March 23, 2023

You’re the Boss Blog: This Week In Small Business: 1,000 New Bankers


A weekly roundup of small-business developments.

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

The Big Story: Four More Years

At his inauguration, President Obama delivers a rallying cry for active government. Rick Newman says the president has given a gift to the stock market. This blogger believes that the speech made things a lot more certain for small businesses. Here’s the whole speech in just three minutes. These are 22 of the most fabulous Beyoncé moments from the inauguration (and one that’s not-so-fabulous). The president’s daughters seemed to enjoy the day, too.

Finance: Bank of America Hires 1,000 Bankers

Investment professionals are anticipating an influx of income and growth-hungry mom-and-pop “retail” investors. Bank of America reached its goal of hiring 1,000 small-business bankers and extended nearly $8.7 billion in new credit to small businesses in 2012. Companies are keeping stockpiles of foreign cash in the United States. Erik Sherman says you should be wary of any Web site that claims to enable crowdfunded public offerings.

The Economy: $1 Trillion In Profits

General Electric’s earnings rise and overall corporate profits are now projected to be $1 trillion this year. But how good can things be if Google’s co-founder is still taking the subway? Weekly jobless claims dropped to a five-year low. The architecture billings index went up for the fifth straight month, and truck tonnage jumped 2.8 percent in December. Existing home sales shrank, but Bill McBride says it’s a solid report. Manufacturing activity contracts again in Richmond and in Kansas City (pdf). Blockbuster plans to close 300 stores. A quarterly survey finds that small-business confidence continues to hold steady but a Chamber of Commerce survey finds 53 percent of small businesses have not hired in the past year and 64 percent plan to keep the same number of employees in 2013. The International Monetary Fund thinks the United States economy is slowing down.

Tweet of the Week

@michaelianblack: Blockbuster still has 300 stores?

The Budget: Cats!

The House votes to extend the debt ceiling to May 19. Larry Summers says the government should worry less about deficits and more about unemployment. Jeff Miller tells us how to spot pop economists. A New Zealand economist wants to eradicate the country’s cats.

On The Road: Dreamliner Nightmares

Boeing’s unions blame the 787 Dreamliner woes on outsourcing. Southwest Airlines introduces a $40 fee. Capital One introduces a LinkedIn group for business travelers. Chicago’s hotel occupancy rate is back to pre-recession levels. A former road warrior delivers tips on cutting business travel expenses (and this road warrior almost becomes a former road warrior).

Your Employees: As Happy As Google

Yahoo is trying to lure back some former employees (suggestion: hire these awesome people instead). A marketing and advertising firm embraces quirkiness and manages to increase its growth. This is how to let employees know they’re appreciated and how to make your office as happy as Google’s. Emmanuel Banks explains how to make your Mac work space more productive. Here are a few tips for your employees to be more productive when working from home. Cash appears to be leaking out of 401(k) plans at an alarming rate. An 11-year-old girl shatters climbing records.

Managing: Losing Your Passion?

Brian Lee explains why you should never give up on becoming an entrepreneur, and Brad Farris has some thoughts on what business owners should do when they lose their passion. Ken Gaebler believes that investing in public relations boosts a company’s chances of getting acquired: “P.R. works because you’re not saying, ‘I’m great’; instead, it’s a respected outsider saying, ‘They are great,’ which is much more convincing.” Here’s how to achieve business success based on the Martha Rules. A bunch of high-profile entrepreneurs reveal what’s in the refrigerator.

Start-Ups: Why M.B.A.’s Fail

When looking for people to join your start-up’s board of directors, Mahendra Ramsinghani says not to let laziness and bias trump diversity. These three start-ups are trying to help you sleep. A new venture will mine asteroids. John Greathouse says there are five reasons M.B.A.’s fail at start-up. Steve Woodruff recommends five books for business starters. This is how one start-up spends its money.

Social Media: Bait and Switch

The clients of this social media consultant can’t even log on to Facebook, and here are 26 tips for getting started with social media marketing. Deb Donston-Miller suggests five ways social media makes business-to-business sense. This is how Threadless, Home Depot, and Amex managed to get groups of fans talking. Twitter experiences technical problems and releases a video sharing app. Here’s how to track the most popular Twitter hashtags. Google plans improvements to its image searching, and Facebook’s first intern is leading a small-business revolution. Nothing makes Derek Johnson angrier than seeing a text-message marketing campaign pull the old bait-and-switch on consumers. These are the five biggest misconceptions about using Instagram for business (but be careful: restaurants are cracking down on Instagrammers). And for some reason, the Library of Congress is archiving America’s tweets. Owen gets on SportsCenter.

Marketing: After the Sale

Here’s why you need to make content marketing a priority, and Heidi Cohen suggests nine content-marketing tactics. A webinar will discuss the seven marketing habits of today’s highly successful small and midsize businesses. J. David Green explains how technology on the trade show floor can help your sales team work smarter and sell more. Ken Sundheim explains how search engine optimization almost killed his business. Charlotte Varela asks if you are helping your customers after they buy from you.

Retail: ‘Show-Rooming’

Target can teach you the benefits of introducing brands online instead of in stores. “Show-rooming” shoppers have been a good thing for eBay. Yelp is adding health inspection grades to its site. A bear uses a washing machine. A new marketplace helps retailers find spaces offering short-term leases. This week retailers can start charging their customers for credit card fees. The Panera Bread Foundation opens a new community cafe with no cash registers or prices.

Around The Country: Sparking Entrepreneurs

A flexible work company plans to add more than 20 locations in the Los Angeles area in 2013. The owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars offers $1 million to “spark” entrepreneurs. A new tech rap video promotes entrepreneurship. Small businesses are big in Montana. Startup Weekend is coming to Evansville, Ind.

Around The World: 3D Clothes

Spanish banks are facing big challenges. Coca-Cola pledges $100,000 for projects by young people. In the United Kingdom, the prime minister wants a global crackdown on corporate tax cheats, a record-breaking number of Britons are now at work, and Prince Harry abandons an interview for ice cream. A Dell executive says small businesses should consider exporting to Brazil. In Paris, 3D printed clothing hits Fashion Week, and a Dutch architecture firm plans to print a house. This is the world’s poorest president.

Red Tape: Five Legal Myths

A new e-guide from Microsoft demystifies the process of pursuing contracts with the government and other large enterprises. Pete Wise lists five legal myths small-business owners should avoid, including: “I don’t need a lawyer.” Entrepreneurs plan a road trip to talk up immigration reform. Women entrepreneurs will have greater access to federal contracts. Bill Murphy Jr. lists four ways women in combat will change business. Michael Keating discusses the opportunities in the government market.

Technology: Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs

Microsoft considers taking a big stake in a Dell buyout. Chris Luo says big data and software as a service will become relevant for small businesses in 2013. Ashton Kutcher will appear at MacWorld as Steve Jobs (which may help him get an invite to one of these dinners). Apple takes a beating on Wall Street. Paul Greenberg announces the best customer relations management applications for 2013. Liquids bounce off this clothing material. Robert LeCount gives advice for picking the right technology for your business. A yearlong competition challenges the best technology minds to develop solutions that address issues in health care, education and sustainability. Brother introduces a contest aimed at small businesses.

The Week’s Bests

Freshdesk’s marketing and communications manager, Sairam Krishnan, explains how his company finds and keeps customer service representatives: “Test their culture fit. Every company has a slightly different way of doing business. At Freshdesk, we frown upon bureaucracy and hierarchy. We put our customer service candidates in situations where they have to interact with a few senior employees of the company. These interactions, usually spontaneous and casual, help the team evaluate the candidate’s personality and fit with our customer service-centered culture.”

Megan Totka shares tips for building a socially conscious business: “Set an example. While it is great to encourage employees to volunteer, and even provide incentives, the best way to get everyone in your company fired up for service is by getting out there and participating yourself. Do more than simply embrace the idea of service; make the service happen.”

This Week’s Question: Do you consider your business socially conscious?

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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DealBook: Trulia Prices I.P.O. at $17 a Share, Above Expected Range

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Trulia priced its initial public offering at $17 a share on Wednesday, surpassing expectations as the real estate search site raised $102 million.

Earlier this month, the company set its expected price range at $14 to $16 a share. Most of the proceeds from the sale are earmarked for the company, though existing investors are selling some of their holdings as well.

In going public, Trulia is following a path set by its bigger competitor, Zillow. Both companies have bet on an improving housing market and the waves of new buyers and sellers that it can bring. In August, housing starts rose 2.3 percent while existing home sales jumped 7.8 percent jump.

Shares in Zillow have risen nearly 33 percent since the company went public last July, closing on Wednesday at $45.55.

But while Trulia’s losses have largely narrowed over the last five years, the company is still reporting red ink. It lost $6.2 million last year, and has run up a $7.6 million loss in the six months that ended June 30.

The company reported 22 million monthly unique visitors for the first six months of the year. It also had more than 360,000 active real estate workers in its marketplace, about six percent of whom were paying subscribers.

The company will begin trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “TRLA.” Its offering was led by JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, RBC Capital Markets, Needham Company and William Blair.

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Realtor Association Says It Overcounted Existing-Home Sales

In a rather drastic statistical error, the National Association of Realtors said that sales of previously occupied homes from 2007 to 2010 were a little more than 14 percent lower than it previously reported.

The group also said that sales of single-family houses, town houses, condos and co-ops in November rose to 4.42 million, their highest level in 10 months (after the revisions). The association noted, though, that a third of all contracts signed in the month did not lead to closed sales, a sign that buyers were still nervous and lenders were still being extremely cautious about approving loans.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the Realtors, said the organization had been noticing that its data showed higher volumes of sales than other indicators like records of property deeds and mortgage applications. It revised its data once the 2010 Census confirmed that the group had been overcounting home sales.

Data collection is a tricky business, and even government agencies can miss. In August, for example, the Labor Department reported that employers created no net new jobs, causing anxiety in Washington. The department later said that the number was actually 104,000 jobs.

In the case of home sales, the Realtors association collects its numbers from local multiple listing services, databases in which real estate agents share information about property sales. Generally, this data track sales only where the seller is represented by a real estate agent. The group has historically supplemented this data with projections about how many homes were sold directly by owners.

But Mr. Yun said that during the housing collapse, owners who might have tried to sell a home without help in better times had turned to real estate agents.

Another factor skewing the numbers is that the association typically assumes that virtually no new home sales come through real estate agents, because in good times, home builders generally cut out the middleman. But during the downturn, even homebuilders turned to agents. So some multiple listing services included sales of new homes, and the association effectively counted them twice.

Mr. Yun said that the revisions did not change the fact that the housing market appears to be slowly recovering and compared it to a car. “During the housing market bubble years, it was speeding at more than 72 miles per hour,” he said. “During the downturn, we thought the market was speeding at 50 miles per hour. However, now we’re finding that it was actually speeding at 40 miles per hour.” The promising news, he said, is that in November, the market sped up to “44 miles per hour.”

Economists seemed to accept the association’s explanation and said that at any rate, it did not alter history. “We know that we had a really disastrous housing market,” said Michael Shaoul, chairman of Marketfield Asset Management. “The least important number is how bad the decline actually was. The most important number is, are we getting better or are we getting worse?”

Diane Swonk, an economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago, agreed that the market was improving. She said that the high rate of canceled contracts suggested that people wanted to buy homes but were just having trouble getting approved. “People are renting at a premium to what they would pay to buy, but they can’t qualify for mortgages,” she said. “So once you get real meaningful employment growth, it suggests that we could get a snapback.”

Ms. Swonk said that notwithstanding rampant revisions of government data, the public sector would be a more accountable and reliable housing statistician than an industry group. “I’ve known these statistical people for decades,” she said. “They’re bureaucrats. They don’t make up the numbers.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 21, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated the revision in home-sales figures for 2007 to 2010. They were revised downward 14 percent, from more than 20.6 million to nearly 17.7 million, not 16.7 percent, from nearly 17.7 million to 14.7 million.

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Consumer Spending Jumped in July

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Consumer spending rose at its fastest rate in five months in July, easing concerns that the economy was falling back into recession.

Consumer spending increased 0.8 percent on strong demand for motor vehicles as Japan-related supply restraints faded, a Commerce Department report showed Monday. Spending slipped 0.1 percent in June.

The size of the increase in spending beat economists’ forecasts for a 0.5 percent advance. When adjusted for inflation, spending was up 0.5 percent last month, the largest gain in 1 1/2 years and the first increase since April.

“It’s a little far-fetched to truly believe that we are headed into another recession. This data doesn’t support that view at all,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pa.

The spending data was the latest to suggest the economy started the third quarter with some strength after growth slowed to a near halt in the first half of the year.

But the risks of a new recession have risen this month as stock prices plunged and consumer sentiment eroded.

The spending report showed inflation-adjusted after-tax incomes fell in July, while data from the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank indicated factory output in Texas ground to a near halt this month.

The Texas factory index dropped to 1.1 from 10.8 in July, while a business confidence gauge slid to –11.4 from –2.0. The decline in sentiment was in line with other recent regional manufacturing surveys. In those indexes, zero is the dividing line between growth and contraction.

Separately, the number of contracts signed for purchases of previously owned homes fell 1.3 percent last month, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Pending home sales usually lead existing home sales by a month or two, and the decline in signed contracts pointed to a fall in August sales.

So far data from industrial production to retail sales and employment has been consistent with a slow-growth situation rather than an outright contraction in economic output. Data for August will give an idea of how much damage the stock market turmoil inflicted on the already wounded economy.

The economy grew at a tepid 1 percent annual rate in the second quarter, with consumer spending rising at its weakest pace since the fourth quarter of 2009. The economy expanded 0.4 percent in the first three months of the year

The Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, left the door open for further monetary stimulus in a speech on Friday in which he said bringing down the high level of joblessness was crucial to ensuring the economy’s long-term health.

Although the spending report showed core inflation moving higher, analysts did not think this would tie the central bank’s hands.

The core personal consumption expenditures price index — which strips out food and energy costs — rose 0.2 percent for a second straight month, taking the year-on-year reading to 1.6 percent, the highest since May 2010, from 1.4 percent in June.

Over all, inflation jumped 0.4 percent in July after dropping 0.1 percent in June.

“This does not rule out additional Fed stimulus when policy makers meet in September. But it doesn’t exactly rule it in,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in New York.

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Global Stocks Hit by Economic Fears

LONDON (AP) — Downbeat Japanese export and British retail sales figures renewed worries over the state of the global economy on Thursday and hit already fragile confidence in stock markets.

Investors are worried about both the debt situation in both the U.S. and Europe and the pace of the global economic recovery following a run of weak economic data.

Thursday’s news did little to alleviate those concerns.

“Equities are sitting broadly lower …. as market participants worry about the global economic outlook,” said Ben Critchley, a sales trader at IG Index.

In Japan, the finance ministry said July exports fell 3.3 percent from a year earlier to 5.78 trillion yen ($75.6 billion) as a result of the strong yen and the ongoing impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

In Britain, official statisticians reported that retail sales rose by only 0.2 percent in July from the month before. That was down on June’s equivalent rate of 0.8 percent and below market expectations for a 0.4 percent rise — in another sign that the British economic recovery is running out of steam.

Later in the day, investors will turn their attention to the U.S. Labor Department’s weekly claims for unemployment benefits. High unemployment is a major reason why growth in the U.S. has stalled and jobs data is carefully monitored for any changes. Monthly inflation data, a manufacturing survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and existing home sales figures were also being released.

With little incentive to buy, the retreat in Asia carried through into the European session and is clouding expectations over the U.S. open later.

Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 1.7 percent to 5,242 while Germany’s DAX fell 2.8 percent to 5,852.32. France’s CAC-40 was down 2.1 percent to 3,189.

Wall Street was poised for a similarly downbeat session — Dow futures were down 1.1 percent at 11,260 while the broader Standard Poor’s 500 futures fell 1.4 percent 1,173.

Investors are also keeping a close watch on developments on Europe after a meeting this week between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel did little to assuage concerns that Europe is managing its debt crisis, which has already led to bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Fears that the crisis may hit Italy and Spain contributed to huge turbulence on stock markets last week.

A bond-buying program by the European Central Bank appears to have calmed fears that the eurozone’s third and fourth largest economies will find it difficult to raise money in the bond markets. Both countries’ ten-year bond yields have fallen by over a percentage point below 5 percent, which is considered manageable.

Given the more benign European debt backdrop, the euro has eked out gains over recent sessions. By mid morning London time, the euro was down 0.2 percent at $1.4396.

Earlier in Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 closed down 1.3 percent to 8,943.76 after the export figures, while South Korea’s Kospi lost 1.7 percent to 1,853.08.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 1.3 percent at 20,016.27, while mainland Chinese shares lost ground for a third straight trading day on concerns over a possible interest rate hike and new restrictions aimed at cooling housing prices.

The Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.6 percent to 2,559.47 and the Shenzhen Composite Index lost 1.8 percent to 1,142.91.

Benchmark crude for September delivery was down 60 cents to $86.97 in Asia. The contract settled at $87.58 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Wednesday.

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