Tag Archive: economy

5 Places to Get Free Help

Steve-Strauss–in-article-Medium.pngAs we near the end of 2011, the majority of small businesses (52%) still perceive that their top and biggest challenge is the general economic climate, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So given that, where can you go to get help when you need it today, and without having it cost you a fortune?

Here are 5 places:

1. SCORE: SCORE is an amazing organization, made up of business executives and entrepreneurs. SCORE is an all-voluntary organization that offers free, confidential counseling and education on almost any subject you can name. Need help with a marketing campaign? SCORE can help. Opening an auto repair shop? A SCORE volunteer probably has done that too. SCORE matches you up with a counselor who will give you as much help as you need in your business, and if he cannot help you with some specific problem, there is another SCORE counselor who can. SCORE’s counseling sessions usually take place either at your place of business, in any one of SCORE’s almost 400 offices around the country, or, increasingly, online via email.

SCORE also offers a variety of small business workshops, both in its offices and online. In a typical year, SCORE will offer about 7,000 workshops and seminars and about 150,000 people typically attend. Some are free, and the others usually cost less than $50. And, how about this – even though there are about 10,000 SCORE volunteers nationwide, the organization is staffed and run by only 14 people. Everything else is handled by volunteers. It is an incredible organization and a great resource.

2. Small Business Development Centers (SBDC): SBDCs are an offshoot of the SBA intended to provide management and technical assistance to small business owners. There are SBDC’s around the country, and each is tied-in with a lead organization that sponsors the SBDC and helps run the program, such as a university or nonprofit organization. There is also a network of smaller centers and satellite locations in each state and these too are associated with universities, community colleges or nonprofits.

Similar to the SBA and SCORE, SBDCs offer counseling and other assistance to entrepreneurs. Volunteers come from chambers of commerce, the legal and banking communities, academia and SCORE. SBDCs also use paid staffers. This assistance can range from helping small businesses with financial issues and marketing to production, organization and even engineering and feasibility studies. SBDCs make a special effort to work with minority and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs, as well as veterans, women and the disabled.

3. The Small Business Administration (SBA) Website: What would you say if I told you that there is a website that helps small businesses in a variety of ways? That would be a pretty good resource to have, wouldn’t you say? Well there is and it is:

In its field offices throughout the United States, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam, the SBA offers classes, counseling and programs designed to help small businesses succeed at low or no cost.
After a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina) or other major calamitous event (like September 11th), the SBA helps small businesses with disaster assistance.

4. Mentors: Having a mentor is one of the best ways to learn more about how to run a business. A business mentor can open doors, teach skills and provide valuable feedback. Where would you find one? Here are a few options:

Ask: Finding a mentor is often the result of simply asking someone who you admire if he/she would be willing to mentor you. Or just ask around. Tell people that you are looking for a mentor; you may be surprised at how willing people are to help.
Pay: If you know someone who knows what you want to learn but who probably would be disinclined to be your mentor, for whatever reason, consider buying their time. Is it ideal? No, but it may still work.
Click: There are many places online where you can find a mentor: SCORE, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), SBDCs and via social media are a few other options.

5. Websites: There are many options here:

Of course, I’m partial to sites I am associated with MrAllBiz.comUSA TODAY’s small business site
Huffington Post Small Business America
Inc.comEntrepreneur.com
Microsoft Business on Main
The recently updated SBA website, www.SBA.gov, is full of useful information.

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

Rolling with the Punches: Optimism and Guts in a Down Economy

By Sherron Lumley.

“In my mind, it seems like I’ve been through this cycle three or four times,” says Rick Reed, founder of R.A. Reed Productions in Portland, Oregon, a company that creates scenery for theaters, opera houses, and performance venues around the world. “Persistence comes from doing something you like and believe in,” he says, with the wisdom of 33 years at the helm of his company behind him.

“Starting your own shop is a passion; you want to create something special,” says Sander Flaum, CEO of Flaum Idea Group in Manhattan, a consulting firm he launched in 2004 after retiring from decades in the top ranks of global advertising. “I decided I didn’t want to work for anyone anymore,” he says.

Sidebar.pngCall it having a growth strategy coupled with calculated risk-taking or more simply optimism and guts, being able to roll with the punches means adjusting to difficult circumstances as they happen. This idea has a literal meaning, from boxing, where staying in constant motion lessens the impact of your opponent’s blows, an apt metaphor for the small business owner—finding opportunity in the face of adversity, surviving, and winning.

Finding opportunity certainly isn’t easy nowadays, however, as a recent National Small Business Administration study confirmed. Among the NSBA’s members, who represent every state and industry in the nation, the survey found that 72 percent had serious concerns about the economy. Perhaps not surprisingly, business optimism has likewise eroded in the face of stagnant economic growth. In fact, optimism is lower than it was a year ago, lower than in the Reagan-era recession, and it’s now even lower than during the Great Depression, a phenomenon the Pew Research Center calls the Optimism Gap.

Nevertheless, the hardscrabble years of the 1930s provide an important lesson for the small businesses of today. Despite the economic catastrophes, financial fragility, and a longer-lasting period of high unemployment, Pew found that Depression-era Americans still remained hopeful for the future. And today’s entrepreneurs should understand that adopting a head-in-the-sand, do-nothing strategy is not the way to get through tough situations. So, here are three business strategies that have stood the test of time in the worst of times.

Market Development – Finding new customers for current products

Perhaps the easiest of the three strategies, at least on paper, involves finding new target markets for a business’s current products. In addition to stage scenery, Reed has a large supply of barricades for outdoor concerts and festivals. The cache of crowd-control equipment he has in stock is something that sits idle in a warehouse most of the time, waiting for that next festival to come along. It is not something he would want to sell, though, as the need comes up again and again. So, by being willing to rent the product to others, Reed was able to tap a new target market. In fact, the barricades have been rented to new customers—some as far away as Japan—that were never going to be in the market for his scenery.

Product Development – Making new products for current customers

Despite the additional revenue from this clever rental strategy, Reed’s business has significantly declined, forcing him to lay off 85 of his 100 employees. “We’ll do almost anything for money,” Reed says with a little laugh. But he has seen this happen before.

With a smaller crew, Reed now focuses on industry innovation, creating automation software for what he sees as the future of the business. “Our customers are moving away from stage hands pushing stuff around,” he says. Similarly, a product development strategy means finding new products and services to sell to your current customers. It can involve creating an altogether new product or it could mean extending the product line—for example, by offering less expensive products that meet the needs of customers’ smaller budgets.

Diversification – New products and new customers

Call this strategy the haymaker—a hard swing with all of one’s might. Diversification means providing new products and services to new markets, and it has a long history of success. A famous example comes from the Prohibition era, when alcohol became illegal in the United States. Beer brewers sitting atop vast acres of farmland and thousands of square feet of warehouse space decided to redirect their resources toward dairy farming, providing a new product (milk) to new customers.

Although going after new markets with new products sounds highly risky, it doesn’t have to be. “Everyone is kind of wringing their hands about the economy,” says Flaum, “but we are doing better than ever.” During its seven years of existence, the company has grown from two initial employees to a staff of 29 today by doing something entirely new, what Flaum calls focusing on the big idea—providing breakthrough strategy for new customers in the healthcare and biotech industries. “We do whatever service in whatever area that the clients need,” he says. “We give the customers hope and they put their trust in us.”

All this will happen again, so just be ready to deal with it

Although Reed is retrenching and Flaum is in expansion, both have decades of experience in weathering business cycles and don’t worry too much about them.

“You only have 24 hours in a day. How much time do you want to spend angry, depressed, rejected, and thinking ‘Why me?’” Flaum says. A struggling national economy, an industry lifecycle in decline, a seasonal dip in the market—whatever the scenario, a small business will experience some hits. It’s part of the territory. But it’s what you do afterwards that makes all the difference.

Additional Resources

Books

Breakthrough, by Paul Kurnit and Steve Lance (2011)

Make Your Own Luck, Success Tactics You Won’t Learn in Business School, by Peter Morgan Kash with Tom Monte (2002)

Selling When No One Is Buying, by Stephan Schiffman (2009)

Web

“Learning from the Great Depression,” Bloomberg.com, Businessweek, by Stacy Perman, October 17, 2008:

http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/oct2008/sb20081016_825689.htm

National Small Business Administration, 2011 Mid-Year Economic Report:

Click to access 2011_nsba_my_survey.pdf

The Pew Research Center