Archive: Tools and Tips

Tools, Tips and Studies: Health Care Heats Up, Snail Mail Slows Down

The small business community continues its push on health care reform. The National Small Business Association has launched Health Reform Today along with new data on the small business community and its difficult relationship with affording decent health insurance. Group President Todd McCracken said the number of small business owners...

By Sharon McLoone | March 25, 2009; 10:01 AM ET | Comments (0)

Tools and Tips: Get Organized, Get Paid, Get the Word Out

Doodle.com, a Swiss firm that recently launched its service in the United States, offers a free online scheduling assistant for setting up things like meetings. For example, n organizer can create a poll, send it to invitees, who can then respond with their choice of meeting time. Doodle tabulates the...

By Sharon McLoone | March 9, 2009; 01:45 PM ET | Comments (1)

Kauffman's FastTrac Offers Help to Struggling Entrepreneurs

Banking on entrepreneurs to help turn the nation's economy around, a group of small business advocates this week unveiled a newly refurbished initiative to develop entrepreneurial training programs in neighborhoods that have been damaged by layoffs and the recession. Carl Schramm, the president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman...

By Sharon McLoone | February 23, 2009; 02:00 PM ET | Comments (0)

How Tweet It Is

Lynn Miller is a marketing consultant, a mom, an environmental activist and an award-winning Twitterer. Last week she picked up a "Shorty" award for her multitasking efforts. As a marketing consultant, she encourages local businesses to set up Twitter feeds as a "low cost tool for reaching potential customers." She...

By Sharon McLoone | February 18, 2009; 08:30 AM ET | Comments (4)

Tools and Tips: Power Down, Find a Job

Google announced a new service this week designed to help electricity users -- also known as "everyone" -- to monitor how much power they're using. The company is going to release the free Web-based software PowerMeter service later this year. The service will receive information from utility smart meters and...

By Sharon McLoone | February 11, 2009; 01:51 PM ET | Comments (0)

Change: No Pain, No Gain

Andrea Simon is a corporate anthropologist -- a type of social scientist, studying people's beliefs, values and behavior. After a long career working in the financial and health care sectors, Simon opened a consultancy helping small businesses reinvent themselves. She's developed six basic points that she offers to entrepreneurs who...

By Sharon McLoone | February 4, 2009; 04:05 PM ET | Comments (0)

Big Businesses Reach Out to Small Firms

You can't argue with free stuff that's useful, especially if it has the potential to make a business run more efficiently. I've been on the lookout for ways that small businesses can cut costs, and some of the nation's bigger companies recently have launched initiatives to help small firms better...

By Sharon McLoone | February 2, 2009; 10:45 AM ET | Comments (1)

An E-Sign of the Times

Dear Readers: This is part of an occasional series of articles looking at different tools small businesses are using to help automate their administrative and back-office tasks. These aren't the only tools in their field, but an example of what some small firms are doing to make their daily operations...

By Sharon McLoone | January 16, 2009; 02:55 PM ET | Comments (0)

Are You Ready for Prime Time?

All hail the Flowbee, billed as the "revolutionary home hair-cutting system," which you've probably seen in an infomercial on late night TV. But now, advertisements for inventions like the Flowbee could be headed for prime time, thanks to recent dramatically reduced TV ad rates. The lower ad rates could be...

By Sharon McLoone | January 12, 2009; 02:20 PM ET | Comments (0)

How Do I.... Run My Business During Inauguration?

Around Washington, there's not just talk of plans for Inauguration Day - although there's plenty of that - but Inauguration Week. Some area businesses like restaurants, retailers and hotels will see a much needed burst of activity as millions flood the city looking for places to eat, shop and sleep....

By Sharon McLoone | January 9, 2009; 11:41 AM ET | Comments (0)

How Do I.... Stick With It? (Entrepreneurs Share Their Inspiration)

I often ask entrepreneurs and small business owners why they decided to start their own business and if they have any advice they'd want to share with other like-minded souls. So for the new year, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on others' inspiration and...

By Sharon McLoone | December 24, 2008; 11:25 AM ET | Comments (1)

Cloud Computing on the Horizon for Small Firms

Somewhere over the rainbow for small businesses is cloud computing. Cloud computing is all the rage in tech circles, with much chatter about how it can save small businesses money, resources and time. But what is it exactly and should small businesses be strategizing - or is that agonizing -...

By Sharon McLoone | December 12, 2008; 04:17 PM ET | Comments (2)

Creative Professionals Find a Cool Tool

Creative professionals who routinely swap large files are looking for ways to securely and efficiently send them -- without bumping into size limits instituted by many e-mail programs. Jeremias Stelter, a senior vice president at small firm Alden Staffing, stumbled onto a tool made by a company called MuseWorx while...

By Sharon McLoone | December 11, 2008; 08:52 AM ET | Comments (0)

Tips and Tools: Free Guides and Free Counseling

SCORE, a group of seasoned professionals offering free counseling to small businesses, has teamed up with the UPS Store for a free online marketing workshop. The session is designed to help owners of small firms develop a marketing strategy and build their brand, among other things. Visit the SCORE Web...

By Sharon McLoone | December 5, 2008; 05:02 PM ET | Comments (0)

Small Business Centers Offer Help to New and Established Firms

Small Business Development Centers are spread throughout the United States to help both new entrepreneurs start businesses and established businesses to flourish. The centers, which offer free consulting and training for nominal fees, are hosted by universities, colleges and state economic development agencies. The program was founded in 1979 and...

By Sharon McLoone | November 5, 2008; 03:57 PM ET | Comments (0)

D.C. Tax Holiday Begins Nov. 28

The District will offer its second tax holiday this year from Friday, Nov. 28 through midnight on Sunday, Dec. 7. All clothes, shoes and accessories purchased during that time period will be exempt from the 5.75 percent sales tax. The exemption will apply to each eligible item costing $100 or...

By Sharon McLoone | November 4, 2008; 11:28 AM ET | Comments (0)

Reference Guides, Blogs and Policy Papers

Small Business Reference Guide Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), chairman and ranking member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, released a reference guide (pdf) this week detailing successful practices for small businesses. What Works for Small Businesses (pdf) contains hundreds of methods designed to enhance entrepreneurship...

By Sharon McLoone | October 29, 2008; 02:07 PM ET | Comments (0)

How Do I... Get or Give Time Off to Vote?

Election Day is fast approaching and for many of the smallest firms that means juggling staff schedules on Nov. 4 to give employees the ability to cast their ballots. "As good employers, you want your employees to be active in the community and part of that activism involves voting," said...

By Sharon McLoone | October 16, 2008; 02:45 PM ET | Comments (1)

Community Development Institutions Offer Small-Firm Funding

While discussions about the nation's economic growth are often focused on big business, small businesses keep the nation diversified, act as an innovation engine and employ just over half of the private sector workforce. From 1993 to 2003, firms with fewer than 20 employees accounted for almost 80 percent of...

By Sharon McLoone | October 15, 2008; 08:28 AM ET | Comments (0)

Tools and Tips

Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., has received a $10.8 million gift from the Lewis Charitable Foundation for the establishment of an institute to support teaching, research, and outreach in social entrepreneurship. The new Lewis Institute at Babson College intends to develop leaders, create knowledge and grow new enterprises to solve...

By Sharon McLoone | October 13, 2008; 07:13 AM ET | Comments (0)

Start Them Up and They'll Never Stop

The Small Business Administration is aiming to help a rapidly expanding group of entrepreneurs - the Baby Boomers. The agency today unveiled a Web site designed for the 50-plus entrepreneur that offers information on starting, growing and expanding a small business. "The SBA is working hard to increase opportunities for...

By Sharon McLoone | October 8, 2008; 03:04 PM ET | Comments (4)

Venture Capital - Not Just for Tech Firms Anymore

Everyone these days is talking about money, or lack thereof, so if the banks are getting stingier and stodgier in lending to small firms, where can an entrepreneur find funding? Venture capital could be your answer. Anecdotally, through multiple conversations with small business owners, I've found that many of them...

By Sharon McLoone | October 2, 2008; 07:28 AM ET | Comments (1)

Rethinking a Small Business Strategy

Business strategies that work for a $10 million company don't work for a $25 million company. That's one of the messages that seemed to hit home with the audience at a leadership session during last week's Inc. 500 conference in Maryland. The talk was led by Keith McFarland of McFarland...

By Sharon McLoone | September 23, 2008; 02:26 PM ET | Comments (0)

Contests Reveal Entrepreneurial Trends

Contests can be appealing to small firms looking for some publicity and some much-needed cash and advice, but it's also worth a look at some top contests just to see what kind of entrepreneurial ideas are out there and to spot current business trends. Here are a couple of contests...

By Sharon McLoone | September 15, 2008; 11:44 AM ET | Comments (1)

SBA Offers Export Guide in Spanish

A guide to exporting has been translated into Spanish and is now available on the Small Business Administration's Web site. SBA's "Breaking into the Trade Game: A Small Business Guide to Exporting" was translated by Argentina's Chamber of Exporters and is also available through Argentina's export chamber and the Small...

By Sharon McLoone | September 12, 2008; 02:06 PM ET | Comments (0)

Billionaire Offers Entrepreneurial Help Online

Self-made billionaire Bill Bartmann has released an online curriculum for aspiring entrepreneurs. Bartmann, once a homeless teenager, gang member and a high school drop-out, pulled himself together to finish school, put himself through college and obtain a law degree. He and Kathy -- his wife and business partner -- have...

By Sharon McLoone | September 4, 2008; 08:00 AM ET | Comments (3)

Are You Being Served?

Some people have skeletons in their closets, others have servers. When D.C. residents Bethany Robertson and Peter Murray founded the I Do Foundation in 2002, a small Washington nonprofit, they enlisted the help of a technology expert to manage their server. The only inconvenience? He lived in Philadelphia. And so...

By Sharon McLoone | August 5, 2008; 09:31 AM ET | Comments (1)

SCORE Offers Tips for Firms Facing a Sour Economy

SCORE, a network of experienced counselors to small businesses, offers tips to help firms in a faltering economy: Check your operational expenses regularly by analyzing your profitability and expenses weekly or biweekly rather than just monthly. Monitor your business's energy consumption by installing automatic light switches and automatic thermostats. Plan...

By Sharon McLoone | July 28, 2008; 01:05 PM ET | Comments (0)

Virginia Sales Tax Holiday Approaches

Small firms based in or near Virginia should take note of the commonwealth's back to school sales tax holiday just around the corner. The Aug. 1-3 holiday allows shoppers to save 5 percent on purchases of school supplies that cost less than $20 or clothing and footwear priced at $100...

By Sharon McLoone | July 24, 2008; 08:12 AM ET | Comments (1)

Tools and Tips

The Small Business Administration and the Navy signed an agreement this morning designed to improve federal contracting opportunities for more than 240 small disadvantaged firms participating in the SBA's 8(a) Business Development program. The Naval Sea Systems Command will use its SeaPort-e Web portal to award federal contracts directly to...

By Sharon McLoone | July 14, 2008; 12:50 PM ET | Comments (0)

Unbundling To Offset Costs

Now is not the time for a small business to increase prices as customers already are feeling the effects of a sour economy, but "unbundling" may be one way to increase profits without directly increasing prices. Pauline Leitch, director of the Business Finance Center at the Community Business Partnership in...

By Sharon McLoone | July 7, 2008; 10:40 AM ET | Comments (0)

Maryland Offers Health Plan Subsidy for Micro Firms

The state of Maryland has launched a new health insurance program targeted to businesses with two to nine full-time employees. Through the initiative, an employer will receive a subsidy for the insurance in the form of lower premium payments. The business can then pass the savings along to employees in...

By Sharon McLoone | July 3, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Branding Is Key When Breaking Into New Markets

Firms considering outreach to the Hispanic market should put some considerable thought into a branding strategy, according to an advertising expert who spoke in Washington last week. Luis Vasquez-Ajmac discussed advertising and marketing to the Hispanic community at a Greater Washington Board of Trade event I attended at the National...

By Sharon McLoone | July 1, 2008; 10:26 AM ET | Comments (5)

FCC Extends 'Do-Not-Call' Registry

The popular national "Do-Not-Call" registry designed to stop unwanted telemarketers from calling consumers has been extended by the government agency overseeing the nation's communications systems. The previous rules said the registrations would expire after five years. The registry was set to expire this month, but the Federal Communications Commission yesterday...

By Sharon McLoone | June 18, 2008; 01:15 PM ET | Comments (0)

Arlington Paves Way for Small Business Kiosks

Arlington County is paving the way for permanent kiosks to be installed in urban areas, especially around Metro stations. The Washington Post's Brigid Schulte outlined the county's plans for small businesses and landowners. The idea is not only to enliven county streets but also to create more opportunities for small...

By Sharon McLoone | June 13, 2008; 01:49 PM ET | Comments (0)

Q&A with Register.com CEO Larry Kutscher

Register.com provides domain-name registration, Web design and marketing services primarily for small and medium-sized businesses. Washingtonpost.com's Small Business Blog chatted about Web strategy with CEO Larry Kutscher, who joined the firm in late 2006 after executive positions with Dun and Bradstreet, Goldman Sachs and American Express. Larry Kutscher (Photo courtesy...

By Sharon McLoone | May 30, 2008; 02:22 PM ET | Comments (3)

Welcome Voices on Small Business

Almost everyone is familiar with the owner of the corner store, a friend or neighbor dabbling away in the garage to create the next big thing, the technology whiz kid, a seasoned executive ready to make a new start or the savvy "mompreneur" who seeks a more flexible schedule. They...

By Sharon McLoone | May 13, 2008; 09:30 AM ET | Comments (2)

May Is a Good Time to Reassess Your Shipping Needs

While most small businesses choose to use e-mail or cell phones for quick communication, those who still use snail mail will soon be feeling the pain in their wallets. The U.S. Postal Service is increasing shipping rates beginning May 12. The cost of sending a first-class letter will go up...

By Sharon McLoone | May 7, 2008; 09:55 AM ET | Comments (0)

SBA Seeking Input for New Web Portal

Got any ideas for how to better match small business lenders with prospective borrowers? The Small Business Administration wants to hear from you. The agency is asking the lending and business communities for input on how to make a Web site that would do a better job of showcasing available...

By Sharon McLoone | April 2, 2008; 03:48 PM ET | Comments (0)

Yahoo Offers Women Business Grants

Yahoo's small business branch has teamed up with television personality Carolyn Kepcher to offer a new grant program designed to promote women's entrepreneurship enabled by the Internet. "Seeds for Success:: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs" will award three woman entrepreneurs with business grants including cash, mentorship and technical services, which Yahoo says...

By Sharon McLoone | March 26, 2008; 02:34 PM ET | Comments (1)

Retailers Accept Foreign Currency as Dollar Withers

Some small retailers that include transatlantic tourists and other jet-setters among customers are accepting euros as the dollar's value dwindles worldwide. Washington Post Staff Writer Alejandro Lazo reports today that a small falafel shop in D.C.'s Adams Morgan district has joined the trend. The Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan, owned...

By Sharon McLoone | March 17, 2008; 04:50 PM ET | Comments (2)

Bus Service Offers $1 Trip from D.C. to N.Y.

I recently met some small business owners who were having trouble affording their frequent business trips between New York and Washington so I thought I'd pass along a tip: Have you heard of Bolt Bus? It's a new budget division of well-known transit company Greyhound that soon will service the...

By Sharon McLoone | March 14, 2008; 11:05 AM ET | Comments (1)

Community College Unveils Entrepreneur Program

The Northern Virginia Community College has launched a Career Studies Certificate Program in Entrepreneurship. It's a 26-credit program designed to prepare students to start and grow small businesses by providing instruction in entrepreneurial culture, strategy, operations, financial management, marketing and leadership. A student should be able to complete the program...

By Sharon McLoone | February 5, 2008; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Mentoring Tips

Finding a mentor can be a challenge for small business managers and entrepreneurs. Often the owner of a small firm is running a business, but doesn't have the experience to understand everything from accounting, hiring and payroll taxes to human resources issues and more. Some basic common sense may help...

By Sharon McLoone | January 25, 2008; 02:56 AM ET | Comments (0)

Knowing When to Call 'The Suit'

Most entrepreneurs and other small business owners don't have business degrees, but they have a lot of grit and passion for what they do. And those that do have backgrounds in finance or management often get so caught up in daily operations that it's easy to lose sight of the...

By Sharon McLoone | January 4, 2008; 08:15 AM ET | Comments (0)

What a Bright Idea

The light bulb has become a staple of our daily lives and a classic design permeating media and art from cartoons to canvas, but with the new energy bill the president signed today, the familiar incandescent bulb will be phased out beginning in 2012. For firms that keep the lights...

By Sharon McLoone | December 20, 2007; 08:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Seizing the Export Opportunity

The greenback is ailing these days, trading at record lows against a wide range of foreign currencies. But believe it or not, there's one area of the economy that's benefiting in a big way from the declining U.S. dollar -- exports. For most U.S. businesses, however, selling to overseas customers...

By Sharon McLoone | November 16, 2007; 03:27 PM ET | Comments (0)

Mastering Your Own Domain

Small business owner David Solomon was hijacked online. Or rather, his company's online address was claimed by someone else after he'd already moved in, leaving his business locked out of the Web home it had built for itself. Solomon said his more than year-long experience was "horrific," causing him to...

By Sharon McLoone | October 25, 2007; 08:00 AM ET | Comments (3)

Small Business Owners Lack Exit Strategy

Most small business owners don't have an exit strategy when considering selling their businesses, according to a new study from the Center for Women's Business Research. Sixty-seven percent of men and women surveyed had no written sales plan and 43 percent had not conducted a formal valuation of their businesses....

By Sharon McLoone | October 17, 2007; 11:40 AM ET | Comments (0)

Better Business Bureau Releases Line of 'How-To' Books

The Better Business Bureau, an organization that sets standards for fair business practices, has published its first line of "how-to" books. The first three titles in the series include books on how to launch a business on eBay (pdf excerpt of book), open a franchise, and buy a home. "Each...

By Sharon McLoone | October 8, 2007; 12:19 PM ET | Comments (0)

Resources for Entrepreneurs

The National Business Incubation Association wants to pass along two new resources for entrepreneurs: For businesses looking to gain a foothold into foreign markets, peruse market research on ExportNavigator. The Web site is offered by the Federation of International Trade Associations, which says that the 10,000 market surveys on the...

By Sharon McLoone | September 24, 2007; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Nurturing New Businesses

While the drills are drilling, the hammers are hammering and the dust is flying, new ideas are being created at the Rockville Innovation Center. The business incubator, which opened in July, smells like new paint, sawdust and fresh ideas. A tour of the facility last month shows some firms already...

By Sharon McLoone | September 19, 2007; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

PR Firm Growing Pains

Micro public relations firms are able to land new clients the same way many small businesses do -- by offering personalized service or specializing in niche products. But securing growth over the long-term takes different strategies. Jamie Horwitz spent 23 years offering his public relations services as an employee of...

By Sharon McLoone | August 21, 2007; 07:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Sweet Smell Of ... Rising Gas Prices

Getting asters to Arlington and phlox to Fairfax is all part of a day's work for the Metropolitan Florists' Delivery Cooperative, one of the oldest delivery pool services in the country. It's also a way small companies can save money on gas. The 1970s gas crises and resulting price spikes...

By Sharon McLoone | August 3, 2007; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

Software Group, Government Aim to Educate About Piracy

The Business Software Alliance has teamed up with the Small Business Administration to educate small firms on software compliance. They are distributing "Software Strategies for Small Businesses: Best Practices for Software Compliance (pdf)" to more than 100,000 small businesses through SBA's network of field offices and resource partners across the...

By Sharon McLoone | July 31, 2007; 02:00 PM ET | Comments (1)

IBM, World Bank Partner on Online Toolkit

A revamped small business toolkit put together by IBM and the World Bank was unveiled Thursday afternoon, part of an effort to aid women and minority entrepreneurs in the United States and small businesses generally in developing countries. The free resource -- www.smetoolkit.org -- offers advice on finance, accounting, marketing,...

By Sharon McLoone | July 27, 2007; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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