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Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

No one ever said that starting a small business would be easy, but then again, very few things in life worth doing are easy.  The challenges that face the entrepreneur when starting a small business would seem daunting to most people, but many entrepreneurs live for this kind of excitement and cannot stand the boredom of a 9-5, steady job, week-in, week-out.

With that said, first time entrepreneurs can easily find themselves in over their heads if they jump in without first doing their market research, consulting some experienced colleagues, and doing a lot of reading.  While there’s no one stop shop for learning how to successfully launch your first small business, here’s some well-known traits of successful small businesses that you should strive for in your own startup.

  1. Small Markets, Not Small Profits
    While many bemoan the construction of another big box store moving into town as the death of all of the mom and pops, the fact remains that a large chain simply cannot meat the needs of everyone.  As an avid photographer, I know that i can get a good price on a new camera if I head to Best Buy, but there are a few local, independently owned shops in town that carry all of the obscure parts and the higher end cameras that professionals and semi-pros need.  They also service cameras and lenses in the store, whereas a camera bought at Best Buy will either be swapped out for a return (if you’re within 30 days) or you’re left to fend for yourself, dealing with the manufacturer for a warranty repair.
  2. Treat Your Customers Right
    Despite the rampant growth of national chains, there is currently a resurgence (particularly in larger cities) of smaller stores with knowledgable salesmen cropping up more and more.  What gives these small businesses and edge, and keeps them in the black, is often the dissatisfaction that many customers have found at the bigger chains, so they’ll turn to the smaller alternative.  If you start a hardware store, for example, you’ll never be able to beat Home Depot on pricing, but what you can beat them on is service, knowledgeability and going above and beyond with your customers to make sure they leave satisfied and come back your way the next time.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid To Branch Out
    While you’ll mostly be focusing on a niche (or narrow) market with your small business, a great way to grow your small business is to add on with similar niche markets, ideally in the same vein.  Take our camera store example, the one i have in mind in Seattle, opened up a second store by the same name across the street, but instead of camera equipment, it’s lighting, camera support and film.  While this isn’t a big departure from their initial business, it opens them up to more customers and gives more people who live in the neighborhood less of a reason to go to the big box stores.

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Many 9-5ers dream of working from home.  To set your own schedule, be your own boss, and occasionally go to work in your underwear.  For those bold enough to dream of an office without cubicles, here’s 10 great options for anyone in search of the perfect work from home job.

  1. Graphic Designer
    Time was that to work in graphic design you needed a lot of equipment, huge rooms and tables for layouts and, in many cases, a darkroom to develop your prints.  Technology has boiled it all down, essentially, into one or two ubiquitous pieces of software so that now the only thing standing between you and your own graphic design firm is your level of talent.
  2. Construction
    This is an oldie but a goodie.  Construction job sites these days are dominated by large companies with aggressive bids, but if you focus on a narrow niche market, you can run your own business and do quite well without stepping on the toes of the big guys.  My friend, for example, started a company that specialized in small cement trucks, so if you don’t need a whole truck full, no need to pay for a whole truck full, and business has been excellent for him.
  3. Insurance Sales
    Insurance, or many other types of sales for that matter, represents a great way to work from home and make potentially a lot of money.  It takes a very special skill set to be a successful salesman, but if you have what it takes, it can be a very lucrative career, and often your commissions with stack year-over-year giving you a substantial raise each year and a great incentive to continue improving your numbers.
  4. Real Estate
    While you’ll still spend a decent amount of time outside of the home (usually in other people’s homes) many real estate brokerages don’t require office hours.  This can be a great job for a self-starter with a decent rolodex and you can spend the time you would be in the office making business contacts in the community.
  5. Childcare
    Whether you start a daycare, or nanny for a family, childcare is a perennial need for nearly all dual-income families.  Even if you have children of your own, you may find it relatively easy to take on one or two more children in a nannying position and bring in a substantial amount of income, while planning the same activities you normally would for your own little ones.

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Facebook has gone in the last five years from a small, closed website for Harvard students, to one of the largest sites on the web, with more than 500 million active users, and with over half of those users logging in every day.  A thriving community like that can’t be ignored, especially by an up and coming small business.  While it may seem overwhelming to some, you may be surprised how easy it is to get up and running; in fact, (if you don’t have one already) head over to and create a page for your business…..done? Ok, now read the following 5 tips for getting started with putting your business out there and utilizing Facebook to the best of your abilities.

  1. Stand Out
    With 500 million users, just creating a profile is about as effective as stapling some fliers to a tree in the middle of the woods (sure someone may see it someday, but it’s not really doing much for you).  So, how do you differentiate yourself?  There are so many ways to modify and change the look of your page, but the most effective Facebook pages are actually pretty simple, the key is that they let the content drive the page (sell the steak, not the sizzle).  This is what keeps people coming back and what builds a strong following, which ultimately leads to more profits.
  2. Find Your Voice
    The meat of a Facebook page is text and pictures.  For most businesses, you’ll want to consistently be posting (2-3 times per day, not 15-20) and keep a common feel to your posts, so that your readers/followers know what to expect, but feel free to toss is some random quotes/images now and then to mix things up.  A Facebook page should never feel buttoned-down and corporate, but make sure that you always keep it family-friendly and appropriate for your typical clientele.
  3. Cross Promote
    This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but in the same way that you’ll tell people on the Facebook page to visit your store, tell people in the store to visit you on Facebook.  Put up a sign in the shop with your URL, or if you do something like a buy 10 get one free punch card (or just a plain old business card) print your Facebook info on it.

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WASHINGTON – Small businesses interested in exporting now have a new online tool to help them tap into the global marketplace to grow their business. Developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration, Six Steps to Begin Exporting,, is the latest tool in the National Export Initiative toolbox to help entrepreneurs begin exporting.

The six-step process begins with a self-assessment to help potential exporters gauge their readiness to successfully engage in international trade. The self-assessment is followed by sections on training and counseling programs; resources to create an export business plan; information on conducting market research; assistance for finding foreign buyers; and investigating financing for your small business exports, foreign investments or projects.

Upon completing the self-assessment, businesses receive a score indicating their level of readiness. Based on the score, additional resources are identified fitting their specific needs, including SBA and its nationwide resource partners SCORE and Small Business Development Centers, as well as Commerce’s U.S. Export Assistance Centers, which provide individualized support.

“This practical, interactive website is just the latest example of the commitment the Obama administration has made to helping American businesses – especially small businesses – sell more of what they make around the world,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “Connecting America’s entrepreneurs and small businesses with new buyers and new markets abroad will help create jobs and spur sustainable economic growth.”

“With nearly 96 percent of the world’s customers living outside the United States and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power in foreign countries, tapping into opportunities in the global market makes perfect sense and is more attainable than ever for small business owners,” SBA Administrator Karen Mills said. “One of the main hurdles potential exporters face is their fear that exporting is too complicated. This six-step process addresses and dispels that concern. Across the administration, we continue to strengthen the tools and resources so we can be the best possible partner in helping small business owners grow their customer base beyond our borders and, in doing so, create new jobs here at home.”

This joint Commerce-SBA effort is part of an array of activities by federal agencies to support President Obama’s National Export Initiative, which calls for doubling U.S. exports and supporting 2 million jobs over the next five years. So far this year, U.S. exports have increased nearly 18 percent compared to the same period in 2009.

President Obama has outlined five steps the Administration is taking to help U.S. firms expand sales of their goods and services abroad: creating a new Cabinet-level focus on U.S. exports, expanding export financing, prioritizing government advocacy on behalf of U.S. exporters, providing new resources to U.S. businesses seeking to export, and ensuring a level playing field for U.S. exporters in global markets.

For more information on export services for small businesses or to find local counseling and technical assistance resources, please visit

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Starting a small business is becoming more of a necessity these days than a luxury; with the amount of jobs in decline and the ability to easily start your own business online, more and more people are flocking to entrepreneurship.  Here’s a few pitfalls that you need to avoid, especially if it’s your first time starting a small business.

  1. Use a Unique Business Name 
    There are plenty of reasons to use a new and creative name for your business (brand awareness & loyalty, differentiating yourself in the market, etc.) but even if none of those appeal to you, there is an important legal component.  Using a name that another business has, or even using something similar that could cause confusion (like starting a hamburger stand called MacDonalds and using lets say a light green M as your logo) can land you in court and potentially cost you your business.
  2. Carry The Proper Insurance
    Insurance needs vary greatly depending on the business you start, but it’s one of the most important bills you’ll pay each month, because it protects you from potentially bankrupting liability.  If you’re unsure of what insurance you should carry, you can talk with an insurance salesman, but a better idea is to find someone in the same business with some experience and see what they purchased.  Find the proper balance between leaving yourself vulnerable and carrying too much, thus hurting your bottom line.

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If you haven’t heard of Twitter yet, you’re about to.  It may not be the biggest social network out there, but the way Twitter was designed, and subsequently the way people tend to use it, lends itself to much more of an information and communication tool, whereas sites like Facebook tend to just become a place to connect with friends, rather than disseminate information.

Once you get onboard with Twitter, there are a plethora of options when it comes to clients, add-ons and services that extend Twitter, making it more useful.  This is because Twitter chose from the beginning to provide an open API to developers.  You don’t need to know what that means technically, but what it means practically is that there are websites and pieces of software (that are generally free, or very low cost) that can transform Twitter into a marketing machine for your small business.  Here’s a look at 3 popular tools that can take your Twitter game to the next level.

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Starting a small business can be hard enough, but getting hit with a hefty bill from the IRS at the end of the year can make a difficult situation nearly impossible.  There are plenty of different strategies for minimizing your tax liability, but the most effective one is itemized deductions, and know what you can deduct is the first step to getting prepared for tax season.  Here’s a list of just a handful of the eligible deductions for your small business, so be sure to investigate and leave no stone unturned before you submit your tax documents at year’s end.

Bad Debt
If your company sells goods, you can deduct the cost of any goods that were not payed for by a client.  This doesn’t make up for losing the product, but it can soften the blow

Auto Expenses
Company cars are deductible, but you can also deduct mileage, service, fuel and nearly any expense related to purchasing and operating the vehicle.

When you first start your business, you’ll face plenty of fees along the path to incorporation; good news is these are all deductible.

Legal and Professional Fees
Whether it’s a lawyer, tax professional, or the janitorial service for your offices, nearly all professional fees your business pays will be deductible.

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