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10 Reasons to Consider Google Apps for Business

If you run a business and still think of Google only for search and AdWords, you may be missing something that could help your business work smarter and cheaper. The search giant is really a softy when it comes to small business, and has been working to woo biz owners and startups into its Google Apps for Business bundle.

It’s a bundle bursting with productivity tools small businesses need, starting at, well, free. And these aren’t stripped down versions, either. With little fanfare Google Apps for Business has already signed up some 5 million firms – most of them small.

Basically, Apps for Business is a cluster of cloud-based tools you access via web-connected computer or mobile device. They include documents, presentations, spreadsheets, online storage and sharing, calendars, email and more. The free version for individuals and teams of up to 10 includes the basics, while the paid “business-ready” version offers more (including 24/7 customer support) for $50 per year, per user. Get full details at www.Google.com/apps.

Here are 10 reasons to consider Google Apps for your business:

1. Custom Gmail for Business: A business class version of Gmail lets you create a custom email address using your own business domain name and have email you can access anywhere, anytime on any device you choose.

2. Storage galore: With the paid Gmail version, you get an astounding 25 GB of storage capacity for each inbox. That’s essentially a bottomless email inbox, so you’ll never have to delete emails. Even the free version has 10 GB.

3. Super search: Gmail’s search feature lets you find anything in your email, while labels and filters help keep your email organized. What’s more, text, voice and video chat features let you see who’s online and connect instantly. You can even see your contacts’ profile photos, recent updates and shared documents next to each email.

4. Google Calendar is a great tool for organizing your day, week or month. You can get reminders on your phone or in your inbox. Attach files or docs to your event so you have the right materials when your meeting starts.

5. Keep everyone together: Use calendar sharing to find time with others in your business, and let the smart scheduling feature suggest meeting times that work for everyone.

6. Schedule Clients Too: You can even create a calendar and embed it on your website or set up appointment slots so customers can choose the best time for them. Calendar lets you automatically send invitations and track RSVPs via email.

7. Core Needs are Covered: Google Docs (like Word), Spreadsheets (like Excel) and Slides (like PowerPoint) give you all the power you need to create documents with images, tables, drawings, links and more. Keep and share lists, track projects, analyze data and track results. Sheets includes tools such as advanced formulas, embedded charts, filters and pivot tables.  Slides lets you create presentations with embedded videos, animations and fancy transitions.

8. Easy to Import and Convert: With Google Docs, it’s easy to import your existing work and convert it from most common text, spreadsheet and presentation formats so you can edit and share. Optical character recognition (OCR) even lets you import editable text from PDFs and images.

9. Access Your Files From Anywhere: Google Drive – included in the Google Apps bundle – lets you access your files from anywhere. With Google Drive on your PC, Mac or mobile device (as well as your browser), you’ll have a single place for the latest versions of your files, accessible anytime, anywhere. You can upload and store any type of file you choose. Share files or entire folders with individuals, your team, as well as customers or partners. In the Docs, Sheets and Slides editors, multiple people can work on the same file at the same time.

10. Shared Online Workspaces:  Google Sites is the app that helps you build a project website without writing a single line of code. It’s like writing a simple document. Or choose from hundreds of prebuilt templates. Use your team site to organize everything from calendars to documents to presentations, to videos. Google-powered search makes it simple to find what you’re looking for later. Share your site with co-workers or customers with a single click.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

The BizBest Silicon Beach shortLIST

BizBest‘s Silicon Beach shortLIST™ is a vetted, hand-picked selection of key players, places, tech, events, organizations and other resources fueling L.A.’s Silicon Beach startup rocket ship.  Los Angeles is leading the nation in entrepreneurial activity, and the BizBest® Silicon Beach shortLIST offers an exclusive, independent playbook of Silicon Beach essentials.

Keep in mind, this is a subjective list, not an all-inclusive directory. We welcome suggestions and shortLIST nominations (via Comments, tweets to @140Main or email: editor at BizBest dot com). Tweet, like and share BizBest’s Silicon Beach shortLIST on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media. Here’s an easy, sharing-friendly URL: shortLIST.la

ShortLIST members are listed by category, often alphabetically (but not necessarily):

Best Accelerators & Incubators

  • Amplify.la is a hands-on startup accelerator and multi-faceted entrepreneurial campus in Los Angeles.  Amplify helps startups grow in several ways, including seed funding of up to $50K, mentorship from a killer roster of specialists and connections to additional funding.  The Amplify program is four intensive months of collaborative curriculum designed to build a business from the ground up, and includes free workspace. Members also get free or discounted services such as legal, banking and web hosting. Download their one-sheet (PDF) here. Located on Main Street in Venice, the Amplify community is super passionate about learning, growing and inspiring. Follow this link to see a complete list of the accelerator’s partners, portfolio, staff, mentors and investors.
  • Cal-X Stars Business Accelerator, based in Santa Monica, was formed in 2012 by Howard Leonhardt, an inventor and serial entrepreneur who holds some 20 patents for treating heart disease. Leonhardt Ventures www.leonhardtventures.com is the main backer of Cal-X Stars portfolio companies, the Cal-X Stars Business Accelerator, and its partnered company The California Stock Xchange www.calstockexchange.com of smaller firms in early SEC registration process. BizBest note: Cal-X Stars has a unique model with both a 12-month accelerator (invests $18K min.) and a 5-year plan.
  • Founder Institute is an early-stage startup accelerator and global launch network, with a new LA chapter. Through a part-time four month program, existing and prospective founders can launch their dream company with expert training, feedback, and support from experienced startup CEOs – while not being required to quit their day job. A unique Graduate Liquidity Pool also lets graduates and mentors  share in the equity upside of each class.
  • Hub LA is a collaborative space for startups in downtown LA and caters to a more eclectic and artistic group than those on the Westside. The member mix at Hub LA includes social entrepreneurs, freelancers, artists, funders, students, mentors and community leaders. It offers members access to 4,000 square feet of creative industrial space to work, meet, learn, collaborate, and play. Offers ability to participate in social and cultural programming alongside business acceleration services, member-run events and workshops.
  • IdeaLab, based in Pasadena, is a bit of a hike from The Beach, but it’s one of LA’s entrepreneurial pioneers (founded in 1996) and continues to explore tech startup frontiers. Several IdeaLab startups are exploring new models for improving search and IdeaLab has also spawned companies with breakthrough technologies in robotics, renewable energy and automotive design. In addition to capital, IdeaLab provides a range of resources to help startups quickly introduce innovative products and services, including office space, technology, product and graphic design, marketing, financial advice, human resources, competitive research, legal, accounting and business development services.
  • k5 is a SoCal-based, tech-focused startup accelerator that was formed in 2011 by a group of successful investors and entrepreneurs with a passion for building startups. K5’s goal is to provide local entrepreneurs with a chance to work with SB investors, mentors and other  professionals. Offers up to $25K in pre-seed funding, along with work space, mentors, legal services, web design/hosting, investor access and other goodies. Works with ~20-30 teams yearly.
  • Launchpad.LA — a startup accelerator in Santa Monica — was founded as a mentorship organization in ’09 by Mark Suster with the goal of helping local entrepreneurs build relationships, get funded, and grow while remaining in Southern Cal. Launchpad LA offers each accepted company a $50K investment, four months of free office space and (probably most important) access to awesome mentors and investors. Hint: Deal terms may be flexible for startups that have already raised some capital.
  • Los Angeles Small Business Development Centers — which tend to fly under the typical startup’s radar — are a great Silicon Beach resource for entrepreneurs who plan to self-fund/bootstrap their own businesses and aren’t seeking angel or VC money.  One of the best parts about SBA-backed SBDCs is that they offer mostly FREE help for startups, available from 8 LA-area locations, often at a local community college campus (such as Santa Monica College).
  • MuckerLab, based in Santa Monica, calls itself a “mentorship-driven” accelerator focused on serving Internet software, services and media entrepreneurs in L.A. at the earliest stages of startup.  It offers a 3- to 6-month program that includes up to $21k in funding office space, access to top mentors, plus hands-on product, marketing, legal and fundraising support. Check out their portfolio companies and press coverage.
  • Science, Inc., based in Santa Monica and founded by former MySpace CEO Mike Jones, is an incubator that creates, scales and/or acquires digital businesses by bringing together talent, resources and financing through a centralized platform with A-list VC connections. BizBest tip: A key difference of the Science model is that there’s no set timeline for exists or releases. Science launched with about $10M of VC cash from the likes of Rustic Canyon, White Star Capital, Tomorrow Ventures, and others.
  • StartEngineLA is a Westwood-based “rapid accelerator” (not that the others take the slow path) with a $15M investment fund focused on helping LA-based tech startups build a solid foundation for success in 90 days flat.  Created by Howard Marks, co-founder of Activision, and Paul Kessler, a prolific investor, Start Engine offers local startups the essential resources and counsel they need to stand on their own, including up to $20K in seed money, introductions to top VCs and angels, along with office space, administrative and legal support. Here’s the process.
  • upStart.LA — which has joined forces with Santa Monica-based CrossCampus (see Best Co-Working/Startup Spaces, below) — is a mentorship-based startup accelerator for SoCal entrepreneurs (Dan Dato and Ronen Olshansky are co-founders of both entities).

Best Co-Working and other Startup Spaces

  • BlankSpaces, located in Mid-Wilshire, is a community of entrepreneurs, freelancers and startups, offering flexible office plans by the hour, day or month. Prides itself on being a place that fosters collaboration and camaraderie among members.  Their short videos/commercials get our nod for humor (we especially like the one titled “Screwed!”.
  • Coloft is a member-based community and work space in Santa Monica for startups, entrepreneurs, freelancers and other independents. Has meeting rooms and spaces available by the hour.
  • CoWorks, on 2nd Street in Santa Monica, offers open desks and private work spaces and is built around a concept of discovering inspiring companies and talented people with bright ideas. CoWorks welcome all industries and promotes networking via onsite events. Prices include access to all amenities such as meeting rooms, WiFi, network printer and events.
  • Cross Campus offers a variety of membership and startup space options at its 11,000 square foot facility in Santa Monica.  Its self-described goal is “to inspire creative collisions through space design, learning platforms, and extraordinary events, fostering member-driven collaboration that ultimately leads to game changing ideas and enterprises.” Works in tandem with upStartLA (see Best Accelerators, above).
  • io/LA is a place where startup entrepreneurs can work, collaborate, and socialize.  Offers entrepreneur-friendly month-to-month memberships and 24/7 entry to an expansive full-service work space. Based in Hollywood and heavily entertainment industry focused. There’s also a unique incubator program. Every three months, five startup companies are chosen by the founders via an online application process. These fledgling businesses move into the io/LA  incubator for an intensive 90-day program culminating in a “demo day” presentation to VCs, studio execs and/or producers.
  • Culver City-based NextSpace (from Liquidspace), offers both physical spaces and virtual services to freelancers, startup entrepreneurs and what they call “creative class professionals.”  BizBest note: The real-time calendar on their website is a nice feature for viewing available workspaces.
  • Real Office Centers (ROC), which snapped up the former Google space at 6th and Arizona in Santa Monica, has a killer location.  ROC is looking to duplicate its success with startup spaces in San Diego, Newport Beach and La Jolla with a new, ummm, “beachhead” in the heart of SB. The first floor is open — and looks great — but second and third floors are under renovation (those Google guys sure left a mess; and enough with the primary color thing!). Great space; but prepare for sticker shock on rates.
  • WeWork cut its startup teeth in New York City with some eight locations before heading to Silicon Beach (well, Hollywood anyway) after hearing where the real action is. WeWork members include everything from startups to established businesses in social media, tech, gaming, mobile apps, art, design, leadership, consulting, staffing, legal, fashion, health, beauty and music. BizBest Note: WeWork also offers access to health Insurance, discounted credit card processing rates and in-house food services.
  • Working Village, in Santa Monica, caters to micro businesses, freelancers, home office workers, entrepreneurs, startups, tech workers, writers, designers and other professionals. The twist here is an emphasis on services that emulate boutique hotel hospitality.
  • Satellite Santa Monica (Satellite Telework Centers’ 4th California location), on Main Street, is specifically tailored to the flexible workspace needs of the Silicon Beach film, TV and digital media community.  Has private offices, bungalows, meeting rooms, a screening room with 1080P HD projector, and editing bays with fiber connectivity.

Best Organizations, Support Groups, Events & Workshops

  • Angel Launch is a new brand created by iHollywood Forum which produces programs in Los Angeles and at trade shows such as NAB, CES, GDC, E3 EXPO, NATPE and CTIA.  Sessions address key topics facing startup entrepreneurs and include a panel discussion and networking dinner.  Startup Venture Summit is their newest conference, designed to connect entrepreneurs and investors across all sectors.
  • Caltech/MIT Enterprise Forum sponsors ongoing events intended to encourage the growth and success of tech-based entrepreneurial ventures in SoCal. Through its monthly programs, the Forum provides advice, support, education and networking opportunities for Silicon Beach tech startups. Programs address  financing, marketing, business plans, executive leadership and staffing. Popular case studies feature companies in emerging technology  reviewing their business plans.
  • DigitalLA is a must-know Beach player. Founder Kevin Winston has built what’s arguably the largest and certainly most dynamic networking organization in LA’s digital entertainment community.  In June 2012, DigitalLA launched the first Silicon Beach Fest (SBF) — a highly-successful festival and hackathon celebrating L.A.’s burgeoning Silicon Beach startup community. Winston followed up with an equally-successful Hollywood edition in November. The website is a goldmine of links and info — and lots of cool Silicon Beach Fest photos. Be sure to join the LinkedIn group!
  • General Assembly | Los Angeles — The new Santa Monica-based L.A. branch of General Assembly offer classes and events at the intersection of entrepreneurship, tech & design, including an introduction to Silicon Beach.
  • LA CEOs conducts regular meetings that bring together CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, and mentors to help startups and growth companies accelerate their success. The group is hosted by Mark Landay, managing director of Dynamic Synergy Executive Recruitment (see below). BizBest note: Check the schedule on the site and sign up for the mailing list.
  • Lean Startup Machine | Lean LA is a three-day workshop where attendees use customer development and “lean startup” principles — basically the process Eric Ries defined as rapid, iterative prototyping and assumption testing to develop products and services that customers actually want. BizBest note: LSM conducts workshops worldwide; including Silicon Beach. Here’s a good description of how it works.
  • LAMCII (Los Angeles Mayor’s Council on Innovation and Industry) is backed by a broad range of Silicon Beach business leaders and was formed in 2012 to focus national and worldwide attention on LA’s thriving Silicon Beach “innovation economy” and to help facilitate community and government actions to drive entrepreneurship in LA.
  • Silicon Beach @ USC: USC’s vaunted Marshall School of Business held its first Silicon Beach @ USC event in September 2012, billed as “two days highlighting innovation, new ventures, partnerships and investment at the intersection of technology and digital content.” More to come.
  • SoCalBio Investor Conference is an annual event that showcases emerging LA-area biosciences firms and technologies looking for capital and seeking partnerships. Sponsored by the Southern California Biomedical Council.
  • Southern California Venture Network positions itself as an exclusive high-end business networking group that aims to increase the networking opportunities of startups and emerging growth companies by plugging them into SCVN’s professional and high-level business contacts. This is more of a “venture development” organization, helping companies between $1M and $25M with funding already in place to reach their next milestones through monthly events.
  • Startup Grind is a global group of “Grinders” with a 30-city event series that aims to educate, inspire and connect local startup entrepreneurs. While they’re rooted in that “other” Valley up north, there’s an LA chapter that holds monthly meet-ups (paid: $12-$22) where founders and investors tell their stories and hold chats.
  • Startups Uncensored — brainchild of entrepreneur-extraordinaire Jason Nazar — lays claim to being the longest running (since ’08) and most widely-attended SoCal tech gathering, regularly bringing together thousands of entrepreneurs, techies, investors and high-powered speakers. Topics have included online subscription businesses, startup success strategies, affiliate marketing, building great internet companies and working with investors. Get on their email list.
  • TCVN is tech business networking group, bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and other resources via forums, pitch sessions, workshops and other networking events. Tech Coast Venture Network has been around since 1984. Check out their upcoming events.
  • Technology Council of Southern California is a forum for Silicon Beach tech leaders, offering events, connections, information and resources to help tech companies succeed. Tech Council programs encourage interactive discussions between presenters and attendees, including two flagship events — VentureNet™ and the annual Industry Awards.
  • UCLA 48hr Start-up is an event that brings together people with technical, design and business backgrounds to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups (all this in less time than it takes to renew a license at the DMV!).

Top Angels, VCs & Other Investors

  • AngelVision Investors was launched in 2010 by a group of current and former LA-area entrepreneurs who’ve successfully created, owned, led, managed, built and sold companies in the entertainment, marketing and new media industries.
  • DFJ Frontier invests in seed and early-stage tech companies in Silicon Beach (and other parts of the West Coast).
  • Digital Coast Ventures is an affiliated investment vehicle of Santa Monica-based Montgomery & Co.
  • Greycroft Partners, with offices in both Santa Monica and New York, was formed in 2006 and is focused primarily on digital media companies. Portfolio companies benefit from active, hands-on assistance in all phases of expansion, including marketing, finance, and management development.
  • Harvard Business School Angels of Southern California is a young but growing group formed in 2011 and made up of Harvard alumni (not just b-school) interested in investing in early stage Silicon Beach companies.
  • Invent.vc makes claim to being the only publicly traded venture firm (stock symbol IDEA) focused exclusively on building startup web and mobile tech companies. Bryce Knight, CEO, aims to be a leading conduit between Silicon Beach startups and retail investors.  The Santa Monica-based firm was founded in 2010 as the Los Angeles Syndicate of Technology by a team with decades of experience managing startups, and the company employs its proprietary “Cofoundry” process to building web and mobile tech companies. INVENT acts as an institutional cofounder and plays a key role in creating/developing each startup.
  • LAVA: The Los Angeles Venture Association, a paid membership organization, has cred (or is that Kred?) as L.A.’s premier forum for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors and professional startup advisors.
  • Maverick Angels, an angel investor group based in Agoura Hills, takes a decidedly hands-on approach to its investments, offering a range of coaching, training and relationship-building support to early-stage startups in its portfolio. Here’s where entrepreneurs can apply to present.
  • NALA Investments is an early stage media and technology fund based in Santa Monica founded by Emilio Diez Barroso to identify and manage investments for the Diez Barroso Azcarraga family. The Azcarraga family founded Televisa (NYSE: TV) and Univision, the two largest Spanish language media companies in the world. In addition to its media and entertainment ventures in Latin America, NALA invests in consumer internet companies at the seed and series A stage in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
  • Originate is a software development firm that also invests in startups, albeit under a different kind of model.  For early stage startups, Originate invests capital as well as talent from its elite team of software engineers, designers and strategists. Its goals, however, are not unusual: It invests in solid teams, high-potential markets, unique ideas and interesting IP.
  • Rustic Canyon, one of the largest VC firms in L.A., actively invests in early-stage Silicon Beach startups.  RC likes themes that have a transformative impact across industries and sectors in digital media, ecommerce, consumer online services, SaaS and energy efficiency. Check out RC’s list of companies.
  • Siemer Ventures, based in Santa Monica, invests in both early-stage tech companies and consumer-facing businesses positioned for rapid growth. BizBest note:  Siemer shies away from pre-launch businesses. Initial investment size is typically $150K-$350K.
  • Tech Coast Angels: This active angel group has been around for years, and was one of the pioneers in putting Silicon Beach on the map.  With over 300 members and five regional networks across Southern California, TCA is also the largest angel investment group in the US. TCA typically gets about 600 funding applicants yearly, and invests in about 15-20 of them. In addition to money, TCA also supplies connections, knowledge, mentoring and help with operations. Check out TCA’s screening process.
  • The Brandt Organization, Inc. of California is a private investment vehicle that funds Silicon Beach startups.
  • Tomorrow Ventures has invested in several Silicon Beach startups and accelerators, including both Amplify.la and Science.
  • VioVoda (LA office in Glendale) is a tech acceleration fund focused on B2B startup companies.  VioVoda has a worldwide focus, not just Silicon Beach. The firm works with five angel networks in California to help syndicate rounds between $250k to $1.5 million. Has another US office in San Francisco, and a European office in Sofia.

Best News & Information Sources

  • BizBest Media (hey, that’s us!) lays claims to being an early Silicon Beach startup itself –  before the SB moniker existed. Nationally-recognized thought leaders in the startup, entrepreneurship and small business space. Published, syndicated and cited in major media nationwide, including The New York Times, MSNBC, Amex OPEN, MyVenturePad and many others.
  • Caypen Media publishes Caypen Magazine, a SoCal B2B publication that profiles startups, entrepreneurs and other innovators and carries articles by industry experts. Caypen’s monthly SoCal Business TIEs meetups bring together trendsetters, innovators, entrepreneurs and startups.
  • socalTECH.com is a news and information site covering high-tech companies in Southern Cal.  It has a great calendar of local events and a database of tech firms in the region. BizBest Note: Read ’em, or weep.
  • StartupDigest – recently acquired by StartupWeekend – publishes top-notch enewsletters (which to us means useful, actionable info) and event calenders for startup communities in multiple cities, including Los Angeles.  BizBest note: Signup, sign in and get the Los Angeles edition!
  • TechZulu is an independent, LA-based news group that specializes in showcasing tech industry people. A pioneer in live Web TV, TechZulu engages millions of viewers via real time reporting at conferences and its weekly news show, TechZulu Live. These hip folks also offer production services for conferences and events. Their excellent Spotlight Series highlighting promising new technologies is must viewing.
  • Ryan Born’s blog Entrepreneurial Ramblings offers insightful, well-written pieces on tech and entrepreneurship in general, as well as some great “insider” commentary on the Silicon Beach scene. In addition to being CEO at AudioMicro, Inc., Born is an angel investor and LAVA board member.
  • UCLA INVENTS is a monthly news bulletin highlighting innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology commercialization developments and opportunities at UCLA.

Best Startup Services

  • Dynamic Synergy Executive Recruitment, with outposts in both Santa Monica and Palo Alto, has long been a leader in sourcing talent for tech firms in LA, and has serious cred with the top VCs. Dynamic Synergy limits the number of searches it takes on so it can focus on delivering quality results. Here’s a partial client list.
  • Fetch Recruiting specializes in filing tech positions in a wide range of industries, and loves Silicon Beach startups (dogs, too, they say…hence the name).
  • Jim Jonassen & Associates / Venture Search (JJA Venture Search) is an A-list executive search and placement firm that cultivates a premier talent roster of leaders for West Coast tech and media companies, including many Silicon Beach firms. Based in the heart of Silicon Beach itself, JJA has more than 35 years in the industry and a track record of 98% successful completions for retained searches since 2001. Be sure to sign up for their “KillerOpps” e-mails with periodic updates on job searches, market intelligence and events.
  • talkTECH Communications is a technology-focused, marketing communications firm. They really know digital and social.

Best Backers of ‘Work-Hard/Play-Hard’ Thinking

  • Silicon Beach Fun is a brand-new and super-cool (not to mention free) app that helps you find places to play while working hard in and around Silicon Beach. We downloaded Silicon Beach Fun and were happy to see a robust and wide-ranging set of recommendations, including FUN bars, FUN hangouts, hotels, restaurants, places with Internet access, Silicon Beach Favorites and a Silicon Beach Index. Also has info on half-price tickets, Silicon Beach news and event listings.

Corporate Titans

  • Google Los Angeles: Sitting smack in the center of Silicon Beach (Venice) in its high-concept building and mini-campus, the company of primary colors hasn’t yet shown Beachers much green so far as we know, but says it aims to sponsor local events and perhaps strike partnerships with some SB tech startups.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Best App to Record Calls on a Smart Phone

If you or your business ever need to record phone calls from an iPhone or other smart phone, filtering the options for doing so can be frustrating. Trust me.  I just did it.  But with help from my Stanford-student son, we came up with a clear winner that’s low-cost, easy to setup and use, and produced fast, high-quality results.

Our BizBest 60-Second solution winner in this category is an app called “Record Phone Calls” Pro edition  (uninspiring name perhaps, but certainly descriptive) from Blue Square Group LLC ($9.99 from iTunes store or other app download sites).

How it Works

I started this search thinking there’d be a simple solution that would allow calls to be recorded directly on the phone for free.  No such luck. Smart phones don’t support this. They way most apps work is by establishing a third-party call to a recording service that creates a digital recording of the your call and then either emails it to you or allows you to access the audio file online. While some charge per-minute fees, this app does not. So while you pay a little more to get the app, it’s way cheaper in the long run.

Records Both Outgoing and Incoming Calls

What’s more, some apps will only let you record outgoing calls, but not incoming. With Pro, you can do both. Be careful to follow the instructions for setup.  You need to register your cell phone number, obtain a local access number (from a list of access numbers available worldwide), make that number a contact in your phone, and provide an email address so they can send you the recordings of your calls.

Basically, it’s just like setting up a 3-way call — only in this case, the third-party is a service that records your conversation. You can set it up before you call someone; or place an incoming call on hold briefly while you connect to the recorder via your access number.  In all cases, it’s recommended you inform the other party the call is being recorded, both as a courtesy, and for legal purposes (not doing so is illegal in some states).

Tests Worked Flawlessly

We tested both outgoing and incoming recording, and they worked flawlessly. Audio files were emailed in less than a minute (although can take more time for longer conversations). A few frustrated buyers of this app have posted bad reviews, but from all appearances it’s simply because they didn’t follow the instructions. If you register properly, it’s really a snap.

Copyright 2000-2012, BizBest Media Corp. (Follow @140Main) All Rights Reserved.

A Secret Cash Stash for Small Business Growth

What does your growth-minded small business have in common with Apple? Not much, perhaps, but here’s one thing:  The multi-gazillion dollar tech company got early funding from a unique type of investment firm called a Small Business Investment Company – and so could you.

SBICs are high-powered but low-profile backers of small businesses, pumping over $4 billion into small, growing firms, as well as some early-stage startups in the past year alone. They’ve been around for 54 years (surprise!) but most capital-seeking small businesses and startup entrepreneurs have never heard of them. So what gives?

Flying Below the Radar

For one thing, SBICs deliberately fly below the radar to avoid being inundated with funding requests. But SBICs are still on the lookout for high potential small businesses to invest in, and the amount of money available to small companies via this channel has skyrocketed 85 percent in the last two years, setting all-time records.  Not only is this an increasingly important funding source, it’s also an innovative, time-tested structure that marries some of the best features of private equity money with government guarantees.

SBICs are a unique kind of funding source. They are privately-owned and managed investment firms that are like a combination of a bank, venture capital firm and angel investor. Unlike VCs, however, SBICs see themselves as longer-term investors, and often portray themselves as the “patient money” alternative to venture firms seeking a quick exit.

Licensed by the SBA

In part, that’s because of how they’re structured. For one thing, SBICs are licensed and regulated by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  And the money they invest in small businesses – through equity investments, loans or both – comes from purely private sources plus capital raised with the help of SBA guarantees. Today there are 301 operating SBICs, with a total of $18 billion in capital under management. That’s not chicken feed.

The SBA backing has helped entice record levels of private capital to SBICs, and into small businesses – about $1 billion in the past 12 months. SBICs invest in a wide range of small business types, including established firms with less than $1 million in revenues, as well as early-stage companies just underway. Because the SBA licenses them, SBICs must invest exclusively in small firms, with at least 25 percent of investments directed to businesses with under $2 million in after-tax income. Investments must be debt, equity or a combination of the two.

Some SBICs Specialize and Some Don’t

Some SBICs specialize in certain industries, while others invest more generally.  Keep in mind, however, that this isn’t typically seed capital for launching a business from scratch. Most SBICs look for small but growing firms that are at least mature enough to make current interest payments on any debt.

A few SBICs are also linked into the White House Startup America Partnership program (www.s.co) that’s been marshaling public and private resources to support startups for the past several years. (The author’s firm, BizBest (www.BizBest.com), is a Startup America member and featured startup resource.)

How to Find SBICs and Request Funding

There’s a state-by-state directory of licensed SBICs on the SBA website at this address: http://www.sba.gov/content/sbic-directory. Or visit the main SBIC page at www.SBA.gov/INV and look for the “Small Business Owners & Entrepreneurs” section for more information and resources. That’s where you’ll find step-by-step guidance on seeking SBIC financing for your small business.

Research and identify SBICs that might be a good fit for your business. Check the directory listed above, as well as the Small Business Investor Alliance (www.sbia.org) and National Association of Investment Companies (www.naicvc.com) websites.

The SBIC Directory offers a wealth of information on each SBIC, including its preferred investment size, type (i.e. loans, equity, debt with equity, etc.) and stage (early, expansion, later, etc.).  The directory also provides details on industry and geographic preferences of individual SBICs.

Once you’ve identified target firms, take steps to present them your business plan.  But don’t go in cold. Since they receive hundreds of plans yearly, you will benefit greatly from a personal reference or introduction to the particular SBIC fund manager being targeted. Check the firm’s website for names, or search LinkedIn to see if you have any mutual connections you might leverage. Or talk to accountants, attorneys, executives in your industry and other colleagues to try and arrange an introduction. Time spent will be well worth it.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Keeping Time and Attendance in the Cloud

A BizBest® 60-Second Solution

Time and attendance systems are one of the most searched-for services by small businesses.  And some of today’s best choices are cloud based services that work especially well for business owners who use remote workers, independent contractors or others off-site.

If that’s you, and you need a service you can log into at any time and see when your workers punched in for the day, Labor Time Tracker (LTT) is one solution to consider. It’s an easy-to-use, web-based (cloud computing) employee time and attendance service that uses either plain old phone punching (regular telephone service) or an Internet-connected PC to track time for a small or medium sized business.

LTT replaces hand written time sheets and helps decentralized (mobile) employees punch in their time using a standard phone or any internet enabled device.  It’s a fast and smart way to track employee or contractor time for job costing as well as payroll.  It’s also a great “time clock” for field labor and other employees in industries such as healthcare, construction, government, janitorial and security guards services. What’s more, the system is in both English and Spanish.

Features of this low-cost system rival those of more expensive time and attendance solutions and software used by big companies. It was built for the web from the ground up, so it’s super fast. Other features include:

  • Unique in/out board lets you know where employees are and when they will return
  • Can be used for 1 employee to hundreds
  • Can accommodate multiple locations
  • Offers multiple access levels and security features
  • Auto-adjusts for daylight time
  • Supports all US and international time zones
  • Employees and supervisors can digitally sign and approve timecards and export to accounting or payroll
  • Notice posting lets you send messages to individual employees or entire groups
  • Allows punch-in from any computer, or via cell or land line phone
  • Rounds punches to nearest minute, 10th or quarter hour
  • Prevents workers from punching outside schedule
  • Automatically deducts lunch minutes from a timecard and/or adds payable break minutes to timecard
  • Accommodates multiple in/out punches daily

The cost is $4.95 per employee, per month.  And since it’s cloud based, there are no setup fees, license fees, training fees, support fees or contracts.  A free trial is available at the website.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

15 Great Tools and Apps to Grow Your Business

One of the great things happening in the digital world these days is the steady parade of helpful applications (apps), web-based tools and online services for small business.  Here’s our shortlist of some of the newest, most interesting or under-the-radar tools, services and apps you should know about:

  1. Appbistro (www.appbistro.com) is an app for finding apps.  It’s an easy-to-use marketplace (just search or browse) of Facebook business applications – some free; some fee – that can help you create a more engaging Facebook page for your local business.
  2. The ASBDC Loan Center is a new service that aims to connect small business owners with willing lenders. It’s a partnership between the Association of Small Business Development Centers and BoeFly.  Visit: www.boefly.com.
  3. JitterJam (www.jitterjam.com) is a web-based social marketing app that combines social media, email and mobile engagement with a contact database and tools to turn social interaction into new revenue opportunities. It helps your business realize measurable return on your social engagement by providing you with a social marketing and customer development system.
  4. Sign Up is a simple (yet flexible) app from North Social (www.northsocial.com) that lets you create contact forms and online surveys directly on your Facebook page so you can easily collect helpful marketing data. You can customize the appearance of the app by uploading a header image and choose whether people must “like” the page in order to view it.
  5. Work for Us (www.work4labs.com) lets you post job openings and even take applications right from your Facebook Page, for free.  If your business isn’t yet posting jobs online, this is a great way to get into the game.  It also lets you leverage the power of social networking to create awareness of your job openings.
  6. Vimeo PRO (www.vimeo.com/pro) is a new service that makes it easy and affordable for small businesses to host their own high quality videos. This can help restaurants better showcase their food and atmosphere.  Real estate agents will find it helpful to show higher quality home previews.
  7. BetterWorks (www.betterworks.com) is a new kind of web-based employee perks program and management system that helps small businesses provide a range of benefits and product or service discounts to employees.
  8. Nefsis (www.nefsis.com) offers business-grade video conferencing, including Nefsis Basic, a free, cloud-based video service for small business.
  9. Buckaroo (www.buckaroo.com) has a new web-based tool that lets small businesses run custom email and social media promotions.  Merchants can upload an email list and company logo, and send sharable promotions to customers.
  10. Schedulicity (www.schedulicity.com) has a new app called Deal Manager that helps appointment-dependant businesses control the flow of discounted services generated from a daily deal promotion.
  11. Batchbook (www.batchbook.com) is a handy contact management app lets you easily keep track of your business, personal, and social networking contacts and share them with others. Create a flexible contact database from scratch, or import contacts from another system.
  12. Picnik (www.picnik.com) is a terrific – and free – online tool for any small business that needs to edit, crop, resize and share photos and other images, but can’t afford the time and money buy and learn Photoshop software.  Offers an easy to use yet powerful editing tool. Get creative with choices of effects, fonts, shapes and frames.
  13. Dlvr.it (www.dlvr.it) is a nifty social syndication tool that can help you manage and distribute content to your blog, Facebook page, Twitter account and other social networking locations.
  14. Updater (www.updater.com) is a helpful online tool to manage your offline mail.  This tool arms you with the ability to control who can access and use your postal mailing address, and gives you a way to stop unwanted paper mail. Also simplifies change of address.
  15. Carbonite (www.carbonite.com), a leader in online backup solutions, launched a Carbonite Business solution specially made to get small business into online backup, with anywhere-anytime access to stored files.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

A Digital Replacement for Paper Loyalty Cards

The tried-and-true “Buy 10 get 1 free” loyalty card is being replaced by a new service called Stampt that lets retailers move their loyalty reward programs from paper cards to a smart phone application.  Stampt, which has just rolled out nationally, provides local merchants a more effective way to increase customer loyalty and stimulate more purchases.

Small businesses in San Francisco, Cincinnati, Chicago, and New York are already using Stampt, including restaurants, yoga studios, coffee shops, yogurt and ice cream stores, delicatessens, dry cleaners, auto repair shops and others.  The service will now be available coast to coast, and offers quick and easy sign-up. Each merchant card and offer is unique and branded for that merchant. Some sample offers include:

  • Buy 7 coffee drinks, Get 1 Free
  • Make 5 purchases over $10, Get a $15 gift card
  • Buy 7 yoga sessions, Get 1 Free

Digital “cards” will reinvent customer loyalty for local business by making it mobile and social. It’s more convenient and effect, and eliminates the problem of lost and forgotten cards.  Business owners can also benefit from improved customer interactions and insights into how loyalty programs are used, now captured digitally.  You’ll finally get a better handle on the impact of your loyalty program. Plus, consumers love it because the app lets them build loyalty at more places, more often, without the nuisance of paper cards.

How it Works:  Consumers pull out their smart phone at the point of sale and scan a Stampt “Quick Scan Card” that the merchant places near the register. The system records the visit and reward-eligible purchase, and stamps the customer’s digital card. Getting “Stampt” for the purchase is fast and easy.  It’s a perpetual incentive program that motivates consumers to use the service regularly.   Stampt is super easy to set-up and use, requiring zero systems integration and perhaps three minutes of training for store clerks.

Special offers and announcements:  Local businesses can also use the platform to offer news and special offers directly to customers who can see (and react) to offers within 15 minutes.  

Social interaction:  Customers can also post their Stampt activity to Facebook and Twitter, allowing their friends and followers to see where they’re earning rewards.    

Information reporting:  Participating merchants receive reports showing helpful information that’s impossible to get with paper cards, including these key metrics:

  • The number of active card holders
  • How frequently customers purchase
  • How recently they’ve visited
  • Most visited times of the day
  • What products and services customers are buying.

Business owners can use this information in direct marketing campaigns through Stampt.

Getting Started:  Any retailer, of any size, in any location, can use this free customer loyalty service.  Merchants simply visit Stampt.com and fill out a short registration form.  You can then specify the type of loyalty reward program you want to offer (buy 10 get-one-free; buy five get 20 percent off; buy one get 50 percent off; etc.).  Participating merchants also receive a kit with posters, a window sticker, and the Stampt “Quick Scan Card” that is placed near the register.

To learn more and sign up for a free merchant kit or download the app visit www.Stampt.com.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

7 Free Cloud Services and Software for Small Business

Here are 7 BizBest picks for top cloud services and software that’s free for small business:

1.      Home Office Suite: For many home computer users, the $279 Microsoft Office software is overkill. As a free yet powerful alternative try OpenOffice.org from Sun Microsystems. You can download for free, and it comes with word processing, spreadsheet, a draw program, database program and presentation software.

2.      Share Large Files Easily:  Sending large computer files can be a pain and an expense if you jam your email software or pay for special devices and services to help out. Dropbox is a better way – a private file sharing solution that’s free and easy.  Use it to privately share your files and collaborate in real time by web, email and mobile.

3.      Free Invoicing for FreelancersBillingBoss.com is a free online invoicing tool designed for small business owners and freelancers to create, send and track invoices. It’s easy to use and you can create your first invoice within minutes of signing up.  If you’ve been getting by with spreadsheets, or use complicated accounting software only for its invoicing tool, BillingBoss might be for you. Unlike some free services, there’s no limit on the number of invoices you can create or send with Billing Boss. You can also set it up so customers can pay you online through Billing Boss. There’s also comfort in knowing this service is run by one of the world’s leading business software companies, and that your information is encrypted and securely stored.

4.      A Virtual Office Online:  Microsoft Office Live (http://officelive.com) is a free password-protected online workspace where you can store and share files and access your work from anywhere, even from other computers.  Its companion site Office Live Small Business is a terrific, affordable place to build a professional-looking online presence, and get a free website and marketing help as well.

5.      Customize Your Own Free Software and Tools Package: Google Pack (http://pack.google.com) is new from the global search giant. It lets you customize and download you own set of free software and web tools that includes everything you need to work more effectively both online and off.  Dozens of  choices – all free – include:

  • Email, calendar and document creation applications.
  • Anti-virus and spyware protection.
  • Photo editing and sharing tools.
  • Skype for making free voice and video calls via the Internet.
  • Adobe Reader to view, print and search PDF files.
  • Google Talk to connect with friends via instant messaging (IM) or free voice calls.
  • A media player that lets you play and organize your music and videos.

6.      Manage Customers for your Small BusinessFreeCRM.com is a great tool for small business contact and lead tracking, sales and contact management, sales forecasting, customer service and business management.  The free version is self-service, allows unlimited users and provides up to 10 MB of storage. If your customer base is not particularly large, it can be a quick and easy way to automate your sales, do a better job of tracking leads and even manage email and call campaigns.

7.      Free Bookkeeping:  Wave is a free online accounting application for small business.  Wave cuts the time-wasting parts of bookkeeping and accounting. No more manual entry. No more confusing steps. By using smarter tools and new technology, Wave is reinventing the way small businesses stay on top of their financial information.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

A Better Way to Carry Cash Overseas

If you’re traveling overseas on business, here’s a better way to carry local currency:  Pre-loaded, security protected, foreign-currency debit cards good at millions of locations that accept Visa or MasterCard worldwide.  Two dominant players are the Cash Passport Card (www.cashpassportcard.com) and TravelMoney card (www.visa.com), which carry the MasterCard, Visa or other name brand labels and are issued by various banks, global companies such as Travelex and organizations such as the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Travel money cards are a secure way to carry cash when traveling. The card is PIN protected and if it’s lost or stolen, just notify the issuer for a replacement or refund. Some provide zero liability coverage. Under Visa’s policy, for example, you have 100% protection from unauthorized transactions made with a lost or stolen card.

They are also hard to beat for convenience. Instead of jumping through hoops to cash a travelers’ check at a bank, store or other location, these cards are readily accepted worldwide, and let you get cash in local currencies from an ATM 24/7. And since these are pre-paid cards, you won’t be facing any surprise credit card bills when you return from your trip. If there’s money left on the card, just bring it back for a refund or take the remaining funds from any ATM.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

How to Buy Business Excess Inventory and Government Surplus Cheap

Small business owners by the millions, worldwide, are saving money and building entire businesses by purchasing excess commercial inventory and government surplus super cheap online.  You can buy in bulk by the truckload, pallet or small package.  The condition of the goods or other assets ranges widely from new in a box, to customer returns, closeouts, refurbished, used and salvage.  Major product categories include computers, electronics, tools, machinery, house wares, industrial equipment, vehicles, store fixtures, apparel and hundreds more.

As corporations and public sector agencies continue to focus on cost-reduction, they are turning more and more to leading online liquidators like Washington, DC-based Liquidity Services, Inc. (which operates Liquidation.com among other sites) to move items quickly and effectively.  The result is an easy, one-stop place where small and local businesses can get incredible bargains on wholesale, surplus and salvage products and other assets in over 600 categories.  

Saving money is more popular than ever, and the marketplace for buying and selling excess inventory and surplus goods and equipment online is soaring. Publicly-traded Liquidity Services (LQDT), for example, has grown revenues at a compound annual rate of 27% since 2002 and just reported another big jump.  While there are still other sites offering similar services, Liquidation.com (and its sister sites GovLiquidation.com, GovDeals.com, Secondipity.com and others) has become the go-to place for millions of biz owners.  

How to Grab the Bargains:  To buy on Liquidation.com you first need to register at the site for free.  Then browse for what you need and put in a bid.  New stuff arrives all the time, so many business owners check the site daily, set up “watch lists” or sign up for free email alerts.  Most Liquidation.com auctions start at $100 with no reserve, letting bidders decide the final price. New auctions are added daily. Here are some buyers’ basics:

Five ways to find what you need:

  1. Home Page: Some of the best bargains are featured in Hot Deals. Or click on a category to browse that way.
  2. Search Box:  Use the search feature to find auctions by keyword, product category, location, lot size, condition, or shipping option.
  3. Advanced Search:  This feature lets you search by seller, auction ID/title and price.
  4. Email Alerts:  Weekly notices and/or occasional Special Alerts depending on what you sign up for.
  5. Search Agents:  These are product searches that you create based on specific criteria. If your automated search produces a match, you’ll receive an email. 

How Bidding Works

To place a bid, enter your maximum bid amount in the “Place Bid” box on any auction page and click submit.  After you provide shipping and credit card (or other payment) information, you’ll receive a “Confirm Bid” notice that you must click to complete the bid.  You will only need to submit shipping and payment info once per auction.  If you win an auction, you can still use other payment options you’ve designated in your account to make the purchase.

You can also set up automatic or “proxy” bidding.   It works like this:  Enter the highest amount you are willing to pay in the bid box.  The system will record your “maximum bid” amount and place a bid at the current LOWEST minimum bid. If another bidder outbids your lowest minimum bid, the system will automatically place another bid for you, putting you back on top. The proxy system will continue to make lowest minimum bids on your behalf until you are the winner of the auction or another bidder exceeds your established maximum.  

This Buyer FAQ has detailed answers to dozens of key questions on registration, binding merchandise, bidding, payment and shipping.  

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.