A weekly roundup of small-business developments.
What’s affecting me, my clients and other small-business owners this week.
The Big Story: Will Taxes Be Overhauled?
The Economy: Real but Vulnerable
Even more businesses say they expect to increase capital spending, but surging gas prices threaten to derail the recovery. Meanwhile, natural gas prices are the lowest since 1999. Scott Boyd explains why the recovery is real but vulnerable. Traffic volume (pdf) increased in December, but some wonder if America is losing its drive. The economic crisis slowed population growth (yet appears to have spurred a new generation of flying babies). The Congressional Budget Office unveils a new Web site. Chicago’s increase in manufacturing activity inspires the president to break out in song. But Marcos Kaminis thinks the economy is nothing to sing about. Existing home sales rise. Mortgage applications fall.
Red Tape Update: Redefining Small
A Purdue farm safety specialist advises parents of children who work on the family farm to review proposed changes to child labor laws (while a dancing mom keeps ruining her daughter’s video). Robb Mandelbaum writes about how one small business is coping with health insurance. Galen Moore explains how your business could be sued for using Pinterest. The Small Business Administration changes the definition of small. And here’s how insurance evolved.
Your People: Hiring a Virtual Assistant
American manufacturing is facing a shortage of skilled factory workers, but Robert Reich says manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back. Here are the top five mistakes business owners make when hiring a virtual assistant. Karen Klein reports on a new program that teaches the blind to run businesses. Twitter indicates that people are happiest in the morning. A new problem-solving platform connects businesses with talented students. Walter Williams explains why math matters.
Management: Turning Skeptics Into Believers
If you’re running a contracting business, try this tool kit. And if you’re a big traveler, here’s how to attain elite status without spending half your life away from home. Terry Starbucker explains how to turn skeptics into believers. Carol Tice compiles 12 leadership traits to survive tough times. Karl Stark and Bill Stewart explain what you should be doing to maximize profit. A graphic from Intuit shows how small businesses operate. Laurie Kulikowski offers small-business lessons from our first president .
Marketing: The Power of Seven
Here are seven ways Pinterest can improve your search engine optimization, seven retail trends that can give your business an edge and seven rules to live by (according to Twitter’s Biz Stone). A cute letter generates word of mouth. Harrison Weber says advertisers are spending too much on print and too little on mobile. Women are more likely to take your social campaign viral. Have you considered Flickr to market your business? Or these ideas for your next sales call? Just avoid this mistake when asking for referrals. Kelly Clay writes about how to use Google Plus better. Kelley Robertson explains how to get prospects to tell you the truth. American Express introduces social media show-and-tell videos. Mad Men returns in less than a month.
Starting Up: The Coolest
A new book lists the coolest start-ups in America (and in this interview, the author talks about why start-ups succeed). Boston area start-up specialists are rounding up neophytes who need advice. Many young companies are struggling to keep their sites speedy on all platforms. In New York City, two entrepreneurs aim to restore old school apprenticeships. Las Vegas can be a clean slate for start-ups. A start-up enters a $1.25 billion partnership with a Chinese conglomerate, and a biotech legend gets $94.5 million from the Russian government. Michael Koploy says these six start-ups are about to rock retail. Max Klein offers the cheapest way to find out if your start-up will make money. J.K. Rowling plans a book for adults. Here’s how an entrepreneur raised $28,000 using Airbnb to finance her start-up. The Titanic’s lunch menu may fetch $150,000.
Ideas: Phone Storage
Some New York City schools have metal detectors to keep out cellphones — so Pure Loyalty will store the students’ electronic devices in brightly painted trucks: “At the Bronx’s DeWitt Clinton High School alone, the truck serves an estimated 500 to 550 students per day. At a buck per phone and with 180 school days a year, that one truck alone grosses roughly $90,000 to $99,000 annually.” The New York Enterprise Report plans a webinar for those who want to apply for an award. Verizon Wireless introduces a small-business adviser program. Some big retailers are shuttering their Facebook stores. Newsday’s Jamie Herzlich wonders if this is a good time to buy a franchise. Think your teenage daughter might be pregnant? Ask Target. Tell Inc. magazine if you’re a rock star. Stephanie Miles lists seven cool new customer-loyalty ideas. Keep an eye out for these early warning signs of fraud in your organization. Did you know that pop-up retail is ready for prime time? Do you know how to have fun with tip jars.
Around the Country: Free Web Sites!
Farmland values near Kansas are up 25 percent. A Utah agricultural bill would limit the filming and photographing of livestock. Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles announces regulations for self-driving cars. Businesses locating in West Virginia could get a tax exemption. Businesses relocating to Jackson, Miss., will find more females than males. A Colorado bill pushed by the medical marijuana industry goes up in smoke. Georgia and Google team up to provide free Web sites for small businesses. This shop in New York is someone’s home!
Around the World: Kenya’s Boom
Batman enjoys a night out in Toronto (when he should have been saving Greece). Turkey’s start-up scene comes of age. The British economy shrank last quarter (is it because 35 percent of the country’s adults sleep with a teddy bear?). A Japanese marketer uses a painful approach to go viral on Twitter. Start-up numbers in Australia fell 95 percent in 2011. David Talbot reports on Kenya’s start-up boom. Scott Lincicome agrees that Chinese labor is no longer cheap: “In short, basic economics works. China had a massive comparative advantage in cheap labor; it used that advantage, via low-end manufacturing and international trade, to sell cheap stuff to willing consumers across the globe and thus dramatically improve national living standards; and now those improvements, coupled with certain demographic shifts, are slowly eroding China’s labor advantage and thus its dominant role as the World’s Factory.” India’s economy could grow 8 percent. Google joins with the Israeli government to put more small businesses online.
Technology: Stuff I.T. Guys Say
Microsoft introduces a video attack on Google and goes after iCloud. Microsoft Office for the iPad seems to be imminent, but wait, it’s not made by Microsoft? Nicole Fende reviews a few good automation tools. Electric cars are facing a tough market. Zohar Gilad explains how he cut 70 percent of his information technology budget in one year. A guest blogger reveals stuff I.T. guys say. Here are five must-have plug-ins for Gmail and 2012’s best new travel gadgets. And get ready for Google Glasses. Eric Knorr looks at business computing in 2040.
The Week Ahead
A busy week for the economy: keep an eye out for reports on durable goods, revised gross domestic product, consumer confidence and what the Federal Reserve chairman has to say when he testifies before two Congressional committees.
The Week’s Bests
Lessons From Bad Reviews. Angie Hicks of Angie’s List tells us what we can learn from customer reviews: “Look at bad reviews as the first step to seeking a solution. … In our annual review of customer comments, we found that the companies most willing to reach out to clients submitting feedback are most likely to sport a top grade. Your customer interaction rarely has to end in irreconcilable differences. No matter the reviewer, an olive branch should always be extended when the forum allows such action.”
Explanation for Bad Advice. Rajesh Setty wonders why smart people give bad advice: “I have seen this firsthand when highly accomplished and successful people come to talk at events without much preparation. Their reasoning — they have a ‘wealth of experience’ that they can draw upon so preparation is really optional. They mess up badly on their talk but they rarely get real feedback as to how badly they performed. This lack of real feedback gives them a feeling that everything is just fine and they continue on a slippery slope after that.”
Ways to Improve Your E-mail Marketing. Justin Premick offers tips for getting customers to open newsletters, including: “Your subject line should convey what the e-mail is about while piquing subscribers’ curiosity and interest, much as you would in a blog post title or sales page headline. You may find that certain types of subject lines, such as those that ask questions, tend to pull better response rates than others. However, don’t fall into the trap of making all your subject lines feel the same; otherwise subscribers may decide that all your e-mails are the same and they don’t need to open the one you just sent them.”
This Week’s Question: How do you respond to a customer who posts a bad review online?