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13 Business Resolutions for 2013

2013Here they are, along with some of our best tips and strategies to help you pull each one off:

Resolution #1: Fix my website!

Here are 10 things that are probably wrong with your site, and how to fix them: 10 Things Wrong With Your Website

Resolution#2: Improve our customer service!

Here’s how: 8 Ways to Earn True Customer Love

Resolution#3: Be a better tweeter!

Here’s one way to do it: The Right Way to Retweet

Resolution#4: Boost my social influence!

These 16 tools can help: 16 Sweet Social Marketing Tools You Gotta Try

Resolution#5: Nurture our leads!

Become a lead nurturing pro: 9 Steps to Lead Nurturing Success

Resolution#6: Find a business mentor!

Here’s how & where: 8 Places to Find Your own Free Business Mentor

Resolution#7: Launch a new product or service!

And when you do, here’s how to market it! 14 Ways to Market a New Product or Service

Resolution#8: Try A/B testing!

Here’s what you need to know:  The Magic of Test-and-Learn Marketing

Resolution#9: Keep better books!

These basics will get you there: The 10 Bookkeeping Basics You Can’t Ignore

Resolution#10: Get serious with Facebook!

Can’t go wrong with this Facebook cheat sheet: A 10-Step Facebook Cheat Sheet for Biz Owners

Resolution#11: Network more!!

These tips will really help: 9 Ways to Make your Contacts Really Count

Resolution#12: Review our pricing!

There’s more to pricing then you think: What Every Business Should Know About Pricing

Resolution#13: Innovate more!

Here’s how to make it happen: 4 Rules for Fostering Innovation in Your Business

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

12 Digital Trends That Will Rock Small Business

The digital world is changing rapidly with profound implications for how small businesses are found online, in search, on mobile devices and in social media. Here’s my list of today’s 12 key digital trends with the greatest potential impact (for updates, follow us on Twitter @140Main or visit BizBest):

1. Shrinking Space for Search Results

As Google continues to claim more and more space for paid products on every search engine results page, there’s less available for your business to show up in free “organic” results.  Bottom line: Banking on SEO tactics to get found online will keep getter harder.

2. Social Search Soars

Search engines and yellow pages type directories aren’t the only places people look online for businesses. More customers are using social media to search for what they need locally (and elsewhere). If you lack a prominent social media presence, beware.

3. Articles as Ads: High Value Content is The New Ad “Creative”

Content (articles, photos, videos, menus, white papers, newsletters, etc.) is where most small businesses stumble. Having a website, blog and social media pages isn’t enough without good content to go along. The simple act of offering a helpful PDF download can produce big results. Content, in effect, becomes your new ad “creative.”

4. Mobile Devices Own the Day

As the power and sophistication of mobile devices grows, they’ve become the “central processing units” for their lives. People already spend an average of 2-5 hours daily on a mobile device. This raises the ante for making sure your business is visible on mobile. About 55% of the U.S. population owns a smart phone, and 78% of them don’t leave home without it.

5. “Day Parting” and “Conquesting” Become more Prevalent

“Day Parting” is the term for dividing up the day into distinct marketing periods for making specific offers to local customers. For example, a restaurant that makes offers just before lunch. Mobile ad services can help you do this. “Conquesting” is a term for attracting a customer already at one local business, over to another local business offering a synergistic product or service. For example, an ice cream shop suggesting (via mobile) to diners currently eating in nearby restaurants to stop by for dessert.

6. Facebook & Twitter Deliver More

Facebook is finally figuring out small business (and vice versa), offering new ways for you to acquire customers. Twitter, too. A term you’ll see more is “Native Placement,” which includes paid placements on Facebook and Twitter such as Sponsored Stories and Promoted Tweets.

7. Four-Screen World Rules

No single device or “screen” dominates. People move effortlessly between a PC, smart phone, tablet and TV.  According to Google research, 90% of consumers begin a task on one device and complete it on another. Content (such as an ad) viewed on one device can trigger behavior on another device. This means businesses can no longer construct campaigns specific to a single device.

8. Google Product Listing Ads Gain Prominence

Google Product Listings (free) and Product Listing Ads (PLAs) have been around for years but have been given a makeover and will gain momentum as businesses discover that PLAs can be far more effective than simple text ads.

9. Big Move Toward Video

Video will continue to explode. Already, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. There are channels for every interest — over a million of them. Seek out channels that interest your customers and try advertising there.

10. Digital Ad Products get Simpler

Solution providers are starting to heed the call of business owners who say digital products are too complex. Google, for example, just introduced AdWords Express, a simplified version of AdWords. Details: google.com/adwords/express

11. NAP Alignment Gets More Critical

NAP — or Name, Address and Phone number — is the vital info that every local business must make available online and on mobile. But if your NAP details aren’t consistent in all places (including dozens of online directories) you risk confusing Google and slipping in search results.

12. Engaging Customers in “Social Storefronts” Gains Importance

Imagine a customer walks into your store and you turn your back. That’s essentially what’s been happening online when a small business has a Facebook business page but doesn’t actively engage with customers. The importance of building online relationships will grow even bigger.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

Why Google AuthorRank is a Game Changer

The arrival of Google AuthorRank, and its cousin Google Authorship, reorders the digital universe in a way that can send digital importance and social influence soaring for business owners, journalists, writers, bloggers, entrepreneurs and executives active in social media.

Authorship and AuthorRank are part of a new and rapidly evolving Google initiative with immediate game-changing implications. Years in the making, and based on several Google patents, Authorship raises the ante for all business owners and executives by making social media participation even more important – and potentially effective – than ever.

Used properly, Authorship can greatly boost your digital profile and deliver higher returns on your social effort. Early studies show that having Authorship linked to content you create increases click-through rate 150%. From now on, adding Authorship to any blog or site that carries your bylined content should be standard practice.

Here’s the rub, however: This does not happen automatically. To benefit from Google Authorship you must set it up and use it. Getting it right to begin with is crucial. The Google Authorship signup site has basic implementation instructions, but there are several options, depending on your circumstances. It’s mostly a matter of giving Google the digital means (via a Google+ account and email associated with your bylined content) to verify the content is yours.

Authorship, as you might surmise, tracks individuals, not businesses. I applied for Authorship (here) in a matter of minutes for my articles on BizBest and was approved for the program via email a few days later.  As one cool side benefit, I now have my very own Google search results site showcasing 10+ pages of just my content, with photo and bio.

In techie terms, Authorship is able to work its magic via a micro data format Google calls “Rich Snippets.”  Pulling this off took Google years to figure out, but what’s important for you is this:  “Old-school” factors such as keywords and link-building that once held sway in search will now play second-fiddle to authorship, authority and social influence for business owners, entrepreneurs, journalists, bloggers and other content-creators who take advantage of it.

Be aware: These changes are already in place and gaining momentum.  And although Google Authorship has had a bumpy, confusing start and little publicity, it’s something every social biz owner must grasp.  It signals a sea change in how your unique social media contributions (read that as “content”) get scored and shown by the search giant.

Authorship already influences search results, and that has big implications when your name is associated with a brand. Not only will your content appear higher, it will be displayed higher still for anyone connected to you via Google+, which Google quickly determines on the back end.

Testing Authorship Power

I recently ran a test to see if this works, with amazing results. First I wrote 16 Sweet Social Marketing Tools You Gotta Try, published the post to my blog BizBest, and shared it on Google+ among other places. A top blog in the startup space called MyVenturePad picked it up off my RSS feed and published it on that site, as did Business Insider in its War Room section.

A few days later I searched Google for “social marketing tools” and found that I owned three of the top ten organic results on the page, including two in the top 5.  And this is for a highly competitive search term, evidenced by a dozen advertisers who paid to be on the same page that I was dominating for free, thanks to Authorship.

The Second Shoe

AuthorRank – an anticipated change to the Google search algorithm – is essentially the second shoe to Authorship, and second cousin to PageRank. Google has for years been on a quest to squelch crappy content and surface trustworthy, high-quality content created by influential and knowledge people – like you. Google seems to finally have all the pieces in place to take those efforts to the next level.

Web pundits speculate that AuthorRank will change the search game as we know it. It will definitely affect Google PageRank, and the impact will likely be huge. Social execs, professionals and business owners who understand these things now will be far better positioned to exploit the changes as they happen.

A 6-Point AuthorRank Assault List

  1. If you haven’t yet figured it out, this is also a giant reason to embrace Google+. Sure, it’s a drag to need yet another social media platform. But several factors in determining AuthorRank depend on what you do with G+, including the number of +1’s you get, your involvement in Circles, and so on. If you’ve avoided G+ (as most of us have) it’s time to step up.
  2. This further undermines traditional SEO. But that’s good, because now it’s less about a bunch of tags and keywords, and much more about content quality and digital authority.
  3. Set up Google Authorship for yourself and any other “thought leaders” you might have in your business. Remember: It must be individuals; can’t be a company.
  4. Focus on publishing high quality content and share it on social media (don’t forget Google+). Building connections with other high AuthorRank influencers will also work in your favor.
  5. Authorship has its own metrics (called Authorship Statistics) available on Google with lots of data on your content and search impact. You can even track stats on specific pieces of content.
  6. Creating high-quality, shareable (read “interesting”) content is key. You’ve heard this before, but AuthorRank makes it even more important. Don’t be afraid to specialize. In fact, since you can build separate AuthorRank in multiple topic areas, this is a good idea.

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

Beware New Small Business Credit Score System

Without warning, millions of small business owners seeking loans or other credit from banks, vendors, corporations, finance companies and trade creditors will now be subjected to a new automated business credit scoring system that aims to reduce lender risk and eliminate manual reviews of small business loan applications.  The new small business credit scoring system was developed by Equifax, a large global credit scoring company that has credit information on over 25 million small businesses.

In a nutshell, the new system takes more small business credit decisions out of human hands and turns them over to computers armed with vast quantities of data never before used for this purpose.  The new business risk assessment scores allow banks and other businesses to go well beyond traditional industry reports when deciding whether to approve a small business loan or not.    

BizBest inquiries have found that banks and other lenders aren’t satisfied with how small business credit scores are currently compiled and have been quietly working  with Equifax to develop a new, automated “early warning” scoring method that uses more data on each small business and new techniques to “predict” future changes of default.  Small business lenders themselves, through an industry association they’ve created called the Small Business Financial Exchange, are supplying new types of data that hasn’t been part of past scoring efforts.

According to Equifax documents, the new small business credit risk scores differ in four key ways from prior scoring systems:

  1. The new approach uses several different automated scoring systems that are built on pre-recession, recession and post-recession data. They represent a new type of business scoring that provides a more complete view of how a company meets its credit obligations during changing economic conditions.
  2. The new scoring system incorporates twice as many data attributes as other industry scores, including large and small business, public and private organization and time series variables.
  3. A new minimum scoring standard and threshold will be used to validate the legitimacy of a small business and verify information supplied on the credit application errors, omissions or inconsistencies.
  4. The new small business credit “scorecards” will be applied automatically based on business size. This is basically meant to encourage banks, lenders and other creditors to skip using other scoring systems and stick with this one alone. 

This is not an experiment, trial or proposal. The new scoring methods are already in play. Specifically, Equifax is providing the following to lenders:

  • The Business Delinquency Score, which predicts the likelihood of severe delinquency on an account, and;
  • The Business Delinquency Financial Score, which determines the likelihood of severe delinquency on financial accounts.
  • A next-generation Business Failure Score, which incorporates many of the same data elements as the delinquency scores – enhancing its ability to predict the likelihood of business failure within the next 12 months.

And here’s something else business owners should know:  Both of these new credit scoring products give lenders the additional choice of obtaining credit information on the business owner and other officers and principals, along with credit information on the business itself.  Equifax says it plans to introduce other scoring changes and enhancements throughout the year.

The inability of banks and other lenders to anticipate how a small business might fare under changing economic conditions in the future has been a driving force behind the new scoring system.  Burned by defaults in the “Great Recession,” creditors are seeking a new crystal ball to help them tag businesses that – although faring well now – might stumble if marketing conditions change.

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

New SBA Study says IRS Small Biz Audit Crackdown is Bogus

Ten years ago, a landmark IRS report claimed that small business owners under-report income by $80-100 billion yearly and account for over half of the U.S. “tax gap” of owed by uncollected taxes.   As a result, small business owners have been subjected to increased audits and reporting requirements, including the controversial new 1099 rule.

But now for the truth:  A new study just released by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy says the IRS crackdown on the backs of small biz has been bogus all along.  And that comes from independent research commissioned by the Feds themselves – not some anti-tax business group.

After reviewing 10-years’ worth of IRS small business audits related to the innocuously-named “National Research Program” (NRP), outside researchers found that a mere 1% of all issues examined resulted from intentional failures to report income properly. Yes you read that right – one percent. In other words, 99% of income underreporting is unintentional, and undoubtedly the result of a vast and utterly confusing array of tax rules and regulations.

And here’s the real gut punch for biz owners:  While small business was tagged as the tax cheating culprit, the new study says that large corporation tax gaps are scarcely being measured at all, and that the IRS has been using estimates dating back to the 1970s and 80s to calculate corporate noncompliance.  What’s more, says the new report released by SBA:  “The IRS focused its tax-gap study on individual tax returns, and on returns not subject to withholding or third party reporting, which skewed the study unfairly toward small business.”

Over the last five years, audits of returns typically filed by biz owners have soared, while those for corporations with $10 million or more in assets have actually dropped 13%.  These are figures reported by the SBA itself.

But which type of audit pays off the most for taxpayers – small biz or big corporation?  No contest.  According to the new whistle blowing report, the IRS collects an average of $9,350 per auditor hour spend examining big biz returns, but only $1,034 per auditor hour spend auditing small business.

The new study concludes with this:  Unlike large corporations, small businesses lack the resources and expertise to negotiate with the IRS.  Indeed, 71% represent themselves in audits. They are overwhelmed by the complexity of the tax code.  Only aggressive outreach and education designed to help small businesses understand their tax filing obligations will significantly reduce the tax gap attributed to them.

BizBest will email the full 54-page report in PDF, free of charge, to anyone interested. Email your request to editor@bizbest.com, and be sure to include the email address you’d like the report sent to.

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

SBA 8a Business Development Program Overhaul FAQ

BizBest - Business Made BetterA BizBest® Special Report: 

On Feb 11, 2011, the SBA made sweeping changes to the 8(a) Business Development “federal contracting” program – its biggest overhaul since 1998, effective March 14, 2011.  The purpose of the 8(a) program is to help eligible small “disadvantaged” businesses compete for billions of dollars worth of federal contracts each year.

This program – and some of the changes – create new opportunities for small biz owners who can obtain 8(a) certification, as well as others who team up with a qualifying firm to pursue federal contracts. Here some tips, and a summary of key changes to the program below:

  • See if you qualify: 8(a) certification is for small firms that are socially and economically disadvantaged. To qualify, a firm can’t exceed a certain size limit, which varies by industry; has to be able to meet certain economic criteria; and show that it is socially disadvantaged, meaning minority-owned or disadvantaged.
  • Get your financial house is in order: The SBA requires documentation on all aspects of the business and its owners, so make sure your business is being run cleanly.
  • Inquire about other SBA certifications:  Even if you don’t qualify for this program, there are other small business certifications including Small Disadvantaged Business, Women-Owned Business, Service-disabled Veteran-Owned Business and HUBZone Business.
  • Partner with qualified biz owners: If you are new to government contracting, teaming up with another business can help you gain the experience and credibility. With various set-aside contracting programs for small businesses, partnering with an 8(a) or women-owned firm can help increase your chances of winning contracts.

FAQ on 8(a) changes:

Q. What Are the Some of the Changes to the Rules on Economic Disadvantage?

For the first time, this rule adds objective criteria to determine economic disadvantage based on personal income and total assets. With the rule change applicants to the program must demonstrate economic disadvantage based on the following criteria:

  • Adjusted Net Worth must not exceed $250,000 for initial eligibility or $750,000 for continuing eligibility.
  • Personal Income must not exceed $250,000 (averaged over three years) for initial eligibility or $350,000 for continuing eligibility.
  • Total Assets must not exceed $4 million for initial eligibility and $6 million for continued eligibility (allows for growth during the 9-year term).

IRA Accounts – excluded from net worth and total asset determinations

The rule clarifies SBA’s treatment of Subchapter S Corporations when determining economic disadvantage. SBA’s intent is to make the treatment of S Corporations consistent with that for C Corporations, and not penalize a firm because of the different tax structures. If the business can demonstrate that funds reported on the individual tax return were used to pay taxes or reinvested into the firm SBA will not count those funds as personal income. The Final Rule adds the same treatment for LLCs and Partnerships.

Q. What Are the Some of the Changes to the Rules on Joint Ventures?

The rule tightens the requirements for joint ventures (JV) to ensure that non-disadvantaged firms do not unduly benefit from the 8(a) BD program.

  • The JV agreement may be informal or formal (separate business structure) BUT must be in writing. Also, the JV may, but need not be populated (i.e., have its own separate employees).
  • The JV may not be awarded more than three contracts over 2-year period without a finding of general affiliation. The same two entities may form additional JVs and each may be awarded three contracts over two years.
  • Specific to the 8(a) BD program the 8(a) partner to the JV must perform at least 40% of the work performed by the JV. This change replaces the “significant portion” language of the previous regulations. The rule differentiates between populated and unpopulated joint ventures and applies different requirements.
  • Project Manager: For the unpopulated JV (or JV populated only with administrative personnel) an employee of 8(a) managing venturer must be project manager. For the JV Populated with individuals intended to perform contracts, the JV must demonstrate how performance of the contract is controlled by the 8(a) managing venture.
  • Performance of work: For the unpopulated JV (or JV populated only with administrative personnel) the amount of work done by all the partners will be aggregated and 8(a) partner must perform at least 40% of all work done by JV (includes all work done by non-8(a) partner and any of its affiliates at any subcontracting tier). For the JV Populated with individuals intended to perform contracts, the non-8(a) JV partner, or any of its affiliates, may not act subcontractor to JV or any subcontractor of the JV.

Q. Are There Reporting Requirements for Joint Ventures?

Yes, the rule introduces Performance of Work Reports. As part of the annual review the Participant must demonstrate how it is meeting the performance of work requirements for each 8(a) contract that is performing as a JV. At the completion of every 8(a) contract awarded to a JV, the Participant must explain how Performance of Work Requirements were met.

Q. What Are the Some of the Changes to the Rules Governing the Mentor/Protégé Program?

The changes to the rule specifically allow for non-profit Mentors and a Mentor can have up to 3 protégés at one time. A Protégé can have second Mentor, corresponding to an unrelated, secondary NAICS code. However, a firm cannot be both a Protégé and a Mentor at the same time.

The assistance to be provided by the Mentor must be tied to the Protégé’s SBA-approved business plan and the Mentor/Protégé Agreement must be approved by SBA before the firms can submit a joint venture offer on a procurement as a small business. In order to receive the exclusion from affiliation on any non-8(a) contracts, the agreement must comply with the 8(a) JV requirements (other than SBA approval).

  • The rule changes permit Mentor/Protégé joint ventures to be small for federal subcontracts (DOE).
  • The rule now prohibits SBA from approving a new Mentor/Protégé relationship within six months of the end of an 8(a) Participant’s program term.
  • The benefits derived from Mentor/Protégé relationship end once the protégé leaves the 8(a) BD program. In other words the exclusion from affiliation ends.
  • For the first time, the rule allows for a specific reconsideration process when a Mentor/Protégé Agreement is declined.

Q. Are There Consequences if the Mentor Fails to Provide the Agreed-Upon Assistance to the Protégé?

Yes. The changes require that the Mentor is notified and provided an opportunity to respond. If the Mentor fails to provide the agreed-upon assistance SBA may terminate the Mentor/Protégé Agreement. The Mentor is ineligible to participate for two years. SBA may recommend a stop work order for each contract the Mentor and Protégé are performing as a JV and where they have received the exclusion from affiliation. If a stop work order is authorized where the protégé can independently complete performance, SBA may authorize substitution of the protégé firm for the JV. Finally, a Mentor’s failure to provide the agreed-upon assistance may constitute grounds for Government-wide suspension or debarment.

Q. How Does SBA Define Primary NAICS Code?

Primary NAICS code means the six digit code having the same size standard (e.g., 541330 Engineering Services, $4.5M, is different from Military & Aerospace Equipment and Military Weapons, $27M).

Q. Are there Changes to the Rules on Early Graduation and Size for the Primary NAICS Code?

SBA may graduate a Participant where the firm exceeds the size standard corresponding to its primary NAICS code, as adjusted, for three successive program years. If the firm can demonstrate that through its growth and development its primary NAICS code is changing to a secondary NAICS code in its adjusted business plan, SBA will not early graduate the firm.

Q. Do the Rules Address Participants Owned by Individuals Called to Active Military Status?

Yes. The changes to the rule allow the disadvantaged individual owners of the 8(a) firm called to active military status to elect to be suspended from program participation so as not to lose any of the 9-year term in the program. The length of suspension time is added to program term when individual returns to control the firm. If one or more other disadvantaged individuals can continue to control the firm in absence, the firm may elect to continue to operate as an 8(a) firm.

Q. Are There Changes to the Rules on Excessive Withdrawals?

  • The final rule amends the definition of withdrawal and the amounts SBA will consider excessive, and thus a basis for possible termination or early graduation. SBA believes that the new definition of withdrawal better addresses the original legislative intent behind the prohibition against excessive withdrawals.
  • The final rule also clarifies that withdrawals that exceed the threshold amounts indentified in the regulations in the aggregate will be considered excessive.
  • The new definition for withdrawal excludes officers’ salaries; but SBA will count those salaries if it believes the firm is attempting to circumvent the regulations through the payment of salaries.
  • The withdrawal amounts will be in the aggregate and are as follows:
    • Firms with sales up to $1M, $250,000;
    • Firms with sales between $1M and $2M, $300,000;
    • Firms with sales exceeding $2M, $400,000.

These limits do not apply to tribes, ANCs, NHOs, CDCs where withdrawal is made for the benefit of the tribe/ANC/NHO/CDC or the native or shareholder community; however, it does apply to withdrawals that do not benefit the relevant entity or community. A large salary to a non-disadvantaged individual will be treated as an excessive withdrawal and SBA will look at the totality of circumstances in determining whether withdrawal is excessive.

Q. What Changes Were Made to the Rules That Apply to Applicant and Participant Representatives?

The compensation received by any packager, agent or representative of any 8(a) applicant or Participant for assisting in obtaining certification, 8(a) contracts or other assistance must be reasonable in light of services provided. The fee charged cannot be a percentage of gross contract value. For good cause, SBA may suspend a packager, agent or representative from assisting 8(a) applicants or Participants.

For further information contact: 8aBD2@sba.gov