Thursday, October 28, 2010

The SBA - Making Small Businesses Bigger Now

By: Chad Cohen

A few weeks ago, the Small Business Administration (SBA) published a final rule revising the size standards that determine the eligibility for a SBA program. That’s great news for all the businesses out there that have been unable to access the necessary credit they need to grow.

However, SBA size standards fluctuate by industry and have previously been set by number of employees or average annual receipts. These sizes have remained relatively flat since the system was put in place in the mid-1980s. For the most part, industry size standards now set at $7 million in average annual receipts will be doubled or more and in some cases increasing to $30 million, or alternatively setting maximum level of employees at 100. The new size standards take effect on November 5th.

Meanwhile, the small business jobs bill raised the cap on net worth to $15 million and the limit on income to $5 million. By increasing the size standards for small businesses, vital access to credit could flow more regularly again into the economy. This could serve as the much-needed boost the franchising industry has been looking for. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Create a Hacker-Free Zone

By: Amanda Rich

It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday and my mom calls…

“Hi mom.”

“Honey, your computer sent me six Viagra e-mails today. I think you have a virus.”

“What? How did this happen?”

“I don’t know but I’m looking at them all right now….Viagra.”

Oh no. Did someone hack into my computer? Could I really have a virus? Who else received my Viagra e-mails?! This is bad bad news.

This phone call immediately promoted me to do some research and what I found were tons of articles on keeping your data and your business safe. Unfortunately, it can be very easy for hackers to take your company's valuable information. With so much information on this topic, I thought it would be helpful to compile a brief list of tips your small business can put to work right now.

• Protect files. Use encryption and password protection or both. Change your passwords frequently and use difficult passwords.
• Clean out your browser's saved data regularly. This includes the cache, saved forms, cookies and passwords.
• Keep Windows Office, antivirus, and any other installed software applications updated.
• Lock up your laptops and drives if you leave them at the office.
• Do not save passwords, banking or credit card information in your browser.
• If you set-up a wireless network, change the default SSID to something more obscure. Don't use a name that identifies your organization. If possible and if your access point allows it, restrict wireless access to normal office hours.
• Stay off free, open wireless networks, while traveling for work. They are not suitable for conducting business without protection.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is Your Business Boring?

By: Chad Cohen

Reoccurring and predictable revenue. It’s what drives all small businesses and franchises. It’s the money that makes the wheels spin and payroll possible. But almost by its very definition, predictable is boring. So can you be conventional yet innovative at the same time?

I would say yes. The journey towards profitability and value does not mean you have to sacrifice creativity. In fact, a healthy dose of both predictability and fun are what make good companies great and great companies excel.

Corporate culture. It’s subtle, but everywhere around you. Suck at it and it can break you. Build it right and you’ll never have to back down. Culture determines who will work for you, who will not and who will quit. Those who do not fit will not be part of the plan.

In small businesses, emerging companies and franchises more than anywhere else, culture starts at the top. Leaders need to be living examples of the culture they want to create. Everything you choose, from office furniture to dress code, will dictate behavior and set the tone for what is and what isn’t ok. But remember, free parking and candy walls are not job benefits; they’re only perks.

Culture can be shaped only with deliberate attention. It doesn’t relate directly or exclusively to your profit margin, but rather to the emotional health of your business. How you participate in decision-making is where a company’s values come to life or death. The loudest guy in the room is not always right. True leadership influences and nurtures a culture through action and open communication because it shapes future behavior.

Make coming to work fun. Encourage laughter, collaboration and experimentation while maintaining your company’s vision. Reward sound decision-making and not just results so that entrepreneurship thrives.

Basically, don’t be a douche-bag leader. Have fun but at the same time be awesome at what you do. Everything else will fall into place.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New H-2B Visa Rules

By: Chad Cohen

In an issue close to my heart and home, the U.S. Department of Labor has proposed to modify its regulations governing the H-2B visa program, which allows companies to bring in foreign workers for temporary or seasonal non-agricultural employment. My wife was the recipient of a H-2B visa many years ago before we got married and without the opportunity to work professionally in this country, our paths may have never crossed. In fact, she received her H-2B on September 9, 2001, just two days before 9-11 after which all visas were temporarily frozen. And ever since 9-11, the program has been limited by law to a cap of 66,000 visas per year.

This program allows the entry of foreign workers into the U.S. when qualified American workers are not available and when the employment of foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed workers. The proposed regulation would require employers to pay H-2B and American workers recruited in connection with an H-2B job application a wage that meets or exceeds the highest of the prevailing wage, the federal minimum wage, the state minimum wage or the local minimum wage.

Franchise systems and small business alike need to pay attention to the continually evolving H-2B Visa regulations. Good talent is good talent, whether it comes from overseas or is homegrown.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What it Means to Deliver Great Customer Service

By: Chad Cohen

Last week I was in one of my favorite Miami restaurants, Sakaya Kitchen, chatting it up with my friend and chef/owner Richard Hales when it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks - the restaurant business, our business, any business boils down to a great product and of course excellent customer service. Sakaya Kitchen delivers both. It’s not only their amazing take on Korean-Southeast Asian-Funk-Fusion, but it’s the way Chef Hales works the room and treats each customer as if they were sitting down at his kitchen table next to his family. The food is awesome and Chef Hales and his staff make me feel appreciated. Simple stuff, but very powerful.

Good customer service, in my opinion, is simply meeting the same expectations you would have if you were the customer. It’s as uncomplicated as that, yet what one of things that we all struggle to do well. Providing good customer service is often a matter of common sense, but that does not mean that it comes naturally to small business owners, franchise owners or their staff.

It Starts at the Top
Great leaders lead by example and good customer service will always begin and end with those in charge. Show indifference and your staff will mimic it.

Set Expectations
Core values must be clearly established. Employees should know early on what is expected and that they will be evaluated based on those values.

Get to Know Your Customers
Find out your customer’s names and use them whenever you can. It builds a bridge of trust and opens up lines of communication. You would be surprised to find out how much you can learn about your business by listening to your customers and engaging them in conversation.

Build a Culture
Your team is equally as important as the customers that walk through the door. If employees know they are appreciated and needed, they will take on greater responsibility for the overall success of your business.

Show Your Appreciation
Say thank you. It’s as straightforward as that. If you care enough about your customers, they will care about you. It’s just human nature.

Friday, October 1, 2010

1099 Reporting in the Health Care Reform Bill Will Crush Small Businesses

By: Chad Cohen

No matter which side of the aisle you stand on, the new Health Care Reform Bill is convoluted mess of law making - 3,000+ pages of constitutional language that is supposed to make health care more accessible and affordable. But buried deep inside those pages is there is piece of legislation that has the potential to cripple small businesses and franchises.

Under the new health care law and beginning in 2012, businesses must report all transactions that involve property and services, and which aggregate more than $600 in a year. These transactions will trigger the requirement to file a Form 1099 with the IRS and furnish taxpayer identification numbers for the businesses and persons involved. Currently, businesses are only required to file a 1099 for independent contractors they use in their business. The new rules expand the requirement to cover all goods and services purchased for the business.

Imagine the consequences. We probably spend more than $600 a year on paper and for the water guy. The idea that I would need to do the IRS’ job and 1099 the water guy and Office Depot is ludicrous. We’ll spend more time and money collecting information from vendors to properly report business-to-business transactions than the actual transactions are worth. I’m all for closing the budget gap and helping pay my share for health care, but not at the expense of franchises, small businesses and their employees.

“The immense scope of this new information reporting requirement will undoubtedly impact the operations of small franchised businesses and lead to serious unintended consequences,” said International Franchise Association's Senior Vice President of Government Relations & Public Policy David French. “The proposed rules are very broad and afford no opportunity to minimize the burden of these requirements. Therefore, the International Franchise Association strongly believes that the only solution for franchise business owners is to repeal these new reporting requirements before they are scheduled to go into effect.”

The idea that we need to track all payments to each and every new and existing vendor plus the flood of paperwork that would ensue will inevitably result in mistakes, trigger audits, and increase the burden on an already taxed small businesses community. This piece of the Health Care Reform Bill needs to be repealed immediately. Each and every one of us needs to reach out to our respective Congressional leaders and demand that it be retracted.