Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Must Read for Government Contractors in CCR and SAM

If you are a government contractor in CCR and have NOT renewed in SAM, make sure you read this first!

Recently one of my SBDC clients had this exact experience.  Fortunately, they knew they should not have to pay to register in SAM and did not get taken advantage of.  They alerted me to the problem as well and I confirmed it with the Procurement Technical Assistance Center.

For those new to government contracting - you should never pay to get a DUNS number or to register to do business with the government.

Read the latest post on SAM from the SBA:  Don't Get Scammed Because you Want to Get Into SAM.  December 5, 2012.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Perseverance Pays Off for Pullman SBDC Client

Partners Dan Surfus, left, Steve Thompson
and Dirk Wischmeier of Viral Science.

Moscow animal additive testing company thrives with SBDC counsel

11/28/2012  PULLMAN, Wash. - If you were to make a list of all the products that contain ingredients of animal origin, you might never stop. It’s a long list and it grows longer every day.
Companies that use animal additives must submit those ingredients for independent testing on a regular basis. It’s an industry niche that Viral Science of Moscow, Idaho can now serve, thanks to dogged persistence, patience and an able assist from the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
The Washington SBDC, Washington State University and the University of Idaho are part of a consortium of businesses and economic development councils working to promote the Palouse as a center for research and technology transfer. The partnership was developed as a way of promoting the economic growth in Moscow, Pullman and surrounding areas together, as opposed to independently, in order to capitalize on opportunities, create alliances and recruit new industry to the region.

Expertise and experience

In early 2011, Dirk Wischmeier and two partners, all with years of experience in the biotechnology industry and particularly in viral compliance testing, decided to start their own company doing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) testing on serums, cell cultures and other products for human use.
Viral Science would provide independent testing and verification that the additives used by pharmaceutical companies and other biotech companies - for products such as flu shots, other vaccines and even cosmetics - were free from animal virus contamination.
Wischmeier and partners Dan Surfus and Steve Thompson had the technical expertise - plus an in-depth understanding of the industry, skilled employees ready to come on board and client contacts - to go from zero to 60 very quickly. Unfortunately, they were stuck in "Park.”
Wischmeier needed a $1.1 million loan to build the testing facility and couldn’t get the loan without financials showing he was making money on testing. But he couldn’t do the testing until he had a facility and he couldn’t build the facility without a loan.

A recession-proof venture

Viral Science is the kind of small business that politicians of every stripe say is key to the nation’s economic recovery. Not only does it provide a service critical to public safety, but it will employ 12-15 skilled technicians when fully staffed. And there is strong international demand for the testing provided.
Beyond that, Wischmeier said, the business is recession proof. As the biotech industry continues to grow, there will be more demand for the type of testing Viral Science does.

SBDC counsels as company finds funding

Still, finding capital for the startup was an ordeal. Fortunately, early in the process, a bank loan officer suggested that Wischmeier contact Terry Cornelison, an advisor with the SBDC in Pullman, Wash. The Washington SBDC is a no-cost business advising program of Washington State University and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The SBDC does not make loans, nor is it involved in loan approvals. But, Wischmeier said, Cornelison was a significant help nonetheless. In one-to-one meetings over the course of a year or more, Cornelison assisted with preparing financial projections, reviewing and updating the business plan, discussing options and validating that the business concept was viable and worth fighting for.
The partners had come up with nearly $400,000 of their own money to invest, but the banks weren’t biting. Then Wischmeier approached venture capitalists and angel investors, but they wanted too much control. As the months ticked by, the partners were scraping by doing lower-level testing in a temporary facility while continuing to look for capital.
Every time they hit a dead end, Wischmeier said, he knew he could sit down with Cornelison and together they’d come up with a new avenue to try.
"He was just a dictionary of who to talk to about what,” Wischmeier said. "We never gave up. We always kept coming up with ways to stay alive.”

Testing begins

They got a small break in late 2011 when the partners got a $250,000 loan from the Clearwater Economic Development Association, which was enough to get the frame of the building ordered. Finally, after more months of waiting and frustrating delays, the loan came through in 2012.
Viral Science moved into the new 7,500-square-foot facility in July and has been going through required inspections and certifications from large U.S .and European companies.
Each company does its own audit, Wischmeier said, and it can take six to eight weeks for paperwork to be completed and filed so that samples can be sent and testing can begin.
"We’ve got an awful lot in the pipeline,” Wischmeier said. "It looks extremely good.”

Strong future for families

His advice to other entrepreneurs trying to start an atypical business is to line up funding first. With 40 percent down and a recession-proof business, he and his partners assumed they’d have no problem getting a commercial loan. Instead, they went almost 18 months without a paycheck.
Now, with the facility built and more orders arriving daily, Wischmeier said all their work is paying off.
"I’ve created a good future for my family, my technicians and their families,” he said.
It’s a family-oriented business where people watch out for each other, and it has a future in Eastern Washington without fear of a corporate buyout, he said.
"In the end, we have the company I dreamed about,” he said.

Dirk Wischmeier, Viral Science, dirk@vsciinc.com, 208-882-4854
Terry Cornelison, Washington SBDC, tlcornelison@wsu.edu, 509-335-8081 
More information
For more information about Viral Science, go to http://www.vsciinc.com/
With more than 26 centers across Washington, the SBDC provides confidential, no-cost, one-on-one advising, as well as training and market research, for clients looking to start, grow or sell a small business. For more information, go to http://www.wsbdc.org and type in a zip code to find the nearest SBDC center.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Customer Relationship Matters

Or should it be Customer Relationships Matter?  Both are important.  How often do you touch base and thank your regular customers?  How are you utilizing social media and other methods of developing ongoing customer relationships?

What's your customer service strategy?
Do you spend all your time on Facebook rewarding new 'likers' rather than recognizing your loyal customers for their business?

I read one restaurant marketing book by Rory Fatt and he offers this remarkably simple concept:

  1. Identify your regular customers;
  2. Get them to come more often and spend more money each time; AND
  3. Get them to invite all their friends and tell everyone how great your restaurant is.
Pure Genius! This seems so simple but makes so much sense to all types of businesses.  I signed up for a restaurant rewards system and I get a discount during my birthday month.  What a great excuse for an extra dinner out!  And, since I signed up, the restaurant now has my email and mailing address - this is a great way to keep in touch.

Do you reward your regular customers?
One recommendation I have heard is for businesses to make some form of client 'touch' (enews, postcard, sales flyer, phone call) every 90 days.  This could be as simple as sending out a postcard announcing your upcoming holiday sale or a seasonal offer.  If you have a landscaping company, perhaps you give a reminder phone call for sprinkler service before it freezes, or your auto repair shop sends out a coupon for your next oil change.

It does take some effort on a businesses part - there are many ways to keep track, but a simple spreadsheet can work just fine.

Social Media as a Relationship-Builder

Social media is another great opportunity for small business owners to reach out to customers.  It is not an exact science and while the tools and platforms may be free, there is still a time commitment involved, which if you are the business owner, translates into dollars.  Sometimes you have to try a few things, revise, modify and try some more based on what is working.

How many of these do you use?
Before you dive into Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Constant Contact and others, it would be wise to line out a strategy.  Determine who will be responsible for updates and relationship-building, how much time you will allocate and why (Reward customers? Branding? New markets?).  What is your end goal?

One of the most important things to consider is who is your target customer and where do they spend time online?  If your typical customer is a 50 year old man, is Twitter the best use of your time and effort?  Knowing who you are trying to reach will help focus your efforts.

Social media is about building relationships.  It starts with developing a rapport and building trust, rather than just sell, sell, sell.  Give them something of value.  Selling is of course the ultimate goal, but establishing a trusted relationship is one of the steps to get there.  It takes time and effort and helps if you think about it as a long-term investment.

Recently I was sharing with a client how I learned and used Constant Contact.  He is giving it a try and sent a test run to 14 new customers with one e-coupon and it generated over $100 in sales.  Not bad.

Fostering positive customer relationships can be an excellent tool for getting your loyal and best customers to tell others about you.  If you are not sure where to begin either with developing a plan for reaching out to customers or starting social media for your business, give us a call and we can work together to identify what makes sense for you and your business.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Six Factors to Consider Before you Sign That Lease

At our recent statewide staff meeting, we had a presentation from one of my colleagues, Steve Burke, Certified Business Advisor, South Seattle SBDC, on understanding standard leases and tips for negotiating the business elements.  Steve worked for a number of years in the property management business and is one of our 'go-to' guys with complicated lease questions that our clients have.  This jam-packed workshop covered a lot of information that many business owners may not be aware of when they are preparing to lease a property.

There are countless items that business owners should consider before signing a lease and starting a business, (like making sure the revenues and cash flow support it!) but here are six details to be aware of in negotiating a commercial space.

1.  Everything is negotiable.
2.  Read and understand the entire lease.
3.  Be objective.
4.  Two biggest points of conflict.
5.  Sign in the name of business LLC or Corporation.
6.  What is Triple Net?

1.  Everything is negotiable.

There are a number of variables and sections in a commercial lease; some are fairly simple to understand, like what date the lease starts, other sections can be far more complicated, such as 'Late charges and what happens if the tenant pays less than the full payment'.   It is important to understand that all these things can be negotiable (within reason):  rent, base rent, square footage, improvements, lighting, signage, lease terms, options, deposits, possession dates, and more.  Granted you can attempt to negotiate and not all property managers will accept.  You may have more success if you look for a few important items (parking, HVAC repairs, see Number 4), rather than trying to get them to change everything in your favor.

2.  Read and understand the entire lease.  

Important advice before signing anything!  The main point of this comment is to understand what you are signing on for, and if you do not, to ask for clarification.  A lease is a legal document and you should know what you are getting into.

Burke strongly recommends that you do not sign leases longer than five years (look at what happened to those businesses that signed long leases in 2008 before the bottom dropped out).  Also make sure that tenant improvements are defined, as well as square footage and uses (what if you want to sell coffee in your book store, is it allowed?).  Square footage can be calculated by 'usable' square footage, rather than actual.  The Building Owners and Manager's Association (BOMA) Standards are generally acceptable standards for configuring square footage.

For example, most leases include something about tenant improvements - did you know that if a tenant makes any improvements that are professionally installed, such as lighting, walls, plumbing, those items are considered the property of the landlord upon termination of the lease?  This could mean a walk-in freezer, wall sconces or other things that the tenant added later are in fact considered part of the property and remain.

3.  Be objective.

The broker's job is to sell the lease for the landlord.  Says Burke, "They are experts at getting the potential tenant emotionally involved in the desired space.  This typically mutes the rational analysis necessary to help the business succeed."  We see this quite often.  A tenant can be so in love with a space that they fail to see fatal flaws in the location or costly extras.  There will always be another option.  It might not be exactly what you are looking for, but there is always another choice.

4.  Two biggest points of conflict after a lease is signed?  HVAC and parking

Burke advised that typically the biggest source of conflict arises when something happens to the heating or air conditioning (HVAC) system - and who pays for replacing it.  This can be extremely costly for a commercial unit and is likely something that a small business owner has not budgeted for.  Another source of conflict is if the controls are in a separate location for your desired space.  Find out prior to signing who will maintain control and who is responsible for repairs.  Just think if your massage studio is located next to a commercial kitchen that needs the temperature set at 65 and they control the thermostat?  Your massage patients could be freezing and uncomfortable and you may not have any say in the matter if it is not addressed up front.

Parking can be a huge issue as well.  Before you commit to a property, you need to ensure you and your employees have adequate parking.  How many spaces are dedicated to your business if there is a common parking lot?  Does the building charge for parking?

5.  Sign in the name of the business LLC or Corporation.

Burke emphasized that this is one item that is often missed and that many brokers will attempt to have the business owner personally sign, and his or her spouse, rather than putting the name in the lease of the LLC or Partnership.  He states, "It is important to be clear which parties are on the lease.  It should include the LLC or Corporation of which the landlord is a part and include the LLC or Corporation that the tenants are a part.  It should not include individual names as that would make this contract binding between those individuals as a person or an individual and an LLC or Corporation rather than between the two legal business entities."

6.  What is Triple Net?

Triple Net, or the three NNN's are typically:
  • Common area maintenance charges;
  • Property taxes passed through; and
  • Insurance on the overall building and property that is owned by the landlord including common area liability insurance.  
Make sure you ask any questions about NNN if you aren't sure.


A typical commercial lease may have almost 40 sections, not including any riders or addendums, and it can be difficult to comprehend what the terms and different options mean.  Taking the time to read through and analyze a prospective lease can save you time and money in the long run.  It may also allow you to add in some favorable items that your soon-to-be landlord left out and give you the chance to show him or her that you are a savvy business owner.

Above all...if you have not developed a cash flow, balance sheet and projections, do not sign anything until you are sure that the business revenues can support a lease payment.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

4 Tips for Preventing Employee Fraud

How protected is your company from employee theft?  Just the other day there was another story about how a Treasurer embezzled a half a million dollars and spent the money on a lavish lifestyle, travel and more.  It can happen to any size business and is often a trusted employee.  At a recent workshop, I learned a few tips from retired FBI Agent Jeff Lanza who is a nationally well-known speaker on Identify Theft and Fraud.

We learned more about fraud regarding checks and other theft, rather than strictly cash, so here are a few  important safeguards that business owners can put in place.

1.  Put Policies in Place.

Small businesses should have something like an employee or personnel manual, and other policies put into place such as Drug Free Workplace, Travel Policy, etc. to establish acceptable employee behavior when the employee is hired.  This seems like common sense, but just the other day I saw a discussion on how a company can 'stop' their employees from charging personal expenses on the company credit card.  This entire topic could be avoided by implementing a travel policy or having a section in the Personnel Manual.

If you do not have any policies established, there are numerous samples and templates available.  It is never too late to start!

2.  Establish Internal Controls.

Granting an employee too much control can lead to theft.  Setting up internal controls is a good way to protect against this.  For example, does someone review the payroll records?  Check vendor accounts?  Is your bookkeeper the only one with access to the bookkeeping system?

This can be a challenge for many small businesses with a few key employees, but is extremely important.  Even last week there was an article about how a bookkeeper had bilked a company out of thousands of dollars - their response was that they couldn't believe it...she was like family.

Keep an eye out for employees that:
1.  Are the only one who has access to account registers and bookkeeping.
2.  Won't let anyone get the mail.
3.  Never takes a day off.

I worked for one city that had an employee who stole from utility customers. She was ultimately fired and prosecuted.  The next receptionist we hired was unusually interested in how she went about it; sure enough, she tried it as well but luckily was caught thanks to new processes that were put in place following the first theft.

Things that can help:

  • Internal audits and surprise audits or reviews by an external firm.
  • Dual check signing requirements over a certain dollar amount.
  • Inventory Controls. 
  • Question vendor accounts - some payables clerks have set up bogus vendor accounts, submitted phony invoices and then paid that company.
  • Cross-training.
  • Setting up a tip hotline or a process for reporting theft.
As an owner, you put yourself and the business at risk if you do not have a good process in place for checking and reviewing revenues and expenses. 

3.  Review Check Images Online

This is easy enough to do now with online banking.  Check washing is commonly used in check fraud.  A person will take a handwritten check, 'wash' the ink off and make it out to themselves.  Lanza recommended using gel ink and purchasing safety-type business checks from a bank or other professional printer.

Another way for employees to misuse company checks would be if they were responsible for paying vendors directly.  A recent lumbermill employee stole over $500,000 from selling pallets to an unauthorized company. 

4. Verify References and Run Background Checks

If you are not currently checking references for potential hires, you should start.  Many people will tell you exactly what you want to hear in an interview and you are so excited to hire the person that this does not happen.  Some companies will require the prospective employee to run a credit check, others will do extensive background investigations.  

Employee theft and fraud can destroy a business - both financially and its reputation.  Above all, trust your instincts, yet don't be too trusting.  Taking some important steps to protect your business may not ever prevent theft but it can help catch it before it is too late.  Your Spokane SBDC Advisor can help if you are not sure where to get started.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Spokane Advisor Completes Certification Process

Tammy Everts, CBA

Tammy Everts has recently completed her certification to be a certified business advisor (CBA) for the Spokane Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
Sponsored by the Washington Small Business Development Center network in Spokane, the Washington Certified Business Advisor Certification program is designed to create a common body of knowledge and standards of performance among a diverse group of professionals.
Everts underwent an extensive six-month program of work to meet the requirements to be certified.  The peer-reviewed process involved meeting with a mentor in the network, co-advising with other Certified Business Advisors and a 13-module course of work in areas such as business planning, financial management, marketing and international trade.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Important Business License Changes for New Businesses in Spokane

Important update for new businesses in the Spokane area that should help streamline the licensing process.  Starting on November 13, 2012, new business can now apply for a City of Spokane Business License at the same time they apply for their Washington State UBI number and business registration.

Checklist for getting started
On the downside, there is an additional $9.00 processing fee.  This process is currently in place for cities of Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and others in the region.

For certain types of business owners that do business in multiple locations such as cleaning companies, sales, and service companies, I recommend that you check with each city you will be conducting business in to verify if a business license is required.  Individual cities can impose a licensing requirement and just having a license where you have a physical location may not be adequate.

Read the full announcement here.

Not sure where to start?  

The Spokane Small Business Development Center works with new business owners and people ready to start a business to make sure you have the information you need to make the decisions that are right for you and your company.
· One-on-one confidential, no fee business advising.
· Management training and market research. 
· Access to the entire SBDC network of experienced, Certified Business Advisors.

Conveniently located in 24 locations throughout the state, the SBDC offers a host of services designed to help you grow your business, achieve higher profits and improve operations.  Contact the Spokane Center at (509) 358-7893 or via the website at www.wsbdc.org.

Friday, October 5, 2012

L&I Compliance Emphasis on Unlicensed Contractors

We always advise getting the proper licenses, permits and registrations.  Not only is it a best practice, safety concern and just good business, but a recent crackdown on unlicensed contractors by Labor and Industries shows that it can be expensive too.

Read more:  L&I compliance inspectors target underground economy in weekend sweep.  

Does this look safe to you?
Visit the Washington State Labor and Industries page for general contractor requirements.

You can also check the Washington State Department of Licensing site for information on what types of licenses are required in the State.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

6 Easy Tools to Drive Traffic to Your Website

If you have a website, you have probably heard about rankings and Search Engine Optimization, SEO, which essentially means optimizing your website so that it appeals to search engines and ranks high in search results.  There are a few tricks that non-technical web maintainers can do to help drive traffic to your site for free and fairly simple to use.

1.  Use free tools to track visitors.

Google Analytics has a gold mine of data about your visitors and other statistics.   You can plan and track campaigns, visitor locations and even drill down to what type of computer your visitor has and what his or her domain is.

2.  Claim your Place Page!

Claiming your Google Place Page is one of the most important things you can do if you are trying to reach local or regional customers.  It's free, it's easy but will literally 'put you on the map'.  Google™ map, that is, which is what people see first.  Searches are becoming more and more mobile so having your place page will also help when people are searching on the fly and want instant results.

After you get your official place page, do not forget to add your information and other pictures, also called engagement objects.  Make sure to check that the pictures convey the message you are trying to get across.

This process can take up to a month - you actually have to submit an application to Google to claim your place, it's not a given.  Plan accordingly if you are launching a new website or expecting to see instant increases in customers or web interest.  Here's a great step-by-step guide.

3.  Include Quality Score Indicators. 

I have to admit, I did not know what these were and I maintained more than one website for over five years. The key word there is maintain; we were able to update and change content, plug-ins and other things but we hired a web developer to set up the websites so they were formatted correctly and optimized from the beginning.  Quality Score Indicators are those items that you typically see on every website along the bottom or additional tabs such as:
  • About
  • Copyright
  • Privacy policy
  • Executive Bios
  • News Releases
  • Social Plugins
  • Engagement objects (you know those little picture boxes that show up?  Yes, those things.)
I can name six of these, you?

You should also always have your business name, physical location and phone number on every page. How frustrating is it when you have to search to find a phone number, mailing or physical address?

4.  Keep it Fresh.

Fresh content is important.  If your press releases are two years old, put them in archives and remove the press page.  Old content indicates to the viewer that you may not still be in business or up on the latest technology or systems.  

Duplicate content and just listing key words at the bottom are frowned upon by the search engines.  If you are going to blog, do it regularly.  Prime example:  I wanted increase traffic to a website I used to maintain.  I met with an SEO expert at a training and he suggested doubling my blog posts - and bingo!  My traffic increased over 150% over a one-year period just by the increasing the frequency of blog posts. 

5.  Look at how things are written.  

People are lazy readers anymore.  We are becoming programmed to search and find, rather than keep track of where things are.  If you use Gmail instead of Outlook, you know what I mean - no more folders for every single topic, if you are looking for a past email, just search for it. 

Use the KISS principle - Keep it Short and Simple.  Also keep in mind:
Heat image - how readers look at a web page.
  • Readers skim.
  • Stick with short sentences (10 words or less) and paragraphs (1-4 sentences).
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists.
  • Identify headings as headings, not just bold the type.  Also capitalize post titles.
  • Avoid duplicate content (duplicate pages are a no-no in SEO terms.)
  • Make it fun to read!  Include pictures that are relevant, not just a canned image or cartoon character.

6.  Be creative but not Sneaky.

Finally, search engines use a number of different things in their mathematical ranking approach.  It is best to not try and outwit the system or take shady shortcuts.  Done correctly and with strategic key words and phrases throughout your website, your site will rank higher.  If you are seeking local customers, just signing up for your Google places page will help in a big way.

One thing that you can do is to take your keywords and business name and include common misspellings.  Not on a visible web page but in the site set-up and design.  

There are numerous other ways to drive content to your website, but these are a few that you may find useful.  Above all, a website is a work in progress.  Constantly updating content and keeping it fresh is an ongoing part of maintaining a quality website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Top National Trends for Small Business Development

I just returned from the National Conference for the Association of Small Business Development Centers in New Orleans.  There were over 150 different training opportunities; over 1000 attendees nationally and internationally and likely after viewing over 10,000 slides.

It was a great opportunity to learn best practices, receive network training and meet other advisors.  Whether it was a session on SEO, Business Valuation or Tax Strategies, the information was timely and relevant.

Here are the top five things I learned about current trends for small businesses to be on top of (many are probably no surprise):

1.  Mobile is in.
Unless you do not use the internet, you probably know that more people than ever have smart phones and use them.  Websites need to be optimized for mobile.

2.  Search Engine Optimization is more important than ever.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is positioning your website and web content so it ranks higher in Google searches.  The same still holds true as it did five years ago - if a web company offers you 'top rank in Google' searches, shop around.  There are a few basic tips that help your website rank higher in search, and there are also some things to avoid.  Top tip:  Claim your Place page if you have not.  Bonus Tip:  If you do not have a website, you could be losing business.

3.  Customer Relationship Matters.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is getting even more strategic.  A recent article talked about how restaurants track their customers by codes such as VIP, CT (Cheap Tipper) and more.  One presenter suggested that you should be in touch with a customer at least every 90 days - whether it's mail, a postcard, e-newsletter or phone call.  Relationship = retention.  You want your customers to stay with you, and more importantly tell all their friends and have them be your advertising.  Some methods are 'free stuff' or, technically included in the up front cost.  For example, an auto dealer that provides free oil changes for one year.  Who wouldn't tell their friends about that?

4.  Top Restaurant Trends.
Here's a news flash.  Customers expect more now than in the past.  It is not enough for a restaurant to have Good Food, Good Service and Clean Restrooms.  Dining out is an 'experience'.  The recession did have an impact on dining trends.  How many of us have said, "We'll just get take out and save the extra cost on drinks, appetizers, etc.".  Other trends are for fast casual, fresh-local, different diets (gluten free, vegan, vegetarian.  Top tip:  Kids = sales.  There's a good reason why restaurants will offer a free kid's meal.  It gets the parents in the door and gives them a perception that they are getting a good deal.

5.  Tax Strategies.
An oldie but a goodie - tax strategies isn't the sexiest workshop to attend but I got some great tips.  There are two tax deductions that are often overlooked by small business owners.  The home office deduction and auto deduction are two tax deductions to be aware of if you are a business owner, especially if you have a home-based business.  A home office needs to be a  dedicated space in your home; it can be a portion of a room, not typically garage space, but needs to be dedicated.  The auto deduction can be taken in two ways - by 1) keeping track of miles driven and then using the IRS standard mileage rate at 55.5 cents or 2) the actual expense method.  The most important thing for the auto deduction is documentation - either keep the log, or keep a file with all your receipts.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Great read: Can you patent your idea?

What is an idea worth?
Great article for those inventors that want to patent an idea.

SBA Online: Is your business idea patentable?

The article gives a good summary about:
  • What can and cannot be patented;
  • The different types of patents;
  • The patenting process; and
  • Other ways of protecting your idea/invention.

Just having an idea is not enough.  An inventor or entrepreneur with a new and unique idea/product/service needs to approach this the same way they would start any business.  The best way is to develop a business plan to address the basic business planning questions.

  • Is there a market? 
  • Who will buy it? 
  • What competition is out there?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How will you make money?
  • How much will it cost to get started?
  • Is a patent the best way to protect your product?  
Planning ahead before you run out and spend your life savings to develop a prototype or initial product only to find out that they do not sell could save you time and money down the road.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wenatchee SBDC Advisor offers Top Business Planning Tips

Jim Fletcher, Certified Business Advisor, Wenatchee Small Business Development CenterJuly 25, 2012


My preference when starting a business plan is, first develop a cash flow budget.  New business,  growing business or buying a business every action requires some investment of money with the purpose of making a return on that investment.  Therefore, before writing a business plan I want to have an understanding of what financial commitment will be necessary to enable this business to be profitable and finance eligible.

Purpose of a Cash Flow Budget
Preparing a cash flow budget is to understand how money will move through the business over a period of time. Most businesses can plan on a monthly basis while other like construction or manufacturing may need to plan on a weekly basis.

Cash flow budget is to reveal the money needed to fund seasonal sales and operating cycles.  For example, a retailer may need to spend money to buy inventory several months before the inventory is received and sold.  Or, for a landscape business how much of the money earned in the summer must be saved to survive the winter?

Cash Flow helps schedule business activities such as adding labor when sale are strong.

Cash Flow identifies financing needs and structure. A line of credit for short periods, or term loans for capital equipment purchases.

Cash flow planning is all about when money goes out and when money comes in. This is not a profit & loss model, nor concerned with non cash items like depreciation

Compare your budget to actual revenues and expenses. Determine if you are reaching your goals, costs are as expected. If not you can take corrective actions to reduce planned expenses and increase sales activities.

Cash Flow Planning Tips 
  1. Divide your budget worksheet horizontally in to four sections,revenues on top, then operating expensesoverhead expenses and last financing.  
  2. Overhead expenses, are basically the same every month regardless of how much business you have. Examples, rent, insurance, utilities, office and management, loan  principal and interest payments.
  3. Operating expenses, tend to increase/decrease with the volume of business. Examples, labor, inventory, selling expenses. You may need to set up sub-worksheets for these calculations.
  4. Start filling in the numbers that you do know. Consider the frequency of these expenses are they monthly, quarterly or annually? Round expense numbers up and revenue numbers down.  Add together the overhead and operating expenses, your total expense, plus a desired profit, provides a sales goal.
  5. Adjust sales goals to reflect seasonal business. When is your business the busiest? slowest?
  6. Test the sales goal, what will it take to achieve that goal?  How many sales at an average price? What does it take, labor, inventory, supplies to make each sale? Do those costs fit within your operating expenses? 
  7. Stress test the budget again, what if you underestimated costs and over estimated sales?  Did you adjust for seasonal business cycles.
  8. Continue to refine your budget.
Section four, financing, provides a worksheet to plan your equity injections, loans or lines of credit. Also included in this work area are capital purchases of equipment, building improvements.  These are separated as one time expenses rather than ongoing operating expenses.

With a budget you are now ready to write a business plan that is focused on implementing your budget.
Jim Fletcher, Certified Business Advisor, Wenatchee Small Business Development Center

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Number one way to increase your blog traffic

Is your blog out of date?
Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Here's my number one recommendation if you are looking to increase your blog traffic:

DO IT!  

Blog often and if you haven't updated since last year or your first blog post where you are announcing your 'new blog!'...take it off.

I realize the irony in this post in that I haven't posted for a couple of weeks, consider it a reminder to myself to finish my editorial calendar!

In a previous blog that I maintained, I was able to increase website traffic 150% in a year by blogging one to two times a week.

For more pet peeves or ways to turn your website visitors off, here's a great HubSpot article: 15 Things People Hate about Your Website.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Important update for government contractors

Important update if you are registered in the Central Contracting Registration or want to do business with the government:

The Central Contracting Registration (CCR) and the Online Representations and Certifications (ORCA) websites will be replaced by a new interface called the System for Award Management (SAM), managed by the General Services Administration. Existing CCR and ORCA registrations will transfer automatically to the new SAM website, when it is launched. Businesses registered in CCR should look to renew their profile information, update ORCA (if due), and maintain a print copy of these records. 

It is anticipated that the transition of systems will take place this summer, and the District Office will look to inform you of the date for the new website launch, when this information is solidified.  

SBA newsletter, 03.05.12

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three ways small business can profit from big events

Hoopfest weekend started Wednesday in Spokane, although actual games do not tip off until Saturday morning.  Teams decked out in full uniforms started rolling in yesterday, temporary signage is going up advertising drink and food specials and food tents are going up in Riverfront Park.  According to the Inlander, the Spokane Hoopfest generates more than $38 million to the local economy - with over 7,000 teams playing, staying, eating and shopping that really adds up.

A Spray for $1?
How creative will people get to make a buck to the masses?  Will we see young kids wheeling coolers of bottled water for a buck?  Do you think there will be many free seats in outdoor beer gardens, especially those with prime court views?

Here are three ways small businesses can capitalize on big events:

Adapt:  One cafe is changing their tactic for the weekend and instead of offering regular sit down meals, will be preparing healthy sandwiches, salads and wraps to go.  They've even put notices on their Facebook page to alert their regular customers to the change (great idea by the way).

Improvise:  Offer a special service for the weekend, for example, a drycleaner that offers a one-hour drop off for washing uniforms, or even better, what about pick up and delivery to local hotels?  I originally thought even Free Delivery would be a great selling point - but I venture a guess that people wouldn't mind paying a small fee for clean uniforms compared to trying to wash them in a hotel sink with shampoo and then having them drying on the air vents all night.

Tribute to my friend
Support: This could be another opportunity to get your name out there.  Sponsoring a team, basketball backboard, joining forces with another business or volunteering can be great for public relations.  If you are going for number of 'visibility hits' or impressions (similar to web ads), your brand could easily get a few thousand at an event like this if your logo is out there or you (and others) are sporting your logo while playing, volunteering or working.

If you can't beat them, join the fun.  If you have a downtown business, rather than complaining about all the people and not having a place to park you have two options.  Close for the weekend or embrace it.  If you have a salon, think about offering a fun colored hair extension special, a pedicure for moms with tired feet or a mini-massage for players with sore legs.  If you have a deli, offer a free bottle (or to-go cup) of water for players in uniform with every sandwich purchase.  Even better if that free drink had your logo on it.  They would tell all their friends!  Before you do this, you'll want to make sure it pencils out cost-wise.

I'm sure there are many creative ways that businesses will capitalize on the over 200,000 visitors to the downtown core.  Whether it's parking, renting out rooms, selling who-knows-what, we are sure to see innovation and marketing at its peak.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Business Advisor shares tips and answers questions on morning news show

I recently had the opportunity to participate on KHQ's Saturday morning news show, as a contributor answering questions via the KHQ Facebook page.

I really wasn't the anchor...
There was a variety of questions regarding marketing, licensing, business structure, employee hiring and more.  Rather than try and summarize, I copied the thread below.

The most frequently asked question was, 'Do I need a business license'...the answer is YES!  You need a Washington State Master Business License and a city license (or county) depending on where you are located and what you are doing.  Some cities require licenses for any business doing business in that city.  There can also be different regulations for mobile businesses (like ice cream trucks) and home occupation businesses.

Read the Facebook conversation:
Good morning! Tammy Everts, Business Advisor, here with the Spokane Small Business Development Center. We provide no-fee, confidential business advising to Small Business Owners. How can we help you???

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Small business owners: Do you have a retirement plan for your business in place?

Do you have a retirement plan (for your business) in place?  What will happen to the business if something happened to you?  Have you considered how you would get out of your business if it wasn't working out like you had planned?  

Many small business owners dive into opening and running their business without considering how to eventually get out of the business, let alone plan for retirement. As the population continues to age, more and more small business owners will be faced with 

This New York Times article mentions that if you don't have a succession plan in place, small business owners could be setting themselves up for disaster.

SBA.gov explains further:
Big dreams aside, the truth is that many small business owners have no exit strategy for their businesses in the event of their disability, retirement, or death. Given the current economy, it isn't surprising small business owners focus their energies on business survival, future growth, and even remaining active in business after retirement. However, a business exit strategy not only means having a plan for the unexpected - including financial hardship, injury, disability and even death - it also means having a plan for the succession or transfer of ownership of your business when it comes time to hang up your hat and retire.

The Spokane Small Business Development Center is offering a new and essential workshop that addresses this important issue for business owners. June 26, 2012 | 8:30 – 11 AM | $40

Plan to Finish Well: an overview of the succession process.
Paul Brown, a recognized authority on management issues will be teaching. We have known and esteemed Paul for many years. For more information and registration the direct link to this workshop is: http://www.wsbdc.org/class-detail?classid=446 .  If you prefer, you can call Cindy Doyl, Training Manager 509.358.7890 to register.  .
June 26, 2012 | 8:30 – 11 AM | $40
Spokane Small Business Development Center, 665 N Riverpoint Blvd., Suite 201, Spokane WA  99202
Please pre-register as space is limited
Up to two guests from your company may attend at no charge. One free parking pass per business at the door.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Two small business tax credits you may be missing if you've hired veterans or pay employee health insurance

Important email from the IRS (seriously!); There are two tax credit programs for small businesses that you may not be aware of:
  • Expanded tax credit for hiring veterans;
  • Tax credit for providing health care coverage to employees.

Read more:

For Small Business Week, IRS Spotlights Expanded Tax Credit for Hiring Veterans, Credit for Providing Health Care Coverage to Employees and Tax Relief

IR-2012-56 May 23, 2012
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service is marking Small Business Week, May 20 to 26, by encouraging small business owners to check out two key tax credits and a special relief program that could provide significant tax benefits during 2012.

Both the expanded credit for hiring veterans and the credit for employer-provided health care coverage can provide tax savings to eligible small businesses when they file their 2012 federal income tax returns. In addition, substantial relief from past payroll tax obligations is available to eligible employers who agree to reclassify their workers as employees in the future. Here are details on each of these benefits.

Expanded Tax Credit for Hiring VeteransA law change enacted late last year now provides an expanded Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to employers that hire eligible unemployed veterans. The credit can be as high as $9,600 per veteran for for-profit employers or up to $6,240 for tax-exempt organizations. The amount of the credit depends on a number of factors, including the length of the veteran’s unemployment before hire, hours a veteran works and the amount of first-year wages paid. Employers who hire veterans with service-related disabilities may be eligible for the maximum credit.

Certification requirements apply to these new hires. Normally, an eligible employer must file Form 8850 with the state workforce agency within 28 days after the eligible worker begins work. But under a special rule, employers have until June 19, 2012, to complete and file this form for veterans hired on or after Nov. 22, 2011, and before May 22, 2012. The 28-day rule will again apply to eligible veterans hired on or after May 22. This form can be faxed or electronically transmitted to the state workforce agency, as long as the agency is able to receive the certification forms that way.

Businesses claim the credit on their income tax return using Form 5884 and Form 3800. A separate claim procedure using Form 5884-Capplies to eligible tax-exempt organizations. Details are on IRS.gov.

Credit Helps Small Employers Provide Health Care Coverage
Small employers that pay at least half of the premiums for employee health insurance coverage under a qualifying arrangement may be eligible for the small business health care tax credit. Enacted two years ago, the credit is designed to encourage small employers to offer health insurance coverage for the first time or maintain coverage they already have.

Eligible small employers can claim the credit for 2010 through 2013 and for two additional years beginning in 2014. Targeted to small employers that primarily employ low-and moderate-income workers, the maximum credit, in tax-years 2010 through 2013, is 35 percent of premiums paid by small businesses and 25 percent of premiums paid by tax-exempt organizations, increasing to 50 percent and 35 percent, respectively, in 2014.

Small businesses claim the credit on their income tax return using Form 8941 and Form 3800. Tax-exempt organizations also use Form 8941 and then claim the credit on Form 990-T.

The recently-revamped Small Business Health Care Tax Credit page on IRS.gov is packed with information and resources designed to help small employers see if they qualify for the credit and then figure it correctly. These include a step-by-step guide for determining eligibility, examples of typical tax savings under various scenarios, answers to frequently-asked questions, a YouTube video and a webinar.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

WSBDC Google workshops - How to Grow Your Business Online

Join the WSBDC for ‘Washington Get Your Business ONLINE’, aFREE Google™ led program that provides the tools and resources for Washington businesses to get online and succeed online. Two workshops will run concurrently.

Thursday, June 21st at 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM

Spokane Riverpoint Campus
WSU Spokane Nursing Building (SNRS),
103 East Spokane Falls Blvd, Spokane WA  99202
Parking Fees on campus - WSU parking link
WSU Campus Map Link - scroll down to printable versions – SNRS bldg. #3


Get a Free Website (Computer Classroom max of 20 MUST*RSVP to secure a place)
97% of consumers search online for local products and services. If you don’t have a website, you’re virtually invisible to consumers looking online for businesses like yours. A website helps customers find you—whether they're down the street, across Iowa, or around the world. Once they've found you, your website shows them what sets you apart from other businesses. In this session, you will get the tools necessary to create a free domain name and website for your business in less than 90 minutes.
1 ½ hours | Free | 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM | Room 305F

Grow Your Business Online
In this session, find out how to take advantage of online tools to run and promote your business. You will learn about Google Analytics, Google Webmaster, the Plus 1 button, and many more free Google products targeted for small businesses. You will also customize and verify your Google Place Page.
1 + hours | Free | 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM | Room 105

*RSVP online at Google’s Washington Get Your Business ONLINE site

About the Washington Small Business Development Center
The Washington SBDC promotes economic vitality within Washington communities by providing expert business advising, demand-driven training, and applied research to existing businesses and entrepreneurs. The SBDC is a cooperative effort of Washington State University, other educational institutions, economic development organizations and the US Small Business Administration. For more information on the mission and services of the SBDC visit the network website at: http://www.wsbdc.org.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Low Interest Loan Program for Energy Efficiency Upgrades Ends Soon!

Special financing available for residential and small commercial energy efficiency improvements - interest rates as low as 1.9%.

Commercial loans: 
  • Commercial scoping audit from Avista:  No cost, takes about 1 hour of your time.
  • Participating local lenders: Spokane Teacher’s Credit Union, SNAP Financial Access
  • Interest rate:  These lower cost loans offer you reduced fees and sometimes as much as 2% lower interest rates, depending on the lender and your own credit rating and history.
  • Loan amount: Most loans will average $5,000-$15,000, but no loans will be for over $100,000.
  • Repayment terms:  3-5 years
  • Available to ALL Avista’s commercial accounts in WA state who are …
    • Small business owners, even if you don’t own your space – for equipment not permanently attached to the building.
    • Commercial property owners:  For improvements to the property itself. Includes multi-family housing (5 or more units).

Until June 30th, the interest rate on Avista’s energy efficiency loan program has dropped to 1.90% APR!  This program is available to any Avista customer – commercial or residential – in WA state, for energy efficiency and conservation measures (but not renewable energy). 

Sustainable Resources is contracted with Avista to coordinate that loan program, so contact us if you’d like to move ahead.  (Please help us spread the word to other Avista customers in WA, too.)  But don’t delay – this is only good until June 30th.  At this low rate, how can you pass it up?!