September 26, 2020

You’re the Boss Blog: This Week in Small Business: Does Yelp Help?


A weekly roundup of small-business developments.

What’s affecting me, my clients and other small-business owners this week.

Economy 1: Turning the Corner

A Wall Street Journal study of small-business chief executives shows some optimism, and economic confidence is up along with a rise in the stock market. A new survey shows a steady, four-year increase in small-business job growth projections, and Rick Newman says small businesses have finally turned the corner. Housing starts (pdf) increased and new building permits are being issued at the fastest pace since 2008. Existing home sales and prices continued to rise in February, but a report says it’s still cheaper to buy than rent in the country’s top 100 metropolitan areas. Even independent bookstores did better than ever in 2012. Recent good data has economists “falling over themselves” to revise first-quarter growth estimates, but if you really want to know how the economy is doing, keep your eyes on a McDonald’s “eggonomic indicator”: drive-thru windows.

Economy 2: However

January’s jobless rate rose in 25 states. FedEx had a disappointing quarter, Caterpillar reported a slowdown in sales, and even though their ad spending increased 4 percent in 2012, restaurants are reeling from their worst three months since 2010. A consumer metrics wizard displays charts that show that this time around the pain (or economic cynicism) seems to be universal. The Federal Reserve holds firm to its stimulus plan, and Scott Grannis says the central bank is not printing money.

Online: Yelp’s Help

Yelp claims small businesses that advertise on its review platform produce an average $23,000 more a year in revenue. But small businesses still are not spending on online ads, and Cynthia Boris wonders why more are not taking advantage of online marketing. On the other hand, half of what online advertisers think they know about their Web visitors may be wrong. Here are 26 tools to enhance your business blog, eight mistakes to avoid when beginning your blog and eight steps to increase online visibility. Dan Norris says you should use Google Analytics to determine if your content is generating leads, and G.B. Oliver identifies a few recent search phrases that have been trending lately on Google.

Your People: Gloomy

Colleen Stanley says you should stop being in a hurry and say “thanks” once in a while. Venessa Wong explains why Mark Zuckerberg (and other C.E.O.’s) are popular with their employees. Gary Shouldis lists five reasons your business needs an employee manual. Most workers are not saving enough to retire, and a survey finds low-wage workers are gloomy about the future. March Madness will cost businesses $134 million but employers don’t seem concerned. Here are 10 March Madness stars to follow on Instagram. The president shares his N.C.A.A. bracket picks (and the kid president shares his). Booz Allen studies the environmental impact of basketball tournaments.

Women: Silicon Valley Discrimination

Sarah Barrett explains how she became an accidental entrepreneur. Sarah McKinney suggests 10 ways women entrepreneurs and leaders should take action now. Jane Harrow provides a quick guide to 360-degree feedback, especially for women. Vivek Wadhwa says Silicon Valley discriminates against women (but there is hope). Peggy Drexler says there are perks from crying at work.

Management: Problems at Quiznos

Joel Libava reports on the latest problems at Quiznos. A new book offers business lessons from Shakespeare. Ron Ashkenas says there are psychological reasons why stopping activities is so hard to do in organizations. A new report finds that although the incidence of fraud has decreased over all from 2011, 61 percent of companies reported they were hit by fraud at least once. And to put things into perspective, here’s how mom-and-pops fought five-and-dimes back in the Depression.

Cash Flow: The Perfect Vehicle

Wells Fargo topped the list for small-business loans in 2012. Lisa Girard has 10 questions to ask yourself before choosing an office, and here is how to pick the perfect vehicle for your business. Katy A. Limbaugh offers tips for organizing your company’s finances, including: “No business can successfully flourish without a proper projection, planning or budget.” A new financial app will track your business’s health.

Start-Up: Free Online Classes

Roya Wolverson suggests the best age to start a business, and Phyllis Korkki reports that budding entrepreneurs can get an “M.B.A. lite.” Eric T. Wagner says that spending a fortune in time and money to build your brainchild product or service is just one of seven steps to start-up failure, and Mark Suster also has thoughts on the biggest mistakes start-ups make. If you’re still up for starting a company, here are eight free online courses. And these are the best cities for start-ups, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

Ideas: Get Cash From Microsoft

Food scooters might be the next big thing. Or how about a restaurant that serves World War II fare? Or a beverage business? Microsoft is now offering cash to anyone who wants to build apps. British Airways introduces an “innovation lab in the sky.” Nike chooses 10 companies to drive digital sport innovation. This entrepreneurial couple turned their passion for arcade-style video games into profits. MillerCoors awards $150,000 in small-business grants. Ramit Sethi decides to give away two round-trip tickets to anywhere in the United States. The National Small Business Association chooses its Small Business Advocate of the Year.

E-Mail: Expand Your List

Hunter Boyle and Corey Post explain how to expand your e-mail list. A new study says that e-mail volume increased 5.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 over the same period a year earlier (with open rates the highest on Saturdays and Sundays). A social, e-mail and marketing webinar series is introduced.

Marketing: More Mistakes

Will Stevens explains how to run a content marketing campaign with no budget. John Jantsch says that the best way to guarantee that your new offerings succeed is to develop them with your customers instead of for your customers. Here are three ways that technology can improve customer service, and here are five marketing mistakes that 95 percent of entrepreneurs make.

Health Insurance: Three Years of A.C.A.

The Affordable Care Act has its third anniversary, and all eyes are on Arkansas. Some small businesses have figured out a loophole in the health law. CVS tells employees to reveal personal health information or pay up. A small-business owner wonders if her bakery should offer health insurance. This insanely complicated chart will help you determine if you can get health care. A study finds that the A.C.A. is not causing a big shift to part-time workers.

Taxes: Get Help

Brian Sutter shares five tax-season tips for small-business owners. Deborah Sweeney says that new tax credits and deductions could help small businesses expand this year. A new Internal Revenue Service tax tip explains the home-office deduction.

Around the Country: Flies, Maggots, Rats

A New Jersey poll finds small-business owners oppose a minimum-wage increase. A news anchor reads her own marriage proposal from a teleprompter. A huge oil deposit is found in the Gulf of Mexico. What “Big Ag” does not want you to see: flies, maggots, rats and waste. Stephen Colbert’s sister wins a Congressional primary. Manufacturing improves in the Philadelphia region, and the Philadelphia City Council passes a sick leave bill. A guy who won’t share his ice cream with his girlfriend is analyzed mercilessly.

Around the World: Panic in Cyprus

Cyprus creates a financial panic, but Mike Shedlock believes there is good news for some. Inflation hits a nine-month high in Britain and the government chooses more austerity. The World Start-Up Report provides a 15-minute guide to India’s start-up scene and culture. Jeremy Glass offers a D.I.Y. guide to being a hipster. German investor confidence unexpectedly rose to a three-year high but global steel output fell in February. McDonald’s gives away five million McMuffins in Asia. This kid has a point about tests.

Mobile: Should You Bother With Apps?

The C.E.O. of says that understanding the pricing model is just one thing you need to consider when trying to find the best apps for your small business. But Mariana Simoes believes that most small businesses shouldn’t bother with apps. In a new survey, 63 percent of consumers say they may buy from an e-mail read on a mobile device, while the number who may unsubscribe because of poor mobile display exceeds 30 percent. Fast Company finds the experience of using Square Wallet at Starbucks is “anything but polished.”

Technology: Amazon and the C.I.A.

Anne Czernek sums up the big trends from this year’s SXSW, and here’s how a few smart companies managed to set themselves apart from the crowd. Google introduces a competitor to Evernote, but will it just end up in the company’s graveyard? Microsoft Office “Luddites” explain why they will never give up their DVDs. Amazon may be entering into a deal with the C.I.A. Gerald Dicen has some advice about cyberinsurance for small-business owners. Staples releases an app for small-business owners. Sage sells off its ACT! and SalesLogix businesses. Here are five steps to create a cool, safe place for your data.

Tweet of the Week

@MaxGoldberg – I honestly think my favorite part of owning my own business today is having a landline.

The Week’s Best

Ross Kimbarovsky wonders if you know how to market and sell to squirrels: “The attention span of a human adult, according to BBC News, is nine seconds (The Associated Press reports that in 2012, the average attention span for a human was eight seconds). Nearly one-fifth of all page views in 2012 lasted fewer than four seconds. And to add fuel to the fire, people read only approximately half of the words on a Web page that has fewer than 111 words (and only 28 percent of the words on a Web page that has more than 593 words). If you’re still reading, then you’ve obviously decided that this content had some value and was worth your time.”

This Week’s Question: Do you think Yelp helps?

Gene Marks owns the Marks Group, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa., consulting firm that helps clients with customer relationship management. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Economix Blog: Washington, Capital of Economic Optimism



Dollars to doughnuts.

In case you’re wondering why Congress spent so much time twisting itself in knots over the long-term deficit, instead of over the current jobs crisis, this might help explain things: Washington, D.C., is the most economically optimistic area in the nation, according to Gallup.

Every day Gallup polls Americans across the country about whether they think current economic conditions are good (or “excellent,” “only fair” or “poor”), and whether the economy is getting better or worse. For each question, Gallup subtracts the percentage of people answering negatively from the percentage of people answering positively. Then the two results are averaged to come up with a value that Gallup calls the Economic Confidence Index.

If the index value is above zero, that means that people are generally confident about the economy. If the index value is below zero, then people are more pessimistic about the economy.

And guess what? Not only does Washington have the highest index value of any state or district in the country, it’s also the only place where the index value is positive.

Here are the top 10 states in terms of overall economic confidence:

Source: Gallup

These results are based on telephone interviews with 87,634 employed adults, 18 or older, conducted from January to June 2011 as part of Gallup Daily tracking. For each state, the margin of sampling error ranges from plus or minus 1 percentage point (for large states such as California), to plus or minus 8 percentage points (for the District of Columbia).

The biggest gap between the District of Columbia and the rest of the country is created by the second question used to create the Economic Confidence Index, on whether the economy is getting better or worse.

In every state, a majority of residents think the economy is getting worse. In the nation’s capital, however, a full 60 percent of people think the economy is getting better.

This may be good evidence for those arguing that Washington exists in its own disconnected bubble. At the very least, Gallup’s results show that the District of Columbia thinks very differently about the state of the economy than the rest of the country does.

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You’re the Boss: This Week in Small Business: How to Sell Out


What’s affecting me, my clients and other small-business owners this week.

CONFIDENCE FALLS, EXCEPT ON WALL STREET Confidence among small businesses falls to an eight-month low in May, dampened by a deteriorating outlook for sales and hiring, according to a National Federation of Independent Business survey. Gallup also says economic confidence plunged. Builder confidence declines, too. An economist says there’s a 99 percent chance of recession in the United States by next year. The director of the Congressional Budget Office says there’s a great deal of pain ahead, but he’s “heartened by the fact that households have de-leveraged, businesses are sitting on cash, and anything that increases individual and business confidence could prompt new spending.” Seventy-seven percent of venture capital executives are optimistic about their industry. Calculated Risk says the slowdown may be temporary. One analyst says a stock market rally is about to happen. Jeff Reeves, an investor, offers 11 reasons stocks will surge soon.

WORKER INCOME COLLAPSES Jobless claims and housing starts are better than expected. Retail sales fall in May, but Scott Grannis says they remain strong. Industrial production edges up. (Just checking: are you really paying attention?) The Southern California housing market continues to disappoint. Consumer and producer prices rise slightly. Cargo traffic in Los Angeles is up. Residential remodeling increases. But our workers’ share of national income is collapsing. The Philadelphia Fed’s index of manufacturing activity is down.

GLOBAL TRENDS TO WATCH Ernst Young reports six global trends are shaping business strategy. A few well known academics explain why American management rules the world. A desire for United States passports is the trend in China. The Dalai Lama isn’t laughing. Greece teeters. A new survey lists five countries women should avoid.

TO STIMULATE OR NOT Ben S. Bernanke warns that we must raise the debt ceiling, but the parties are still a trillion dollars apart on a budget deal. A Seeking Alpha blogger explains where are all the QE2 money went. President Obama courts executives on jobs and proposes a high-tech training plan. Morgan Stanley offers proof that the United States is already solving its debt crisis. Jared Bernstein, a fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, offers our leaders some dos and don’ts. For example: “As federal stimulus fades and states continue to face budget constraints, we mustn’t allow policies that are boosting demand to fade too soon.” John Mason reports that business lending appears to be getting stronger, but Scott Shane says small businesses are still finding it hard to get loans.

TIME FOR THAT DIET? writes about Ididwork, a free tool for remote employees to track their time. A new study from the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute reports those born after 1982 are 100 percent more likely to sell their businesses than older entrepreneurs. I like this info graphic explaining how games can help your enterprise. A study finds that skinny women and overweight men earn the most. Daniel Radcliffe shows us how to succeed in business. A few academics teach us a few tricks to tell if someone’s lying. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court backs the governor’s collective bargaining position. American students don’t know much American history.

RED TAPE Susan Dickenson asks retailers if they were able to claim the new small-business health care tax credit for 2010. Four senators urge the Federal Reserve to crack down on the marketing of business credit cards, but overwhelmed regulators give the financial industry a reprieve. Congressman Sam Graves wants the government to stop withholding small-business payments: “Imagine you own a business that puts a new roof on the local high school. After you do the work, the school pays only 97 percent of what it owes you. Why? On the off-chance you may not pay your federal taxes.” Obama’s top regulator cozies up to business. The Postal Service is trying to cut back to five days. The Democratic National Committee’s chairwoman says Mr. Obama has signed bills with 17 small-business tax cuts (and a fact-checker agrees).

PRIORITIES, PRIORITIES The city of Dallas is busy inspecting small-business signs while two crazy dudes run wild through its airport!

TOP TEN LISTS suggests 10 videos every entrepreneur should watch. Betty White shares her top 10 tips for living a happy life. Jason Del Rey shares 29 things he thinks he learned at one of those small-business summits. DailyCandy’s 2011 Start Small, Go Big Contest is accepting entries. Sunsweet is daring us to eat prunes.

SMALL-BUSINESS TECH UPDATES Before you move to the cloud, you might want to check out this chart. Google makes a $280 million solar investment. This guy thinks Skype could be Microsoft’s best acquisition ever. And Office 2010 is Microsoft’s fastest-selling version to date. Pandora goes public. Here are eight easy steps for creating a scanned signature for your e-mail. A small-business technology expert shares five essential business apps. Maybe it’s me, but there’s no way a dummy is buying this Dummies book. Beware of a new “mass-meshing” attack on small-business Web sites. The United States Senate’s Web site is hacked.

MIRACLE-GRO LIKES WEED Sub-Saharan Africa is booming. A food storage company and crematorium may be joining forces in Minnesota. Atlanta small-business owners get a new opportunity to offer input on growth and profitability. Miracle-Gro and others see big bucks in marijuana. Chicago is determined not to lose its trade show business.

GETTING STARTED Start-ups make their pitches in Boston, and more cities are scheduled. A freelance writer lists nine free programs that help you build a side business. Des Traynor poses some interesting questions for a would-be start-up, such as “How are you going to delight your users? How are you going to engage them, make them advocates, make them loyal? Are you creating passionate users?” A 15-year-old starts and sells his company. OfficeMax’s founder says entrepreneurs must rule their start-up like a benevolent dictator. An angel investor says patent reform could stifle start-ups.

FACEBOOK DECLINES Facebook reports traffic drops in the United States and Canada, but PCMag says Facebook users are spending more time than ever on the site: “People visiting Facebook are actually visiting 40 percent more pages per visit than they were just three months ago.” Which is yet another dumb thing about being in your twenties.

MCDONALD’S LEARNS A LESSON Writer Kathryn Hawkins offers tips for building a better customer survey. Example: “Provide an incentive. Very few customers will take the time to fill out a survey form without the promise of a reward.” A marketing expert says that branding for small businesses is a luxury: “Many small businesses tend to try to mimic the branding efforts of large corporations, and it’s simply not possible.” McDonald’s racist sign hoax reminds us that the Internet never forgets. A new tool shortens URLs while advertising your business.

THE WEEK AHEAD Summer officially begins Tuesday, which is also when we’ll probably hear how bad existing home sales were in May. On Wednesday Mr. Bernanke speaks to the press. Thursday brings unemployment claims and new home sales. Corporate profits from the first quarter are finalized on Friday.


REASON TO NOT THINK POSITIVE A Blogger explains why positive thinking can be counterproductive: “I’m 45. I’m 5-foot-8. It doesn’t matter how much positive thinking I do, I will NEVER play professional basketball. I can be super positive all year long, and I’ll never get picked. Too old, too small. I can use positive thinking tactics to think that I will write a New York Times bestseller but it will never happen unless I start to do the actual writing. And this is where positive action comes in.”

REASON NOT TO MAKE A PLAN Matt Krautstrunk lists his five worst tips for entrepreneurs, including my favorite: “Anybody who tells you that you need a business plan either doesn’t understand the competitive landscape or is ‘old school.’ Nowadays, business plans are used primarily for attracting investors, and often fail to account for changing external factors.”

ADVICE FOR SELLING OUT James Altucher shares nine important things to remember if you want to sell your start-up. I like: “Prepare a year in advance. The first company that I sold (in 1998) I started meeting with all the ad agencies about a year in advance of selling. I wasn’t ready then (I would’ve sold then but I was too small) so I kept everyone in the loop with monthly updates. And lunches or breakfasts every three months just to update on the business in general. By the time I was finally ready to sell we had four or five instant offers.”

THIS WEEK’S QUESTION Do you have an exit plan for your business?

Gene Marks owns the Marks Group, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa., consulting firm that helps clients with customer relationship management. You can follow him on Twitter.

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