Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My 100-Day Progress Report by Maria Contreras-Sweet, SBA Administrator

It has been an exhilarating first 100 days on the job. When I was sworn in as SBA Administrator in April, I promised to “get more loans into the hands of entrepreneurs who reflect the diversity of America by making it easier for community banks and microlenders to become our partners.”
Following up on this promise, I recently announced a transformative new plan to automate SBA lending and streamline and simplify the agency’s underwriting process to attract more lending partners and open up new markets for small business owners who need capital to expand and grow. Days after this announcement, which will ease the burdens on lenders approving small-dollar loans to entrepreneurs, I appeared at a Clinton Global Initiative conference in Denver to help announce an exciting commitment called the Century Club. Eight Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) each pledged to make at least 100 small business loans a year for the next 10 years, which will inject $1 billion of additional capital into America’s small business ecosystem. 
Last week, we continued our progress in expanding access to capital. At the White House, I joined President Obama to announce a new initiative called SupplierPay. More than two dozen major corporations pledged to pay their small business suppliers faster and offer other creative financing solutions to get entrepreneurs access to affordable working capital so they have the payment certainty to make new hires and grow their companies. 
We’ve also been focused on creating new opportunities for our veterans who wish to translate their military leadership skills into opportunities to serve their country as civilian job creators. We “rebooted” our popular Boots to Business entrepreneurship program – a two-day crash course in starting a small business followed by an eight-week, instructor-led online course. We’re now conducting this program for transitioning service members at more than 200 military installations worldwide. And last week at the White House, we expanded this initiative to serve veterans who’ve already transitioned out. 
At Twitter headquarters, the SBA launched a new competition for entities – university incubators or local nonprofits – that help seed start-ups by offering up office space, mentoring, networking, business-plan assistance, and sometimes startup capital, too. We’re exporting the Silicon Valley support model to communities in Middle America. The competition will fund up to 50 accelerators that are focused on key industries like clean energy and health care, as well as those focused on underserved populations, including women entrepreneurs, minorities, and small business owners in distressed urban and rural areas. 
In recognition of the reality that there are still communities disproportionately struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession, I also launched Scale-Up America – another competitive program that will bring intensive SBA assistance to up to 14 cities with strong small business growth potential. We’re excited about this program, because more than 90 percent of new jobs generated by small businesses come from the expansion of existing businesses. 
Finally, as an immigrant myself, I was proud to represent the United States in El Salvador to meet with the country’s new leadership and recognize the peaceful succession of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén. I had the opportunity to meet with Salvadoran small business owners, who provide 70 percent of the country’s jobs, and promote the bilateral Partnership for Growth plan signed by both nations in recognition of the increasingly important role Latin American nations are playing in the global economy. 
These first 100 days have been a whirlwind, and I am buoyed by the energy and optimism of all the entrepreneurs I’ve met in cities across America. There’s still so much more to do. I hope you’ll contact me on Twitter @MCS4biz to keep the dialogue going as we continue our forward momentum into the fall.


Maria Contreras-Sweet is the 24th and current Administrator of the Small Business Administration. She was formerly the executive chairwoman and founder of ProAmérica Bank, a commercial bank focusing on small to mid-sized businesses with a specialty in the Latino community. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Contreras-Sweet immigrated to Los Angeles, California and has since been involved in both the private sector founding a private equity firm and in public service as the California Secretary of Business, Transportation, and Housing under Governor Gray Davis.


On January 15, 2014, she was nominated by President Barack Obama to join his Cabinet as head of the Small Business Administration. She was confirmed as the Administrator of the Small Business Administration by voice vote on March 27, 2014.  She assumed role of her position as Administrator of the Small Business Administration on April 7, 2014.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Success Story: Missouri

Jaymie Mitchell, proposal operations manager, Schultz Surveying & Engineering, Inc. (SSE), is originally from Waseca, a small town located south of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She still pronounces certain words with an unmistakable Minnesota accent.
Schultz Surveying & Engineering logoStan Schultz, owner and founder of SSE, is also from the small town of Doniphan in southern Missouri. Like many small-town entrepreneurs, Schultz realized his employment options were limited, so he struck out on his own, opening the company doors of then-Schultz Engineering Services, Inc. in 1997 with just one employee in an abandoned farm house at the edge of Poplar Bluff. He regularly pulled all-nighters and his wife and parents frequently pitched in to make the business work.
And work it has. SSE has grown to an approximately $5 million civil engineering, materials testing, surveying and water treatment systems firm employing more than 45 engineers, surveyors, materials testers and support staff in a main office in Poplar Bluff with additional offices in Branson, Lake Ozark and Doniphan.
large red digging equipment
SSE is no stranger to big digs.
Mitchell, too, is no stranger to entrepreneurship. She’s run two Oregon ski areas, a family owned commercial fishing operation in Kodiak, Ala., helped restore an Alaskan cannery and done database design work for the Minnesota State Fair, among other endeavors. She came to southern Missouri to be close to her retired parents and found opportunity with SSE. Today she does business development and marketing by keeping an eagle eye out for engineering opportunities from the Missouri Department of Transportation and other state agencies; small towns and districts; FedBizOpps, the government point-of-entry for federal government procurement opportunities; the VA’s portal; General Services Administration; and many other sources.
It’s all a bit more than she expected. Luckily, she had help.
She was first introduced to the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (MO PTAC), which assists businesses, including small, disadvantaged and women owned businesses, obtain government contracts through an MO PTAC employee who briefed her on the essentials of the federal proposal process. He then moved on, to her chagrin.
“He said, Well, get a hold of Bill Stuby, he can help.” She pauses. “And thank goodness he did.”
man in trench pouring concrete
An SSE employee pouring concrete.
Stuby helped her navigate the intricacies of siting an SSE office in a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Zone. Businesses obtain HUBZone certification, in part, by employing staff or workers from a zone. This designation carries multiple benefits: Prime contracts of more than $550,000 require subcontracting plans that use HUBZone contractors. HUBZone certified small businesses also enjoy a 10 percent price preference when competing against a larger business.
So, for example, if both a large and small HUBZone business bid $9,500 for a government product or service, the contracting officer automatically adds 10 percent to the large business’ bid, making that bid $10,450. The HUBZone small business then should win the contract with its $9,500 bid.
Mitchell says securing HUBZone certification was an excruciating, drawn-out process, but that Stuby was there for her every step of the way.
open trench next to road with water pipes ready to be installed
No public water was available in Belgrade, Mo., and groundwater was scarce until SSE found a water source then designed a system.
“It [certification] was at first denied for all kinds of reasons,” she says. “Bill was incredible, helped me evaluate the responses, find out what they [SBA] were really looking for. He was fantastic.”
Stuby’s patience and perseverance in achieving HUBZone certification is just one example of his helpfulness, she says. To obtain government contracts, SSE has on occasion teamed with service-disabled veteran owned and 8(a) small businesses. The SBAs 8(a) Program also helps small, disadvantaged businesses compete.
One such contract was to design and build Joplin high school ball fields after the devastating 2011 tornado. To do so, SSE worked with fellow MO PTAC clients C & M Contractors, based in Schultz’s hometown of Doniphan (see our 2013 article on C & M). Such contracts are usually awarded to large construction engineering firms, but FEMA wanted a smaller, more nimble business that could get the work done immediately. SSE completed the design for C & M and, working with other contractors, had the lights on, the sod laid and the baseball, softball, soccer and football players took the field 45 days ahead of schedule. SSE has also been called to New Orleans after Katrina to test levee and flood control gate materials.
“It’s [MO PTAC] been a critical relationship for me, being able to function in all these government categories and websites,” Mitchell says. “I have been able to track and understand the possibilities as well as the limitations of a contract. It’s really an incredible feeling, to know you have a partner in the business you can go to and say, I need you to walk me through this process, and have him do so. Knowing he’s just a phone call away makes all the difference. If not for Bill I wouldn’t have a job!”
gold shovel with words Sunrise Beach sewer on it
Sunrise Beach has moved into phase 2 of its SSE-powered sewer project.
Today, SSE and Mitchell seek out and win contracts as small as building new sidewalks in Doniphan; and as large as resurfacing roads in Eldon, a project worth about $200,000; a share of a more than $4 million new Sunrise Beach sewer system; and a $42 million sewer system for the Gravois Arm Sewer District. Small town and rural water and wastewater projects are SSE’s bread and butter, and the firm has completed nearly 60 such projects in Missouri thus far.
In a previously published interview, Schultz was asked why he tries so hard to keep small town Missouri running.
“Preserving life in rural America means the most to me,” he responded. “My hometown of Doniphan is in a depressed area of the state. We have to work hard to find ways to challenge our brightest young adults to stay in their rural communities while figuring out how to provide better educational and job opportunities. Unfortunately, traditional jobs are leaving our area. We have to be creative and figure out ways for families to make a decent wage.”
And Schultz has done just that.
Stan Schultz, owner and founder of SSE, standing in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Stan Schultz, owner and founder of SSE, standing in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
In turn, SSE has been recognized by the Inc. 500/5000 index as one of the fastest-growing businesses in America five times, even during the recession, in 2003, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012; a ZweigWhite Hot Firm as among the most successful architectural, engineering and environmental consulting firms in the country; an Outstanding Environmental Advocate award from the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance; and received a BBB Gold Star Award for no complaints in three years.
“I’m lucky to be surrounded by employees who care about the success of this company as much as they would as if it were theirs,” Schultz said in the interview.
It’s safe to say the future of small-town Missouri is in good hands.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Find out what’s trending on Google search

Google Trends isn’t just for monitoring the search trends of your favorite television shows, it can also be used for your business. It’s a free online tool that can help you learn about your customers’ interests. You can use it to answer questions like:


  • How popular is a search query on Google?
  • How has the popularity of this search changed over time?
  • Where in the world are people searching for this?
  • What related topics are growing in search popularity?
  • What search queries have grown significantly in popularity?


This can be valuable information for your business. By understanding how people search Google, you can make smart decisions about how to market your business, both online and offline. For example, if you were researching for a bakery business, you’d see that people searching for “red velvet”  are looking for cake. But, they also search for “red velvet cupcakes,” “red velvet frosting” and “red velvet cheesecake.”  This can give you ideas how to expand your website, and possibly your menu offerings.


One warning: Google Trends is highly addictive. You can spend hours exploring the “Top Charts” section. Here’s a suggestion: download the free “hot searches” screensaver to get your Google Trends fix.


Watch our video lesson for more on using Google Trends for your business.




Friday 15: Small Business Tips, is a series designed to help small businesses like yours make the most of their online presence. If you missed the June post about Google’s Webmaster Tools, check it out here: http://asbdcbizblog.blogspot.com/2014/06/webmaster-tools-101.html


You can read the full lessons and view more tips for growing your business online at www.gybo.com/friday15. 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.  


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





BIO: 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.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

7 Steps to Declare Your Independence

As Independence Day quickly approaches,I've been giving thought to how this special day celebrates the American spirit to break free, and not only in the political sense. We are a nation built on “start-ups” and entrepreneurship. Our forefathers, and in many cases our grandfathers, grandmothers, parents or great grandparents came to America to break free and pursue what was, and still is, considered “The American Dream”. For them and for us, the word freedom represents many things. It can mean that you decide how hard to work and how far you will take your success. It can mean your own schedule. It can mean life…on your terms. It all needs to start somewhere though with a fearless leap, whether big or small, towards independence.
Here are some steps in declaring your independence:

1.      Figure out what you are interested in as well as your unique skill set. If you are really interested in a certain area, you will, and may have already, authentically tapped into a targeted community of like-minded individuals. They are your customers/clients. Give them what they want and need.
2.      Do your research. Is there a market for what you offer? Are you filling a need? Who are your competitors and how are you differentiating yourself? There are many sources for market research. The ASBDC provides clients free research packets that can serve as a portion of your overall due diligence.

3.      Stay flexible and open to discovery. Based on your research, you may find that what you originally thought was the for sure, best idea for a business ever has no real market or won’t generate the level of income you are looking for. BUT you often uncover other unknowns through your research and if you are open and really listen and investigate, you may find an even better variation of your original business idea.

4.      Get educated and not only about your industry. Get educated in regards to how to run a business. Learn about cash flow and the tax ramifications of the various legal entities. Learn about digital media strategies, branding alongside with QuickBooks and how to read a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet. Workshops, webinars, videos, articles (for trusted resources) are great sources of information. The ASBDC offers targeted workshops and certifications covering the business of running a business http://www.mosbdc.com/training/

5.      Develop a plan. I’m referring to a real plan…not a dream…not a hope…a plan where you did your due diligence. Put in the time and effort, research the market, work out all costs and financial projections and be strategic about how you are going to move forward…and put it in writing. Need a second set of eyes and feedback on that plan? Reach out to the ASBDC for detailed feedback. Consider us a part of your team in achieving success.

6.      Make it official. Register your business entity, obtain a tax id number, register for state and local taxes, get the necessary business licenses and insurance and open a business bank account.

7.      Launch and execute your plan…and then revisit step #3. You can always tweak or adjust your course based on performance, data analysis. Stay agile and fluid and open to new discoveries and insight as you go along your journey.

Written by: Pasqualina DeLucia, Assistant Director of America's SBDC New Jersey at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ

The Small Business Development Center (Monmouth/Ocean SBDC) at Brookdale Community College, established in 1979, is part of a national network of university/college based centers that provide comprehensive counseling to small business and educational opportunities to small business owners and potential business owners. - See more at: http://www.mosbdc.com

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cloud Productivity

Have you ever had one of those days when life just decided to come crashing down all at once? You know, one of those days when the alarm clock died (or maybe you just hit the snooze button one too many times), there was absolutely NO food in the fridge, your kids got up early and decorated your briefcase with flower stickers (in an attempt to make it pretty, of course), the dog tracked mud in from the backyard, and when you finally made it out to your car, you discovered you’re out of gas. So much for getting to work on time.

When life decides it’s time for a hectic day, it’s easy to forget some of the most important things – like that PowerPoint® presentation that lays out the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The presentation you’ve been tirelessly working on so you can impress your boss at today’s meeting. The presentation that is currently saved on your home computer.

So, what do you do?

You can’t turn around and go back to the war zone that is currently your house -- after all, it is likely that your creative kids decided to decorate the handouts that were supposed to accompany that presentation, and while unicorns and Dora the Explorer stickers make them giggle, your boss might have a different reaction. How are you going to save what’s turned into a rather cloudy day?

You might be surprised how good clouds can actually be.

File sharing in the form of water droplets

Platforms like Microsoft OneDrive™, Google Drive™ and Apple’s iCloud™ specialize in cloud-based file sharing. This technology allows you to upload files (with very little restrictions on the file type) to a virtual storage space that can be accessed from any location, provided you are connected to the Internet. And the best part is, working with these products is simple and efficient!

All business owners understand the value of efficiency and productivity – and what is more efficient than having your fiscal budget presentation at your fingertips? It is a portable and affordable solution that gives you (and your boss) the needed information for your business. All you have to do is upload the file to your cloud platform, and boom! You will have access to every file you’ve uploaded. Talk about bringing a little excitement and thunder to your meeting! Before you know it, you’ll be downloading your files so fast in so many different locations that you’ll be showering your potential clients with knowledge and professionalism.

Just to sweeten the deal, think about the lack of decorative stickers your formal documents will have. Not only are you protecting your information from rampant toddlers, but you are also protecting your documents from any other potential harm – i.e. food splatters, coffee stains, lost papers (or USBs for that matter), and so much more.

There are plenty of ways to utilize the cloud-based products mentioned above and other stand-alone examples, like Dropbox, to increase efficiency and performance. And to jumpstart your productivity, you might want to check out this cool video:

It is great to have a pocket full of sunshine, but maybe keep your back-pocket filled with clouds and files so that you’re always prepared for the unexpected.

                                                                   
Maxym Martineau is a small-business consultant for GoDaddy and a freelance writer based out of Arizona. She's an avid reader with a love for social media and blogging. Connect with Maxym on Google+. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business. To get more tips for your small business—including articles, videos and webinars—check out the GoDaddy Training Hub.





During the last 9 years at GoDaddy --  the world's #1 ICANN-accredited domain registrar, offering website builders, eCommerce solutions and everything else small business owners need to shine online -- Shawn has built dozens of professional websites, managed multiple writing teams, created training and education programs, and acted as an advocate for customer service throughout the company. Connect with Shawn on Google+ and Twitter.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How to Handle Negative Online Comments

Even if your business has never been vilified online, you likely know someone who has that can testify to how detrimental negative comments can be. Whether or not the complaints are valid, they’re now on the record for all to see.
                                                  
When faced with this situation, you have three options. One is to ignore it and hope it goes away. It won’t.

The second option is to respond online by calling out the customer as irrational. Before you do that, know that caustic comments reflect more on the sender than the receiver and there’s really no delete button in cyberspace.

Your third choice, and the one that’s best for your business, is to publicly acknowledge and address the situation immediately. How you go about resolving the issue will make all the difference when it comes to maintaining your reputation and increasing customer loyalty.

Here’s a three-step process to solving the problem. 

1. Don’t remove negative comments. Since it’s likely that others have seen the comments, removing complaints causes more harm and creates unnecessary suspicion. It’s best to respond online by asking the customer to resolve the issue with you offline.

Still concerned about those public posts? Take heart. A recent Harris Interactive survey found that one-third of customers who posted negative comments and received a response from the company ended up posting a positive review after the issue was resolved. Also, around the same number of those customers deleted their original remark. Alternatively, when that unhappy customer is satisfied with how you’ve handled the issue, you can ask them to update their post.

2. Acknowledge the complaint. Customers want to be heard so allow them to vent. Once the customer has gotten the issues on the table, respond with, “I see why you may feel that way.”
While you may disagree with some points, restate the issue so you’re on the same page and can move toward a resolution. Of note, 96 percent of customers who complain will do business with your company again if the issue is quickly resolved.
3. Focus on the facts and be grateful for the complaint. When you separate the harsh delivery of the message from the facts, you’re left with a precious gift. Without that complaint, you may never know why great customers suddenly disappeared.

While it’s impossible to please everybody, you can learn to appreciate complaints as warning signs and opportunities to build even stronger ties to your customers.


 
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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How Are People Searching for You on Google?


Getting found on Google is critical for business success today. But how are people TRULY searching for you?  

In this video, Eric Spellmann lists some fantastic free tools that show you EXACTLY what your customers are typing.  In addition, he gives you step-by-step instructions on how to put this information into your overall online marketing strategy. 
So, what are you waiting for!  Climb inside your customers' minds by watching this video!




Eric Spellmann continues to be one of the highest 
rated speakers at our national ASBDC conferences. His unique view that small business websites should “do” something pushes against the standard “online pamphlet” view of most web design companies. He believes your customer’s websites should be driving qualified leads and sales on a weekly basis. Eric speaks at a number of other national and state conferences nationwide, but enjoys running one of the most successful web design companies in the country. He truly believes in the SBDC mission as it helped him start his own company many years ago. To contact him, visit his website at EricSpellmann.com.