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Posts Tagged ‘Small Business Trends’


The State of Home-Based Business

September 2nd, 2011 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Do you remember when “home-based business” was a term you had to define? When the idea of working from home was foreign to most people and entrepreneurs who did so were viewed with suspicion?

I do, and that’s why I’m so fascinated by the latest data from The U.S. Census Bureau about home-based business ownership. The Census Bureau’s 2007 Survey of Business Owners found, among other things:

Home-based businesses dominate: More than half (51.6 percent) of all businesses that responded to the survey were operated primarily from someone’s home.

Home-based businesses have small sales: Just 6.9 percent of home-based businesses that responded to the survey had $250,000 or more in annual receipts. In contrast, more than half (57.1 percent) of home-based businesses had annual sales of less than $25,000. Unfortunately, the Census doesn’t ask questions like whether these business owners have small sales because they don’t wish to grow any bigger, or whether they’re struggling to grow. I’d be curious to know.

Home-based businesses are employers: Nearly one-fourth (23.8 percent) of home-based businesses responding to the survey had employees. Although the majority (62.9 percent) did not, that’s still a surprisingly large number who are employers. This not only goes against the conventional wisdom that home-based entrepreneurs are soloists, but is also further evidence of home-based business’s acceptance.

Home-based business owners are more likely to be women: Businesses owned by women or by men and women were more likely to be home-based (58.2 percent and 58.1 percent, respectively). Slightly less than half of businesses owned by men (49.1 percent) were home-based.

Home-based business owners are less likely to be minorities: Most nonminority-owned businesses (54.4 percent) and businesses with both minority and nonminority owners (56.0 percent) were home-based. Among minorities, however, just 46.5 percent of firms were home-based.

As these statistics show, home-based business is no longer a rarity but a fact of life. In fact, I’m willing to bet it’s grown even more in the wake of the recession. I’d be interested to see current statistics to learn how many of the new entrepreneurs and “solopreneurs” created by the 2008 recession are running their businesses from home.

If you’re a home-based business owner, do these figures jibe with your own experience?

Image by Flickr user James Thompson (Creative Commons)

 

 

How to Keep Tabs on the Economic Measures That Matter to Your Small Business

August 31st, 2011 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

These days, the economy is on a wild ride, and pundits and news outlets are all watching economic indicators with bated breath. But what economic indicators really matter to your small business, and how can you keep track of them yourself to make sure you don’t miss a trick? Here are 5 resources you can use to keep your pulse on the economy.

Consumer Confidence: When confidence is higher, consumers tend to spend more, so keeping track of this measure can help you know when to expect more business or, conversely, cut back on inventory and offer more discounts. One good source of consumer confidence measure is The Conference Board.

Employment Data: You’ll hear statistics about layoffs and job creation announced by all major news outlets, but you can also find monthly employment data online at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For many small businesses, an even more important measure is local employment data, which you can find at the BLS site as well.

Real Personal Consumption Expenditures: To learn whether consumers are spending and see trends in spending, you’ll want to check this indicator, released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Producer Price Index: Particularly important to manufacturers or those who purchase products for resale, this indicator tracks the cost of materials used in manufacturing. Following it will give you early warning if your costs for materials—or for products you buy from manufacturers—are likely to increase. Get the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

U.S. Dollar Value: When the dollar declines in relation to other currencies, U.S. exports are likely to sell better; at the same time, prices in the U.S. will porbably rise since manufacturers will be paying more for anything they source outside the U.S. This information is also widely reported in daily news, but you can also get it from The U.S. Dollar Index Futures.

Image by Flickr user Horia Varlan (Creative Commons)

The Best (and Worst) States for Entrepreneurship

August 30th, 2011 ::

By Karen Axelton

Are you considering moving your business to a new location, or just want to see how your state stacks up in comparison to others? The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bureau of Business Research and Department of Economics recently released its State Entrepreneurship Index (SEI). This nationwide analysis and ranking system compares how states measure up in terms of business formation and innovation.

Developed by economists at the University, the SEI measures more than just raw business starts. It combines five key components: a state’s percentage growth in business establishments; its per capita growth in business establishments; its business formation rate; the number of patents per thousand residents and the gross receipts of sole proprietorships and partnerships per capita.

Each state is assigned a state index for each component based on how much each state’s performance is above or below the average of all state data, which has a value of 1.0. A state’s overall SEI number is the average of the five index values.

What are the best entrepreneurial states? Nationally, New York kept the top spot from the last SEI in 2008, with an index score of 2.34. Close behind were Washington (2.17), Massachusetts (2.04), New Jersey and Oregon (both at 1.93) to fill out the top five.

How about the worst states? South Carolina, with an index of 0.07, was No. 50. Arizona (0.11) was No. 49, behind Mississippi (0.32), Nevada (0.33) and Alabama (0.41).

As for the biggest movers on the list, the big winner was Oregon, which rose 40 spots (to number 5) compared to its ranking of 45 in 2008. Biggest loser? Nevada dropped 40 spots to number 47 compared to its rank of number 7 in 2008.

The SEI combines detailed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Internal Revenue Service Statistics of Income Bulletin, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Statistical Abstract.

Of course, moving your business shouldn’t be a decision based on one ranking, but indexes like the SEI can give you insights into what states are thriving—or struggling—in today’s economy.

Image by Flickr user Sue Clark (Creative Commons)

Restaurant Owners Get More Pessimistic

July 11th, 2011 ::

 By Rieva Lesonsky

Restaurant owners’ outlook about the economy has become less optimistic, reports the National Restaurant Association’s restaurant performance index. In May, the index dropped 1 percent to 99.9 from April’s level of 100.3. (Index values above 100 indicate a period of expansion, while values below 100 represent a period of contraction.)

What caused the slide? A drop in spending is partly to blame. Consumers spent less eating out in May, with 40 percent of restaurant operators reporting a drop in same-store sales between May 2010 and May 2011, compared with 31 percent in April.

Consumers also dined out less frequently in May. Forty-one percent of restaurants surveyed said traffic decreased between May 2010 and May 2011, compared to 35 percent in April.

“Like the economy as a whole, the restaurant industry’s recovery hit a speed bump in May,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president at the association, said in reporting the news. “However, the overall economic fundamentals of the restaurant industry remain positive, which will likely lead to stronger performances in the months ahead.”

Bearing that out, restaurant owners in the survey were still making capital expenditures. Forty-four had invested in equipment, expansion or remodeling in the past three months, a slight drop from 48 percent who reported doing so in the April survey. And 50 percent of restaurant owners surveyed plan to make capital expenditures in the next six months.

Even so, restaurant operators are not as optimistic about the future. The index’s Expectation Index, which assesses restaurant owners’ six-month outlook in four areas — same-store sales, employees, capital expenditures and business conditions — dropped to 100.6 in May. Although that’s still positive, it’s a decline from 101.5 in April. In addition, only 41 percent of operators expect higher sales in the next six months, down from 55 percent in January.

Restaurant owners were also fairly pessimistic about the U.S. economy in general. Just 24 percent of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in the next six months. That was the lowest percentage to foresee improvement in over two years. Twenty-one percent say economic conditions will get worse in the next six months.

Image Courtesy: Karen Axelton

2010 Census Shows America’s Getting Older and More Manly

June 24th, 2011 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

The 2010 Census results are in and the Census Bureau has gradually been releasing the data. Census results are a treasure trove of information for small businesses because they reveal demographic trends that affect your target customers and give you insight into what business concepts, markets and regions of the country are going to be hot in the coming years. The most recent Census findings have some interesting implications for small business.

More Men: More boys than girls are born in the U.S. every year, but as we age the ratio of men to women shrinks because men don’t live as long. That’s changing in the 2010 Census, however. Men are starting to live longer, and as a result they are becoming a larger proportion of the population.

In the past decade, the number of men in the U.S. increased by 9.9 percent, faster than the 9.5 percent growth rate for women. As a result, women outnumbered men by only 5.18 million, compared with 2000, when there were 5.3 million more women than men.

The biggest change came in the older cohorts. Since 2000, the number of men aged 65 and older increased by 21 percent, nearly double the 11.2 percent growth rate for women in the same age group. Among those aged 65 to 74, the number of women now exceeds the number of men by about 1.5 million, down from 1.8 million in 2000.

Americans Get Older: Overall, the nation is aging. The median age in the U.S. increased to 37.2, up from 35.3 in 2000. Among those over 18, the 45-plus age group now makes up the majority at 51.9 percent, an increase from 42 percent in 1990.

In addition, seven states and more than half of all U.S. counties now have a median age of 40 or older. Maine has the oldest residents at 42.7 years; the other states are Vermont, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. (Utah was the youngest state, with a median age of 29.2.)

Family Relationships: Changes in gender ratios are affecting family living situations. With more men living longer, the percentage of women ages 65 to 74 who are widowed dropped to 24 percent in 2010, down from 44 percent in 1960. The percentage of older women living alone who are female decreased to 71 percent in 2010 from 75 percent in 2000. If men continue to enjoy longer life expectancy, this trend will continue.

What these trends will mean for your business depends on your industry and your niche. Read more 2010 Census data at the Census website.

Image by Flickr user comedy_nose (Creative Commons)

Where to Advertise to Reach Affluent Consumers

June 1st, 2011 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you trying to reach affluent consumers with your advertising? And are you wishing you had the budget to advertise on TV? Well, you need not worry. According to a recent survey of affluent Internet users from The Affluence Collaborative, reported by eMarketer, TV is far from the best way to reach affluent consumers.

So where will your advertising reach affluent consumers? Surprisingly, print media is still a big hit with the wealthy set. According to the study, more than 20 percent of those with incomes of $500,000 or above spent 11 or more hours per week reading newspapers. Among affluent individuals with incomes of $200,000 to $500,000, 9.1 percent spent 11 hours or more reading newspapers. Compare this to just 6 percent of the general population.

Magazines were also popular with affluent consumers. The same survey found that 22 percent of affluent internet users earning $500,000 or more read magazines for 11 or more hours per week, compared with 4.5percent of the general population. Slightly more than 7 percent of affluents with incomes of $200,000 to $500,000 said the same. Just 11.5 percent of affluents making over $500,000 said they “rarely or never” read magazines; by comparison, over 30percent of the general population said the same.

When it comes to television, the patterns reverse, with affluents much less likely to watch TV than the general population. Nearly 40 percent of the general population watched TV for 21 or more hours per week, compared with 21.5 percent of the highest-income respondents. More than 40 percent of affluents in both groups watch 10 or fewer hours of television a week, in comparison to 26.5 percent of the general population.

But one area where affluents’ consumption may be shifting is among affluent millenials (age 35 and under). Recent data from the Luxury Institute reported in eMarketer shows that this group is using digital media more than older affluents. Watching online video (78 percent) was more popular among affluent millennials than reading magazines (76 percent) or newspapers (68 percent).

What does this suggest for your ad campaign? If you’re targeting affluent customers, you need to segment further to focus on particular age groups. The good news is that print advertising and online advertising can both be affordable for a small business, enabling you to reach both audiences.

Image Courtesy Karen Axelton

When Hiring Workers With Disabilities, Businesses Fall Short

October 20th, 2010 ::

By Karen Axelton

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. But 20 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), things have not gotten better for employees with disabilities, reports a new study conducted by Harris Interactive for the Kessler Foundation and National Organization on Disability.

Just 21 percent of all working-age people with disabilities have jobs, compared to 59 percent of working-age people without a disability, according to the Kessler Foundation/National Organization on Disability 2010 Survey of Employment of Americans with Disabilities.

Most employers say employees with disabilities have the same abilities and workplace behaviors as employees without disabilities. (Interestingly, 35 percent think employees with disabilities have more dedication, and 33 percent think they have less turnover). Most employers also say the cost of hiring a person with a disability to be the same as hiring a person without a disability. And most employers say hiring employees with disabilities is important.

But companies are not putting their money where their mouths are. Just 56 percent of employers have hired someone with a disability in the past three years. Large (74 percent) and midsized (68 percent) companies are much more likely than small companies (43 percent) to have done so.

Is the economy to blame? Kessler Foundation president and CEO Rodger DeRose says the economy is disproportionately affecting people with disabilities, but believes lack of awareness among employers is also a factor. Of the 70 percent of companies that have diversity policies or programs, only two-thirds include disability as a component.

The situation has actually worsened since a prior survey was done in 1995. Fewer companies today have either a disability policy or program (29 percent in 2010 compared to 66 percent in 1995). Nineteen percent of companies have a specific person or department that oversees the hiring of people with disabilities, down from 40 percent in 1995. And just 18 percent of companies offer an education program to help integrate people with disabilities into the workplace, down from 63 percent in 1995.

For companies considering hiring as the economy picks up, employees with disabilities can be a “ready talent pool of … dependable workers,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. “Hiring people with disabilities can expand the productive power of [a business’s] work force.” Find more information and advice about hiring people with disabilities on the NOD website.

Image by Flickr user man pikin (Creative Commons)

Tweetchat Recap on Blogging Effectively to Market Your Small Business

July 7th, 2010 ::

Shashi Bellamkonda wrote this great recap on the Tweetchat held on June 24th where the topic was about blogging effectively to market your small business. It is over at Small Business Trends but here are a few highlights:

  • When thinking about blogging, companies should think about goals first. What info you want to share and who will blog?
    • Content creation  -getting in habit of looking at daily business from blogging perspective (@eyeinfo)
  • Reasons to blog: Thought leadership, education, seo, branding, customer service and event promo
    • The blog is the hub or center of your business community, usually. Another key reason to maintain a blog w/social links (@CreativeSage)
  • Should SEO be a top consideration when starting a Blog?
    • SEO is a great goal but for a business blog, I feel that producing content that is useful to the reader is most important (@bethschillaci)
    • SEO should be a constant consideration for your blog, but content is always King. SEO is a tool.

Go to the full article to check out the whole recap.

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Your Marketing Needs to Have a Target…

December 8th, 2009 ::

I wanted to call this post “Does Your Audience Have a Target on Their Back”, but I didn’t want to get people concerned that I wanted you to cause pain to your intended audience. Today’s piece of Marketing Knowledge Goodness is about the pretty simple, yet often overlooked, concept when you are creating your marketing piece(s)/strategy, the Target Market (Audience).

To get a definition out of the way, Wikipedia defines Target Market as:

A ‘target market or target Audience is the market segment which a particular product is marketed to. It is often defined by age, gender and/or socio-economic grouping. Market Targeting is the process in which intended actual markets are defined, analyzed and evaluated before the final decision to enter is made.

It’s a little wordy in saying this, but basically when you create a piece or strategy you should be thinking about who you want to receive and use/buy your product or service. Unless you are buying your own products…you should be the last person you want to draw the attention of. While you may think it’s cool, interesting, pretty, or a laundry list of other things…your intended target, or audience, may not. And at the end of the day, the customer who’s listening, using, and purchasing ultimately matters more than what you think. Harsh to say it, but it’s true.

Now this can be as generic as “I want to reach plumbers in the [insert your city here] area” or as specific as “I want to reach all the housewives between the ages of 24-35 with black hair that have two children between the ages of 1-6 who like lumpy oatmeal for lunch”. Either way, you are defining who the intended target, or audience, is and going to plan your content and design around appealing to that audience. Yes you are going to miss out on a larger number of people who don’t fit that definition, but are they really the people you want? Do you really want to just be able to say, “We printed 5,000 brochures and passed them all out?” Who are you trying to impress and what are you gaining by that? Or, would you rather say, “We printed 500 brochures to [insert specific target audience] and got a greater return on our investment”.

The next thing you need to determine, after you figure out your target audience, is what return on your investment you are satisfied with and how you plan to reach that. But that, dear reader, is a post for another time.

I’ll leave you with this, I was told by a client I was consulting for that you should “ignore coming up with who your target is because if you cast the widest net you’ll catch the most fish”. While the logic in that is kind of sound, sort of, let me ask you this, do you want to catch the most fish or the best quality fish?

For me, even if that means my numbers don’t look so hot on paper, I want the best possible value for my efforts. My rule of thumb is quality over quantity.

As always, you can also reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

If you have been reading this far, thank you and stay wicked.

Eight Things To Keep In Mind For Your Websites Search Engine Optimization

November 19th, 2009 ::

If content is King then your Search Engine Optimization efforts are your King’s Herald. The guy who is out there, once people are listening, giving out the valuable information about your King. But instead of the shiny horn and scroll of lineage, the Search Engine Optimization Herald uses text and links to allow the web crawlers, the cute name for the automated programs that source out websites and index their content in their lists.

Let me be clear, this isn’t the silver bullet that will push your website to the top page ranking. There are a lot of variables that get that there and with multiple search engines there’s more detail than can be fit in this list of eight things.

What we’re going to go over today are just a few things that will help helps search engines, like Google, be able to better index your site.

1. Title each page with your business name and section title. – Search engines use your title as the top link so it only makes sense you would have your companies name here. Don’t get too wordy and try to fill this space with extra words to try to help. You have between 60 to 70 characters (that’s letters, spaces, and symbols) so use that space wisely.

2. Use keywords on your pages that relate to that pages content. – This is where you leverage your key points in your content to, initially, draw attention to your content. You also want to take this time to also include words and two word phrases revolving around your industry and target markets.

3. Give each page a description based on the pages content. Ok, we’ve gone over the title and keywords, but the description is on more part of the sight that most people don’t keep in mind as they are looking at a search engine. By definition, this is the text that the search engines will display below the link to tell you a little about the site you are looking to find. By describing the content on that page, and a little about your company. Just like the title of your site, depending on the search engine you choose, you have roughly between 156 to 250 characters (letters, spaces, and symbols) to relay the information you want. This isn’t the place you want to get cute and fill it in with words that will boost your site. Your keywords are for that.

4. Name every image…photos and buttons. - This helps for more than search engines. This will help the disabled review your site. By namin>g the alt attribute, commonly referred to as the “alt tag”, you are giving a corresponding text title for every non-text element on your site. If this isn’t making sense, find your local web designer and they’ll go on for hours explaining it. Or you can just shoot me a message.

5.Give your site…a map- Site maps are great, because they help you organize your site as you go through the creation process, but they also provide a page of reference links for the search engines to review your site. The site map will also give viewers a place they can go where there a clean, and clear, direction to the content on your site without all the bells and whistles.

6.Breadcrumbs aren’t just for the birds. - Breadcrumb Navigation is often seen just below the header, and navigation (if it is horizontal), and just above the title of the content. It is a great way for visitors to see the path that took them to this page, but this also provides additional links, just like your site map, for the search engine web crawlers to use when indexing your site. Breadcrumb Navigation will often look like this:

Home > Main Content > Sub Content

7.Leverage free analytics tools. – There are paid analytics tools, but just if you are starting out there are tools like Google Analytics available to you simply for the time of setting up a Gmail account. This will help you determine where people are going on your site and what keywords are working for your site.

8.Remember your King. – The content of your site (the text, the links you create, and even images) help your search engine optimization as well. You may be able to get away with just a title, keywords, a description, and a single image, but you’ll get so much further making sure all of the things we talked about above are in line with the content on your website.

These are just a few efforts that you can implement early on, or even in your current website if you haven’t yet, to help make your site more appealing to web crawlers. Remember, this isn’t the silver bullet to the top page rankings, but it will help.

You can also reach me on Twitter by following me @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.