Friday, April 18, 2014

SBDC Client is "Economic Artery" of Indiana Town

Cathy Hale, Madison Railroad's CEO, has been with the company for 36 years. The Madison Railroad operates a 25-mile mainline extending from Madison to North Vernon, Indiana. The railroad offers daily train service, and interchange is accomplished with CSX Transportation at North Vernon. The Madison Railroad also owns and operates 17 miles of railroad track within a 3,400-acre industrial park, offering a team track and rail car storage facilities.

Cathy is very passionate about her position at the Madison Railroad. She loves utilizing the revenues the Madison Railroad earns and stretching them to accomplish the most she can. She finds pride in knowing that communities believe in the Madison Railroad, and when they offer to help, they do so as a hand up not a hand out.

The mission at the Madison Railroad is to provide economic development to the communities they serve. They are preserved to be an economic development tool. The Madison Railroad has a nine member board of directors made up of businessmen and businesswomen. Although all the board members each have a broad range of backgrounds, they all have the same mission of making sure the railroad thrives. They believe it is important to maintain jobs and create new ones.

Cathy enjoys the fact that every day she has a new task at the Madison Railroad. She loves creating and learning new things. When asked what Cathy enjoys least about her career at the Madison Railroad, she couldn't come up with one answer. She says that she has grown with the railroad over the years and has a strong passion for her job.

Madison Railroad has experienced tremendous growth. When they first took over, they accommodated 200 car loads, and now they have 1000 rail cars that carry freight. Polyethylene, what a lot of the cars carry, is a huge part of the rail industry. Cathy says that the rail car is a warehouse on wheels. The business has also expanded employees. At one time, there were only four employees, and now there are six employees plus the volunteer board of directors.

Madison Railroad has made many contributions to the community. The railroad has helped grow and maintain business. Some businesses do not locate in cities unless rail service is available. Because of this, Madison Railroad has encouraged businesses to locate in the Madison area that wouldn't have if not for their services. In addition, Madison Railroad enjoys giving back to the community. The Santa Express Train Ride is a staple in Madison. This train ride runs through Madison and North Vernon and provides children and families with a fun, low-cost activity during the holiday season. Last year, 1200 people participated in the express ride, and 900 rode in Madison. The express ride, which the community seems to really appreciate and enjoy, sells out every year. The money collected from the Santa Express Train Ride is donated to a worthy cause.

Cathy Hale has been a client of the Southeast ISBDC since 2012. She says that her advisor, Eric Kranz, is very professional and knowledgeable. She believes that Eric adds a great level of professionalism to the Madison Railroad and is always willing to help.

"Cathy has spent countless hours working to improve the quality and capacity of the railroad. She has explored and taken advantage of every opportunity she can to make Madison Railroad a vital economic artery for the city and surrounding communities," Kranz says of Cathy.

Find your local SBDC today!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Website Best Practices, Friday 15: Small Business Tips

Let’s get back to the basics. I’m dedicating today’s post to helping you make the most of your website. In these two Friday 15 lesson spotlights, we’ll teach you about 1. choosing that perfect domain name for your website, and 2. tips to develop a game plan to make sure your website helps you achieve your business goals.
Sit down, grab a cup of joe, and enjoy these Friday 15: Small Business Tips to help your business succeed online.

Lesson Highlight: Choose the right domain name for your business
A domain name is your online address. It’s important to think carefully before selecting a domain name for your business website because this is how people will find you on the web.

Domain names usually start with a “www” and end with an extension like “.com” or “.net.” This lesson covers tips for choosing the words that fall in the middle, like Some highlights:

Choose a domain that is on the shorter side, easy to spell, and easy for people to remember.

Choose the “.com” extension if available. It’s usually easiest for people to remember.

Once you register a domain, don’t let the registration expire. You can register a domain for a year or more. But, if you forget to renew, someone else can register it, and use it for their own website.

Through the Get Your Business Online offer, you can get a domain name free for one year by creating a website. Just visit:

Want to learn more? Check out the full video lesson here.

Before creating your website, make a list of your business goals. The list might include things like “sell this super-cool toy” or “fill every table at my restaurant, every night we’re open,” or “start booking appointments through my website.” Whatever success means to you, your website should be an important tool in helping you get there.
This lesson talks about how to make your website part of your marketing strategy, not simply an online brochure. Even if you have a website already, this lesson can give you ideas for improvements. Even simple changes, like putting your phone number at the top of each page, can make a big difference. You’ll also learn about Google Analytics, a free tool for tracking and measuring success.

Learn more by watching the video lesson here.

Check out these lessons, and view more tips for growing your business online at Don’t forget to sign up to receive new lessons directly in your inbox, and make it a habit to grow your business online with Friday 15: Small Business Tips.  

If you missed our March blog post about hashtags, check it out here.

On behalf of the entire Get Your Business Online team, I wish you great success growing your business.
Whitney Lemon - Friday 15 Host, Google Small Business Engagement

Whitney hosts Friday 15: Small Business Tips, Google’s series to help small businesses succeed online, in 15 minutes or less.  Friday 15 is part of Google’s Get Your Business Online program, providing small businesses with a custom domain name and web hosting- free for one year.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why You Should Consider Having a Blog for Your Business

As a small business owner, you have plenty of things to do on a day-to-day basis. The last thing you need is to have another item added to your to-do list. That’s probably why you may not be overly enthusiastic if I suggest you start a blog for your business.

But what if I told you that starting a blog could actually help you alleviate some of your most pressing marketing challenges and enable you get more from the work you were already doing?
For example, if you already create email newsletters, chances are you’re already hard at work, planning and writing content for this month’s scheduled mailing. You’re thinking of content ideas, going through a few different drafts, and eventually you’ll have everything ready to go — just in time to start planning for what’s coming next.

Let’s say instead of just plugging that content into your email newsletter, you published it on your blog first. Better yet, instead of trying to pack every article in its entirety into your newsletter, you use your blog to trim down the amount of text within your email newsletter and link to your blog to read more.

Right away you can identify a few important benefits. The design of your email becomes a lot simpler. This means an easier creation process for you, but also a more enjoyable experience for your readers — especially those email contacts that are checking email on their smartphone or tablet.

There are also benefits that you might not think of right away. One of the biggest benefits comes from how you measure the effectiveness of each piece of content. By providing a link to an individual blog post, rather than packing the entire article into your email newsletter, you’ll have more insight into which content generates the most attention. All you’ll need to do is look at your click reports. This provides a new level of insight that isn’t available with open rates alone.

You’ll also have the added benefit of having engagement and feedback features that come with using a blogging platform. Readers will be able to share links to individual blog posts on their own social networks, or post responses to your content in the comment section of each post. This is a great chance to answer questions and build stronger relationships with the people reading your content.

And finally there are the benefits that last long after your email newsletter has been sent. By publishing content on a blog, you’ll immediately extend the lifespan of the content you create. Because you’re not only publishing content, but also driving people to it with your email newsletter, you’re content should start to generate traffic quickly. This will catch the attention of search engines like Google or Bing.

Content that is available on a public page, that gets viewed, consumed, and shared on a regular basis is the exact content these search engines want to provide to the people searching for answers online.

By posting the content that you’re writing for your email newsletter on a blog, you’ll open your content up to the public and give your business more opportunities than ever to be discovered online.

Adding a blog to your marketing strategy doesn’t need to happen overnight. If you’ve been sending a regularly scheduled newsletter, you’ve already taken some important steps to building customer relationships. Now it’s time to get more from all that hard work!

Gina Watkins is a leading expert on e-marketing for small business – and has a real passion for helping businesses to succeed. Her ongoing series of dynamic lectures are filled with real-world examples, humor and results-driven wisdom garnered from more than two decades of sales, business development and marketing experience. In addition to owning her own business, she is an award-winning direct marketer, has been featured on WUSA Channel 9's Mind Over Money show, Dr. Gayle Carson’s Women In Business radio show, Morgan State’s Briefcase Radio program, and in numerous other media. In her role as Constant Contact Regional Development Director, she’s presented to more than ten thousand seminar attendees about the keys to success with easy, affordable, highly effective technology tools that grow trusted business relationships.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Missouri SBDC Helps Secure SBA Loan for Brewery

It's a bright, cold day in January. Traffic is sparse and sunlight glitters on freshly fallen snow. Inside the industrial-zoned building on Fay Street just northeast of downtown Columbia, sparks fly and construction workers grind, weld, nail and otherwise ready the former meatpacking plant to become Logboat Brewing Co. LLC in February.

Tyson Hunt, CEO and one of four partners of Logboat, graciously points out the offices and a conference room and the tap room, where thirsty patrons can sip at tables. He explains the purpose and location of steam generators, a glycol cooling system and the huge stainless steel tanks trucked in from Oregon.

Every beer lover knows it takes a combination of hops, barley, malt and water mashed together and cooked to make beer. But there's much more to brewing than that. The resulting fragrant mash, blended to exacting specifications, must then be steam-heated and vented through stacks that will carry the steam out of the brewery, giving the whole building that intoxicating, malty-sweet aroma of beer in the making. The beer must then be pumped and cooled into fermenters, mixed with carbon dioxide, aged and then finished before it can flow from a tap or keg into a frosted glass.

Tyson Hunt inspects a stainless steel tank; click to enlarge
Tyson Hunt, Logboat CEO and partner, inspects a 930-gallon stainless steel tank.

This is an extremely bare-bones description of the process. Logboat head brewer Josh Rein knows much, much more but mostly just nods as his partner points out the gleaming new equipment's salient features. Rein didn't start brewing professionally until about four years ago when he began working at Broadway Brewery. In 2011, he became assistant brewer at Flat Branch Pub & Grill. He has since studied brewing technology at Siebel Institute in Chicago and in Munich, beer's homeland.

Like any business, however, it takes more than the right equipment and know-how to make good beer. It takes passion. And Rein, Hunt and co-owners Andrew Sharp, Judson Ball and Gardell Powell are all passionate craft beer enthusiasts who decided several years ago to transform their love of good beer into good business. And they are confident mid-Missouri is ready for a full-scale craft brewery. The city's two current brewpubs (Flatbranch and Broadway), and another, already operational production brewery (Rock Bridge Brewery), says Hunt, have been enthusiastically received.

"I think this town is ready for us," Hunt, who lived in Portland, Ore., for four years and was exposed to that city's craft beer cornucopia, says. "Craft beer is exploding! People are paying more attention to artisanal beer now. There's plenty of room for everyone."

It's worth noting that Logboat is a brewery, not a brewpub. The partners decided early on to not become a brewpub with its requisite restaurant, health code and server requirements. Logboat will employ outside distributors, Hunt says, strengthening an already strong business plan.

With MO SBTDC help, the partners perfected that business plan sufficiently to raise outside capital and secure an SBA loan from a local bank. SBTDC counselors also provided the partners detailed ESRI geographic information systems research into mid-Missouri, its demographics and disposable income spending patterns and facilitated vital business connections.

"We had the business plan down cold, we thought!" Hunt says. "Then we met with the MO SBTDC. They helped us edit the business plan and add pieces the people on the money side would need to read, then took our finances and grilled us line by line to make sure we had thought everything through. They helped us sell the company and get people behind it. They have been a huge part of building our confidence and getting us to where we are now."

Ball adds, "It's been a crazy process and each new relationship has turned into another opportunity to learn something new from business folks in our community, even family members and friends willing to share their experiences. All of them have been instrumental in getting us to where we are today."

Client contact information

Logboat Brewing Company LLC
504 Fay Street
Columbia, MO 65201
Find your local SBDC today!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What the technology you’re using says about your business

By Cindy Bates, Vice President, Microsoft U.S. Small and Medium Business

Did you know the technology you use has an impact on what current and potential customers think of your business? Those are the findings of a survey we recently conducted, in which 90 percent of respondents said they would – or would consider – taking their business elsewhere if a company uses outdated technology.

About 60% of respondents said they consider a 5-10 year old operating system or desktop computer to be “outdated.” That means the estimated 30% of small businesses that are still using the Windows XP operating system (introduced over 12 years ago in 2001), are running their business on technology that definitely falls into the category of “outdated.” On April 8, 2014, businesses running Windows XP will no longer receive security updates or technical support, leaving them vulnerable to potential security threats.

Businesses that are using outdated technology are not only exposed to reputational and security risks, but are also missing out on some amazing capabilities that have finally become accessible and affordable to SMBs only in the last several years. There is a wide array of versatile, touch-enabled Windows 8 devices, from slates and tablets to All-in-Ones, now available to match every mobility and productivity requirement. And cloud services like Office 365 offer all of the well-known Office apps like Outlook email, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as cloud storage, IM, and voice and video conferencing, for as little as $6 per user per month.

If you want to learn more about what it takes to modernize your technology and why it matters, download this free e-guide. And let me know in the comments below how using modern technology has benefitted your business.

Cindy Bates is vice president of U.S. small and medium business at Microsoft, leading the company's efforts to help SMBs realize their full potential through the use of technology. For more SMB stories, technology insights, and business strategies for SMBs, visit

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Cleaning for Your Online Presence

Birds are chirping, cherry blossoms are blooming, and warmer weather has returned. That means one thing- spring is finally here! With the return of spring comes the opportunity for a little spring cleaning-- and no, I’m not just talking about cleaning out your closet. In addition to cleaning up around the house, there are things should be doing now to tidy up your online presence. This will not only make you look more professional, but can also help you be discovered by your next great customer.

Here are 3 items you should include in your spring cleaning to-do list:

Develop a consistent brand.

Your brand starts with your website. This is your “home base” and where you should set the tone for all of your other marketing efforts. Use your logo, coordinating colors and fonts. The branding that you establish on your website should be consistent with and reflected in all of your other marketing channels—your email newsletter, social media presences, and anywhere else people are interacting with your business online.

Control your information.
In addition to the look and feel of your brand, you’ll also want to get a handle on the information people are finding online about your business. 75 percent of smartphone owners use their mobile device to get real-time location-based information. If the information that’s out there is inaccurate or out-of-date, you could be at risk to damage valuable relationships, or miss the chance to connect with a new customer.

Think about the information your consumers need to take their desired actions.

This starts with sharing things like hours, location, payment methods, phone number, or a link to your website. But this could also include a link to your menu, additional contact information, or photos of your storefront, interior shots, staff, or products.

Once you know the information you want is out there, you can make an inventory of the places people are finding your business online. That way you keep track of where your customers are finding you, so next time you need make a change, you don’t forget to update any of your listings.

Be findable in the right places.
It’s easy to feel like you have to be on every site that’s out there. But what’s most important is making sure you’re in the right places for the audience you want to reach. Lots of your prospects are probably in Facebook and Twitter, but it’s also important to think beyond social media, and think of places people may be searching for your business, including search engines, ratings and review sites, online yellow page, directories, and mobile apps

These sites will not only help you be found by people who are searching for your business directly, but also by people who are searching for a service or solution in your area.

With a consistent brand, accurate and up-to-date information, and a presence in all the right places — you’ll be in the best position to develop great new customer relationships.

This will not only help you do more business in the spring, but will deliver meaningful results throughout the entire year!

Gina Watkins is a leading expert on e-marketing for small business – and has a real passion for helping businesses to succeed. Her ongoing series of dynamic lectures are filled with real-world examples, humor and results-driven wisdom garnered from more than two decades of sales, business development and marketing experience. In addition to owning her own business, she is an award-winning direct marketer, has been featured on WUSA Channel 9's Mind Over Money show, Dr. Gayle Carson’s Women In Business radio show, Morgan State’s Briefcase Radio program, and in numerous other media. In her role as Constant Contact Regional Development Director, she’s presented to more than ten thousand seminar attendees about the keys to success with easy, affordable, highly effective technology tools that grow trusted business relationships.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Idaho SBDC Helps Business Increase Revenue by 30%

Bullet Tools began in a garage in 1998 with a simple idea born of necessity – a longtime flooring installer, Dalen Gunn, decided there had to be a better way to cut flooring and launched the MAGNUM Shear.

From its humble beginnings, Bullet Tools has evolved into a major U.S. manufacturer and world leader in innovative flooring, siding and insulation cutting solutions. Its mission is to “Continually improve the lives and livelihoods of tradesmen across the globe by providing cutting edge solutions.”

The Idaho Small Business Development Center (SBDC) helped the company create its first business plan and obtain initial financing. When the company began to struggle in 2006, SBDC consulting recommended the owners attend a workshop called “Entrepreneurial Leadership Training.” The workshop, combined with consulting services, resulted in a 30 percent increase in revenue and improved warehouse capacity the following year.

“The class offered more than information,” said President and CEO Ben Toews. “It offered interaction with others that shared the same challenges and concerns that we were experiencing."
The SBDC has played a significant role in helping Bullet Tools expand through coaching in leadership, business systems and, most recently, international market exporting.
Bullets Tools currently employs 25 people and exports to 12 countries worldwide. In 2013, the company moved to nearly 100% U.S. manufacturing, expanding production capacities and warehouse space along with launching 5 new products into the industry. Exports are forecast to increase by 50% in 2014.

Visit your local SBDC today!