Open Enrollment is Here, Save with ChamberCare

Piggybank

The end of the year is approaching, which means your organization is likely exploring health insurance options for 2018. Did you know that since 2004, the Indiana Chamber has helped thousands of small businesses receive significant savings on this ever-growing expense? As your organization makes this important decision, please consider our ChamberCare Solutions program, which includes the following options:

  • ChamberCare Business Resources: Save money by avoiding community rating and receive significant assistance with HR and payroll functions.
  • ChamberCare Savings: An excellent choice for companies with 51-99 employees. Save 5% on any Anthem plan.
  • ChamberCare Exchange: Access to quality, affordable health plans that are ACA-compliant. Also, deep discounts on dental, vision, life and disability coverage.

As you navigate these important decisions, be sure to ask your insurance agent if ChamberCare Solutions is a good option for your business. Visit our web site for more information.

Small Business Revolution Offers Chance to Win $500,000 Revitalization

What can $500,000 and a lot of publicity do for a small city of 10,000 people in Indiana?

That’s what the team from the Small Business Revolution – Main Street series wanted to know when it revisited Wabash to see the impact of the program one year after the city won the contest.

For a quick recap on what happened in Wabash and some of the results a year later, watch this video of the team returning to the city:

The second season, which just debuted, focuses on Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania. Deluxe Corporation, which created the contest, is accepting nominations for the third season of the video series and a chance to win a $500,000 investment for your town and small businesses.

The series stars Robert Herjavec from Shark Tank, who gives the winning town and its small businesses one-on-one guidance, while upgrading public spaces and access to marketing and business services from Deluxe. The town’s business owners are the focus of individual episodes.

Nominations are open through October 19 and the public will determine the winner through voting. To be eligible, the city or town must have less than 50,000 residents. Anyone can nominate a town (even if they don’t live there).

To watch the whole Wabash series, visit www.deluxe.com/small-business-revolution/main-street/season-one/.

Getting the Job Done — or Not?

Disagreements in Washington are nothing new. But this time the topic is a little different. The following comes from the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council:

SBA recently celebrated the federal government’s achievement in exceeding contracting goals with small businesses, but members of Congress are disputing the claim.  An SBA communications piece says that Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet has worked “tirelessly” to hit the goal since she took over SBA’s helm.  SBA reported that 24.99% of federal contracting dollars went to small businesses in 2014, thus exceeding the 23% goal. SBA says this is the highest percentage ever reached since the goal was established in 1997.

House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH) called the report “flawed” because (according to a media release) “the SBA continues to exclude nearly $78 billion in federal contract dollars reported into the federal procurement data system, plus at least $6 billion to $10 billion that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) illegally excluded from the database. These are dollars spent by the federal government that should be subject to small business contracting goals.

Moreover, the SBA scorecard focuses intensely on just one factor — prime contract dollars. While this is certainly an indicator, it does not represent a holistic–and more accurate–depiction of the industrial base. For example, there are 100,000 fewer contractors today than there were four years ago and the number of contract actions being awarded to small businesses has fallen by nearly 60 percent. Furthermore, the Administration is still not meeting its subcontracting goal, even though SBA lowered the goal last year.”

Senate Small Business Committee Chairman David Vitter (R-LA) has also focused on the issue of flawed reporting in small business procurement.  On May 19, Chairman Vitter sent a letter to the SBA Administrator requesting detailed information about their reporting following an IG report, which found that contracts being counted towards the small business goal went to bigger businesses.

5 Social Media Lessons for Small Businesses

The popular site, Mashable, offers five lessons for small businesses to consider while trying to navigate the tricky waters of social media.

1. Social Isn’t the Place for the Hard Sell
This might be the most difficult lesson for the small business owner. After all, we don’t have large marketing budgets to waste. Every dollar must count and we’ve been trained to close every potential sale. However, the social universe requires a subtler approach. This means no BUY ME buttons or blatant promotional copy.

In fact, if your social media strategy is just about marketing or sales, then you’re not approaching it right. Yes, you can use social media for marketing and you can increase your sales figures from it, but it can’t be your focus 100% of the time. As a general rule of thumb, only 5% to 10% of your social media activity (i.e. status updates or tweets) should be self-promotional.

Social media is all about building relationships and growing trust. This means answering questions, providing helpful information, and serving as a trusted resource. These activities should grow your bottom line, but it can be a slower, more nuanced, and potentially more fruitful journey than you’be come to expect. For this reason, it’s important to realize that social media shouldn’t replace all your other traditional marketing practices. It’s okay to ask for the sale, just not in social channels.

2. Social Isn’t About Self-Promotion
You know how painful it is to be stuck at a cocktail party, talking to that self-absorbed person who only talks about him or herself. Small businesses need to treat social media like a cocktail party among friends. To be liked, you’ve got to be gracious, genuinely interested in others, and not dominate the conversation.

What does this mean? Make it easy for people to leave comments on your blog. Engage with everyone who posts on your wall (within reason). Share great content from others in the industry. Ask questions and encourage participation. And most importantly, recognize that sometimes it’s better to talk less and listen more.

3. You Don’t Have to be Everywhere
There are two facts to keep in mind when it comes to social media and small business. First, there will always be a new network to get involved with. Secondly, a small business owner has a limited amount of time and money to devote to social media.

Fortunately, doing social media well doesn’t mean you need to be anywhere and everywhere. Instead, it’s about choosing one or two of the most relevant and effective channels for reaching your customers and focusing on them.

Remember that a neglected social media presence will reflect poorly on your business. It’s actually better to not have an account if you don’t have the time and resources to actively manage it and participate.

4. You Don’t Have to Keep up With the Big Brands
If you’re running a small business, you know there’s a big difference between your budget and that of Virgin America or Starbucks. That’s OK. Your small business doesn’t need to try to keep up with these big brands — particularly when it comes to contests and campaigns.

Creating giveaways and contests is one of the most effective ways to generate new likes and improve overall engagement. But small businesses often feel the pressure to offer flashy prizes that are well beyond their budget.

For example, for your small business, don’t give away a bunch of iPads if that’s not what you can afford. Instead, consider giving away one of your company’s services. It’s definitely not the sexiest prize and won’t generate widespread interest, but it’s more budget friendly and everyone who participates is sure to be interested in what your company does.

5. Social Media isn’t “Free”
Sure, you don’t have to spend a dime to join Facebook, create a Twitter account, or start a blog. That’s great news for the small business. However, social media is far from free once you factor in the blood, sweat, and tears it demands. Social media requires constant commitment, from keeping fresh content on your accounts to engaging your community.

Unless you consider your time (or the time of your employees) worthless, then there’s a significant cost involved with social media. For example, if it takes one employee approximately ten hours a week to manage social media accounts, you can assign a hard cost to the effort. The key takeaway is any small business owner needs to understand the numbers behind every campaign, and that means factoring in everyone’s time and effort.
 

Small Businesses: Avoid These Mistakes When Buying Health Benefits

It’s a tough world out there for small businesses. That’s one of the big reasons Chambers like ours exist, I suppose. But in recent years, the burdens of health insurance have grown remarkably, often being a key reason some have had to close their doors. So here’s a valuable blog from Forbes about the top 10 mistakes small businesses make when buying health benefits. Here’s the list, but read the full article for more detail:

  1. They fail to hire a qualified agent, broker or consultant to help.
  2. When selecting an agent, broker or consultant, they rush through the interviews.
  3. They fail to decide in advance what they can afford.
  4. They do not research the market.
  5. They release their employees’ personal information while shopping.
  6. They’re afraid of high-deductible medical plans.
  7. They offer their employees “free” benefits.
  8. They forget to make parts of the plan optional.
  9. They are careless when discussing healthcare options with employees.
  10. They enjoy shopping for health care plans too much.

 

Occupation – Freedom and Capitalism

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself sitting at the corner of Freedom Street and Capitalism Boulevard, right in the middle of what seemed to be the Occupy Commerce movement. During the roughly 10 minutes of my sit-in, though, it was apparent that this movement was more than simply some people occupying a place, it was a way of life that involved the true spectrum of occupation as only occurs regularly in America.

Indeed, the setting was quintessentially Americana in the modern era – a large, new, sleek, upscale hotel and conference center, squarely at the hub of a city that has been reinvented in recent decades – Indianapolis. The scene was bustling with people of all colors and ethnicities. There were the young, the old, and the middle-aged, like me. Business people in big boy and big girl clothes heading to an annual awards dinner shared the grand hallways with couples vacationing, enjoying the fruits of their labor, and with high school students visiting the Midwestern metropolis for a religious-oriented convention.

Some of the participants in this movement moved quickly by our small (two-person) temporary sit-in. A few, however, slowed down to converse with my newly found friend, Jerry, and me. We spoke of the weather, the evening ahead, our families and, of course, business.

A handful of the passers-by, some Catholic student conventioneers, actually took photos of my new friend, our host Vivian, and me. The kids were full of energy, taking in their surroundings, awkwardly moving through the setting of adults on their own journey to adulthood. What the students were capturing in their own photography was not celebrity or even one of the numerous and beautiful sites of downtown Indy. What the students were capturing with the latest of the digital medium, their cell phones/cameras/internet devices, was something as simple as two men, one woman and two chairs.

At first I found this youthful paparazzi to be odd, then humorous and then hopeful. Whether these polite young adults intended to eventually use the photos to mark and remember their days in the city or simply post their visual art and add funny, snarky comments to share with their friends, this movement caught their attention. Perhaps in a really small, but significant way, these youngsters were digitizing for posterity an element of their own aspirations that captured their attention.

Let me explain: What caught the attention of the teens was something pretty simple – a small business, its proprietor and two guys in suits, enjoying a brief respite and the luxury of a shoeshine. Watching these kids who were capturing and even participating in this scene was inspiring as I thought of the background stories around me.

As we sat comfortably at the shoeshine stand, Jerry, a well-known and well-respected leader of business and philanthropy engaged our fellow capitalist, Vivian, with conversation. While polite and friendly, Jerry’s assiduous enquiry was deeper than the usually forgettable small talk. He asked Vivian, or “V” as she prefers, about her business. How did she get started? How long had she been in business? At what times of day or week was business best? Did she have plans for expansion?

Listening to the banter of these two business people, the sole-proprietor entrepreneur and the CEO whose business claims the name of a skyscraper, was inspirational — he with gracious, yet penetrating business questions, she with fast, detailed, proud answers. His questions and exchanges reflected the respect he inspires in those who know him well and those who know only of him. Her answers were inspirational because they reflected countless stories that have preceded hers – stories founded on the principles of hard work, risk taking, and the desire to improve one’s own lot in life.

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How Your Business Can Give Back

While it may not be the Christmas season, that doesn’t mean your business can’t start thinking about those less fortunate. In fact, since it’s St. Patty’s Day season, one could argue March is an even better time to give… because people drink, which makes them want to argue about things. But seriously, BusinessNewsDaily.com relays some stories from businesses around the country who are making a difference.

Every year for the past three years that I’ve been in business, one of the ways I have given back to the community here in San Francisco is by providing pro bono organizing services to residential clients or nonprofit facilities through Rebuilding Together San Francisco (RTSF).
Debra Baida, liberatedspaces.com

Not only do we offer incredible discounts on the best things to see, eat and do in a city, but we also donate a portion of every sale to a local cause. We support a different cause approximately every four weeks.
Shirley Chu, goodnews.com

Recently, Bove’s teamed up with Shaw’s Supermarket to make a $7,000 cash and product donation to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. While Bove’s has been donating to the Food Shelf for many years, this year’s partnership with Shaw’s helps ensure the food shelf will be able to serve complete meals to area residents in need, and that Vermonters won’t be forced to choose between heating their homes or paying other bills and putting food on the table.
Mark Bove, boves.com

Because nonprofits have a very limited marketing budget, we represent them pro bono in our welcome baskets, as our community service. They provide us with the materials they want disseminated to the public, and we distribute them to every newcomer household.
Suzanne Meyer, thewelcomecommittee.net

For the past four years, we have donated $1 from each customer “Connecting Point” product use to help both Y-Malawi, and South County Outreach. 
John Rydell, networxonline.com

Each time a package of Milani Hair extensions is purchased in the U.S., $3 is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Leyla Milani, milanihair.com

The staff is actively involved in the community and delivers meals to those in need, visits patients in the hospital and we all volunteer on various committees in our own communities. This past summer we helped clean a cemetery, assemble school supplies for those in need and taught Mitzvah Clowning to a local group of special needs students so that they would be on the giving end and not the receiving end.
Daniel Rothner, areyvut.org

American Small Businesses Hiring Cautiously

BusinessWeek looks at how small businesses are still being impacted by economic conditions. While things are progressing, business owners are moving forward carefully:

As the U.S. economy gains momentum, small business employment is lagging behind other drivers of the recovery. Past rebounds were led by companies with fewer than 500 employees as they added full-time workers. Now some owners say they’ll rely on part-time help and push their staffs to be more productive as they wait as much as a year for demand to improve. "I’m not sure we’ll ever return to the type of full employment we’ve had in the past," says Charles W. McMillion, president and chief economist at forecasting firm MBG Information Services in Washington, who has studied labor markets for 30 years.

In the first 12 months following the recession that ended in November 2001, small businesses added 81,000 workers. After the most recent downturn, companies cut 480,000 during a comprable time period, according to data from ADP Employer Services. "Normally we look to small firms to account for a lot of the job growth," says Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Instead, investors are "rewarding" the efficiencies that publicly traded small businesses adopted to battle the recession, says Michael Shaoul, chief executive officer of New York-based Oscar Gruss & Son, which provides research to institutional investors. Since Sept. 1 the Wilshire Micro-Cap Exchange Traded Fund (WMCR), which includes companies with fewer than 500 workers and tracks shares of the Wilshire Index’s 2,500 smallest stocks, has gained around 33 percent, vs. 19 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 ETF Trust.

Small businesses "definitely have cut costs in terms of reducing workforces," says Joseph Kremer at Fifth Third Asset Management in Cleveland, who helps oversee $250 million in small- and micro-cap stocks. "That’s good for their efficiency, but not necessarily good for the unemployment rate."

Underemployment was 17 percent in November. That includes people without jobs and those who gave up looking, as well as those who work part-time but want full-time jobs. Many of the latter are "in trouble in terms of paying the bills" even though they are "still going to work," says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

Business Owners Tell It Like It Is

Earlier this week, we shared a fictional video that depicted the uncertain regulatory climate and its impact on business. Now, two groups – Public Notice and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council – have a series of stories from actual small business owners who are in the position of wondering about their ability to survive.

"Moving Forward in Uncertain Times," begins a four-part series called "The Story of Business." The first video features Wes Garner, President of Great Lakes Calcium Corp. in Green Bay, Wisconsin. 

"Like families across America, business owners are having to make tough choices.  They’ve cut hours, costs, and even laid off dedicated employees. These entrepreneurs are heavily invested in their businesses and have everything to lose-but they don’t see Washington making the same tough choices," said Gretchen Hamel, executive director of Public Notice.

In order to survive and thrive, business owners need pro-growth policies that provide clarity and certainty. Without these, business investment, expansion, and job creation suffer. Unfortunately, Washington has produced new laws and regulations that have added to business costs and widespread confusion among business owners.  In addition, unresolved issues – like what the tax rates will be next year, and whether certain tax incentives will be available – are keeping entrepreneurs on the sidelines, and general business confidence in the tank.

"Small business owners do not have it easy, even in good economic times.  They’ve certainly been put to the test during the last two years.  Unfortunately, Washington only made matters worse — imposing mandates businesses can’t interpret and threatening to raise taxes to make up for years of overspending. Entrepreneurs face an uncertain future and they simply can’t afford what government is currently dishing out," said Karen Kerrigan, President & CEO of the SBE Council.

10 Keys to Entrepreneurial Success

Jay Goltz of The New York Times offers 10 reasons for entrepreneurial success. If you’re thinking of starting a business, or just want to separate your small business from the competition, these thoughts might help you:

  1. Look for opportunities to do something better than just about everyone else.
  2. Accept risk as a necessary evil. It makes for much less competition.
  3. Act responsibly to customers, employees and vendors.
  4. Goals aren’t enough. You need a plan. You need to execute the plan.
  5. You need to fix the plan as you go. Learn from your mistakes. Most people don’t.
  6. Do not reinvent the wheel. Learn from others — join a business group.
  7. Make sure the math works. I know plenty of people who work hard and follow their passion but the math doesn’t work. If the math doesn’t work, neither does the business.
  8. Make sure that every employee understands and works toward the mission.
  9. There are going to difficult times and you need to be resilient; whining is a waste of time.
  10. There will be sacrifices. Work to find a balance so that you don’t become a financially successful loser. It’s not about the income, it’s about the outcome.