Monday, December 22, 2014

Five resolutions to cultivate and grow your business in 2015

The start of a New Year is likely to have many SMB owners recounting the ups and downs of the past year and looking for things they can do better in 2015. For some, that means streamlining budgets. For others, that means getting a better grasp on the elusive work/life balance. In my role, it means looking for ways to increase productivity and helping SMB owners get back a bit more of one of the world’s most precious resources – time. 
As I look for ways to improve productivity this year, I’ve shared a few tried and true methods below that will help you start your year off strong. 

Start with you – Taking better care of yourself can go a long way towards helping your business thrive. It can be as simple as getting more rest. Sleep can have a major impact on your performance, with one study finding sleep to be more important than food. The latest wearable devices make it easier than ever to track your habits – when asleep or awake to keep your efforts on track. Best of all, you can share healthy habits with your employees. Scheduling daily walks or offering yoga courses onsite can reduce stress and encourage teambuilding. 

Get out of the office – The great thing about the shift towards cloud mobility is we’re no longer tied to our desks. Even when we’re on the go, we still have access to important documents through our phones and devices in case of emergency or last minute edits. A change of scenery is also a great way to boost creativity and recharge. Commit to working from home more often or even working from a local coffee shop with your favorite cup of joe once a week. Networking is key and you never know who you might meet when working outside of your office. 

Upgrade your technology - There are plenty of great tools you can use to increase productivity and ultimately save time during the workday.  The right technology can increase efficiency, save money and reduce waste while outdated tools could be holding your business back. Research from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found SMBs leveraging technology grow revenue and profitability at a much faster rate. On July 14, 2015, Microsoft will completely end support for Windows Server 2003, making the New Year a great time to transition to modern technology solutions such as Office 365 and Azure that work the way you do both at work and at home.

Join a local business association – Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an industry veteran, business associations offer a huge return on time invested. As a business owner, the thought of adding one more activity to your busy calendar may seem unbearable, still memberships offer numerous benefits including keeping you on top of important, ever-changing marketplace issues, trends and legislation. Not to mention the great networking opportunities and access to expert advice. Your local Small Business Development Center is a great place to start. 

Set achievable, time bound goals – I’ve most often found it easier to reach a large goal by setting smaller goals along the way. If you resolve to increase sales by 20 percent, take time to celebrate small wins along the way to help your staff stay motivated and productive. 

I want to hear from you. Share your 2015 business resolutions on Twitter @Cindy_Bates. 

Cindy Bates
Vice President,
Microsoft U.S. SMB group
Cindy Bates leads the company's efforts to help SMBs realize their full potential through the use of technology. This blog is where she shares SMB stories, technology insights, and business strategies for SMBs.

We have received permission to repost this blog from the Microsoft Small Business Blog.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Please visit us at our new home: AmericasSBDC.org/Blog


Dear Friends,

We've moved!

As of December 4, 2014, America's SBDC Blog has a new home, on the America's SBDC website.

Please visit us at our new Blog address -- AmericasSBDC.org/Blog

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sincerely,

The America's SBDC Staff


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

5 Tips to Grow Your SMB through Government Contracts

On my way home from the office late last week I heard an interesting story on NPR about why women lag in winning government contracts. I paused to turn up the volume because the host was speaking about two of my favorite topics – successful women in business and unique business opportunities. While listening, I found one statistic particularly jarring: In the 20 years since the government set a goal of awarding five percent of federal contracts to women-owned small businesses, it has never met that goal.

I’ve met with countless SMB owners who have earned federal contracts and I know the impact it can give a business – opening doors, building connections and fast-tracking growth. The question is how can we help level the playing field for women who now comprise a third of all U.S. small business owners? Below, I’ve listed five practical tips to offer women a jumpstart on taking their businesses to the next level.

Start locally - Find the military bases and government agencies in your area and ask what products they’ve purchased before and who does the purchasing. Once you’ve made that determination, PTACs (Procurement Technical Assistance Centers) as well as SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers) are the best resources locally for all of the “How – Tos”.

Find a mentor –I’m a big proponent of seeking out a mentor and have been fortunate to learn from some great mentors throughout my life. There are 13 mentor-protégé programs in major agencies throughout the federal government which have a goal of promoting the development of qualified small business contractors by pairing them with experienced prime contractors. Entrepreneurs.org also has a great mentorship program that can help business owners navigate the often complex and confusing procurement process. 

Leverage the right technology –According to the U.S. Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, the U.S. government instituted the Cloud First policy to accelerate the pace of cloud adoption. Your business should do the same. Cloud technology, like Office365, plays an essential role in ensuring compliance with governmental and large corporations’ requirements for privacy and security. 

Seek certifications – SMB owners can apply for any or all of the government certifications available through federal, state, county or city governments. Certifications are offered to minority-owned, woman-owned and veteran-owned businesses, those owned by someone with a physical disability, or those located in areas with high unemployment.

Be persistent – An American Express OPEN study showed that in 2013 it took both men and women about two years and at least four bids before they succeeded in winning their first contract. Rejection can be disheartening for even the most weathered business, but there are a few steps to make you more likely to win the next time around. First, ask for a debrief to find out why you did not win the contract. Also keep a few copies of the materials from your original application to streamline the process for later ones.
Don’t think your small business is a match for the federal government? Think again. The government is the largest buyer of products and services in the country. It spends 23 percent of its contracting budget with American SMBs.  For additional inside tips on winning government contracts, download Braddock’s The Winning Edge, which was sponsored by Microsoft. 

Cindy Bates
Vice President,
Microsoft U.S. SMB group
Cindy Bates leads the company's efforts to help SMBs realize their full potential through the use of technology. This blog is where she shares SMB stories, technology insights, and business strategies for SMBs.

We have received permission to repost this blog from the Microsoft Small Business Blog.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Prioritized Patents: Do They Only Help Companies Like Google?

If intellectual property (IP) was a rock band, then a patent would definitely be the lead singer. This is not to say they are better than other forms of IP, just the face of it, and an important one if applicable to your IP. An investor is more likely to be impressed with an IP portfolio with patents than without.
But it is a hard application to both file and be granted, requiring in-depth research and sometimes years before the US Patent and Trademark Organization (USPTO) actually reaches a decision. Considering the amount of work that goes into the process, it is not surprising the cost of filing a patent application is also comparatively higher than other forms of IP rights. Presently the cost is about $1,600. Compared to the $35 for a copyright, around $500–$1,000 for a trademark, and nothing at all for trade secrets (they are not registered), you can see the difference.  
Considering it takes a number of years for a patent application to finally be approved (or rejected), under the American Inventions Act, a provision for fast-tracking a patent application has been added. Under this provision, companies can pay an additional fee and have their patent application reviewed in a prioritized examination. This procedure usually takes only 12 months from the date priority status is granted and is also known as “Track One” or “Track I”. There is a cap of 10,000 applications being granted priority status in a fiscal year and the statistics are posted on the USPTO website.
Now you may be thinking, considering the high cost of filing an application without any bells and whistles, this additional cost will skew patents being granted to larger corporations who can afford to streamline their applications. But to counter just that, the USPTO has implemented a gradient for companies fitting into different financial positions. Large corporations have to pay an extra $4,000; medium-sized entities an extra $2,000; and micro-entities (such as startups) an extra $1,000.
How effective is this sliding scale? For a cash-strapped startup, even $1,000 can be a lot and not a worthwhile investment, putting it at a disadvantage as compared to a company with funds to burn.
But for large tech companies, the fast-track process has been heavily utilized. Google has acquired 875 fast-track patents since the program began. This is 14% of the total prioritized reviews granted by USPTO. That is a very large number for any one company. The only other company to have received fast-track patents in the hundreds is China’s Huawei Technologies, with 147. According to the Washington Post, about 97% of the entities, universities, and individuals that have received fast-track patents, have received 10 or fewer.
This post originally appeared on the traklight.com blog on October 29th, 2014, titled Prioritized Patents: Do They Only Help Companies Like Google? and written by Mrigank Mishra.

Mary Juetten, Founder and CEO of Traklight.com, developed the idea forTraklight while earning her JD and has leveraged 25+ years of business experience to globally launch Traklight in less than three years. Traklight is an innovative software company with a mission to help educate and empower you to be proactive in identifying, protecting, and leveraging your ideas for your startup, invention, or business. Through the use of online IP identification and storage tools and resources, Traklight users can protect their IP, and prevent infringement disputes and subsequent losses of large sums of money. Follow Traklight on Facebook, Twitter, or their blog.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Protecting Your Inventions: Utility vs. Design Paten

If you're planning on patenting your idea, you should be careful in choosing which patent you apply for when protecting your inventions. There are many different kinds of patents, but most likely, you'll be wanting to choose between a utility or design patent.



A design patent lasts for 14 years. This is subject to change, as are most laws. Design patents are mostly used for, well, designs! If you're an architect and come up with a novel design for a new kind of Titanic that can't be sunk, with unique features that no other ship currently possesses then you should apply for a design patent. The design patent makes it illegal for anyone else but yourself to replicate your design, sell it, or use it for the whole fourteen years.
 
A utility patent lasts for 20 years. This is subject to change, just like the design patent. Utility patents are meant for inventions – so you're trying to protect the actual mechanism of an invention. Utility patents protect the mechanism of the invention and its function, but it poorly protects its design.

You might make a dangerous error in choosing between design and utility if you don't seek expert advice. For example, if you make a new rocket-powered vehicle, but apply for a design patent, the only thing protected is the way your rocket-powered vehicle superficially looks. So if you made a red car with twin rockets, with aesthetic “wings” near the doors, the design patent would stop people from making cars with that design: they can't make cars with twin rockets, and wings on the doors. However, because you only have a design patent, anyone is free to make their own rocket-powered car using your idea—so they could make a blue car, no wings, and mini rockets near the tires, and the patent wouldn't make it illegal. If you chose a utility patent, it would be illegal for them to make any kind of rocket car that uses your methods.

Note: This blog was originally posted on traklight.com by Emily Ely on Oct 6th, 2014



Traklight is the only self-guided software platform that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs identify and protect their intellectual property. Traklight is an innovative software company with a mission to help educate and empower you to be proactive in identifying, protecting, and leveraging your ideas for your startup, invention, or business. Through the use of online IP identification tools and resources, Traklight users can protect their IP, and prevent infringement disputes and subsequent losses of large sums of money. Follow Traklight on Facebook, Twitter, or their blog.

Monday, November 24, 2014

How to build momentum for the holidays

Hopefully you’ve already started thinking about how you’re going to make this year’s holiday season worth celebrating—because without a doubt many of your biggest competitors have already started generating buzz. While you may not their million dollar TV budgets or a Grammy-worthy holiday jingle to do it, you don’t actually need those things to be successful—you just need the right plan in place and the right tools to help you out.
Following are some easy to embrace tips to help your business build momentum as you head into the holiday season:

Develop a schedule to build momentum
Building momentum will be crucial in determining whether or not this year’s holiday season is one worth celebrating. But you can’t build momentum without a plan for how you’re going to do it. Start by creating a schedule. Map out the weeks leading up to and through the holiday season with specific business goals for each of the big days. The specific holidays you plan to target may vary based on your business and your audience.

Pay attention to what people care about
Consider using a survey to collect customer feedback in the fall, before the holiday craze has started. Customers truly appreciate when businesses offer them a chance to provide feedback—and they appreciate it even more when they see the business use that customer feedback to improve product or service offerings, as well as the content and offers you’re sending in your marketing campaigns.

Be a resource; not just a sales pitch
Don’t add to the holiday stress by overwhelming your contacts with salesy content and overly aggressive promotion. Instead, provide them with resources they can actually use this holiday season. This is a best practice year round, but it becomes even more critical at the holidays when inboxes are flooded with sales offer after offer. Doing something as simple as offering advice for preparing their shopping list, tips for throwing a dinner party, or even a special coupon for subscribers only can go a long way.

Pace yourself—and your customers
Make sure you’re giving your customers the chance to ease into the holiday season. It can be helpful to think of things in terms of percentages — for example: in October 30 percent holiday content, in November 50 percent holiday content, and in December70 percent holiday content. By pacing your content, you can help build momentum and excitement for the holidays in a way the best meets the needs of 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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Get discovered: Two SEO Tips to Get Your Small Business Website Found

Like a prehistoric masterpiece scratched into the far recesses of an undiscovered cave, it doesn’t matter how awe-inspiring your website is if nobody can find it. Search engines are the archeologists of the digital landscape. An estimated 90 percent of consumers searching for local businesses online use search engines like Google® Bing® and Yahoo® to find them. If you want your business website to get discovered, you need to tap into the power of search.
Just about every website owner today understands the basic concept of search engine optimization (SEO): taking steps to attract the attention of search engines in order to drive traffic to your site. Search Engine Land defines SEO as “the process of getting traffic from the ‘free,’ ‘organic,’ ‘editorial,’ or ‘natural’ search results on search engines.” The paid ads you often see at the top of search results don’t figure in.
You’ve likely already taken the fundamental steps to improve your SEO. Your website brims with unique and compelling content. You use relevant keywords all over the place. You optimize title tags and other metadata. You covet backlinks.
But there’s always more SEO-related work you can do to draw visitors to your website. Here are two big SEO tips:
Be social for business

I probably wouldn’t believe you if you told me you spent less than 30 minutes a day (most of it on your phone) tweeting, posting, liking, sharing or pinning. That’s because studies show that adults in the U.S. spend an average of between two and four hours a day on social media sites. As New York Times writer Nick Bilton eloquently put it in “Reclaiming Our (Real) Lives from Social Media”:
“If Hemingway were alive in 2014, he might not have finished what he started writing that day. Realistically, he probably wouldn’t have even put a pen to paper. Instead, he might have ducked into the cafe, pulled out his smartphone and proceeded to waste an entire afternoon on social media. Perhaps he would update his Facebook to discuss the rogue weather, snap a picture of his café au lait to post on Instagram and then lose the rest of the afternoon to Twitter.”

What does all that time on social media mean to SEO? Gold. Seven of the top 10 search ranking factors now involve social media, according to recent stats from SearchMetrics, which annually develops a list of search engine ranking factors that shows correlation to rank improvements.

<blockquote>You can drive virtual busloads of traffic to your website by dedicating some of your social networking time to your business.</blockquote>

Figure out where the people you want to do business with are doing their social networking, and get active on those sites. Use your Facebook business page and Twitter and LinkedIn profiles to engage with customers, establish your expertise, and promote your products and services. Give your business a visual presence on Pinterest and Instagram. Seed your social interactions with links to specific (amazing) content on your website, and make getting to your social platforms from your website easy by putting social widgets on your home page.

If you’re consistent and creative with your social marketing strategy, you’re bound to see an increase in traffic to your website.
Research the competition

You can also refine your SEO strategy by analyzing the keywords your competitors use to drive traffic to their websites. You can identify your competitor’s keywords in a few different places on their website:
Keywords in the code: Start by checking out their meta tags, such as the title tag or the keywords tag. Typically, the first keyword in a title tag is usually the most important. To view the code:
1.     Go to the website, and then right-click the page.
2.     Click View Source. A new window opens with the website’s code.
The <title> tag is near the top of the page. If the site includes it, the meta name=”keywords” tag should be a few lines below. Both of these contain your competitor’s keywords.
Keywords in the text: A keyword density checker (search “keyword density checker” in any search engine) can quickly determine which keywords are prominent in your competitors’ website copy. Or, you can simply use “find” (press CTRL-F on your keyboard) to search for specific keywords.
Assuming your competitors follow SEO best practices, you can gain insight into some of the ways they handle SEO for their site in as little as 10 to 15 minutes.
Want to learn more? Here are a few great places to continue your SEO education:





Bio: 
Director of Global SEO at GoDaddy, Jim Christian believes in making things better. He accomplishes this through tireless hours of research, perfecting his gift for search engine marketing. Jim is grateful for the opportunity to pursue his passion while helping people and businesses succeed online. Connect with Jim 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 this resource.