Following up on yesterday’s post, I found this in the SBA’s summery of the Economic Stimulus Act concerning guaranteed SBA loans:

Under the Recovery Act, no funds may be used by any state or local government or any private entity, for any casino or gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course of swimming pool.

NO_ZOOI can understand excluding casinos and gambling joints.  They don’t actually create anything.  They just extract money from gamblers.  But I don’t get the other exclusions (or lack thereof).  A golf course or swimming pool is a no-no, but a go cart track or video arcade is ok?  What about one of those places that sells dirty movies and other “adult” products.  I guess those are alright.

One marvels at the logic used by our elected employees in Washington, DC.

Have a great weekend!

Financial Assistance for Small Business

At first glance I thought this article might be one of those deals where someone promises to tell you where the treasure is buried making you wonder, if he knows, why doesn’t he dig it up themselves.  I half-expected to be offered a special price on the latest how-to book.  So, I was pleasantly surprised when “How to Get Free Financial Assistance for Your Small Business” didn’t try to sell me anything.

While the advice here is pretty generic, without much new information, it never hurts to be reminded of what’s out there and this article does a good job of that.  There are links to a number of other articles offering similar advice.  There are also links to some useful resources.

To sum up this piece, the key is to find out what’s available, beginning with finding someone who can help you.  There are funds available as part of the “economic stimulus act” especially if you have a “disadvantaged” small business (meaning you’re a veteran, a woman, or a member of a minority group).  I’m not sure why a business run by a veteran, a woman, or a minority is considered “disadvantaged”, but that’s a subject for another time.

I’d say that persistence is the key.  Frankly, I don’t understand a “stimulus” package that contains so many secrets and makes you work so hard to find the money. At 400 + pages of legalese, it’s not exactly light reading.  But if you want to get part of your tax money back to boost your business, you’re going to have to play detective.  Keep reading MTS for more information.

Supporting “Local” Small Business When You’re Out of Town

3_50 project smallThis post is inspired by a comment on the 3/50 Project facebook page.  [In case you missed it, I wrote about the 3/50 Project earlier.  There’s also a link to their home page on your left.

Lili Johnstone wrote:  “Just wanted to say that even when you are far from home, you can still support local stores via the web. Many locally-owned, small business owners have created a cyberspace presence. Next time when shopping online search some of your local favorites.”

An excellent idea for many purchases and I couldn’t agree more.  But when traveling, there are a lot of things that you need to buy from a brick and mortar merchant.  If we support “buy local” at home, then it only makes sense to do the same when you travel.  Every town has excellent local merchants and we should patronize them just as we hope that travellers will visit our stores.

In my response to Lili’s comment, I mentioned restaurants.  When I travel, I never eat at chain places (with the exception of Waffle House.  Sorry, I’m addicted to the Fiesta Omelet.  Nobody’s perfect.))  Not only does eating at local restaurants support the local economy, it provides a local experience that you can’t get at the chains.  You almost always find better food and more interesting people at Mom’s Diner than you do at McDonald’s.

As the 3/50 movement spreads and more and more of their window stickers begin to appear, look for them when you travel.  Patronize your fellow small business owner.  It’s good for all of us.

Memorial Day 2009

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Memorial Day, 2008 flickr photo by Hjelle

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Memorial Day, 2008 flickr photo by Hjelle

I feel very fortunate, my church backs up to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.  Every time I go to church, and believe me, I’m a frequent visitor, I’m reminded of the brave men and women who have fought and died so that I can go to my church, or write this blog.

This morning my wife and I along with one of our sons and his wife drive through the cemetery.  There was a line of traffic to get in.  I wonder where all these people are the other 364 days of the year, but still it’s gratifying to see that there are people who equate Memorial Day with something other than  a long weekend.

Yesterday local Boy Scouts carried out an annual tradition that was begun here in Saint Louis and has spread around the country.  The Scouts parade into the cemetery, take part in a ceremony around the big flag pole and then place flags on each of the 170,000 + graves.  It’s  something to see the entire cemetery sporting red, white, and blue in an operation that takes about five minutes.  More than 4,000 young men can do the job amazingly quickly.  Doing the math, it’s about 42 flags per kid.

As a business blogger there are a lot of lessons that I could draw from this; lessons about leadership, planning, motivation, etc.  But today I’m going to take off my business hat.  In fact, I”m going to place my hat over my heart and just say “thank you” to all the men and women  who have served, and who are currently serving in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.  May God bless you for your service.  If not for you, who knows where we would be?  There are a lot of issues with our government and our society that need to be fixed.  But even on our worst day the USA is still one country  in the world where illegal immigration is such a major problem.

People aren’t trying to sneak out, they’re trying to sneak in.  Keep that in mind on this Memorial Day.

Free Advertising for your Small Business

I just read over the weekend that AT&T is going to stop publishing the white pages telephone directory.  According to them, most Americans look up phone numbers on the web so the dead-tree directory is no longer needed.  They will continue to produce (and heavily advertise) the yellow pages because they’re a profit center.

In other words, “No one uses the phone book anymore, but we want you to continue to buy ads.”

google-mapsHere’s a way to improve your chances of getting on-line number seekers into your store.  You probably know about Google Maps.  In fact, your business probably has a listing.  But did you know that you can attach an add to your listing for free?  You can.  And your map listing will be flagged as a coupon-providing business, making you stand out from your competition.  It’s surprising how few businesses take advantage of this service.

If your business isn’t listed on Google maps, follow this link. To add the free coupon, go to the Google Local Business Center.

What’s Really Up with Retail

Yesterday I took to task for assuming that all retail is big retail in spite of readily available numbers to the contrary.  I found their assumption that as Wal Mart goes, so goes retail to be far off the mark.

Today I had lunch with a friend who is a sales manager for a well-known manufacturer that sells to independent retailers.  He told me that his business has been amazingly good.  In spite of the dire numbers we’re getting from the news media, his dealers are doing fine, thank you very much.

My friend’s assessment of the retail landscape is right in line with what I’m hearing from independents.  They may have to work a little harder and a little smarter, but the results are worth the effort.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it many times in the future:  Big business, whether it’s retail or anything else, doesn’t have the flexibility or the human contact with customers to respond to a crisis as well as a locally-owned business.

Sadly, we’ll never go back to the days when all business was local, but the current economy is certainly a huge opportunity for independent business to study the bad examples of the chains and to provide the customer with what whe really wants and needs.

dilbertBTW, this is slightly off today’s topic but, the Dilbert comic strip has been poking fun at MBAs this week.  If you haven’t been following the strip  in your local paper, you can catch up at the Dilbert web site.  Start with Monday, May 18.

Why Retailing Will Never Be the Same Again?

Forbes gets it wrong! In an article called Why Retailing Will Never Be the Same Again, and What to Do About It, two business consultants discuss the problems that big retailers are having in the current economy.

The authors cite the bankruptcies of Circuit City, Linens n Things, and other big retailers.  What’s a poor big box chain to do?  ” One solution”, they say,  “Retailers that can’t compete on price or convenience have to find another way to differentiate themselves–with distinctive offerings, and with engaging customer experiences that drive home what’s compelling about those offerings.”

Imagine that!  If chains are going to compete, they have to act like independents.  What a concept!

The important thing to remember here, especially when we get discouraged by slow sales or cut-throat competitor pricing is that the big guys are having problems too.  And, high-priced consultants are telling them to do the things that we’re already doing.  Maybe some day they’ll catch up, but I doubt it.

Here’s a comment I posted to the Forbes article:

What about independent retailers? While independents account for a large percentage of retail trade in the United States, more than 50% in some categories, this article ignores them completely.

While smaller retailers are feeling the pinch of the current economy, many are enjoying excellent sales and profits. Good customer service, localized selection, and flexibility that the chains can’t possibly achieve are driving their business. Ironically these are the same attributes that you suggest retailers adopt.

The retailing world isn’t all about Wal Mart and Amazon. Thousands of independent retailers are thriving, not just in spite of, but often because of the poor service provided by the big boxes.

Considering that this is National Small Business Week, it’s amazing that you would omit such a large part of the retail landscape.

How Not to Halt a Sales Skid

Imagine this conversation:

Boss:  “Sales are in the toilet.  Does anybody have any suggestions to improve sales?”

Staff member:  “I know!  Let’s raise prices!”

Boss:  “Brilliant!  Why didn’t I think of that?  Let’s do it!”

You’re probably thinking “That’s ridiculous!  Nobody would raise prices in the face of declining sales.”  But that’s exactly what the US Postal Service did this week.  With email taking the place of traditional mail and with private competition taking over the package delivery business, they raised the price of a letter to 44 cents, an almost 5% increase while threatening to cut delivery service.

This former monopoly is in a race to oblivion and they only have themselves to blame.  It does make you wonder if the government taking over banks, the auto industry, and health care is really such a good idea.

Welcome to the Real World

Ben McConnell

Ben McConnell

Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba write The Church of the Customer blog.  If the names sound familiar it’s because I have referenced the blog often in the past.  Ben and Jackie know their stuff and their blog is a good read.

The day-to-day problems of running a business can often seem overwhelming, especially in the current economy.  But yesterday, Ben jerked me back to reality with his post, Welcome to the Real World.  See, Ben just found out he has renal cell carcinoma, cancer of the kidney.

Any problems I might have fade into insignificance by comparison.  Our daily struggles may seem like life and death, but usually they’re not.   There’s nothing like a grapefruit-sized tumor to remind us of that.

Ben is optimistic.  As he points out, it’s good that God gave us a spare kidney in case one of them fails.  He writes, “The prognosis? So far, it’s good. My capable surgeon, Dr. David Phillips, himself a high-level tennis player, which made me like him immediately, will evict this tumor, this cancer, this hobbit, along with my entire kidney, on Friday.”

There are a couple of things we can learn here.  First, like a lot of us, Ben admits he avoids doctors and the medical system.  But after considerable pain he went to the emergency room.  Staying away from the doctor, especially when you know something is wrong, is never a good idea.

Second, while the business is important, nothing is more important than our health.  Keep things in their proper perspective!  A lost sale or a late shipment or a missed deadline is important, but keep it in its proper place.

Finally, social media is an amazing thing.  I don’t know Ben McConnell personally.  But, I’ve been reading him for years so I do feel a connection.  We’ve corresponded a few times, either through blog comments or other social media tools.  There’s enough of a link that I feel his pain, I’m concerned for his well-being, and I will include his recovery in my prayers.

Welcome to the Real World” is the title of Ben’s post.  Our “real world” is very different from our parents’.  People who once would have been strangers now touch us in very real ways.

7 Ways to Annoy a Flight Attendant

All of our jobs have their little aggravations, often involving customers.  From the Budget Travel website, here’s a chance to look at air travel through the eyes of the flight attendant.  I have to admit I do a couple of the things myself and I’ve sat next to all of these people, most of them many times.

Fortunately most of don’t have to be concerned with life and death situations every day, but I’m sure you have your own pet peeves.

I hope the anonymous flight attendant was writing tongue-in-cheek.  If not, she seems a little bitter and might be happier in some other line of work.  I hope she realizes that air travel isn’t much fun anymore and that many travelers are flying for the first time.

Personally, I would have preferred that she not mention “a burning plane”.