Since 1994, I’ve been running my own small business (it’s a consulting firm that helps clients with customer relationship management). In the early years, the best way to get information was by reading a few self-help business books and visiting a couple of Web sites once in a while. Now it seems as if there are a million Web sites and books and experts all trying to tell me how to succeed. And another million bloggers and pundits interpreting the daily political, economic and cultural news and events that affect my company.
What small-business owner has the time to sort through all of this stuff? Well, now that The New York Times has enlisted me as a blogger, I guess I do. I’m going spend the time each week and summarize everything that’s happening that affects my business. I’m going to highlight the best commentary from smart people who will help me understand these events. I’ll add a few of my own comments. This exercise, I hope, will help me run my business better. Perhaps it will help yours, too.
Welcome to Dashboard.
STILL A BUYER’S MARKET A big job-creating program that was part of the last year’s stimulus bill is expiring soon, which could mean even more people will be unemployed. “The federal program has helped employ nearly 130,000 adults and has paid for nearly an equal number of summer jobs for young people, according to an analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal policy institute in Washington.” But wait… a new report by the Conference Board says that online job demand has increased by 30 percent (that’s a million jobs) since the official “end” of the recession in June 2009. Even so, it looks as if unemployment is going to stay high for a while.
IT’S OVER, I TELL YOU While many were busy watching the premiere of “Dancing With the Stars” (dude, that Palin girl can move!), the government announced that the recession ended in June 2009. Don’t believe it? Neither does Steve King, a researcher who argues that for many small businesses, the recession is… not over. Back in August, Mr. King wrote about the “2 Speed Economy,” explaining that bigger companies were recovering faster than smaller ones (funny, he reached this conclusion even without visiting my company). He is now forecasting that “the small-business economy will emerge from recession by the end of this year and start to grow early next year.”
HERE’S ANOTHER BAILOUT Maybe we should stop whining about China all the time. One recent report listed 25 American products that rely on huge protective trade tariffs just to survive. (Hey! That’s the jacket I wore to every high school dance on slide No. 8.) I bet these business owners aren’t complaining about the government.
HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL MOVES FORWARD Some key provisions of the health care plan have kicked in. NPR has an interesting interview transcript that reviews the changes for both individuals and businesses. You might want to point your employees to this summary of the bill, too. Many business owners are still grumbling about higher premiums. Meanwhile, a new poll says the new bill doesn’t go far enough.
NEED A TICKET? The Phillies clinched the National League East this week, which means I’m going to be paying big for playoff tickets. This report in the Harvard Business Review gives some tips on getting great ticket prices. Oh, and it helps business owners like me figure out their own pricing challenges, too. It’s useful, but do you really think a prof from Harvard is going to out-negotiate a scalper from South Philly?
SMALL-BUSINESS POLITICS Just before the Congressional recess, the small-business jobs bill was signed into law, offering incentives for banks to loan and tax breaks for businesses buying equipment. Some tax guys are gushing over it. And remember the old saying about rain being good for the farmers? This guy says the bill is too. Me? I think it’s a gimmick.
LEAVE ‘EM LAUGHING Where do you want to spend your advertising dollars? With the recession behind us, a new report says that “most retailers are planning to increase spending on Internet and mobile channels over the next 12 months. In addition, most retailers are planning to advertise more aggressively during the 2010 holiday shopping season.” Don’t want to waste more money on ads? Then according to a new product by this sales training coach all you need to do is make your customers laugh more.
FEELING SICK? I’m keeping my eye on a proposed law in New York City that could, if successful, affect businesses around the country. “The bill would require businesses to provide employees up to 72 hours, or nine days, a year of sick leave. For a business with fewer than 20 workers, the maximum number of paid sick leave hours would be 40, or five days.” The costs for small businesses could be huge.
TECHNOLOGY SPENDING Happily for my business, a new survey from the tech distributor CDW predicts that information technology spending by small businesses is on the rise. Thirty-six percent of the small businesses that took part in the survey said they planned to purchase new computer hardware within the next six months and 51 percent of small businesses planned to purchase new software in the next six months. Thank you, Microsoft, for making Windows 7 and forcing the entire world to upgrade.
A NEW MARKET FOR MY PRODUCTS? Sometimes we all need to be reminded of the big picture. Scientists say they have found a new earthlike planet pretty nearby. Much like Los Angeles this past week, temperatures can be as hot as 160 degrees (or as frigid as 25 degrees below zero) but in between – in the land of constant sunrise – it would be “shirt-sleeve weather,” said a co-discoverer, Steven Vogt, of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
NEW THOUGHTS ON STARTING UP What’s the outlook for people looking to start a business? A new Wharton article outlines the challenges and the hot sectors. Leonard Lodish, a Wharton marketing professor, says there has been a shift: “In 2006 and 2007 it was much easier to get funding if you had a good idea and a good track record. Now you need to demonstrate that you have a business model that really works.” The best positioned industries, apparently, are those that have continued to attract investment dollars, notably green technology and renewable energy as well as Internet-related businesses. Before launching that new venture, you may want to check out this new report on some of the worst celebrity business owners. I’ve been out for a while – any messages from Heidi Fleiss?
MOODY’S JUMPS IN This week, the credit-rating giant Moody’s announced its own Web site to provide more information specifically to small-business owners. The site “features small-business news and economic analysis and timely articles. A variety of recent credit and economic data is also available, ranging from auto and retail sales data to daily foreign exchange and mortgage rates.”
HE’S OUR GUY Representative Todd Platts, a Pennsylvania Republican, won a “Guardian of Small Business” award from the National Federation of Independent Businesses for his support of small-business legislation in the 111th Congress. Congressman Platts was awarded the award during the 110th Congress, as well. But before you get too excited, the N.F.I.B. is presenting “Guardian awards to 202 U.S. representatives who voted favorably on key small-business issues at least 70 percent of the time during the 111th Congress.” It’s like my children’s T-Ball league – almost everyone’s a winner!
A QUICKER WAY FOR US TO PAY At the TechCrunch conference in San Francisco, PayPal announced a new way to make deposits using “mobile pictures.” The new app will allow a user to take a picture of the front and back of a check with your iPhone camera, and it will be added to your PayPal balance. Great, here’s my first entry.