Resources

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

Technology with a Touch of Gray: The Case for Upgrading

By Chad Paalman is Vice President, NuWave Technology Partners. From Focus on Small Business, SBAM’s member-only magazine.

Midway through 2010, you send an email using Office 2000 on a PC that proudly announces its compatibility with Windows XP, call your customers on a telephone system that’s older than your high school age children, and prefer to avoid thinking about the longevity of your office server.

Just when you convince yourself to hang on a bit longer, you get more bad news: Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP after April 2014 (at the ripe old age of 14).
To upgrade or not to upgrade? That is the question many business owners will wrestle with this year.

70 percent Move to 7

This year, Windows XP turns 10 years old, decidedly geriatric in the software world, and even seriously long in the tooth for durable goods such as household appliances.
Is it worth it to upgrade to Windows 7? Well, yes.

According to a survey conducted by Computer World earler this year, 67 percent of IT professionals declined to upgrade from Windows XP to Vista. Windows 7 is another story.
The new operating system loads quickly — especially compared to Vista — is more stable, removes intrusive user access control pop ups, improves on document sharing, and makes remote access to corporate networks far easier.

From the standpoint of IT support, the operating system streamlines user configuration management, delivers better device compatibility, supports legacy programs, and affords improved integration with Windows Server 2008. The same Computer World survey reported that 70 percent of IT managers plan to upgrade to Windows 7 within the next year.

Finally, the recent arrival of Office 2010 may seal the deal. For small businesses in particular, it may be especially cost effective to purchase hardware preloaded with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010.

Cost Saving Convergence

For those on the fence about upgrading their telephone architecture, the key selling point comes down to the convergence of voice and data communications — commonly known as Unified Communications (UC) — that integrate voice, messaging, instant messages, conferencing and CRM systems.

By bringing together these services on a platform such as Microsoft Office Communications Server 2008 software, UC can significantly reduce travel, telecom and IT costs, leaving your business leaner, greener and more efficient.

For employees, UC integrates email inbox, voicemail, fax and IM platforms in a single environment, eliminating the redundancy of having separate tools, networks and support teams for each service. For customers, UC provides unparalleled access to key employees whether they’re in the office, working from home or on the road.

Beyond the added capabilities, implementing an IP based phone system can significantly reduce business phone service expenses, especially if you operate several offices or need to add phone lines.

Virtual Office, Virtual Servers

Since the purchase of your office server back in the halcyon days of the Bull Market, server technology has come a long way. Today’s servers are far more efficient in power usage and resource utilization, all because of a cutting edge technology: server virtualization.
Translation: Today’s server hardware supports multiple installations of server software, unlike old servers which can only support one installation. That means, a single server box can mimic several servers: each can host a variety of operating systems (Windows Servers, Linux, etc), Microsoft Exchange servers, SQL servers and Web hosting.

Since one server is doing the work of several servers, you will use less electricity to operate the server and keep

Communication Basics Can Help Businesses Connect

By Barbara Lezotte, APR,  president of Lezotte Miller Public Relations Inc.
From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine


Technology has multiplied the ways companies can communicate with clients and customers, making marketing, advertising and public relations decisions all the more complicated. Which type of communication will connect a company to clients and customers most cost effectively? Business owners and managers can maximize their communication budgets by knowing a few basics.

While communication is a topic that Focus has covered in the past, technology has expanded our options and at the same time made it much easier to spend money uselessly – thus it’s important to continue to keep effective communication tips top of mind and as small business owners, realize the pros and cons of the various types of communication while at the same time managing the “zig and zag” of weighing many other opportunities for our businesses.

1. Advertising, marketing and public relations are not synonymous.

In this era of “integrated marketing” the three often overlap and can be confusing, but they each have a different role and can accomplish very different goals. Advertising is the best understood since most people are bombarded by it daily. Yet it will not work for every business. Very simply, advertising is purchased visibility in newspapers, on television and radio, on web pages or in outdoor formats such as billboards and bus cards. The advertiser controls the message and seeks to create action by potential customers. The ability to select from such a wide array of formats allows any organization to target its audience, however, care must be taken to be sure dollars are not wasted on a particular medium that will not deliver the desired audience.

2. Marketing involves activities or efforts outside of the advertising realm that draw clients or customers to a product or service.

Marketing is distinguished from advertising in that it reaches out to specific populations through mediums outside of the paid advertising arena. It may include product sample distribution, a complimentary service to acquaint a potential customer with the company or social media efforts to build awareness with potential customers.

3. Public relations, perhaps the least understood, is a process in which particular publics or audiences are provided information designed to educate them, change their behavior or persuade them to support a specific issue.

Public relations activities are generally not used to influence direct sales of a product or service, as are advertising and marketing; however, PR activities may improve the public’s understanding of a company, which could indirectly impact its sales. Public relations programs are often confused with publicity efforts because practitioners often work through the news media to carry a message to specific audiences. Giving reporters and editors background information, interviews with sources and additional in-depth facts all help make media coverage more complete and accurate. Beyond the media, public relations efforts continue with well targeted communication designed to reach a specific audience of stakeholders or constituents. Public relations is all about public relationships, not simply publicity.

4. Making decisions about where to put marketing dollars requires an understanding of your client or customer base and the type of communication that will produce the best results.

Is yours a service business with a broad array of potential clients or a more narrow, well-defined customer base? Do you sell a product to a wide variety of customers or is your product of use to only a particular category of the population? Do your clients come to you directly or is there usually a referral source as a middleman? Before deciding wh

New “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge” asks residents to shop their downtowns and Michigan Main Street© Districts, share stories for chance to win weekend getaways

A coalition of statewide groups, including the Small Business Association of Michigan, is issuing a “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge” to all Michigan residents. The “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge” asks individuals and organizations to do at least 75% of their shopping this holiday season in downtowns and Michigan Main Street© Districts, then go online and share their favorite downtown Michigan holiday shopping experience this year to become eligible for a random drawing that offers five weekend getaway packages at Michigan hotels.

In addition to the Small Business Association of Michigan, the coalition includes the Michigan Main Street Center @ Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), the Michigan Downtown Association (MDA), the Michigan Municipal League (MML), the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), The National Trust’s Main Street Center, Main Street Oakland County, Local First and Buy Michigan Now!

“The ‘ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge’ is a way to show how easy it is to purchase all of the gifts you’ll need this holiday at downtown stores, and demonstrate how much fun buying local can be,” said Laura Krizov, manager of the Michigan Main Street Center @ MSHDA. A 2008 study conducted for Think Local First in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Civic Economics reported that $73 out of every $100 spent locally stayed within the community, as opposed to $43 of every $100 spent in a business that was not locally owned.

“When you buy from the small businesses in Michigan’s downtowns and Michigan Main Street© districts, it creates jobs and keeps our friends and neighbors in business,” said SBAM President and CEO Rob Fowler. “That’s why we are honored to be a part of making this challenge happen.”

The study also found that if consumers spent just 10 percent more in locally owned businesses, the economic impact could reach $140 million and result in up to 1600 new jobs in the Grand Rapids market alone.

Michigan residents also are being asked to share their stories, photos and videos of their 2010 downtown holiday shopping trips with the public through the campaign’s Facebook page, Facebook.com/ShopMIDowntown. People who post pictures or video of their experience will be automatically entered into a random drawing to win an overnight stay at one of the following establishments:

  • The Courtland Carriage House Bed & Breakfast in downtown Hart.

Manistee, Clare, Marshall, Boyne City and Hart are recognized Michigan Main Street© districts.

“We all know that shopping Michigan’s downtowns during the holidays is a magical tradition that’s been enjoyed by families and friends for generations,” Krizov said. “We want Michigan residents to tell the world this holiday season what makes their experience so memorable, whether it’s outstanding customer service by a merchant, a great bargain they find at a local store or an unforgettable meal they had at a downtown restaurant.”

The “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge” kicks off on November 8, 2010 and lasts throughout the holiday season, ending on December 31, 2010. The contest was inspired by a campaign in Sparta, Michigan. Sparta’s Read more

Looking for Continual Growth? Weed.

By Perry Ballard, Chairman of the Board of Perry Ballard Incorporated
(From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

Continual (Not Continuous) Growth is an Astute Business Goal

Continual” growth is intermittent.  Random opportunities bring you new income. You have time to absorb the work before developing the next opportunity. “Continuous” growth is like neverending water from a fire hose. Soon you can’t keep promises, make pressure errors due to haste and reduce or eliminate profit. With water or work, continuous makes it tough to catch your breath…and the end result can be fatal.

One practice to reach continual growth is periodic weeding.

Every business has unprofitable clients, products, services or machines that consume valuable time, resources, effort and dollars. That drain keeps you from developing profitable customers. You know it’s true. But it’s hard to identify and categorize each candidate and determine action to get back to a profitable situation.

A helpful tool is the Boston Consulting Group Growth-Share Matrix (BCG Matrix).
The BCG Matrix is covered in the strategic planning chapter of every marketing textbook. It helps guide effort and resource allocation and offers a way to make business decisions based on logic rather than emotion – not an easy thing to do.

A BCG matrix puts opportunity for market growth on the vertical axis and market share (your strength) on the horizontal axis.

The following examples use “products” but you can substitute clients, machinery, employees or any element key to your success. The analysis is the same.

Upper right quadrant is QUESTION MARKS. It’s where most products, services and clients start out. You have a relatively small market share, but the growth opportunity is great. Others may have a similar product so you are fighting for market share and need to differentiate your brand. You don’t know how much sales will grow, but there is real opportunity here and you want yours.

STARS is the upper left quadrant and where you’d like your QUESTION MARKS to transition. These products have high sales growth opportunity and you own a substantial share of the market. It might be a product you invented or a feature you improved. (Think iPhone or a client who really relies on you.) STARS are the easiest to identify because you wish you had dozens more of them.

CASH COWS sit in the lower left quadrant. This product has limited growth opportunity, but your market share is significant. These established brands generate cash to pay your other bills. (Established clients with a fixed budget are cash cows.) The market demand may be flat, but you make money on every sale. STARS hopefully become CASH COWS as the market matures.

Finally, the lower right quadrant is the DOGS. No growth, little market share. Think any number of small, local beer companies that were sold during the Budweiser/Miller expansion fights and before the local craft beer craze emerged. Eventually nearly every product, service, even whole industries become DOGS. (Think mimeograph machines.)

Identification is relatively easy; action is harder

Each BCG quadrant has an optimal approach. Each is difficult for distinct reasons, especially determining when a product has shifted, but recognition is the key to profit. Move your QUESTION MARKS, but where? Invest time and dollars to build them into a STAR so they can grow into a CASH COW? Or weed them if they begin to bark like a DOG? Monitor them closely and base your move on rational analysis.

The danger with QUESTION MARKS is falling in love with the product and making excuses. A QUESTION MARK should become a STAR or a CASH COW within a VERY reasonable time frame. Otherwise it’s a DOG with a QUESTION MARK tail. (A QUESTION MARK b

Statewide election roundup. How successful were SBAM-endorsed candidates?

Snyder Next Governor, Republicans Sweep
National Races
State Legislative Races



SBAM-endorsed candidate Rick Snyder easily won the Governor’s race last night. Across the nation and here in Michigan it was a big night for Republicans.

Rick Snyder captured 58 percent of the vote for Governor, defeating Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero who lagged behind with 39 percent.

In what many considered would be the state’s most contentious statewide race, Republican Ruth Johnson defeated Democratic nominee Jocelyn Benson. Predictions were right, as the 6 percent margin of victory here was the narrowest of all statewide races.

SBAM-endorsed Bill Schuette will be the state’s next Attorney General. Schuette won by a 10 percent margin over his opponent David Leyton.

In the State Supreme Court Race, Justice Robert Young will return to the high court and will be joined by Judge Mary Beth Kelly. Both were endorsed by SBAM. While not as much of a shocker as last year, when Justice Cliff Taylor was defeated, this marks the second election in a row that an incumbent Supreme Court Justice was knocked off the bench. Justice Alton Davis, who went down to defeat, was only appointed to the bench a couple of months ago.

In the races for board membership at Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University, and for the State Board of Education, Republican candidates captured all eight available seats.

Michiganders also determined that now is not the time to rewrite the state’s constitution and overwhelmingly rejected Proposal 1. “No” voters outnumbered the “yes” votes by a 2:1 margin.

National Races

When the 112th Congress convenes next year, control of the Senate will remain with the Democrats who were able to hold off the wave and will keep at least 51 seats (including the two independents that caucus with the Democrats). But Republicans will have the majority in the House of Representatives. The balance of power in the House looks to be 240-184 in favor of the Republicans, with 11 races yet to be decided.

In Michigan, Democrats currently have an 8-7 edge in Michigan’s delegation, but after wins in the 1st and 7th Districts, Republicans now have a 9-6 advantage.

Key Congressional races in Michigan:

Michigan 1st Congressional District

Republican Dan Benishek won the race to replace retiring Congressman Bart Stupak. Benishek, who very narrowly captured his party’s nomination, defeated Democratic candidate State Representative Gary McDowell by an 11 percent margin of victory. The 1st District covers the Upper Peninsula and much of Northern Lower Michigan.

Michigan 7th Congressional District
Republican Tim Walberg, who was ousted by Democrat Mark Schauer in 2008, retook his seat in a fiercely contested race in south central Michigan. Both parties identified this as a battleground seat and spent a lot of time and money on the race. Going into Election Day it was anybody’s guess who’d come out on top; Walberg won by just 5 percent.

Michigan 9th Congressional District
One-term incumbent Democrat, Gary Peters was able to hold off Republican Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski. In a race much like that in the 7th District, both parties put a lot of focus on this election. It went down to the wire with Peters eking out the win by just 3 percent of the voters in the District that covers much of Oakland County.

Other Michigan Congressional Races
As Election Day neared, polls indicated that the Michigan 5th and 15th Congressional Districts would be races to watch, but despite the Republican wave, Democrats retained both seats. In the 5th, Dal
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