Think about your group of friends for a minute. Are any of them moms? Do any of them have a blog where they talk about the pitfalls, products, services and challenges that go along with being a mom or parent? Chances are you do, because right now there are an estimated 3.9 million people that identify themselves as "mommy bloggers" in the United States alone, according to research released last year by Scarborough Research.FULL ENTRY
It's no secret that Massachusetts is a regulation heavy state. It's been a long held maxim that if you want to get anything done in this state, you have to know the ins and outs of the system and it never hurts to "know someone."FULL ENTRY
It's the start of a new year, which means hope abounds for everyone.
January is the time for new ventures, new resolutions and renewed faith in all the things that you want to accomplish this year that you didn't get to last year. In fact, "starting my own business" is always one of the most popular New Year's resolutions every single year. For the most part, 2012 was a good year for small businesses. As a group it didn't grow as much as the government would have liked, but that's understandable given the economic challenges. Overall though, optimism was high and the numbers were good.FULL ENTRY
If one was so inclined, with all the notifications that come with smartphones, someone could set it up to "ding" every few minutes with something. Phone messages, texts, Facebook updates, Twitter updates, AP News feeds, software upgrades, gaming activity - the list goes on and on.
For me personally, I make it a point to turn off all of these distractions so that the only time my phone makes noise is when I get a text message, or someone is calling. That ensures that I check it, assuming that it's coming from someone relatively important with a message that I want to see. But last week, when I got a text message from my local dentist, telling me that I am due for a bi annual cleaning, I was a little taken aback. The first thought that went through my head was, "oh jeez I need to schedule that, I AM due for a cleaning." My second thought was, "hey wait a minute, I don't remember opting into text message marketing from my dentist."FULL ENTRY
Everyone knows Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year. People wait in line for hours, in the wee hours of the morning, to get the best deals they can. Stores have started running promotions early, even turning Black Friday into a month long event, rather than a 24 hour sale. It's become so ingrained in American culture, people forget that the initial connotation for Black Friday marked the stock market crash on Sept. 24, 1869. In the 1950's, workers adopted the phrase to mark the day after Thanksgiving and the number of employees who simply wouldn't show up for work. Despite it's nuances, the day has become a national shopping holiday.
However, the transformation of the Saturday following Black Friday has been nearly as remarkable as Black Friday itself. In just a few short years Small Business Saturday has taken hold on November 24. It's the day that American Express, along with a slew of influential partners including the Small Business Administration, multiple professional sports organizations and some of the countries biggest corporations (including Facebook) want you to "shop small." I wrote about this last year, allowing real small businesses to weigh in with their thoughts.FULL ENTRY
After months and months of campaigning, the election has finally come to an end. With president Obama winning a second term in office, the question now becomes what does this mean for small business owners? The truth is no one really knows what it will mean for small business owners because so much is still left in doubt. While one question has been answered, many more remain. Much like the rest of the country, most small businesses were split over whether or not the president being reelected was a good thing.
Now the common topic has been the fiscal cliff that the country may or may not fall off of, depending on the actions of Congress between now and the end of the year. So what has become clear in certain for small business owners?FULL ENTRY
Ticket sales as an industry, have never been more controversial. Because the secondary ticket market is where the majority of tickets are purchased - through ticket brokers like StubHub, TicketMaster and other online sites - fans are often left with one of two options in seeing their favorite band or act: pay far above face value for the tickets, or stay home.
As an example, tickets to the upcoming Rolling Stones 50th anniversary tour were being listed as high as $10,000.
The result has been a number of start-ups launched to try and capitalize on the appetite for sold out shows, but also the secondary market for tickets. One has even managed to combine buying tickets online with giving to charity, a unique combination that has grown into a successful venture in just five short years.FULL ENTRY
Depending on what methodology you believe, a Facebook fan could be worth upwards of $100 or as little as $1.00. Some have speculated that fans are worth $10, based on brands advertising on Facebook and the number of impressions they get with actions taken. FULL ENTRY
They say that there's a business for everything. In many cases there are more than one. Oftentimes it's a different spin on an existing business that succeeds. One of my goals for this blog is to higlight the business owners that have taken a chance in starting a business that's doing things differently and having an impact locally, nationally or globally.FULL ENTRY
If I had a dime for every survey that measured the activity level of small business owners in social media, I'd be a millionaire. Or at the very least, close.
The frustrating part about the survey process is that most come to different conclusions, focus on different small business demographics or have questions that aren't getting at the heart of the issue. Just because a small business is "using" social media doesn't mean they are succeeding with it, it doesn't mean they are making money with it, and it doesn't mean that they are going to elevate it to the primary marketing tactic in the next year plus.FULL ENTRY
Most small businesses will go above and beyond to do a great job for their clients. You won't have too look far for a small business owner who's going the extra mile - be it ensuring that the meal you had was up to par, the work that was done on the house was done to specifications, or that your taxes were done correctly and you got the refund you deserve.
The truth is, they oftentimes have to. In order to "rise above" the bigger competition, small businesses have long had to rely on personal service and a more catered approach with clients in order to keep them happy, and paying over a longer period of time. They should be applauded for that, but sometimes small business owners aren't selfish enough when asking for customers to also go above and beyond in recognizing good work. It's probably rare to see someone pay more than the bill, even if the work was exceptional, but that doesn't mean a customer can't take steps after the work is done to show appreciation.FULL ENTRY
Marketing comes in many different forms, but the shift has dramatically swung to online channels in the past five years. Offline advertising and marketing that used to be staples of any small businesses success - including being listed in the yellow pages and local print ads in newspapers - are now all but extinct. Small business owners have had to adapt, taking to channels like Craigslist, Google AdWords and social media. And of course there's the still popular word of mouth referrals.
It seems obvious that at this point, any small business that doesn't currently have some form of a website, is way behind the times. A recent survey of micro businesses (small businesses with between 1-10 employees) done by Vistaprint showed that nearly 70% currently have a website for their small business. Of those micro business owners who have a website, 75% are generating revenue either directly or indirectly through a website. In addition, just over 50% have a dedicated Facebook page for their small business as well.FULL ENTRY
Have you ever met someone that's actually won a small business contest?
Believe it or not, they do exist. With a flood of contests aimed at small businesses launching in the past few years, you've likely heard of at least a few of them. Contests can ask small businesses to do all kinds of things in order to win: enter a full business plan, create a video talking about a business or get the most votes in social media. Some require a lot of work, others are relatively simple and the prizes can vary in both size and impact.FULL ENTRY
In case you missed the grand theater this week, small businesses (as a group) were caught in the political crossfire.
Everyone in government, from President Obama on down, claims that they want to do everything they can to help small business growth and employment. We've heard everything from their taxes should be cut, their burdens lessened, access to credit increased and incentives for hiring passed immediately to spur action. The problem is that members of both the House and Senate don't seem to have any interest in really helping small businesses, just talking about how they want to help small businesses. In this case, non-action is speaking a lot louder than words.FULL ENTRY
Understandably, there has been much coverage of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act, which had in it several provisions for small businesses. Most notably, it doesn't affect those that employ less than 50 people. That's a huge number of small businesses in the United States. Despite all the uproar, the decision (even if the law was struck down) didn't really matter to the small business community. Why? Because the majority of business owners have no idea what's in the bill, what it means for them and what they need to do to act on it. In this case a lack of education is hurting small businesses, regardless of the legislation. The question is, who is at fault?FULL ENTRY
More and more data continues to come to light about small businesses and their attitudes heading into the summer of 2012. As optimism continues to rise from both a national and local perspective, as the stock market continues to come back and the housing market begins to rebound, it seems that small business attitudes are also following suit. This week I wanted to provide some interesting survey results that have recently come to light, including small businesses reporting positive conditions in which to operate and wanting to work with one another. And a friend weighs in on the raging "entrepreneur" vs. "small business" debate.FULL ENTRY
Glenn Beck may be one of the most hated men in America, while simultaneously enjoying an audience of millions as loyal as any media personality has ever enjoyed. If there's one thing you can say about him, it's that he's one of the most controversial figures of the past decade. But he's also apparently a big believer in small businesses, so much so that he's launched a site dependent on their success.FULL ENTRY
With the advent of social networks and sharing at the click of a mouse, imagery is quickly becoming a must have for business and marketing success.
Facebook just bought Instagram for $1 billion, and that's nothing but a network of people taking, altering and sharing photos they took. Infographics, videos, quirky signs with one liners, motivational posters and amazingly looking food are all being pinned to Pinterest and examples of image specific content that's being shared. People are looking for it, are more aware of it and are more likely to remember things they have seen than ever before. Forget the written word, people are now focused on pictures. If a photo of a random "photogenic man" running a 10K race can get viewed 1.4 million times, think about what imagery could do for a small business?FULL ENTRY
Because this is an election year, it seems that small businesses are being talked about more and more. Small businesses as a whole are a very easy, convenient and simple group for campaigning politicians to talk about. For the most part, doing something to help the group is bipartisan, and likely to be embraced by everyone. No one wants to see their local small businesses fail, after all. They're the lifeblood of any local community. This week's roundup focuses on the new tax cut aimed at the small business market, but more importantly, whether or not it's likely going to affect ACTUAL small businesses. Another story examines how local post offices closing could negatively impact local small businesses.
In previous posts, I've highlighted how small business growth is alive and well within the state of Massachusetts. According to a recent survey though, women-owned business growth here in the Commonwealth isn't as high as it has been across the rest of the country.FULL ENTRY
One of the things that is most difficult for small business owners is to keep track of what's going on around the country that could potentially affect them. Be it legislation that's pending or being argued to help small businesses, inspiring stories about success and how it can apply to them, or the latest tools and tricks that can help small businesses succeed, it's never easy to find.
For that reason, each week I'm creating a "Need to Know Fridays" series where I'll pull out the most interesting, inspiring, and important posts of the week for small businesses and put them into a short post that's easy to digest and navigate.FULL ENTRY
The State of the Union address is always one of the most scrutinized events of the year, poured over by ever group to find nuggets that might affect them. Small businesses are no different. In the days leading up to the address, there were even surveys done to find out what small businesses wanted to hear from the speech. While that's still up for debate, what isn't is that there is still a very clear disconnect between the government's perception of small business and what the actual profile of the majority of small businesses really are.FULL ENTRY
By now you're probably weary of the coverage of the Republican Presidential nomination race. With the candidates touring through New Hampshire this past month, there's been an increased focus locally on the candidates - what they stand for, where they are in the polls and what they are doing nearly every waking moment. As candidates continue to go state to state, all have made it a point to talk about how they plan on supporting small business owners, but are also physically visiting a number of them along the way. Make no mistake, capitalizing on the "small businesses power the American economy" message isn't a partisan strategy, it's leveraged by all politicians every election cycle.
If you're asking yourself why they do this, the answer is simple: it works.FULL ENTRY
If you've heard anything about the National Football League this year, it's probably been focused around Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. To hear him speak, you would think anything is possible through sheer will and determination. Sometimes, that's true. It's clear that almost nothing will derail his optimistic approach to his career, his teammates and his life in general. And in this day and age, good for him.
Optimism is a tricky thing to measure, but that doesn't mean companies aren't willing to go to great expense to try. With small businesses this is no exception. There are scores of surveys, polls and sentiment trackers that work diligently to measure whether or not the small business population is actually optimistic at a given time. Typically, the majority are optimistic - about their prospects, their businesses, their employees and whether or not they like running their business. But the question is, what does the general optimism level of the overall small business population even tell us? Does it really matter?FULL ENTRY
When examining the impact of Small Business Saturday, a "holiday" created by American Express as a way to recognize small businesses and promote the idea of "shopping small," there's no doubt that it has been a promotional success. The amount of exposure, both from a media and social media standpoint, it (and Amex) gained could only be described as overwhelming. Locally, nationally, within governments and across mainstreets, the buzz around SBS was palpable. But what did it actually mean to the small businesses who were targeted to reap the benefits?FULL ENTRY
Like it or not, tax season is right around the corner. As a small business owner, that means if you haven’t gotten your books in order, now is the time. There are just a few short months to consult with a tax attorney and put together a tax return for April. Unfortunately, the tax code is incredibly complicated for sole proprietors, even more so for small businesses. With that in mind, here are a number of tax changes, tips and key considerations for small businesses to investigate that go beyond the tried and true (and even generic) examples. Some are sourced by local experts that have direct knowledge of the nuances of the Massachusetts tax requirements.FULL ENTRY
Boston is home to some of the best colleges and universities in the country. MIT, Harvard, Boston College, Boston University and Tufts all come to mind when thinking about the academic excellence the city has become known for.
All have their strengths and all produce academics that contribute to a number of industries. But when it comes to a "start up" culture, who do you think is at the top? As it turns out, MIT is No. 1, but came in second to the University of Utah - at least on a national level - at initiating start up businesses in 2010.FULL ENTRY
If you're like me, holiday shopping hasn't even crossed your mind yet.
Waiting to the last minute to buy holiday gifts is often rite of passage in December. But no doubt a holiday list is waiting in an iPhone, on a to-do list in the kitchen or rattling around in your head. But when thinking about what to get the loved ones in life, don't forget the small business owners in your life. Being a part of a community means frequenting local businesses that work tirelessly year round to provide the highest quality products and services. When you have a good relationship with a small business owner, sometimes even a small gesture can mean the difference between a good year and a great year for them.FULL ENTRY
Local chambers of commerce have long been a crucial element to the local area's business initiatives. They foster a greater sense of business community, identify emerging leaders, and advocate on behalf of small businesses. As time has continued to grow short for some businesses while digital communications methods have increased, many have decided to drop memberships from local chambers.FULL ENTRY
Families argue, it's just a part of life. When you spend a lot of time together, it's inevitable. But when the families members are operating as part of a small business, the time together is increased, as is the stress, which means the fireworks can really fly.FULL ENTRY
Never has customer service been as important as it is today. With social media, online review sites and blogs, the customer oftentimes has more of a voice and influence than a company does. Budgets no longer matter as the power of influence has shifted. Customers have the power to shape the perceptions of a businesses brand, for better or worse.
But that doesn't mean that the "customer is always right," a long standing mantra for businesses everywhere.FULL ENTRY
Oftentimes big-time chain stores are the mortal enemy of the local small business owner. Typically, they can offer the same thing a local business can, and typically it’s cheaper and easier to get. If you’re ever read the Wal-Mart Effect, you have a sense for what a big chain store can do to the local business community. It’s part of the reason why “buy local” or “go small” events like American Express’s Small Business Saturday have become so popular. It’s a day that helps raise awareness for local businesses, and even incentivizes people to maybe change their purchasing habits.FULL ENTRY
Yesterday, at a luncheon for the top 10 finalists of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year Award, Little Sprouts was honored as the Small Business of the Year for 2011.
In its 27th year, the Chamber’s Small Business of the Year Awards recognize the achievements of Greater Boston’s small and growing for-profit companies with gross revenues of more than $1 million who display strong financial performance, achievement in management, workplace excellence, product innovation, and community or social responsibility.
Little Sprouts is an early childhood education and child care center dedicated to improving early childhood literacy rates and closing the education achievement gap to help ensure a better future for children in Massachusetts. Founded 28 years ago in the Merrimack Valley, Little Sprouts now serves over 1,500 children in 13 locations across the state. It supports families across 56 cultures, 23 languages, and a wide range of social, economic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. It has established itself as an active leader in early education by working on policy issues and curriculum development at the federal and state levels.
Paul Guzzi, president and chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber said "the 2011 winners are an excellent representation of the entrepreneurial spirit, focus on excellence, and commitment to the community that define our region’s small businesses.”
Rounding out the finalist list included Baystate Financial Services, Burtons Grill, Charles River Apparel, Enzymatics, Get in Shape for Women, Hollister, IdeaPaint, Lupoli Companies, and WHERE.
Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.