The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) is celebrating a milestone this year, marking 70 years of advocating for small business owners.
While the nature of its job has changed somewhat in those 70 years, NFIB continues to advocate for small business owners nationwide.
“Seventy years ago, the National Federation of Independent Business began its mission to protect the right to own, operate and grow a business,” NFIB President and CEO Dan Danner said in a recent statement. “Since then, NFIB has garnered more members — and earned more credibility — than any other small-business group in history.”
NFIB was founded in 1943 by C. Wilson Harder. Harder saw a need for soldiers returning home from World War II to find jobs at small businesses. While they were “over there” many of the small businesses over here were being consumed by the war effort and big business blossomed. At the same time, the federal government began catering more to the needs of big business, so Harder left his job at the U..S. Chamber of Commerce to start NFIB.
There are more than 350,000 NFIB members and nearly 90 percent of them employ fewer than 20 people. Today, the “war machine” isn’t impeding small business owners, but there have been three items that have made it more difficult for small business owners to survive over the last 30 years.
Cynthia Magnuson of NFIB said in an email to Small Business Trends that members of the group have identified health insurance costs, taxes and regulations as the main factors making it more difficult to operate a small business.
“In spite of our nation’s present struggles, we at NFIB continue to work to make America’s entrepreneurs heard in Washington and across the country,” Danner said. “As the engine of the U.S. economy, small-business owners epitomize the American Dream in every way. We are very fortunate to have such a robust membership that continues to inspire and influence the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
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DocStoc today launched ExpertCircle, a site where you can find vendors and products for you business, recommended by your peers. You can also suggest vendors and products to recommend them to others.
ExpertCircle is like sharing word of mouth for business vendors, but in an organized central place.
According to Jason Nazar, founder and CEO of Docstoc, “Most small business owners rely on word of mouth for business advice; with ExpertCircle we’re incorporating the ability for those same professionals to share their personal endorsements on a platform accessible by all business owners, so that they can, too, easily find the best products and vendors that are reviewed by their professional peers and based on their given needs. The same way that consumers turn to Yelp and Angie’s List for reviews, ExpertCircle is a free platform for business owners, entrepreneurs and operators to get the most reliable recommendations on business products that their peers recommend and use.”
Finding Products and Vendors
When you first arrive on ExpertCircle, you are walked through a brief decision tree. It asks you such things as the age and size of your business. Presumably that’s to present you with a list of relevant products and services appropriate for your business size, industry or circumstances.
You also can search by category (such as accounting or HR products) or by industry (such as spa, massage, tanning or tattoo services). So, for instance, let’s say you are in the tattoo business. You are looking for an appointment scheduler or CRM system appropriate for tattoo parlors. You can search by industry to find one.
Endorsing or Critiquing a Product or Vendor
Once a product or service vendor is listed on ExpertCircle, users can endorse them with an up vote, or downgrade them with a down vote. The highest recommended vendors and products appear at the top of the list. Alongside each vendor or product is the number of endorsements they have received. See screenshot above, showing the Accounting & Finance section.
One thing I noticed is if you click on something in error — either the blue “up arrow” to endorse or the red “down arrow” to critique something — you can’t seem to unclick. Or, at least, I couldn’t seem to.
For example, I initially clicked the red down arrow for Freshbooks just to try it out. But I really didn’t mean to give it a negative vote.
However, the only way I could figure out how to get rid of my erroneous negative critique was to click the up arrow to endorse Freshbooks. That’s OK because I have a favorable view of Freshbooks. Still, it would be good to have a better way to reverse an erroneous click.
Submitting a Vendor or Product
You can submit your favorite vendor or product. We tried out the process. It is easy and takes just a couple of minutes. The hardest part — which isn’t really hard — is figuring out the proper category to place something in. So for instance, I submitted the TweakYourBiz Title Generator Tool and managed to submit it quickly.
Keeping out spam submissions and ensuring submissions are in the proper categories will be the challenging bit as ExpertCircle scales. When I made my submission, it said that it would need to be approved. I assumed that would involve some kind of manual review. However, my submission appeared on the site in under 30 seconds.
One thing that should keep some integrity in the system is that you must log in with either your LinkedIn account or Facebook account. And your avatar appears next to anything you submit or endorse, so that will tend to keep the results more accurate.
ExpertCircle is free to use. DocStoc, the parent company, is a content site containing over 20 million professional documents such as contracts and business templates, shared by over 30 million registered users. DocStoc, founded in 2007, is headquartered in Santa Monica, California.
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Is the main street bank becoming a thing of the past? Over the last three years, banks have been steadily closing branches around the country. Many small communities are finding themselves without a bank branch for the first time since the Great Depression. U.S. banks and thrifts shut 2,267 branches in 2012, according to SNL Financial, a Charlottesville, Va., research firm.
According to a recent Celent study, branch closing is long overdue. “Branch growth over the last 40 years has dramatically exceeded US population growth. In 1970, there were approximately 107 branches per million individuals. By 2011, that had grown to 270 branches per million.” Banks cite the immediate reason for closures as a need to cut costs and a general consumer shift towards online and mobile banking.
While bank adoption of online technology is indeed essential, the move seems a bit premature given the fact that the online infrastructure needed to support full service remote banking is not yet in place. For instance, almost every major bank in the country still requires business owners to apply for business loans in person. Online applications are not accepted. Without a community bank branch, small business owners around the country will be forced to seek alternative means of financing.
There is also evidence to suggest that many of the communities that were targeted by predatory mortgage lenders are the same communities losing local branches. Those under-served communities tend to be low-income communities with a high percentage of unbanked (no checking or savings account) and underbanked (has an account but relies on alternative means of financing like check cashing) residents. A recent CFED study cited Miami, Florida as the city with the largest population of unbanked residents. Texas had the most unbanked counties on the list, and Bronx County in New York came in second on the top ten list with 20.8% of its residents unbanked.
Government regulations have also forced many small community banks to close over the last three years. The Dodd-Frank Act was designed to regulate the banking and lending industries and decrease the likelihood of another financial catastrophe. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence is soaring costs for community banks struggling to comply with the new regulations. Many of those banks are located in smaller communities. The FDIC released a report last month that stated that no new community bank charters have been granted since 2011 due, in part, to Dodd-Frank.
While there are online financial resources available to those residents who seek them out, the loss of local bank branches is already impacting the small business community. In order to make banking accessible to all, the industry as a whole must continue to invest time and resources into improving online technology, automation, and community education.
Main Street Photo via Shutterstock
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Keeping track of activity is a common challenge for small business owners. We wear many hats and are responsible for many things. One of the places where we fall down is with our sales process. I am a huge fan of systems because I believe systems keep us on track and focused.
Systems To Build Business
There are three areas where I see these systems having a lot of value. They are:
- Follow up
Who and where?
The question here is, “Who is your target market?” You can have more than one. However, pick one at a time to work on. Ask yourself which industry or demographic makes the best client for you. Now, go find the prospects within that target. Once you have the list, determine how you are going to pursue them.
Having a specific, structured system for how you are going to connect with the prospects within a target market will help you schedule those steps and implement them.
How are you going to monitor your interactions with those prospects? Having a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system makes the most sense to me. There are a number of small business CRM programs out there. Explore a handful of them with an eye toward what information you want to be able to capture.
You should use a CRM system that integrates with your calendar so you can set reminders and tasks. A couple of systems to take a look at are: Salesforce, Insightly, and Base.
I consider selling to be what you do when you are in front of a prospect. So, think sales appointment. The key to a successful sales appointment is gaining information – not giving it. This is your chance to learn as much as you can about the prospect. What is their issue, urgency, budget, decision making process, ability to pay, etc.?
Create a list of questions you can ask the prospect. As you listen to their answers and write them down, pay attention to how they are sharing. You want to do business with clients who value you, are forthcoming with information and openly discuss their situation. You have the chance to determine if they are a prospect you really want to do business with.
Having this list of questions, will help you gain all of the information you need to successfully quote. Which brings me to the next step of the selling system. Create a quote that speaks directly to what they’ve told you. You can even repeat what you heard them say. This is confirmation that you heard them and are responding to what they told you. This will diminish objections as well.
Follow up System
One of the most critical parts of sales success is the follow up. This is also one of the places that we fall down the most. We get busy and are prone to focus on the task at hand. However, follow up is a key ingredient in the health of a business. Using a CRM program to monitor when and how to contact your connections, prospects and clients can be invaluable.
Determine what information you need to keep track of when it comes to follow up. Then look at the tools you already have in your business; tools like an Outlook calendar. You can set reminders and alarms with Outlook that will remind you of when you need to make a call or send a letter.
Setting agreements with the other person is an interesting part of a follow up plan. This entails suggesting to the contact when you will call them or when you should meet again. When they agree, put it on your calendar. You can email them a confirmation as well.
When you keep these activities on your calendar and treat them as appointments, you are more likely to see them through. This will help you maintain your activity and progress.
You can see how setting up systems can help you maintain your forward progress and business growth. Don’t leave these important areas of your business to chance – the chance of having time and remembering to do them. Rather, create your systems and then implement them.
You’ll find your business growing steadily.
Building Business Photo via Shutterstock
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It was just a couple of years ago that I lamented about the lack of finance guides aimed at small business owners. Meanwhile, the number of non-traditional finance resources has increased, competing with traditional banking sources. As a result, business owners have clamored for books outlining all finance options available.
Among the most stellar coverage of small business finance resources is Spank the Bank: The Guide to Alternative Business Financing. Karlene Sinclair-Robinson (@KarleneSinRob), founding member of finance consultation firm KsR Solution LLC, wrote the book to deter small business owners from pursuing poor business models that never get proper capital.
Her expertise in handling millions in non-traditional financing and research on the subject has crafted a sensational finance guide. I discovered the author through a Twitter chat and asked for a review copy.
A Signpost on the Many Highways of Finance
Spank The Bank covers the latest finance instruments such as peer-to-peer lending and crowdsourcing, as well as traditional financing services such as business credit lines, asset-backed loans and factoring. What makes the book a unique guide is how it outlines these resources. With each financing option, Sinclair-Robinson explains the pros and cons, along with what to do in your business prior to selecting a choice.
Using asides called Biztips, Sinclair-Robinson highlights the “so-what” of the information provided. For example, the first chapter details the business structures available, with a reminder as to what is at stake when selecting a structure:
“Many funding sources will not work unless you are formally registered your company. They prefer that you do not operate as a sole proprietor.”
One great aspect of the book is that each option is fit against the kind of businesses that would pursue an examined option. Cost is considered, as well as term definitions associated for each subject. In fact, a terrific aspect is that the definitions are lengthy enough to appreciate what to expect with a choice. Take the explanation about Purchase Order Financing (POF); there’s a context about the type of risk being considered with POF:
“When you consider Purchase Order Financing and Factoring, always keep in mind the ‘number line.’ You have a positive and negative side… Purchase Order Financing is on the negative side or high risk, for the main reason that the lender is providing funding for you prior to any work being done or any tangible product delivered.”
Sinclair-Robinson then follows up with key takeaway of what to expect with POF:
“The fee for using this financing service will be much higher than most but the key will be for you to price your product correctly, deliver it in a timely fashion and keep your customers happy. It’s important that we not just look at how much things cost but also at how they can help enhance what we are doing.”
Learn Finance Facts Instead of Myths
Sinclair-Robinson also dispels widely cited myths, such as free business grants or that the SBA issues business loans. You’ll understand what resources matches to your business.
The chapters are brief, so you may weigh the information value against the nature of the topic. The chapter on venture capital is nowhere near as detailed as David Gladstone’s Venture Capital Investing, for example. But the information would give your business the right starting point for appreciating the difference of VC investment against another financing choice. Plus, if you are using an accounting system, the topics in Spank The Bank will help you frame what accounting metrics and concepts need scrutiny and potential improvement. You’ll get an idea of what to work in on. Cases, recommended reading and sample forms round out the guide.
Such comparisons are what Sinclair-Robinson intended. She succeeds at every effort to make information accessible to all small business owners. In reviewing each chapter, I felt that the explanations were as straight-forward for the electrician contractor as it would be for a professional looking for a few pointers. Both business people would make confident decisions after reading this book.
I also liked how Sinclair-Robinson ties other business aspects into the financing decision. My personal favorite is the reference to an online presence – bet you had not considered how much your website is a factor in finance. Read this 9th myth from the Business Financing Myths and Misconceptions chapter:
“The thought that you do not need a website in today’s technologically and internet savvy market must be reconsidered. If you have operated without one, you could lose potential business, credibility, and more….Bankers might not care too much one way or the other, but unfortunately it is a problem for alternative financing sources.”
We’ve seen a few good books on specific details, such as local investment options in Locavesting or wealth creation in Wealth Creation for Small Business Owners. Few books covers finance details with the scope Sinclair-Robinson has provided.
Spank The Bank is a winning addition to the business library. It will help many small business owners craft one of the most important, sought-after resources and deploy it effectively.
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