Change Is Gonna Come

Sarah O’Connell

Wouldn’t it be nice if things always stayed the same and we old dogs didn’t have to keep learning new tricks?  But unfortunately, things don’t happen that way.  I think more often than not, changes, while hard to push through at first, end up making our lives more efficient. We’ve seen a lot of things changing the past couple of years with small businesses.  

Social Media

                Of course, we know that social media evolves almost daily.   Remember MySpace, then Facebook?  Now Instagram and Twitter are where it’s at, and although we seem to be slow adopters up here, businesses need to know how to use these platforms to keep up.  The same thing is true when developing a website.  We have to make sure it’s mobile-friendly.  I only look up a business once or twice on my phone, and if they haven’t gotten with it, I probably won’t go back.  Posted hours?  Check.  Menu if a restaurant?  Check.  Quick response to a message?  Check.

Cybersecurity   

                If you do business with the federal government, you already know that cybersecurity rules related to the Defense Acquisition Regulations System have been heavily tightened.  As for doing business with the government, just the process of registering as a federal contractor in the System for Awards Management has gotten more complex; new and existing businesses now have to send a notarized letter by snail mail(!) to the General Services Administration confirming the authorized Entity Administrator.   

Data Protection

                The new General Data Protection Regulation concerning data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) is being implemented this year. It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.  It is going to impact any U.S. company doing business with counterparts and customers in Europe.

Taxes 

                No one is exactly sure how the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that took effect in 2018 is going to affect individuals and small businesses, but we’re going to be finding out pretty soon.

                The main effect on small businesses, the mom and pops and DBAs, is the same one that’s going to benefit individuals in that the individual tax rates will be lower, leaving business owners presumably with more money in their pockets.  At the same time, some traditional deductions will be disallowed. 

                At the SBDC, we try to keep up with all these changes as best we can so we can give our clients the most up-to-date information as possible.  We’re currently revamping our Entrepreneurial Training courses to expand on some of these areas, particularly social media and taxes.    We rely on our guest presenters who are professionals in these fields to bring our participants timely information.  Of course, any individual business can also contact us to try to find out how they will be impacted because they may be getting conflicting answers from the internet, from friends, family and other business owners.  We can access our research network in Albany or our statewide network of advisors to assist.

                We like to say that our Entrepreneurial Training Courses help would-be and existing entrepreneurs learn the necessary steps to building and growing a stronger business. Both the seven weekly sessions of the class held on the Jefferson Community College campus or the online version are coming up in early October.  If you are interested in learning more about the courses for yourself or a family member, please give us a call or check out our website at http://watertown.nyssbdc.org.

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

Sarah O’Connell is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at SUNY Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu.

Opportunities Found

Sarah O’Connell

The federal government and New York state are committed to ensuring that economically or socially disadvantaged businesses have an opportunity to participate in direct contracts or subcontracts with government agencies and/or prime contractors. They have instituted specific programs to give these firms an opportunity to certify and register. For some contracts, there is even a specific percentage goal that must include small businesses from these designations (called set-asides).  These designations may include women, minority or service-disabled veteran firms.

    For specific federal programs, the SBA.gov website is an excellent resource. Specifically for women-owned businesses, the federal government offers the Women-Owned Small Business designation (WOSB). Doing any business with the government requires registration in the System for Award Management (SAM), and women can self-certify their company as women-owned. However, to get access to what are considered “underserved” industries, women must apply specifically to be a WOSB company. These industries are identified in the WOSB section of the Small Business Association’s website. If the company is determined to be eligible (more on that later) it can work its way through the process at certify.sba.gov.

    In the New York State MWBE (Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises) program, the woman-owned business must already have been in operation for a minimum of one year. The process is fairly rigorous and calls for uploading of a number of documents as part of the application process, followed by an interview by the agency to confirm the business is truly woman-owned and operated. (Note: the OGS – Office of Government Services – oversees the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business program.)

    How is a business determined to be woman-owned? Some of the basic requirements include at least 51% ownership (where one partner is not female) and meeting the benchmarks that determine that a company is considered a “small business.” These may include reporting that annual sales fall below a certain mark and that personal assets also fall below a certain mark.

    The business must also prove that the business is truly woman-owned and operated, so that a male owner can’t just designate or add a female owner to take advantage of the system.  It must show that the female owner had financial investment in the start-up and continues to have an integral role in the operation of the business. Being the “keeper of the books” is not enough – the woman owner has to have knowledge of and show control over all facets of the business which may include bid estimating, contract writing, control over ordering, etc.  The female owner must spend the majority if not all work hours involved in the business; employment in another workplace is a red flag and may result in rejection of the application.

    The advisors at the Small Business Development Center can help steer companies through the certification processes for both WOSB and MWBE.  Once the requirements are met, opportunities open up for the woman-owned small business. In Jefferson County, 31 companies are certified in the federal WOSB program (according to the Dynamic Small Business Search at sba.gov). The New York State Contract System identifies 108 women-owned business enterprises (WBEs) in the North country region which covers Plattsburgh to Watertown to Oswego.

    Once a business is certified as woman-owned, it can start exploring opportunities that exist within its service area. Many of our businesses work closely with the local PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center), located at the Greater Watertown-North country Chamber of Commerce to identify potential projects to bid. The north country PTAC will be offering a matchmaker event on April 4 where all small (not just women-owned) businesses interested in government contracts can meet with key people from government agencies and prime contractors to introduce themselves and share their capabilities. Visit http://www.northcountryptac.com

for details.

    Planning is underway for our 14th Annual Business of Women networking conference in May. Watch facebook.com/BusinessofWomen/ for more information.

    The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties. For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.  St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

SARAH O’CONNELL is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.

How to Find the Best Location For Your Business

Jennifer McCluskey

At the Small Business Development Center, we work with a lot of business owners who are looking to move into a downtown space and trying to decide the best town or location for their business. What some business owners don’t know is that through our Research Network we have access to many different statistical databases. We can use these databases to get our clients much of the statistical information they would need to make an informed decision about where to start their new brick-and-mortar business, or which location would be right to move or expand their business. Some of the statistics that can be vital for making this decision are as follows:

    Traffic Counts:  The state Department of Transportation keeps a website which can map down to very precise detail how many cars travel down a specific street or through an intersection so that you, as the business owner, can know how many vehicles drive past your potential location. The DOT traffic website is free for anyone to use, so this is information you can get on your own, or the SBDC can compile it for you.

    Pedestrian Counts:  Sometimes just knowing how many cars drive past a location is not enough, you may need to know how much foot traffic there is. Some of the larger cities may have this information, but in the north country business owners may need to develop their own pedestrian count study. The SBDC can help you with strategies to design an accurate pedestrian count that won’t require you to sit out there all day, and will help get a more complete representation of where people go over time.

    Demographic Data:  The SBDC Research Network has paid for access to several databases that provide a wealth of knowledge about the people that live in a particular area. Knowing the ages, income ranges, ethnicity and buying patterns of a community is vital information for local business owners. We can create a customized geography around your business or potential location, looking at a radius of less than a mile to up to 150 miles away, or we can explore the population of a town, county or state. These databases take information from the U.S. Census Bureau and private sources to examine how many households there are in the area, what income ranges are, the daytime population of workers in an area versus the night time population of residents, and also demographic information like age, ethnic background and more. These numbers can help you see if your target population is active in the downtown area you are examining. We can also show this data in map form, so you can get an idea, say, of which areas of a city contain residents who earn higher incomes.

    These tools can also provide information about consumer spending and behavior patterns in an area. If, for example, you sell a healthy snack product, the database can tell you how many people in a local area are trying to eat healthy and lose weight, and how much the average household spends on snacks. There are a wide range of expenditures and behaviors covered, including restaurant, food and beverage, household items and services, recreation and medical services.

    As your SBDC business advisor, we can also get general industry trends, to give you an idea of what to look for in your industry and how technology, marketing, and other changes may lead to a shift in how you do business as you expand.

                When you don’t know what you don’t know about expanding your business, consulting us at the SBDC can be a great option for free business counseling and access to market research.  To set up an appointment for confidential business counseling and support, you can contact the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312 or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262.

Jennifer McCluskey is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton. Contact her McCluskeyj@canton.edu.

August 2016: Small Business Success

Understand options for crowdfunding

Jennifer McCluskey

Jennifer McCluskey

Crowdfunding, using various internet platforms like GoFundMe and Kickstarter to reach multiple investors, has been increasing by leaps and bounds over the last few years. So is crowdfunding a possibility for your business?

Certain types of products or businesses work better for crowdfunding than others. New and exciting businesses and products, nonprofits that can help people connect to a cause, or anything else that could get regular people excited to donate their hard-earned money may do well with crowdfunding. [Read more…]

July 2016: Business Briefcase

MEDIA

Community Broadcasters expands into Florida

Watertown-based Community Broadcasters, LLC, has purchased four signals from Apex Broad Broadcasting, Inc., in the Destin/Fort Walton Beach, Fla., market and filed for transfer of the licenses pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission in June. [Read more…]

July 2016: Small Business Success

In business, school is never on break

Sarah O'Connell

Sarah O’Connell

One of the basic tenets of good small business management is to keep learning as much as you can about the business you’re in, whether it’s watching the horizon for up-and-coming trends in other parts of the country, observing what innovations or new products are being introduced in your industry or scanning trade publications and websites to check out ways to make your business more successful. [Read more…]

June 2016: Small Business Startup

Trillium Center for
Yoga and Health

From left, Shannon Miller, Terry De La Vega, and Jean Benvenuto stand in front of their business, Trillium Center for Yoga and Health, at 25 Market Street in Potsdam. Photo by Jason Hunter, NNY Business.

From left, Shannon Miller, Terry De La Vega, and Jean Benvenuto stand in front of their business, Trillium Center for Yoga and Health, at 25 Market Street in Potsdam. Photo by Jason Hunter, NNY Business.

THE INITIAL IDEA

Timing was everything for the founders of Trillium Center for Yoga and Health in Potsdam. Shannon Miller, an occupational therapist, and Terry del la Vega, a nurse practitioner, were passing the idea of opening a yoga studio back and forth and the concept even led them to checking out a location before it was tabled. [Read more…]

June 2016: Small Business Success

Selling a business takes many steps

Jennifer McCluskey

Jennifer McCluskey

At the Small Business Development Center, we work with many clients who are trying to buy a business. However, business owners who plan to sell their business can also benefit from a solid plan. If you are thinking of selling your business now, or at some time in the future, there are specific actions you can take and documents you can begin to prepare that will make this transition go smoothly. [Read more…]

May 2016: Small Business Success

Are you ready to open for business?

Sarah O'Connell

Sarah O’Connell

It’s very challenging to operate a seasonal business that’s open only part of the year, but it’s a financial necessity when your business depends on the weather and tourism. At the Small Business Development Center, our new clients often state that they are going to operate their weather- or visitor-dependent business year-round, but after the first year they often realize that it’s not financially viable to maintain payroll, utility and other expenses when the sales are just not there. [Read more…]

Local entrepreneurs discuss business success at North Country Symposium

For those who have been there and survived, starting a successful north country business is a difficult, but not impossible thing to do, provided the idea is a winner and the entrepreneur a person who is willing to work hard, and seek expert help to get it going. [Read more…]