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New iPhone App Released for Small Business Owners

May 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Press Release from Small Business Administration. Originally Posted Here

SBA App Screenshot

Screenshot from the new SBA Mobile App

WASHINGTON – Smart phone users interested in starting or growing a small business can now find helpful resources at their fingertips via a new SBA mobile application from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“Increasingly, smart phones are the vehicle through which Americans access information. This is certainly true of many entrepreneurs and small business owners and this new application ensures they will have access to SBA’s resources and programs – literally at their fingertips,” said SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills.

The mobile app will help users connect with SBA district office staff and SBA-affiliated counselors and mentors who can provide free, personalized small business assistance. The user-friendly format of the app will help answer questions such as: How do I start a business? Where can I go in my area to get free help with writing a business plan? And where do I begin finding funding for my business?

The SBA mobile app also features a built-in startup cost calculator to help estimate the costs associated with getting a business off the ground, plus an SBA partner locator to help users find SBA offices, Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and SCORE.

Users will also have mobile access to SBA video content and social media alerts to provide them with tips on the go. This will include live updates from the SBA’s YouTube channel and from SBA’s Twitter feeds. The free mobile app can be downloaded from the SBA’s website at www.sba.gov/content/sba-mobile-app.

Read the full press release here.

Smart Tax Advice from the IRS – Just in time.

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to the Internal Revenue Service, there is a wealth of knowledge available regarding filing the small business tax return. The following abstracts link to excellent articles on a variety of topics.

Beware of Tax Scams: The IRS wants taxpayers to be aware of tax scams. These scams are illegal and can lead to problems for taxpayers including significant penalties, interest and possible criminal prosecution. The schemes take several shapes, ranging from promises of large tax refunds to illegal ways of “untaxing” yourself.

Work from Home? Consider the Home Office Deduction: Whether you are self-employed or an employee, if you use a portion of your home for business, you may be able to take a home office deduction.  See the full article for six things the IRS wants you to know about the Home Office deduction

Read This if you Need More Time to Pay Your Taxes: Taxpayers who owe taxes may be relieved to know that there are some options for those who can’t afford to pay the full amount right away.  See the article for 10 things the IRS wants you to know if you need more time to pay your taxes.

Tax-Time Errors Filers Should Avoid: Mistakes on tax returns mean they take longer to process, which in turn, may cause your refund to arrive later. The IRS cautions against nine common errors so your refund is timely.

Small business health care tax credit video: The small business health care tax credit webinar is now available in the IRS Video Portal. Related link: Small Business Health Care Tax Credit for Small Employers

Choosing a Tax Return Preparer: Even if the return was prepared by an outside individual or firm, you are legally responsible for what‘s on the return you file with IRS.

Employee Business Expenses: If you itemize deductions and are an employee, you may be able to deduct certain work-related expenses. The IRS has put together facts to help you determine which expenses may be deducted as an employee business expense.

Ten Things to Know about Farm Income and Deductions: If you have a farming business, there are several tax issues to consider before filing your federal tax return.  The IRS has compiled a list of 10 things that farmers may want to know.

Advice from the Oregonian: Get a CSA with MCNW

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Photo by Juan Carlos Delgado

The Oregonian FOODDay gave Mercy Corps Northwest a mention in their Small Bites series today. We agree, the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription is a steal of a deal. Plus, in addition to a bounty of fresh veggies, you are supporting refugee farmers. To learn more, go here: http://www.mercycorpsnw.org/what-we-do/community-supported-agriculture/.

Full Oregonian article, excerpted here.

2011 CSA Memberships

Vegetable boxes brimming with squash, peppers and melons might seem like a kale-induced dream about now. But if you want a weekly cache this summer from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, you’ll have to wake up and act fast. Area CSAs are now accepting members, and the more popular ones fill up quickly. In case you’re not familiar with the idea, you sign up, pay for 20-plus weeks of produce, and come May or June, start reaping the bounty of your farm. CSA farm shares have changed with the times, with more growers offering half-shares or extras, everything from wine and cheese to eggs and meat. Most deliver weekly produce shares to farmers markets or pickup points around the city. Among the new farms offering memberships this year is the Growers Alliance CSA, a collective of 10 refugee farming families in the Portland area supported by Mercy Corps Northwest. For more information, contact David Beller, 503-896-5076. For a list of CSA options in Oregon and southwest Washington, go to localharvest.org.

– Leslie Cole

Passive vs. Active Marketing: Are Your Relying on the Wrong Type of Marketing?

February 16, 2011 1 comment

By Elgé Premeau, eMarketing Strategist, and MCNW Seminar Presenter.

Check out her blog and upcoming seminar on Internet Marketing Basics here.

Do you market actively, or passively?Most business owners think the only way to get customers from the internet is to put up a website and get it to show up on the first page of the search results in Google and other search engines. While this is a way to get customers online, it’s not the only way. For many businesses, especially service based businesses, it’s not even the best way to get customers online.

Building a website and optimizing it for the search engines is hard work so you might be surprised to learn that this is really Passive Marketing. Why is it passive? Because in order for you to get paying customers, you have to rely on people you don’t know to decide they need you, look for you online, land on your website and then contact you. There are a lot of points in this sales process where people can bail out which is why it’s an inefficient way to grow your business.

There is another approach to internet marketing that has the potential to be much more profitable in the long run. Instead of waiting for customers to find you, you find them. I call this Active Marketing. With Active Marketing you figure out what websites your customers visit, what blogs and publications they read, and what experts they pay attention to.

Websites, blogs and publications are moving from static, brochure websites to interactive online communities. So once you figure out where your target markets are spending their time online, you engage them there by providing helpful or entertaining information.

As you interact with the various online communities, you get a sense of what kind of content is appropriate for that setting. Most people don’t realize it but website and blog owners are constantly looking for new content. As long as it’s not too “salesy,” website and blog owners are usually glad to publish your articles or other content.

Writing is hard work and you might be wondering why you would give your content to another website or blog. I’ve seen in my business and my clients’ businesses that writing articles for others sites and then linking back to your own site is the single most useful method for increasing traffic, getting newsletter subscribers and generating leads. A few years ago I wrote an article for a print journal that got me 4 new consulting clients which translated into almost half my revenue for that year. Not bad for one article!

While Active Marketing can be more productive than Passive marketing, it’s more challenging too. Active Marketing requires you to know your customers on a much deeper level than Passive Marketing. You have to get inside their head, understand what is compelling to them and why they buy what you’re selling. Thinking about your customers in this way is an acquired skill and it really helps to talk this though with a friend or colleague.

Active Marketing is one of the topics we will discuss in the Internet Marketing Basics class. So join us Monday, March 14th from 6:00 – 9:00 PM and be sure to bring your questions with you.

 

SBA Expands E200 Emerging Leaders Initiative: Maintains Focus on Underserved Communities

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

The SBA Portland announced today that it will continue and expand the e200 Emerging Leaders’ executive-level training initiative for small business entrepreneurs, to include Native American business owners.

“I am very excited to be hosting the e200 executive training initiative once again in Portland. The initiative is a challenging program that enables top small business executives to participate in an intensive and comprehensive curriculum. The focus will be on developing growth strategies (3-5 year plans, new markets), access to new capital to fuel growth; mentoring and other training to target potential contracts in the local and federal government arena. This initiative is designed to accelerate the growth of companies that are poised for sustained expansion,” said SBA Portland Acting District Director, Robert S. DuCote.

“Over the last few years e200 has been a catalyst for expanding opportunities for many promising small businesses in underserved communities – in particular those who have been most impacted by these tough economic times,” SBA Administrator Karen Mills said. “Graduates of the program have increased their revenue, created jobs and helped drive local economic growth in their communities. SBA’s commitment to not only continue, but expand the program, will build on this success and provide even more entrepreneurs in underserved communities with the support, resources and skills to succeed.”

Despite the recent recession/no growth economy, more than half of the businesses that have completed the e200 training have shown an increase in revenue of over $7 million. Nearly 60 percent have reported creating new jobs in their communities.  Surveyed entrepreneurs also reported having secured nearly $10 million in new financing for their businesses, with an increase in confidence when applying for government contracts. As a result, post-trainees have reported securing nearly 500 federal, state and local contracts, worth more than $112 million.

Since its inception, e200 has identified business owners across the country who show a high potential for growth in underserved markets—and provided them with the training, networking, resources and motivation required to expand operations and create jobs.

This initiative for entrepreneurs in underserved markets has been a catalyst for expanding opportunities for both urban small business owners and, more recently in 2010, added emphasis on Native American communities. There were 121 urban area graduates in 2010 and 125 from Native American communities, with the combined 246 graduates representing the largest graduating class since the e200 initiative began in 2008.

The nine-month training includes approximately 100 hours of classroom time per participant and provides the opportunity for small business owners to work with experienced mentors, attend workshops and develop connections with their peers, city leaders, and financial community. Last year the Portland District of the SBA successfully graduated 16 businesses from the program.

Social Media Marketing Tips

February 3, 2011 1 comment

According to the NY Times, there are 1.97 billion internet users worldwide, and 266.2 million in North America alone. 600 million people worldwide have Facebook accounts, and over 25 billion tweets were tweeted last year.

Simply put, it is no longer something we can ignore. But where do we start? Here’s some food for thought from The Loud Few: Is social media right for me?

Some of you have started social media accounts and have gotten frustrated by lack of results. If so, take a look at Six Reasons Why You’re being Social Media Ignored.

To polish up on your copywriting skills, check out www.copyblogger.com. This blog is the standard for information on writing persuasive blogs, attracting customers, and writing amazing copy.

Finally, if you want some ideas of how to get started, take a look at people who are using social media well and take a move out of their playbooks.

Tom Howe teaches a great seminar at Mercy Corps Northwest on Social Media Marketing. But sign up soon, this one fills up quickly!

Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Build a business.

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment
A match and business advice through MicroMentor helped Rose Sabel Dodge get her fiber arts and crafts business off to a good start. Photo: Ian Wagreich for MicroMentor

A match and business advice through MicroMentor helped Rose Sabel Dodge get her fiber arts and crafts business off to a good start. Photo: Ian Wagreich for MicroMentor

by Jinell Smithmeyer

Business mentoring isn’t a new concept for many professionals — but the way these connections are happening is changing faster than ever. Breaking out of the mentoring program mold is the Mercy Corps program MicroMentor, best described as a Match.com for business mentoring. With online profiles and connection tools for participants, MicroMentor is catching on amongst entrepreneurs and business professionals around the world as a simple, convenient way to get connected.

Essentially MicroMentor is a platform for providing business mentoring and expertise to small and growing businesses: growth-oriented startup and micro-businesses, as well as cooperative and small and growing enterprises that help fight poverty and create lasting jobs in nations around the world. But in addition to being an online service that connects small business owners with business mentors, MicroMentor provides training, tools and continuous support to help enterprise development organizations deliver high-quality business mentoring and advising cost-effectively and at scale.

Small business ownership presents its own special set of challenges – by providing access to business expertise, knowledge, and connections through mentoring, MicroMentor is assisting entrepreneurs as they build robust enterprises that will thrive in 2011 and beyond.

In the U.S. alone, MicroMentor has engaged more than 7,000 people and facilitated over 2,400 mentoring relationships, with participating businesses reporting significant revenue and employment gains. Building on its success in the U.S., MicroMentor expanded to Nicaragua in late 2010, with plans to launch in Haiti in early 2011.

To find a mentor, go to the website and create a profile and mentoring request. Volunteer mentors will be able to view your request and offer to help (you can also request help from specific mentors). Business professionals can go to the website and sign up as volunteer mentors through a similar process.

Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Build a business. Visit MicroMentor today to get started.

New Resources for Beginner Exporters

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment
Image Courtesy of Export.gov

Jumpstart your Exports

The United States Government has developed a new section on the export.gov website to help people get started with Exports.

Begin Exporting” outlines an easy-to-follow six-step process for entering the world of exporting. The first step is a self-assessment. Depending on the assessment score, small businesses are referred to specific training and counseling programs (Step 2). Steps 3-6 include: Create an Export Business Plan; Conduct Market Research; Find Buyers; and Investigate Financing Your Small Business Exports, Foreign Investments or Projects.

If you are considering starting to export, take the self-assessment, and you will be directed to the appropriate next step.

For more information about getting started with exporting, please see this fact sheet (PDF)

Get your Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Affordable Health Care for America Act

Did you know how to get the new small business health care tax credit? This benefit from the recently passed Affordable Care Act can make a big difference in keeping the cost of business down. The following is excerpted from an open letter written by Karen Mills from the Small Business Administration.

“The most immediate benefit of the Affordable Care Act is a tax credit that will help America’s smallest employers…who have been hit hardest by premium increases in recent years.  Today, the Administration is releasing a one-page form and instructions (available here) on how to claim this credit for the 2010 tax year. …In each case, the Administration has worked to ensure that a broad range of small businesses can qualify.

These credits are available for tax years 2010 through 2013 and for any two years after that.  Through 2013, the maximum tax credit is 35 percent of premiums paid by small employers and 25 percent for eligible tax-exempt organizations.  Beginning in 2014, those levels increase to 50 percent and 35 percent, respectively.  Importantly, these credits are just one of many benefits in the Affordable Care Act.  Most notably, in 2014, firms with up to 100 workers will be able to pool their buying power and reduce their administrative costs by purchasing coverage through a health insurance exchange.

Finally, the new law strengthens America’s entrepreneurial spirit, overall.  For example, it outlaws discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions, giving more Americans the ability to break out of “job lock” and start their own companies.  The new law also prohibits insurance companies from dramatically increasing premiums for a small business just because one worker gets sick.

Overall, the Affordable Care Act is a critical tool that will help millions of small business owners provide health insurance to people who you often consider to be members of your extended family – your employees.  As a nation, we owe you nothing less as you work to grow, create jobs, and lead us toward full economic recovery…”

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