Foster loyalty in non-family employees

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

You may have observed quality of service and success in many family-owned and operated businesses; a sense of commitment and desire to provide a great product or service by the staff. The question however, is how do you develop employees to be as loyal as your family? [Read more...]

Top five business financing myths

Sarah O'Connell

Sarah O’Connell

Most new businesses are going to need some money to start up. And while you may be able to self-finance if your costs are minimal, most startups need to look elsewhere for financing, whether it’s a public lender such as Jefferson County Local Development Corporation or a commercial bank lender.

Your business plan will show the lender that you have made a great case for the loan through your research, management skills, understanding of your target market, personnel needs and so on. Then you come to your financial projections. This is where your small business advisor can help you put together a conservative and realistic picture of how your business will achieve its revenue goals to cover inventory purchases, business expenses and loan repayment, with enough left over to provide you with a personal income.

When we SBDC advisors sit down with clients to help them with the process, myth and reality often collide. Here are five of the most common myths that we hear in our office:

1) Grants — This is probably the number one question we get. “Where do I find a grant?” And then: “Because my uncle Bob’s second cousin’s best friend got a grant to start his business.”
While it may be true, we will need more specific details about the source of that grant, because in general, grants are not available to for-profit businesses unless it’s for something very specific (such as façade improvement). [Read more...]

Don’t let a home base limit growth

Brooke James

Brooke James

Many north country entrepreneurs start a business in their home, whether it’s a hobby, a professional service or a mobile business that does not require Main Street or production space. Just because you are home-based, does not mean that your growth has to be limited.

Expand your distribution channels. If you are selling directly to customers, consider setting up intermediaries to resell your goods or services. Is there a gift shop, mechanic, restaurant, spa or florist that might be interested in selling your product or promoting your service? Can you partner with any of these businesses to create a package or an integrated referral system? Identify these potential clients (they may purchase directly or set up a consignment agreement), then craft your sales pitch and marketing materials to sell in bulk, deliver or ship. [Read more...]

Going green will save your green

Sarah O'Connell

We had some unusually hot weather this summer, so air conditioners seemed more of a necessity than a luxury for many of us. Normally, our utility bills are highest during the cold weather of winter (and fall, and spring) because of heating. But certain types of small businesses, including convenience stores, restaurants and retail shops, incur significant utility costs year-round because of their heating and cooling systems, lighting and refrigeration units.

For example, Monnat’s Country Store in Croghan was erected in 1922 and has 14-foot ceilings and multiple coolers; energy costs were a significant part of operating expenses.

Owner Gerald Schneeberger, who has been operating his business there for 18 years, came to the Small Business Development Center for help with obtaining a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority energy review. This audit is free and available to small businesses with an average monthly energy use of 100 kilowatts or less. [Read more...]

Tax credits among benefits of ACA

Michelle Collins

The Affordable Care Act has created a lot of discussion in the small business community, and with good reason. Many small business owners are apprehensive about how the act will impact their bottom line and whether they will be able to meet its requirements. There is still much that is unknown about the act; the recent announcement postponing the mandate for businesses with more than 50 employees has added to the confusion.

The basic premise of the ACA is widely known: starting in 2014 everyone must have health insurance coverage and that insurance must meet a minimum standard of quality. What isn’t always understood is how this will impact small business owners. [Read more...]

Consider new rules to serve boomers

Sarah O'Connell

In 2011, the first of the baby boomer generation turned 65. More than half of individuals between the ages of 50 and 64 say they may delay their retirement plans due to present economic conditions. Another 16 percent say they do not plan to retire at all, but rather continue working as long as possible.

What could this mean for your business if your target market includes boomers like me? I’m speaking somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but you might consider these nine things: [Read more...]

Add value to the visitor experience

A visitor could be someone from out of the area, out of the country or maybe just someone who does not use your business unless they have leisure time or are hosting guests. Any customer is a visitor and this column applies to everyday businesses, but we will focus on some specific characteristics of the “tourist visitor.”

Brooke James

Typically someone who is visiting is new to the area, is unaware of what is available, may have impulse desires, may not want to pack or carry items purchased, has additional disposable income and comes with no preconceived notions of your business, products and services. Travel also is a high-risk activity, which means that a visitor is looking to reduce any chance of discomfort. This person is very impressionable, which means you have a lot of opportunity to add value. [Read more...]

Plan ahead to position yourself well

In my March column, I wrote a little bit about my experiences in New York City helping small businesses that were trying to obtain disaster relief loans after Hurricane Sandy. I was looking forward to having the opportunity to help these business owners, but we all met with a lot of frustration. So I want to pass along some tips for any small businesses that might run into a situation where you need to try to get some sort of financial assistance. Up here in the north country, it probably won’t be a hurricane or flood, but it might be a severe blizzard, an ice storm, a microburst or a fire.

Try to keep copies of all your important documents in a safe place. These would include deeds, insurance papers, inventory records, equipment leases, etc. Review your insurance coverage on a regular basis and don’t skimp on the basic insurances that you need. Consider some type of business interruption insurance. One of the issues that many of the businesses down there ran into was that flood insurance was very expensive. Furthermore, many small businesses that rented space discovered that the building owner wasn’t properly insured.

Sarah O'Connell

Try to put cash aside for a safety net if needed. I know this is difficult for many small business owners — hey, I was one, too — but an emergency fund that would cover at least six months of regular expenses could save your business someday. The loan conduits in NYC were quickly overwhelmed with applications so that even 60 days later, some businesses were still waiting to see if their application had been reviewed, much less a loan approved and disbursed. [Read more...]

Overcoming family biz challenges

Depending on what sources you refer to, 80 percent to 90 percent of all businesses in the United States are family owned. I think that trend holds true locally and may even range toward the higher percentage. The fact that the majority of our business community consists of family-run ventures doesn’t mean that being in the family business is easy. In fact, many entrepreneurial families will be quick to tell you that working with family is rewarding, but can also be challenging. [Read more...]

On the front lines of storm relief

It’s been 15 years since the Ice Storm of 1998. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to deep darkness and profound silence — no streetlights, no hum of the refrigerator and no purr of the furnace. Then the cracking and the crashing and thumping started as limbs from maple trees in the neighborhood around my house in Dexter started snapping and falling, some penetrating several inches into the ground. [Read more...]