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Research

The numbers don't add up for Small Biz Saturday, but does it matter?

Posted by Jason Keith December 5, 2012 04:18 PM

Depending on who you believe, Small Business Saturday was a booming success or fell flat of expectations. As I mentioned last week regardless of how much money was spent, how many mentions were made in social media or how many politicians decided to trumpet the day as some kind of American holiday, awareness for small businesses as a group is never a bad thing. It is important to keep in mind however, that this was first and foremost and without question a marketing campaign for American Express. Friend Gene Marks makes a very compelling and well thought out case for this in his Huffington Post story this week.

Knowing that however, can we realistically look at the numbers provided and suggest that it actually drove money (ultimately the most important thing) into small business owners' pockets?

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"Small Business Saturday" a boon for Amex and small biz owners

Posted by Jason Keith November 21, 2012 09:53 AM

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.

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With the election over, what's certain for small businesses?

Posted by Jason Keith November 16, 2012 08:24 AM

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?

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Must have small business smartphone apps

Posted by Jason Keith October 17, 2012 11:25 AM
While small business owners are sometimes slow to adopt new things, one trend that they have embraced fully is using mobile technology to enhance how they do business. With the advent of smartphones and corresponding applications that make life easier for everyone, small businesses have truly adopted mobile, according to studies. One recently done by Paychex cited that nearly 85% of small businesses are using smartphones to enhance their operations.  FULL ENTRY

Small businesses love to flirt with social media

Posted by Jason Keith September 14, 2012 08:30 AM

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.

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Even the smallest of small businesses have a website, and other data

Posted by Jason Keith August 3, 2012 09:17 AM

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.

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Small biz contests: waste of time or worth it?

Posted by Jason Keith July 24, 2012 08:30 AM

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.

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Congress picks party first, small businesses second

Posted by Jason Keith July 19, 2012 08:30 AM

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.

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Small businesses need to educate themselves on healthcare

Posted by Jason Keith June 29, 2012 09:07 AM

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?

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Lessons in customer feedback, from the Salt Lick

Posted by Jason Keith June 21, 2012 10:13 AM

Any successful business owner will tell you that customer feedback is vital to success, but it's especially true for small businesses. Knowing what customers want and what they don't is important, especially when one is just starting out. That means actively listening to customers but also going the extra mile to find out what they think about a business and how it could better serve them in the future. I ran across a great example of gathering customer feedback this week, when I was contacted by the Salt Lick BBQ restaurant in Texas.

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Immigrant owned small businesses up 50% - Need to Know Friday

Posted by Jason Keith June 15, 2012 08:07 AM

With November rapidly approaching and the candidates for President finalized, it's clear that small businesses are going to be at the heart of many political messages in the coming months. Even this week Republican nominee Mitt Romney took President Barack Obama to task for his small business record. Citing the standard political playbook for small business messaging, regardless of party, Romney outlined his plan to help small businesses grow if elected president. He promised to "lower taxes, block health care reform and weed out cumbersome federal regulations." As I've written before, small businesses are a convenient group to talk about during elections, how much help they'll actually get is up for debate.

But, having the news spotlight on small businesses is never a bad thing, and there have been several interesting stories this week that are worth a read. These range from survey data around the growing number of immigrant owned businesses, how small businesses can use Pinterest if they choose, and how you can take the search engine temperature of your website in order to see how Google is ranking it.

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Small business conditions improving: Need to know Friday

Posted by Jason Keith June 8, 2012 08:34 AM

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.

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It's an image heavy world, just ask Instagram

Posted by Jason Keith May 16, 2012 09:00 AM

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?

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Why "Hammock Day" is a marketing opportunity for small retailers

Posted by Jason Keith May 9, 2012 10:56 AM

Mothers Day is upon us, which means if you haven't already gotten something for your wife or mother, you need to act fast.

Chances are you've seen at least one marketing campaign or advertisment for a Mother's Day gift, offer, discount or product that you absolutely have to take advantage of. So if really have forgotten, shame on you! All of the major retailers take advantage of "holidays" in order to sell products and services. And when that holiday involves the mom or wife, wow, that could mean a windfall in terms of revenue.

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Small businesses misrepresented? Need to know Friday

Posted by Jason Keith April 20, 2012 09:00 AM

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.

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Growth in the small biz sector: Need to know Friday

Posted by Jason Keith April 6, 2012 08:30 AM

Overall this was a very positive week for small businesses, as multiple reports showed that there was job growth as well as optimism amongst owners, while President Obama also signed into law a piece of legislation designed to loosen up funding. Also, I've included a story that follows on Monday's post around healthcare. Finally, Businessweek takes a look at the sometimes risky practice of "self insuring." For any small business owner looking into healthcare options, this story is a must read.

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Need to Know Friday: Small business focused legislation

Posted by Jason Keith March 30, 2012 09:06 AM

It was a very busy week in small business circles, as legislation surrounding the group continues to be debated, including tax cuts and healthcare. It seems that many small businesses, while being the focus of the legislation, are actually torn about the impact it will have on them directly. Another survey came out citing that small businesses rely heavily on referrals to drive business (no surprise there) but aren't leaning on social as much as you might think. Finally, a new trend is cropping up across the country, pop-up restaurants. Hopefully that will give you a little inspiration that while starting a business is hard, there's almost always "another way."

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"Need to Know" Fridays for small businesses

Posted by Jason Keith March 23, 2012 10:14 AM

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.

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Cutting "small business red tape" a good sign in MA

Posted by Jason Keith March 9, 2012 09:00 AM
Did you know  that if you run a hair salon in the state of Massachusetts and you want to pass ownership to an employee, the store would have to close down while paperwork is filed, then re-opened, according to state regulations?  Or that a funeral home director is only allowed to hire full-time apprentices, rather than part-time? How about that fisherman have to cite “catch totals” for sea bass at the end of each year. That’s right, sea bass. 

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"Micros" show revenue, customer growth in 2011

Posted by Jason Keith February 29, 2012 09:00 AM

Happiness is a tricky thing to measure. What isn't hard to measure is revenue and the number of customers a business has.

It's even easier when you're a micro business, with less than 10 employees and when every customer counts. While everyone else is apparently worrying about what the pending tax legislation will mean for small businesses, the owners on the ground every day are diligently working to improve their standing in the business community. The good news is, that hard work is clearly paying off.

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How to pick the right search marketing vendor

Posted by Jason Keith February 10, 2012 08:03 AM

I had the privilege of speaking to a number of small businesses this week at a marketing event held in Lexington. In talking to them about what they were succeeding with, what they needed help with and what the environment was like for small businesses on the whole, a few things stood out. The first was that many are wondering how to use social media effectively, if at all; the second is that many are going back to traditional marketing methods like direct mail; the third was that while search marketing is still as important as ever, many are struggling with how to do it well. As a result, many have turned to outside vendors to do it for them. That can be both beneficial and risky at the same time.

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Are political candidates "using" small businesses?

Posted by Jason Keith January 18, 2012 08:30 AM

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.

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3 reasons LinkedIn makes sense for small business

Posted by Jason Keith January 11, 2012 08:04 AM

Facebook and Twitter have long been the darlings of the social media world. Pinterest is starting to gain traction, while sharing sites like Tumblr, About.me and others have carved out a specific niche of users. One of the sites that's often left off the list, but shouldn't be, is LinkedIn. That's because for the most part LinkedIn has been looked at as a networking site for consultants and job seekers only. And to some extent, that's true. But did you know that LinkedIn has 135 million members and is adding an average of two new accounts per second?

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Do small business owners need Tim Tebow like optimism?

Posted by Jason Keith January 4, 2012 09:00 AM

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?

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Small Business Saturday: Boon or Bust Locally?

Posted by Jason Keith December 21, 2011 06:02 AM

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?

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5 Tips for Your Small Business Tax Return

Posted by Jason Keith December 16, 2011 06:00 AM

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.

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MIT finishes second, again

Posted by Jason Keith December 13, 2011 06:00 AM

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.

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Local Chambers of Commerce: Still vital to small business growth?

Posted by Jason Keith December 2, 2011 09:09 AM

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.

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A survey of surveys: small business social media stats

Posted by Jason Keith November 15, 2011 06:00 AM

There’s a very famous old saying, written by Mark Twain in his own biography: "There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics."

We’ve never been more inundated with numbers, data and statistics than we are today. The Internet serves as the perfect vehicle for content, meaning there is more and more reliance on unique data and numbers to stand out. Every few months it seems there is a new survey that comes out, but the topic that has been analyzed and dissected more than any is social media usage. How often small business owners are using social media and what platforms they are using the most is the subject of many surveys. Even I’m guilty of generating social media stats for micro businesses around social media.

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What's in a name? Your success or failure

Posted by Jason Keith October 28, 2011 06:00 AM

Quick, what’s the most recognizable company in the world? 

Is it Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Wal-Mart, Target or McDonalds? 

There is no right answer, but each has a unique name and brand that is associated with it.  Did you know that Google’s name was actually “Back Rub” before they did some brainstorming and decided on Google?  As it turns out Google is a play on the word “googol,” a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. The use of the term reflects founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s mission to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web. Imagine where we’d be if we had to say we “back rubbed” the answer to a question online?

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FCC helps small businesses with Internet security

Posted by Jason Keith October 26, 2011 06:00 AM
Internet security is one of those things that you never think about, until you’re the one that becomes the victim. There are always horror stories about the guy who had his identity stolen by someone who went on a shopping spree in some foreign country, but no one ever thinks that they’re the ones that this can happen to.  Believe it or not, small businesses are prime targets for cyber criminals, so much so that the Federal Communications Commission announced plans this week to release a free online tool to specifically support them from cyber-attacks. FULL ENTRY

What is search? A small business opportunity

Posted by Jason Keith October 18, 2011 06:00 AM
The term "organic search" is one that doesn't make a lot of sense. Organic is one of those words that is being throw around a lot lately, without much thought to the meaning. But all organic search essentially means is the difference between online search results that you don't pay for (organic) versus results you do pay for (paid advertising). While the terminology may seem strange, the concept isn’t. Google indexes billions of web pages a day and filters the words on each page, giving each one a search ranking. People then go online, type in a search term, and voila, a list of relevant pages show up. Is your business one of them?  If not, you’re losing customers to competitors who are, especially locally. FULL ENTRY

"Work at home" alternatives for small businesses

Posted by Jason Keith October 10, 2011 06:00 AM
Everyone has his or her own method for getting things done and for enhancing productivity. Every small business has to decide when it starts out how best to work on the business and, nearly as important, where. This can mean a number of different decisions.  Working from home is easy but also distracting, while renting office space is typically much too expensive for the average start-up.  Small business owners still need the opportunity to meet people and network but focus on what they want to accomplish in a short period of time. The question is, where can you work outside your home cheaply with the potential to network?  FULL ENTRY

Small business lending program falls short

Posted by Jason Keith October 3, 2011 06:00 AM
In a recent post I cited several studies showing that while public perception was small businesses are unable to get access to credit, the reality is that borrowing is low on the list of small business owners’ priorities.  The numbers showed that a majority of small businesses didn’t need loans or funding, thus demand was low.  Instead they were simply focused on getting more customers, and little else.  FULL ENTRY

Research study: Small businesses want to stay small

Posted by Jason Keith September 30, 2011 06:00 AM

There are a lot of assumptions made about small businesses.  For example, they're the drivers of our economic prosperity, the creators of the world, and they all want rapid growth in their ventures.  Further discrepancy arises when sizing out small businesses. Depending who you ask, a small business can be a company that has two employees or 100, with revenues under $100,000 or over $5 million. 

New research has shed light on some well held small business “truths” and statistically shown that they might not necessarily hold water.

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Create a survey to let your customers weigh in

Posted by Jason Keith September 23, 2011 06:00 AM
We’ve all taken a company survey at some point in our lives.  There’s little doubt the company that offered the survey took the answers and enacted changes based on the feedback.  Be it surveys about customer satisfaction, an order process, product quality or potential changes to the business, all companies use customer feedback to help inform decisions. They are an incredibly effective way to get insight into how customers perceive a business.  FULL ENTRY

QR codes aren't ready for prime time

Posted by Jason Keith September 20, 2011 06:00 AM
Have you heard the term QR code in the past six months? Even if you haven’t, you probably have seen one and didn’t know what it was called.  They’re the very strange looking boxes that you can find on printed advertisements, store windows and even on television.  QR codes are uniquely developed graphics that can be generated to direct someone to information; be it a mobile website, an advertisement, a video or even to dial a phone number.  FULL ENTRY
About this blog

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 jasonpkeith@gmail.com.

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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