Taking Care Of Business

Sarah O’Connell

As I write this, we are in the fifth month of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses in the North Country region have gradually been reopening through the four phases under specific guidelines and with many restrictions. 

    However, for businesses that deal with health and wellness, many are still not allowed to reopen yet due to the level of physical contact or proximity that is part of their normal customer interaction. 

    As the North Country region entered Phase 3, massage therapy businesses were allowed to reopen, as were hair salons and some other personal care services. As we all struggled with the isolation and anxiety produced by the crisis, this was a much welcomed development for those who needed the comfort and care that was beyond essential survival. At the same time, the operators of these businesses had to prepare rigorous safety plans for the state of New York and develop schedules and strategies to minimize risk to their customers. 

    On the other hand, physical fitness businesses like fitness centers and group yoga classes continue to be under additional scrutiny due to the risks inherent in gathering people together in activities that might increase transmission of the virus. Some exercise-related businesses have pivoted to offering virtual or online classes, particularly those with certain instructors who have a dedicated following who are willing to pay through an online payment portal to participate in a Zoom or similar digital meetup. 

    While doctors’ offices and medical clinics were open all along for emergency visits or telemedicine, dentists were not generally allowed to open until June 1 except for emergency situations. However, many of our local providers have noticed that their patients are delaying some appointments like routine checkups until later on in the year. The procedure for entering a medical office often involves waiting in one’s car until called, answering questions about recent health issues, possible contacts with ill people and travel outside the area, and undergoing temperature checks. 

    Some mental health providers who already offered online or telephone counseling have been able to continue to offer that support and have even expanded their customer base due to need. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has gathered a pool of volunteer mental health counselors to handle calls from people feeling especially stressed or anxious during the pandemic. (1-800-950-6264). It can also offer connections to local resources. 

    As with all businesses reopened or reopening in the various phases that the state allows, the key to getting customers, clients or patients to return is to demonstrate clear and well-thought out approaches to providing as safe an experience as possible. Surveys and anecdotal evidence have shown that many people are still very wary of venturing out into situations that might expose them to the virus. Reports of uneven or absent compliance will only delay the process of economic recovery. Recent spikes in infection were directly related to unsafe gatherings during July 4th celebrations leading to the reclosing of some area businesses. Enforcement of the safety guidelines needs to be universal to bolster the confidence of the general public. 

    As of this writing, the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) program was still open and the application window for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans was open until Aug. 8. Go to www.sba.gov for more information. The SBDC advisors are here to help you through the application process and beyond. We are also available to help you with any other business needs, whether it’s ideas for recovering, marketing, or opening, expanding or buying a business. We are available by phone and email and can have video sessions as well. As the JCC campus begins its reopening process, we will keep you informed if and when we can resume in-person appointments. 

    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 

Weather Woes

Sarah O’Connell

Al Roker, the weatherman on the Today Show for the past 40 years, was once quoted as saying, “I don’t make plans, because life is short and unpredictable – much like the weather.” While that might work for Al, it’s not a good general principle for enterprises that depend on the weather to venture plan-less. 

    I suppose we’re lucky that in the north country our weather mainly involves water – either too much of it, or not enough of it. Too much water: record snowfalls, high river and lake levels, road and field flooding, event cancellations, etc. Too little water: low river and lake levels, drought conditions for our crops, event cancellations, and so on. As we smugly say when we’re shoveling snow, sloshing through rain or mowing our dusty, dried-out lawns – at least we don’t get hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes or landslides. 

    When weather presents a major economic or physical impact, that’s when the state and federal governments (e.g. U.S. Small Business Administration) may step in with disaster relief loan programs. But for smaller vacillations, business owners, particularly weather-dependent ones, need to develop a backup plan, whether a snow day, an indoor-related activity or off-season events that will bring in other revenue. 

    For example, a couple of years ago a major bass fishing tournaments on the St. Lawrence was impacted by higher water levels, but this ended up being popular with the pro fishermen who enjoyed the access into new areas. These events bring millions of dollars into the area as participants and their families and fans patronize motels, restaurants, gas stations, etc. 

    With snow conditions also unpredictable, businesses that depend on skiing and snowmobiling have had to come up with alternate ways to stay afloat, as it were. Snow Ridge in Turin has established a year-round schedule of events from music festivals to trivia nights to dirt bike races. 

    We Northern New Yorkers are resilient. We’re going to find a way to cope with whatever nature throws at us. A case in point is the business confidence survey released by the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council looking at 2019 where even higher water levels were reported than 2017. It asked local businesses along the lake and river how they felt about the season and their future outlook. In the survey, “73 percent…claimed to be either satisfied, pleased or very pleased with the business they received.” This was more than in the 2017 survey where 63 percent replied similarly. Why, when the water was even higher than two years ago, did business owners feel better? Because many businesses were able to adapt by raising docks or adding docks and pushing better marketing which offset concerns of potential visitors. The “normal” weather of 2018 didn’t hurt either, as tourists left very enthusiastic about their experience and eager to return in 2019 in spite of the high water. 

    As I write, the annual Snowtown USA event is kicking off in Watertown. Newscaster Walter Cronkite was the first to bestow that title on Watertown after the Blizzard of ’77 left the north country reeling under 220 inches of snow in 5 days. The festival, begun in the early ‘80’s featured ice skating, ice sculptures and other outdoor activities. Ironically, the festival melted away in the late 90’s because of poor weather. It was resurrected in 2013 by incorporating indoor activities like the Snowtown Film Festival, bowling tournaments, snow-related crafts at the library, pub crawls, etc. When the weather does cooperate, there are many outdoor events planned as well. 

    And by the way, in November 2014, Al Roker beat the unofficial world record for an uninterrupted live weather report of 33 hours held by a Norwegian weather broadcaster by setting an official Guinness World Record, reporting for 34 hours. 

    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. 

Small Business Startup: The Sandwich Bar

Friends and entrepreneurs Jamie Hubbard, left, and Jessica Williams opened The Sandwich Bar in Sackets Harbor together. The shop is located on West Main Street in the village. Sydney Schaefer/NNY Business

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Five Tips For Starting Fresh With Your Business

Jennifer McCluskey

As we start with 2020 it’s a great time to think about how you can freshen up your business to grow and have a greater impact this year. There are a few simple things that you can do to start your business off right:

Tip 1: Take Care of Yourself
Small business owners are some of the hardest working people I know. Long hours, no sick leave, and being the one in charge of all the moving parts can wear on you after a while. Frequently your needs get pushed to the side so that your business can succeed. While this can be necessary, it also means that occasionally you do need to take care of yourself. Take time out for you, whether it’s an actual “unplugged” short vacation (scary, right?), or a weekly yoga class, or even a Saturday hiking in the mountains with your family, do what you need to refresh yourself. You’ll return to your business rested and more able to see the big picture.

Tip 2: Get Organized
Getting organized will help you cut down on wasted time. Have you found yourself looking for a file for over an hour since you didn’t put it in the right folder? (Speaking from experience on that one). Or do you frequently forget tasks? During one of the slower times in your business, it can be a good idea to declutter, get your systems back in place, or try a new time management technique. I’ve found the yearly file cabinet purge and restructuring is really helpful for when business gets too busy later. There are also a lot of apps that can help you get organized. A couple of my favorites are Quickbooks Self-Employed for keeping track of business income, costs, and mileage; Cozi, a free calendar system; and Colornote which allows you to set Post-it note reminders on your phone. Also see what tasks are “time wasters” and see if there are any that you can outsource. Getting a bookkeeper to keep track of the giant box of receipts, or a Virtual Assistant to help with scheduling and returning emails may be more cost-effective than you think if they allow you to spend more time on tasks that create sales.

Tip 3: Improve Your Customer Service
Take a moment to see if there are any things you can do for your customers to improve their experience. For example, do all of your employees greet your customers with a smile? Now might be a good time to check in about that. Ask your customers if there’s anything you can do to improve, either off-line with conversations or comment cards, or online by getting Google or Yelp reviews. If there’s something that you can improve on, they’ll tell you. More reviews also help bring more people to your website. Do you have really great customers who refer a lot of business to you? Maybe get them something special as a thank you.

Tip 4: Get To Know Your Finances
If you feel like you don’t have a good handle on your expenses or know the streams of income that are most important to your business, it might be a good time to get your bookkeeping in order. Whether you keep books by hand, Excel, or use a software program like Quickbooks, it is very important to know your profit margins and overhead expenses. Making sure you do your data entry in a timely manner can save a lot of headaches at tax time and can help you keep a better eye on changes you might need to make in your business. For example, your prices may have to change to match with different costs. Take a look at your numbers and see how you feel about where you are.

Tip 5: Meet With the SBDC!
Would you like to do some of these, but just don’t know where to get started? That’s what we’re here for! The Small Business Development Center offers FREE confidential business counseling, and we can help you with any of the above tasks, and more. Just contact the office closest to you. You can reach the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262. We’d love to help.

Which Business Form Is Right For Your Business?

Jennifer McCluskey

People looking to start a business ask me all the time what form of business is right for them, but it can also be useful for owners of an existing business to re-evaluate their business structure and talk to their professional support team of accountants, attorneys and others. It may be advantageous to switch business forms, especially considering new tax laws that have been put in place over the last couple of years. In the next couple of paragraphs, I’m going to go over a quick review of the different business structures; sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S-Corporation, and C-Corporation so that you will know what questions to ask your team. 

    The simplest and easiest business set-up is a sole proprietorship (single person or married couple) or general partnership (more than one person). A business becomes a sole proprietorship or partnership by filing a DBA (Doing Business As) form at the county clerk’s office. This registers the business’s name at the county level, but does not provide any protections beyond that. Specifically, it does not provide any legal protections. If a business is a sole proprietor and gets sued, the business is fully connected to the owner so all of the owner’s assets are at risk. A time to consider switching would be if a business grows and creates jobs, or opens a storefront, both of which may make it more likely for a lawsuit to happen. Business liability insurance can protect businesses as well, but it may be important to have an additional layer of protection that a different legal structure can provide. 

    The next step up beyond a sole proprietorship is an LLC, S-Corporation, or C-Corporation. These business structures help protect a business should a lawsuit happen by creating a separate legal entity for the business. They’re not foolproof; someone can still sue the business owner personally, but they often can help. Creating one of these business entities will register a business’s name at the state level. Most of the businesses that I work with are set up as sole proprietorships or LLC’s. 

    Filing a business as an LLC or Corporation at the state level gives the business owner some more choices in how he or she pays taxes as well. All sole proprietorships and general partnerships fill out their business taxes as part of the personal tax return of their owner or owners. If a business owner sets up an LLC, she can choose to continue filing taxes as a “disregarded entity,” meaning she would continue filing taxes on her personal return. However, LLC’s do have the option to file taxes as a corporation, which may allow the owner to take advantage of better tax rates if the business has a high profit. Owners of high profit businesses also may want to consider setting up as an S-Corp. To do this the business owner would file as a Corporation at the state level and then fill out paperwork for the IRS to get the S-Corp designation. This will let the business owner do their taxes a little more simply than a C-Corp, but will let the owner take corporate tax rates for any business income beyond the owner’s salary. An owner of an S-Corp has to be able to pay themselves a “market rate” salary, so this setup would not be as useful for businesses that are lower profit. Finally, a business owner could choose to set her business up as a full C-Corp. This will allow her to distribute dividends to investors and owners and will require tax filing as a corporation. 

    At the SBDC we can only give overviews; we are not accountants or attorneys to offer tax or legal advice. We recommend speaking to your accountant and attorney before making any business structure decisions. We can help connect you with a local support network if you do need one of these professionals to help advise you along your business journey. You can contact the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262 for free and confidential business counseling. 

Finding the Funding: Small businesses find financial support

HOLLY BONAME / NNY BUSINESS
Laurel K. Zarnosky stands behind the ice cream counter at her newest business Simply Sweets at the Top of the Square Plaza, Watertown.

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The Business of Small Business

KRISTEN AUCTER

President Calvin Coolidge stated that “the business of America is business” and although the statement was made in the 1920’s it still rings true today. The encouragement of entrepreneurship across the country idealizes our willingness to take risks and reach for the stars. The successful businesses that run through our small towns and communities provide the nourishment to keep that enthusiasm and those dreams alive.

    Small businesses create a strong middle class, give back exponentially to the community and have been, throughout the nation’s history, the primary source of job creation in the country. It is our job as consumers to continuously provide support to perpetuate the cycle of success to the business owner and the communities we live in.

    According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 99.7% of US employer firms. Since the last recession they have accounted for 67% of the new jobs created! Those statistics alone should make people want to identify how to continue our small business revolution. Here are some ideas on how you, as a consumer or business, can do just that:

  1. Shop there! This one shouldn’t need much of an explanation. Visit their businesses. Use their services. Make it a habit to check what they have available before going to larger box stores.
  2. Participate in “Small Business Saturday”. Since 2010 American Express has been encouraging consumers to skip Black Friday shopping and support their local small businesses. The campaign was launched in an effort to aid small businesses in gaining exposure and to change the way consumers shop in their own community. Many Chambers of Commerce, including Lewis County’s, open their doors on that day as a welcome station. Providing lists of business open for the day, reusable shopping bags and goodies for kids or pets who may be tagging along!
  3. Encourage your friends and family to shop local. Everyone hates the dreaded question “what do you want for your birthday/Christmas/graduation etc”. Let them know you love what the local shops have to offer. It not only gets you what you want but introduces a new customer to those businesses.
  4. Look into community gift certificates. Many local Chambers offer gift certificates that can be used at multiple participating businesses in the area. Lewis County will have Chamber Ca$h available as of June 1st. It is a dollar for dollar match that will allow the recipient to purchase goods and services locally!
  5. Organize a community event. Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be the only day of the year to step foot in the doors of these businesses. Be creative and host an event that encourages people to become aware of what hidden treasures your community has.
  6. If you enjoy your experience provide a good review. Yelp, Google and Foursquare are all review sites that other people use when making decisions where to shop. It is the new “word of mouth”. It will increase their visibility in search results and continues to foster that sense of trust in small businesses.
  7. Network. Network. Network. Business After Hours are a great way to know what is new in the community. Most small businesses start out of someone’s home. While these businesses might not have a store front to visit this doesn’t mean they aren’t exactly what you are looking for and you can help them grow. As a Chamber we encourage these new, up and coming businesses to come to Chamber events to let people know what they have to offer.
  8. Collaboration. Do you own a small business? Do you have skills or insight that might be a benefit to someone just starting out? Reach out to your Chamber to host a speaking event in a local speaker series at a free or discounted price.

   Beyond creating jobs, investing in locally owned small businesses keeps money in your community to support other important initiatives through the local sales tax earned. Education, law enforcement and emergency services, parks, and other publically funded programs all benefit immensely.

And, of course, shopping at local small businesses creates a unique experience you can’t have online. Small businesses tend to provide a more personal customer experience and offer special things you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

Kristen Aucter is the president and CEO of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by emailing kristen@lewiscountychamber.org.

August 2016: Commerce Corner

Workplace wellness: It really can be fun

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

Many of us spend a long day sitting in front of a computer, eating lunch at our desks, and eventually feeling the negative impacts of this routine on our health and wellness. When you think about it, this daily practice is not normal. Even on your biggest “couch potato” day at home, it is unlikely that you will sit in a chair in front of a screen for eight hours straight, unless of course, there is a great series marathon on Netflix. [Read more…]