taxpayers (i.e. economic activity.) A “rising tide” of economic growth will mean a better bottom line for all kinds of small business owners – regardless of size – and, in combination with spending reforms, help stabilize government finances.

Culture Change
You can’t have a strategy that focuses on growing second-stage companies without also having a strategy for getting people into the first-stage: small business startups. The seeds of our economic garden have to come from someplace. We have to help men and women follow their dreams of starting a small business, and then nurture those who have the capacity and desire to move to fast growing second-stage status. That won’t include every small business owner. But we need a continuum of dynamic business activity – from startups to second-stage to graduation to big business – if we want sustainable economic growth.


That’s where culture change comes in. At our annual meeting last summer, SBAM Chair Cynthia Kay shared her dream of “a future society where a young person gets a job at a big company and everyone asks them: ‘What’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you started your small business yet?’” In other parts of the country, entrepreneurs are celebrated as folk heroes. In Michigan over the past 50 years…not so much. Economic gardening is about changing the conversation, changing the image of small business and changing the expectations of what Michigan citizens consider economic success.

Your involvement and engagement support our ongoing efforts to speak for and champion Michigan’s entrepreneurs – the men and women, in all stages of the business cycle, who are creating economic activity and jobs. Economic gardening benefits you, and all Michigan citizens, in so many different ways. Thank you for your ongoing support as we continue to pursue our campaign to propel a new economic direction for Michigan.

"Business Next" radio show for Jan. 8-9 available now as podcast and MP3 download

Click here to listen to the podcast or download the MP3 file. You can also subscribe through iTunes and get "Business Next" delivered automatically.

On this week's show:

  • Segment one (at 1 minute 39 seconds): David Palsrok, is vice president government relations for the Small Business Association of Michigan, talks about small business issues coming up in the state legislature in 2011.
  • Segment two (at 15 minutes 54 seconds): John Westra of NuWave Government Solutions discusses some cool small business apps you can get for computer and smartphone gadgets.
  • Segment three (at 24 minutes 32 seconds): Email and time management expert Randy Dean has advice on taming the email beast.
  • Segment four (at 40 minutes 28 seconds): Brittney Hoszkiw of Lansing’s Old Town Commercial Association shares her success stories about how small businesses can grow and thrive in an urban downtown.

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Four Pillars to Understanding the Internet

There are four pillars for learning how to effectively manage the Internet rapidly and easily.

Pillar 1: Your website and content.

Pillar 2: How to use the best social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube).

This article covers the first two pillars. Click here to read about the other two.

It’s important under pillar 1 to maintain your website consistently – not every so often. Your website provides your customers with instant access to information about your business and provides a foundation to build lasting impressions and strong business relationships.

To get the most out of your website, it needs a robust out-reach effort:
  • content that changes from time to time (the easiest way to do this is by having a blog or a “news” area that lists new information)
  • useful information about your business that includes key words
  • a newsletter sign-up (so that you can retain contact information from interested parties)
  • links to your social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, YouTube) to give people a variety of ways to discover and interact with your business

Your social media outreach program is pillar 2. Social media are not complicated at all. They are simply new channels to reach your targets over the Internet. They provide a method of connecting your company to consumers via word of mouth recommendations. Poor or no representation of your company on social media sites can hinder your business.
The most popular social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Facebook is the powerhouse of web marketing and social media with more than 500 million users across the world. Customers can engage with your brand by leaving comments, generating content about your brand such as photos, participating in calls to action and sharing links to your information or products. Facebook also has a built in pay-per-click ad program.

  • Twitter is the fastest growing social media platform. Its primary advantage-brevity. Any “tweet” is limited to 140 characters. Journalists often use Twitter for leads and sources. Many people use Twitter to learn about news instantaneously. Some use it to communicate immediately in a crisis.
  • YouTube is a great way to use video rather than just pictures and words. Videos should be short and succinct, like 2-3 minutes. Easy to do with a smart phone or other video device.
The Internet is your best friend for marketing. It is easy to learn, easy to maintain, free or inexpensive. These two pillars are your guides to demystifying the whole online and new media process. Keep in mind developing content on your website is important because it is an extension of the passion you have for your business. Your Internet presence allows you to gather instant feedback, providing you with the opportunity to quickly access information and ideas, which can be used to generate new business, build brand loyalty and increase customer retention.

As a business owner, you may feel there’s no way you could possibly squeeze blogging and website updates into your daily schedule. If so, hire a web content specialist or someone who has knowledge of new media – the “nerd” component.

Wendy Williams and Ashley Smith are new media specialists at Eiler Communications, Ann Arbor.

SBAM launches “Business Next”, new weekly Internet radio show Jan. 8-9

microphoneThe Small Business Association of Michigan will launch the “Business Next” weekly Internet radio program on Jan. 8-9. Listeners can access the show by going to www.TalkLansing.net and clicking on “Listen Now” between 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

Our show page is here. If you can't catch the broadcast of the show on Saturday or Sunday, go to the show page the following Monday to download the podcast.

The show will be hosted by radio veteran Michael Rogers, SBAM’s vice president communications. Rogers will talk with guest experts each week and provide small business owners workable, down-to-earth advice on how they can be more successful and profitable in 2011. In addition, a public affairs segment will review government activities in Lansing and Washington, D.C., that affect small business.

Topics for the inaugural Jan. 8-9 program include the best small business apps for your smartphones, and how to get your email and calendar optimally organized for the new year.

Ideas for guests and topics for “Business Next” should be forwarded to Michael Rogers at michael.rogers@sbam.org or 517-267-2209.

(photo by M.Keefe)

The “Smart” (Phone) Money Is on Apps to Win & Tablets to Show! (Part II)

In Part I of “The Smart (Phone) Money Is on Apps to Win & Tablets to Show” talked about trends in technology for 2011. Here we focus on specific trends that will be advantageous to small business this year and beyond.

Note:  The applications mentioned in the rest of this article will be denoted by the platform(s) they are supported on, using the following key: 
  i   iPhone
 A
  Android 
 W   Windows Phone    
 B   Blackberry  
 S   Symbian (Nokia, etc.)  
P  Palm 
 

Email & PIM (Personal Information Manager) Apps / CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

No matter what business you are in, the #1 key to success is the relationships you have with your customers.  Having access to your email and customer data, wherever you go, synchronized with your business email & PIM/CRM CRM solution is invaluable, for those who spend the majority of their time on the road.

This is the application category that started it all.  In the “dark ages” (2002), the Treo 180 became the first true “smart phone.”  Powered by the Palm OS, it pioneered the use of an integrated contact manager, which allowed you to quickly search for and place a call to one of your contacts or pop up the contact’s information when they called.  This was coupled with the ability to easily sync your contacts with Microsoft Outlook.

Previously, businesses that wanted real-time (push) email and contact synchronization looked to either the Blackberry or Windows Mobile platforms for a solution.  Now, many current smart phones come with a basic contact management app that can sync with the user’s Apple or PC desktop client like Microsoft Outlook, as well as web-based email and contact data from Google, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, etc. 


Google Apps (i,A,W,B,S,P)
Is fast becoming the most widely used, multi-platform suite of apps for mobile email and contact management.  Coming as “standard equipment” on Android-powered phones, it is also available for all of the other major smart phone platforms.  The advantage of using Google Apps for email and contact management is that it’s “free.”  The primary disadvantage is its weak contact management features and lack of advanced integration with back-end business email systems.
 
TouchDown (A)
Is an example of a full-featured mobile email / PIM client.  Like Outlook, it can synchronize email, calendar, task and note* data with one or more of Microsoft’s Exchange email server accounts.  Running exclusively (iPhone rumors are circulating) on the Android platform, it is as close to having Outlook on your mobile device as you can get.  If your company has or is considering having one or more of the estimated three hundred and one million Exchange email boxes in use in 2010, Touchdown is definitely worth checking out.   Note:  When this article was written (December, 2010), Touchdown on Android had significantly greater su

Santa’s Favorite Smart Phones

by John Westra

Your Best Business Smart Phone Choices for Christmas


Many of us are either looking for a new mobile phone or have someone on our list that would like a new smart phone for Christmas.  The challenge is deciding which phone & plan is best.

Good coverage is important to a global traveler like Santa, so let’s start by taking a quick look at the coverage provided by the most popular carriers.  Disclaimer:  “Santa” has been a satisfied Verizon customer for the last four years.

It’s no surprise that the two largest carriers, Verizon and AT&T, who together have 70% of the market, also have the greatest coverage and the widest array of smart phones to choose from.  The next two largest carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile, both offer slightly less coverage and fewer phone choices.  If you live and work in cities of any size and spend most of your time traveling on highways, you should be able to get reliable voice and data coverage from any of the major carriers.

The smaller, often pre-paid carriers/brands like TracFone, US Cellular, Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk (Wal-Mart), MetroPCS, etc. are just starting to offer smart phones.   Most are owned by larger carriers or supplement their own networks with roaming agreements.  This can be a plus, for a company like Virgin Mobile, which uses Sprint’s 3G network or a minus for carriers like MetroPCS, whose limited native coverage and roaming fees make it a poor choice for anyone who travels. 

Although answering yes to “Can you hear me now,” used to be enough, smart phone users are increasingly asking: “Can I YouTube or video chat now?”  Sprint has been a leader in 4G (Fourth Generation) data and T-Mobile is now advertising they have the largest 4G coverage area.  Both Verizon and AT&T have aggressive 2011/2012 4G network upgrades planned.

OK!  Now that you know a little bit more about coverage and carriers, let’s take a look Santa’s Favorite Smart Phones!


HTC Evo 4G (Android) – Sprint


This is a luscious smart phone that offers the latest options including a front and 8 mega-pixel rear facing camera, 4G data speeds, blazing fast processor and a beautiful 4” screen.  If Sprint meets your coverage needs and video conferencing is a feature you want to take advantage of, this is the phone to buy!





Apple iPhone 4 (iOS) – AT&T, Verizon (Q1 2011)

The iPhone 4 is the latest in the iPhone series that truly kick-started today’s, touch screen, application-driven smart phone revolution.  Like the Evo, it has a front-facing camera for video calls.  Santa put this phone on the list, because it has more applications and accessories available for it than any other smart phone currently available.  Note:  With the iPhone slated to come to Verizon in Q1 of next year, you may want to ask Santa for a Gift Certificate!


Droid 2 Global (Android)– Verizon

For those who prefer a slide-out physical keyboard and want the best national and international coverage (220 countries) possible, this is the phone you want.  From the elegant design and solid feel, to the blazing fast 1.2Ghz processor this phone is designed to be a business workhorse.  Motorola has also released well-designed matching car and home docks that make it easy to charge and use your Droid 2 while on the road in the office or on the nightstand.



HTC  HD7 (Windows Phone 7) – T-Mobile

Get Involved with Politics? SBAM Members Share Experiences

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

Getting involved in politics is not usually the first way small business owners choose to spend their “extra” time. However, as the following SBAM member testimonials prove, getting involved is easier than most think thanks to the many opportunities created by SBAM. Here’s what SBAM members have to say about advocacy, volunteering and letting their voices be heard:

Cynthia Pepper, Principal, Pepper Consulting Group, LLC
“In this world of polarizing politics and slanted, revisionist versions of history and events, it’s become increasingly difficult to find rational, thoughtful assessments of candidates for political office – assessments based on actual voting records and real experiences and decisions. I rely on SBAM to provide the analyses that help me cut through the chatter and make informed decisions that fit my personal interests and perspective. SBAM’s advocacy for and understanding of the issues facing small business in this state are deep, and continue to be very important to my success as a business owner. But never more so than in times of such political importance.”

Sharon Miller, Owner, ITH Staffing
“Membership in SBAM provides members with an opportunity for interaction with other business owners, SBAM legislative staff, and elected and potential candidates for office. This activity is ongoing-once involved you stay involved.”

Lorri Rishar Jandron, President & CEO, Edge Partnerships
“As a volunteer member of SBAM’s Legislative Action Committee, I not only get the chance to discuss public policy but also to make an impact. Just recently, I was able to speak directly with legislators gathered at an SBAM forum. That’s advocacy in action thanks to my involvement with SBAM.”

Mike Fox, CEO/President, Ingenuity IEQ
“I believe it’s important for small businesses to be engaged in the political process and SBAM has allowed me to get involved.”

Barbara Lezotte, President, Lezotte Miller Public Relations Inc.
“I really appreciate SBAM’s leadership on ‘economic gardening,’ which is the right strategy to help revitalize Michigan’s economy. SBAM’s advocacy on behalf of small business is second to none in the state. The staff keeps a close eye on legislation that will impact us and is lobbying to protect our interests daily.”

Larry T. Eiler, President, Eiler Communications
“As Michigan moves toward growing businesses through the economic gardening concept, ‘cultivating as well as hunting,’ SBAM has moved to the fore of leadership. This is part of “Re:NEW Michigan” and is a meaningful step we can all take part in to restore our state to economic progress.”

Google Apps: A Guide to the World of Google

By Matt Harlow (from SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

What is Google Marketplace?

Google Marketplace is an online store filled with online applications (Google Apps), all of which are available via a single user account (your Google Apps account) and many of which integrate with the Google office suite (Google Docs) and potentially your website. Let’s take a look at the many opportunities available to small business owners, through Google Apps, as well as some concerns.

Four Distinct Advantages:
1. Low Cost – The Standard Edition of Google Docs (the Google Apps office suite) is free for up to 50 users at the same domain. The Premier Edition is $50 per user per year for an unlimited number of users and has other advantages as well.

2. Cloud Computing – All Google Apps are part of the cloud computing movement. That means they exist primarily on the Web and are designed to store your data there as well. You can access your documents by simply logging in to a website. Your data is no longer tied to one computer. You can work from home, work or a cyber café on Maui, all with the same access to your documents. That also means you can work on nearly any type of hardware that can access the Web: a PC, Mac, smart phone, net book or tablet PC can access your Google Apps account and all your documents. As a bonus, should your hard drive crash or your computer die, your documents are 100 percent safe. You can be up and running again as soon as you are logged in to a different machine.

3. Collaboration – If you email a file to three people and ask them to make edits, and they send them back to you, you then have to manually assemble all of those edits into a single document. You then have five versions of that document (the original, three edits and the consolidated final). If you grant access to an online document to the same three people, they each make real-time changes to the document as it exists in the cloud. When they are done, a final truly collaborative version exists. But what if one, or all of them, makes changes you don’t like? Google Docs stores prior versions of each document during the process, giving you access to a document before and after each set of changes was made.

4. Upgrades – Because they exist only on the Web on Google’s servers, all Google Apps are upgraded the instant a new upgrade is released and at no cost to you. As long as you are using Google Apps, you and everyone in your company will all be using the most current version of the same products at exactly the same instant.

The Disadvantages:
1. Security – Many IT professionals question the security of documents that are not on servers they control and are accessible from all over the world via the Web.

2. Backup – Since the files are not on your computer’s hard drive or company server, you don’t have the control to make sure they are backed up.

3. Need for Web Access – While access to the Web is becoming more ubiquitous, there are still places where Wi-Fi or even a 3G cell signal is unavailable. While some cloud applications have versions you can save to your hard drive, many do not. When you can’t get online, you can’t get to the cloud.

4. File Compatibility – Once you switch to a cloud-based application, your old files generated on desktop software may not be compatible. At the very least, you might want to keep one computer set up with your old desktop software as a safety net.

5. Learning Curve – Just like any new software, cloud software takes time to become proficient in. In some ways, cloud software works differently than traditional desktop software.

Here’s a Rundown of Some Specific, Basic Google Apps
Gmail – An online email program that you can use with multiple accounts (not only Gmail) and set up with your own URL, not just “nam

Interested in Selling Your Company? Tips for a Successful Transaction

By Jeffrey Van Winkle and James Waggoner

Businesses enter into financial and strategic combinations for a wide variety of reasons. Many are in need of additional growth capability, which can be supplied by new products, an infusion of capital or acquisition of new management; others are interested in a business combination to maximize shareholder value or to provide an exit for the ownership for retirement or business continuity reasons.

Whatever the reasons for considering a business combination, the needs and goals of the parties should be examined by the ownership of the business, its internal management and by experienced financial and legal advisors to establish a viable action plan. This article will address two important topics related to business combinations:
  • The current climate of merger and acquisitions in the United States
  • The various value-maximizing items firms interested in selling their business should consider prior to approaching potential buyers

M&A Market Trends


From the peak of 2007 and continuing through the first two quarters of this year, M&A transactions have dropped considerably. Though 2010 has seen a bit of up-tick in activity compared to 2009, it is apparent that the business climate here in the United States and the financial uncertainty abroad continues to negatively impact the M&A market. Potential buyers are still looking to avoid taking the big risk, while those interested in selling are having difficulty establishing a purchase price consistent with current market conditions. Nevertheless, many inside the industry continue to remain optimistic that conditions will continue to improve during the course of this year and into 2011. A cursory overview of information about completed transactions over the past 12 months shows that larger sized transactions, particularly among the publicly held businesses, have increased. That trend has not been observed in the smaller M&A transactions typical for small and mid-sized businesses.

Advisors report that many businesses and funds are very actively seeking candidate businesses to purchase, but often do not have the right connections to discover businesses interested in selling. One reason for increased optimism for completed transactions centers around financing availability, which has continued to improve. In addition, financial advisors and business brokers representing sellers say they are expecting firms interested in selling to better understand the value of their businesses.

Preparing Your Business for Sale


Ideally, selling a business is part of a long term strategy relating to existing owners reaching the end of a work career or planned management transition. However, it is often hard to know the right time to consider a sale. If the business has strong management, ownership interested in the next 10 years, sufficient capital to move to the next step and a business model or strategy that will generate growth and profits, there should be no reason to sell. On the other hand, the absence of any one or more of those four requirements may prompt consideration of a sale, especially if capital or a management team is missing.

When considering whether or not to sell, the best prepared businesses have focused on the following items in order to maximize the value of the business, especially in a struggling M&A market.

Maximizing Business Value


Financial Performance: The financial performance of a firm is often the prime factor in determining the ultimate value of the business. Certainly, potential buyers will want to see how the business has fared especially during the economic downturn. Perhaps as important, however, are the future financial prospects of the business. If the selling firm is able to provide evide

Uncertainty about Tax Law for 2011 Means Use Common Sense Approach to Planning

By Paul Hense, CPA

This may be the most difficult year-end planning tax advisors have ever experienced. It is fall and we still don’t know what the tax law will look like in 2011. The political parties are in a struggle over a fundamental concept of who best knows how to spend your money – you or them. It is fairly certain that taxes will rise for those making over $250,000 per year.

Predicting a political outcome is risky; Here are a two examples where last minute tax law decisions may affect your actions:

Due to the uncertainty of the tax rates for 2011, we may do a reversal of the normal process of delaying income and accelerating expenses. In a normal year, in order to defer taxes, it often makes sense to delay income and move expenses to an earlier year. If in the next few months it becomes apparent that taxes will be higher in 2011, you may want to reverse that process. There is nothing in the tax law that requires you maximize your taxes. The use of accelerated depreciation is an example of an option that moves expenses from one year to the next or vice versa. It is generally considered prudent to use expensing equipment to reduce current year tax liability. If small business loses the political battle and tax rates increase, it may be wise to take normal depreciation and use the remainder depreciation in future years offsetting the higher tax rate. Keep in touch with your accountant for developing strategies.

We have enjoyed a favorable treatment for capital gains over the past several years. We may continue to have a favorable treatment; but possibly not quite as favorable. Again we have to wait until politicians hash out their differences to see what the end result will yield. The most likely scenario is that the capital gains rate will increase – by how much, we do not know. You and your accountant need to be on top of the situation because you may want to accelerate the sale of a capital asset or a business to take advantage of the lower 2010 capital gains rate. This is not a sure thing. We cannot say for sure that capital gains rates will increase. However, if they do, you need to be prepared to make the proper moves to take advantage of the situation.

Even though this is an unusual year due to tax uncertainties in 2011 you still must do some basic year-end tax planning.

If you have a pension plan, you should review your documents and make sure that everyone who is eligible is included and make sure you do not include ineligible people. The tax benefits of a pension plan are obvious, but the cash flow issues can be a problem. You must remember when committing funds to pay a pension plan that those funds must be deposited by the mandated date. Different plans have different funding arrangements, but in all cases remember to have the funds available at the time they are due.

Consider your equipment needs for the coming year. Don’t buy assets you don’t need in order to take advantage of a tax deduction. If you’re going to need new equipment in the near future, sit down with your accountant and decide the best time to buy the equipment considering cash flow and section 179 write offs – also referred to as expensing. If cash and credit are tight, you may decide to lease as opposed to buy equipment. The tax advantages are not as good, but cash flow dictates decision-making as opposed to taxes. Make good business decisions, be profitable, and then figure out the tax consequences. Do remember however, that a reduction in your taxes can be part of providing the cash flow for the purchase of equipment. Do the math with your accountant.

We are in a difficult economy with an unstable tax system. With these two issues in mind, cash flow and tax planning can be in conflict. I have only touched on a couple issues as examples. It is advised that every small business owner do a complete checklist of year-end is
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