Government Contracting - Is it an Option for Your Firm?

While it may seem that only large corporations have a shot at profitable military contracts, the Defense Department actually awards more than half of its available contracts, or $55 billion, to small businesses. Additionally, the recently passed $787 billion stimulus plan promises to make even more money available through the Defense Department and other government agencies.

Although the hurdles to becoming a military vendor can at times be overwhelming and frustrating, small-business owners who persevere agree that it is tremendously profitable and in times like our current economic conditions, even essential to survival. With the U.S. currently in the midst of two wars and a multitude of other security concerns, small business owners say the military is a recession-proof customer that has insulated them from the current economic downturn. Those interested in learning more about pursuing government contracts, click HERE for more information, as well as checking the Small Business Links section on this blog for additional resources that can assist you with this process.
The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder, CEO and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts, a consulting firm specializing in start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. She is a recognized small business expert with 20+ years experience in providing Marketing, Operations, HR, and Strategic planning services to start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. Linda can be contacted at linda@strategicgrowthconcepts.com and the company website can be viewed at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com.


A Master Class in the Use of Web 2.0

Whatever your politics, there is one fact that is undeniable about Barack Obama, the man knows how to utilize today's Web 2.0 technology to reach his audience and convey his message. In the following story you will learn how he utilized an interactive website to obtain citizen participation in developing questions to be answered on an Internet broadcast, and that he had them casting votes to decide the "favorite" questions (or the ones that would be most popular with his Internet audience). You will also learn about the Internet broadcast Town Hall Meeting where he utilized those questions that were voted on. What the article doesn't tell you, but I can because I saw it, was that he publicized the whole thing (both the website question request/voting and the Internet broadcast) via Twitter, which then resulted in hundreds of retweets, and postings on both Facebook and in LinkedIN groups. As I said, whatever your politics, you have to be impressed with his ingenuity in reaching out to his potential audience – and the response number he received (as indicated in the article below) that shows it to be working.

So my question to you now is – "How can you apply these same strategies to your business to help it grow?" Think about it, if your website became interactive and allowed you to obtain customer response that helped you to market your product more effectively, wouldn't that be helpful? And, if you could drive people to your website at absolutely no cost by developing a creative "Tweet" that would cause people to retweet and to post your information on Facebook and LinkedIN to be seen by even more hundreds of thousands of people – wouldn't you find value in that?

With the country and the media saying that small business is necessary to the turnaround of the economy, and small business owners looking to Barack Obama for answers on how to help those small businesses help the economy – in my opinion, he's already given us one of the answers. Follow his lead in the use of technology in promoting our businesses to our target customers – it costs us essentially zero dollars and the impact can be huge! So I challenge all small business owners out there – read the article below and then sit down and evaluate your business to think of ways you can utilize Web 2.0 technology to promote your business and increase sales. And if in the final analysis you decide you don't know enough about it to come up with the ideas, then contact me – or another marketing professional – to help you make the most of this opportunity! I assure you, "our cup runneth over" with ideas we'd like to provide to clients willing to jump in to this new marketing arena and we'd love to hear from you!

Obama wraps up first-of-its kind Internet Q&A

WASHINGTON — President Obama wrapped up a unique Internet-era town hall meeting at the White House on Thursday, pushing hard for support of his $3.6 trillion budget and asking people to be patient with the administration's efforts to resuscitate the USA's ailing economy.

Obama said the precedent-setting online town hall meeting was an "an important step" toward creating a broader avenue for information about his administration.

He joked at one point about the number of questions about decriminalizing marijuana, saying he did not think that was the best way to stimulate the economy.

After a brief opening statement, Obama held a microphone and walked the floor in the ornate East Room, gesturing as he answered questions in an event reminiscent of town hall meetings he conducted in person across the nation during his campaign.

Before the event, the White House had said that 92,003 people have submitted 103,395 questions and cast 3,582,670 votes.

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said about 67,000 viewers were watching the webcast, which was also televised on some cable channels.

In advance of the event, potential questioners signed up on the White House website "Open for Questions."

CNN reported that Obama answered seven questions submitted that way, while also taking questions from the audience in the East Room.

Questioned also about growing unemployment, Obama said creating jobs was difficult during these hard economic times, and recommended that the work of the future should be in more high-paying, high-skill areas like clean energy technology.

Many of the lost jobs in recent years, Obama said, involved work that was done by people earning low wages and with limited work skills. He said it will take some time — perhaps through the rest of the year — before vigorous hiring resumes, and that might not happen until businesses see evidence the economy is rebounding.

On the home financing crisis, the second question put to the president, he was asked how his programs helped homeowners who are not facing foreclosure but have been deeply hurt by the recession. Many homeowners, after the housing price bubble burst late last year, now owe more on their homes than the houses are worth.

Obama told his Internet audience and about 100 people assembled in the East Room that his injection of stimulus spending into the housing market now makes it possible for 40% of all homeowners to take advantage of record-low mortgage interest rates. He encouraged eligible Americans to refinance.

Political operatives say the White House's strategy is a way to reach a demographic key to Obama's election.

"In the new world of online media, formal press conferences are just one element or program to get the message out — to those, usually older, who watch such things on TV. The online version he is doing is an alternative way to get out the same message, in this case on the budget, targeted toward a different audience, usually younger," said Morley Winograd, a onetime adviser to former vice president Al Gore who now runs the Institute for Communication Technology Management at the University of Southern California.

"In both cases the questioners are just props — or, in some cases, foils — for the star, Obama, to deliver his message. But in the latter case, they get to self-nominate instead of be selected by elites," Winograd said.

In a way, it's part campaign-style politics and part American Idol, said political strategist Simon Rosenberg.

"Barack Obama is going to reinvent the presidency the way he reinvented electoral politics," said Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network and a veteran of presidential campaigns. "He is allowing everyday people to participate in a way that would've been impossible in the old media world."

Yet the process lends itself to softer questions and ones the White House is eager to answer, Republicans noted.

"The president is going back to the safe confines he was always most comfortable with, in this case a friendly audience where the focus is on the sale rather than the substance," GOP strategist Kevin Madden said.

Contributing: Richard Wolf at the White House; Steve Marshall in McLean, Va., and the Associated Press


Email Newsletter Programs are Strong Marketing Performers

Small business owners are always in search of cost-effective, time-efficient ways to keep in touch with existing clients/customers, and the internet provides us with a variety of ways in which to achieve that. One method of maintaining regular customer contact is the use of an Email Newsletter program. Using such a program enables your clients to maintain an on-going awareness of your firm, so they remember your firm when they finally have a need for a service such as yours instead of seeking out another firm because they forgot about you.

The use of an Email Newsletter program provides a variety of benefits to your firm, including:

  • A regularly scheduled communication program to remind your clients/customers that you are available to service them

  • A method of communicating new services/products, new staff members with areas of expertise which might be of interest to clients/customers, recent awards or recognition received by your firm, education/information about the latest industry developments

  • A communication that is professional in appearance and helps to reinforce your firm’s branding message

  • A communication that can link clients/customers back to your website or blog in areas that will be of particular interest to them.

Elements of an effective email newsletter include:

  • short, easy-to-read articles

  • photographs

  • interesting, attention-grabbing headlines

  • special limited-time offers for newsletter-readers only

  • information relevant to your industry (statistics and graphs are always interesting)

  • communication regarding new products or services being offered by your firm

  • company information of interest such as new staff, awards, new offices, community participation programs, etc.

  • links to your website or blog that provide greater detail on articles discussed in the newsletter.

Obviously, the use of a professional-appearing Email Newsletter presents some challenges for business owners who do not have HTML programming skills. Luckily Web 2.0 technology has provided us with a variety of resources that enable a small business to send a professional-appearing newsletter with only the most basic of computer skills. Services such as Aweber, Constant Contact and Ennect provide user-friendly, web-based email tools that enable any business owner to develop a professional email program extremely cost-effectively. Added benefits of using such a service are that they insure that you maintain compliance with the anti-spam laws, and they increase the potential that your newsletter will reach the customer’s inbox and actually be read.

Try an Email Newsletter program for 6 months as a test; track who it was sent to, who reads it and which articles they read (the software programs will provide reports), and who you receive additional business from. Compare your cost per person of implementing the program with the revenue you receive as a result of implementing the program to determine your ROI (return-on-investment). Then compare your Email Newsletter ROI with the ROI for other marketing programs you are implementing to determine its cost-effectiveness for your firm. I’m betting it will be one of your top-performing programs!


Business.gov Launches First Government-Sponsored Online Community for Small Businesses

The SBA’s Business Gateway Program announced today the launch of a new Web initiative to provide the first government-sponsored online community built specifically for small businesses.

The objective of the online small business community supports the White House’s mission to create transparency, and aims to provide small business owners, bloggers, and the government with a place to discuss and share information about starting and running a successful business.

Read the SBA’s news release detailing information about this new initiative and how it can help small businesses by clicking this link.


'Social Media' the Topic of Today's BlogTalkRadio Broadcast

Had an excellent panel today on the ‘Strategic Growth Concepts for Small Business’ BlogTalkRadio show. Topic was “Social Media: How to use it to grow your business”. Panel consisted of: Kevin Green, Director of Social Media Marketing at Digital Influence Group; Derek Mehraban, CEO at Ingenex Digital Media, blogger at The Digital Bus, and instructor at Michigan State University; and LJ Jones, Social Media Strategist at Studeo, and featured blogger on Social Media Today.
Conversation dealt with how best for a small business to maximize social media opportunities, including: the development of an appropriate strategy, selecting the right social media vehicles, designating the right person or people to lead your firm’s social media initiatives, and insuring that your firm is providing valuable content which will drive interaction.
The hour-long broadcast provided a broad array of “hints & tips” to maximize your firm’s social media experience. If you’d like to check it out, the podcast can be downloaded from: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/strategicgrowthconcepts or a link can be found on the ‘Media’ page of this blog.
Our next topic, scheduled for March 24th at 2:30 p.m. EDT, is ‘The Legal Aspects of Starting a Business: How to Prevent Pain and Expenses in the Future’. Please join us to insure that you - and your firm - are properly protected!


GREAT News for Laid Off Workers Paying for COBRA

There has been a great deal of debate recently about whether or not the recently passed 'American Recovery and Reinvestment Act' would provide benefit to small business, and I am certainly a participant in that debate. However, one provision of this legislation was recently brought to my attention and it is a provision that will provide tremendous benefit to those workers who were recently laid off and are attempting to keep their medical coverage thru COBRA.

As you are likely aware, the cost of COBRA coverage is significant. In most cases, even if you are just trying to cover yourself and not a family, you are likely paying in the range of $400-500 per month; family coverage likely puts you in the $1000 per month range. Not easy to manage when you're out of work and trying to live on unemployment (if you're lucky!). So, I'm happy to inform you that the recently passed legislation contains a provision that enables laid off employees who meet the criteria to pay just 35% of their premiums for a specified period and still maintain their coverage. The information on this provision is lengthy; therefore, I have posted an article providing the details on our website at http://www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com/humanresources/HR-Resources-for-Employers_I58/Article-Understanding-COBRA-Premium-Assistance_A56.html. Please read this article and contact your COBRA administrator to see if you qualify for participation in this program. If so, it can go a long way toward keeping your finances on more stable ground while you work on finding that new job or starting your own small business. Good luck!


SBA Ready to Explain Stimulus Plan Directly to Small Business Owners

In reviewing the social media groups I participate in and the content posted on places like Twitter and Facebook recently, it's obvious to me that there are still a great many questions about the stimulus plan and what, if any, benefits it will provide to small businesses.

A recent news release by the New Jersey SBA office indicates, "The Small Business Administration will soon roll out major changes to its loan programs — including increased government guarantees and lower fees — in an effort to help small businesses get through the recession, according to Jim Kocsi, New Jersey district director for the agency. The SBA will guarantee 90 percent of the loan in its largest program, 7A, up from 85 percent for loans under $150,000 and 75 percent for loans between $150,000 and $2 million. An SBA loan is a loan made by a bank or other lender, then partially guaranteed by the federal government. Through the end of 2010, the agency also will waive the guarantee fee, which is charged to the lender but passed on to the borrower, Kocsi said. In effect, the fee reduces the amount of money the borrower can use, since part of the loan goes to pay the fee. "To give you an idea of the impact — on a $2 million loan, the fee is $53,000," he said."

News release notwithstanding, it still doesn't indicate what type of businesses will be helped, when the money will be available, how to qualify, and any of a dozen other questions that small businesses need to know answers to. That being the case, I thought you might be interested in an upcoming Web Chat the SBA will be hosting on March 19th, the topic of which will be helping small business owners get answers to questions about the stimulus plan and its impact on small business in the U.S. The news release announcing this web chat and providing access information is shown below.

WASHINGTON – The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be the focus of discussion for the U.S. Small Business Administration's March Web chat. SBA Associate Administrator for Capital Access Eric Zarnikow will help small business owners get answers to their questions about what the Recovery Act means for the nation's small businesses.

The Recovery Act is a national effort to grow the U.S. economy by stimulating job creation, freeing credit markets, and investing in small business. The Act contains a package of loan fee reductions, higher guarantees, new SBA programs, secondary market incentives, and enhancements to current SBA programs that will help unlock credit markets and begin economic recovery for the nation's small business sector.

SBA is working to enact the new programs created by the passage of the bill and make changes to the programs already in existence. Additional information on the Recovery Act is available online at www.sba.gov/recovery/index.html.

WHO: Eric Zarnikow, associate administrator for the Office of Capital Access at the U.S. Small Business Administration will host the SBA's March Web chat on the topic "The Recovery Act and Your Small Business." Zarnikow will answer a range of questions to help chat participants understand the elements of the Recovery Act that pertain to the SBA and the nation's small businesses.

WHAT: SBA's Web chat series, providing small business owners with an opportunity to chat about relevant business issues online with experts, industry leaders and successful entrepreneurs. Chat participants will have direct, real-time access to the Web chats via questions they submit online, both in advance of and during the live session.

WHEN: March 19, 2009, 1 – 2 p.m. ET

HOW: Participants can join the live Web chat by going online to http://www.sba.gov/, and clicking the "Online Business Chat" icon. Web chat participants may post questions for Zarnikow before the March 19th chat by visiting http://app1.sba.gov/liveMeeting/mar09/, and posting their questions online.


More than 500 Tools for Small Business

In today's turbulent economy small businesses need to take advantage of every resource that they can locate. In an effort to fulfill our Mission of providing access to the widest number of resources possible for small businesses, below please find links to over 500 resources for small business.

A large number of these provided resources are web-based, which enables you to access them from any location. Additionally, many of these resources are FREE.

100+ FREE Tools from Inc.com

65 FREE Resources from Entrepreneur.com

270+ Resources from Mashable.com

197 Resources from Business Owner's Toolkit

Resources from SCORE

50 Resources from Best Universities.com

34 Resources from Duct Tape Marketing

9 Tools from PC World

Resources frm Macrory.com

Free Software from Intuit

Resources from Social Computing Magazine

Trackur Reputation Management

8 FREE Tools from AllBusiness.com

Esimators, Calculators & Forms for Contractors from HGTVpro

FREE Podcasting

The FREE Site

ConnectNow webinar software via Adobe Reader 9

Resources from Marketing Today

Review of Marketing-related Laws

4 FREE Tools from the Web Reviewer

10 FREE Tools from CreativePro.com


LinkedIN Business Network


In reviewing the resources and tools included in this list we found some VERY interesting tools that frankly, we hadn't even conceived of – let alone heard of. Do yourself a favor and spend some time reviewing the resources made available on these links. I believe you will find some excellent tools to help you grow your business, increase your effectiveness and productivity, and minimize your costs.

If any of you are aware of other resources that would provide value to our readers – especially FREE ones – please provide info in the comments. I will continue to update the list periodically.


Where to Get Small Business Loans

As small business loans from banks are harder and harder to come by, the stimulus package notwithstanding, one source seems to have escaped the issues being experienced by the banking industry; that source is credit unions. It turns out that credit unions weren't involved in the sub-prime lending that has turned the banking industry upside down so they have money – and willingness – to lend to small businesses. According to the Credit Union National Association, the amount of business loans was up 18% last year and the average loan size is about $215,000 – and they're even making loans to startup businesses. However, borrowers will still have to prove credit-worthiness. In most cases, they will be required to verify their income with tax forms, pay stubs and other forms.

There is an excellent article recently published by the Wall Street Journal which details this increased lending trend by credit unions; the article can be found at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123603579028714219.html . Check out the article, then check with your credit union to see if a small business loan is an option for your company!


Using Web 2.0 Technology to Teach About Web 2.0 Technology

A recent survey by Local Mobile Search, in conjunction with AllBusiness.com (as reported by Opus Research, Inc.) indicates that 59% of businesses surveyed say they do not participate in online marketing of their businesses. The survey further reported that the reasons most cited were high cost, lack of time and not knowing where to begin.

Strategic Growth Concepts is striving to change those results because we believe that with the largest percentage of businesses today having less than 5 employees and little, if any, startup capital, it is imperative that small business owners are made aware of the wide array of Web 2.0 technology tools and resources available to aid them in growing their businesses with little investment other than their time and effort. This technology can teach them how to maximize their business' resources (both human and financial) and provide them with the tools to do so.

As part of Strategic's effort to educate small business about the technology by utilizing the technology, our firm has scheduled several upcoming broadcasts on our BlogTalkRadio show, 'Strategic Growth Concepts for Small Business'. These broadcasts will focus on topics of interest to small business, and will feature experts in each topic area. The following is a schedule of the broadcast topics currently scheduled:

Franchising – What is it, and is it right for you?

March 10, 2009 at 2:30 p.m. EST

Featuring experts: Paul Segreto, CEO of franchisEssentials and 21st Century Franchise Coach

Jackie Adams, President of JA Adams & Associates, dba FranChoice

Dave Keegan, Franchise Operations Specialist Associate, Strategic Growth Concepts

The Basics of Social Media – How to Use it to Grow Your Business

March 17, 2009 at 2:30 p.m. EST

Featuring experts: currently being finalized

The Legal Aspects of Starting a Business – How to Save Pain & Expense in the Future

March 24, 2009 at 2:30 p.m. EST

Featuring experts: James Voigt, Attorney at Lavelle Law

Irv Williamson, CEO at Growth Guidance, Inc.

Rebecca Turner, Attorney at Maddin Hauser

Using Facebook to Grow Your Business

Like most small business owners, I'm always looking for new ways to promote my business and make people more aware of what I do. And like many of you who are "social media savvy", I've had a personal profile on Facebook for awhile now as one more avenue meant to promote my business. However, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with it, as it really IS much more of a "social-oriented" medium and that's not what I was looking to gain from it. So, I took a couple of basic steps – first, I started another Profile under my company name (http://profile.to/strategicgrowthconcepts), and then I also started a Group under my company name (http://groups.to/strategicgrowthconcepts). Both of these have given me additional opportunity to provide more focus on the business, though not quite yet to the extent that I wanted. The "wall" page is still very "social-oriented" because that's what it's designed to be, and what most people use it for. The "group" has allowed me to do a better job of "controlling content" in order to insure that it stays business-focused. But, I still wasn't happy with it.

So, I did as I normally do, and I started conducting research; in this case on the ways other companies are utilizing FaceBook – and I found the answer I was seeking. It turns out that FaceBook is currently in the midst of implementing some changes that are designed to solve exactly the problem I was having. They have developed a "Page" concept that is meant to focus on different categories of businesses. Each category comes with a specific template of included sections that you can then customize as you like. The "Pages" allow you to include a lot more detailed information about your company, as well as any events you want to promote, discussions you would like to initiate, various applications that you would like to attach, as well as uploading files you want to share, video, photos, etc. It allows you to customize the Tabs included on the page so they are best suited to your company's purposes.

I just set up my company's page today so I still have some work to do to it, but I thought the concept was so great that I wanted to share it with all of you. Check out my "page" at: http://companies.to//strategicgrowthconcepts. Also, to help you learn about this new offering from Facebook, I was able to track down a Facebook location that takes you thru the process as well as providing additional information and resources; see this at: http://www.facebook.com/advertising/?pages .