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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.
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Who Are You? Give Us A Few Minutes to Learn More About You

September 23rd, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Give us a few minutes to learn more about you by taking this quick survey:

http://www.communityinvitations.com/html.pro?ID=682&said=NWS493SP&csid=ABC&pcid=NS

Network Solutions Social Media Team wants to learn more about you. More about you, our faithful readers who utilize social media in regards to Network Solutions. What we hope to learn is:

  • What tools you use for social media.
  • How you use social media tools to interact with Network Solutions.
  • How you as a small business use social media.

This will help us provide you with a better experience as we go forward.

The survey can be found at the following link:

http://www.communityinvitations.com/html.pro?ID=682&said=NWS493SP&csid=ABC&pcid=NS

Please help us spread the word via Twitter and Facebook with these quick 140 character friendly sentences:

Take the Social Media Audience Survey from Network Solutions! http://bit.ly/cCND5q

Network Solutions Social Media Audience Survey Wants to Hear From You! http://bit.ly/cCND5q

Tweetchat on “The State of U.S. Small Business” Wednesday, Sept 15th, from 1-2:30 pm EST

September 9th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Are you a small business owner feeling burned out and struggling to find new ideas to grow your business? Come join us for a Network Solutions hosted tweet chat (#NetSol) to understand the current state of the U.S. Small Business, key challenges facing them in terms of marketing and innovation, access to capital and, more importantly, leave with some simple tips on how to overcome those challenges.

Steve King

Our guest tweeter, Steve King, eminent small business researcher and President of Emergent Research, a small business consulting company will unveil the top ten findings from the recent Network Solutions’ Small Business Success Index, Wave-4 and offer some simple steps to overcome roadblocks that stop you from being innovative. Join us for the Network Solutions tweet chat to understand:

  • The current status of U.S. Small Business across six key dimensions (capital access, marketing & innovation, workforce, customer service, computer technology and compliance).
  • Top ten findings from Network Solutions’ Small Business Success Index that affect your future growth.
  • What technology investments are deemed a priority for small businesses in the next two years?
  • How social media usage among small businesses has changed in the last year?
  • How to continue to be the innovation engine despite the current economic conditions?

Event Details:

When: Wednesday September 15th 1-2:30pm EST

Where: http://tweetchat.com/room/netsol

Register:  http://netsol.eventbrite.com/

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Leveraging Your Blog for your Inbound Marketing Efforts

August 12th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

In these days of social media marketing there are all sorts of tools that help you market but the most fundamental is your blog. It is funny that only six years ago all that everyone talked about was blogging. Now it has seemed to fade into the background and that is actually a good thing. A blog has become a fundamental component in an organizations communication strategy that if you do not have it included or have one running you will be perceived as behind the times.

But let’s face it, writing for writing sake can be fun in some cases but in this case you are looking for customers. The term inbound marketing is the opposite of outbound marketing (i.e. cold calls, email marketing) and it is focused on getting the customer to come to you on their own. One of the best way to do this is through blogs.

A few great ways to use you blog for inbound marketing are:

Forms for downloading content – You want to drive leads to your site and the best way to do that is give something away. These can be white papers and ebooks or other types of content that people want. One thing to keep in mind is that your content doesn’t have to be completely new. It can be repackaged blog posts in a new context along with some updated content.

Surveys and polls – This is a great and quick way to engage the reader. People that read your blog have an opinion and if you are looking to learn from them, do a survey or a poll. It can also be a great way to test new features or content types that people might want in the future. Don’t forget to make a blog post about the survey, it will bring people to the site to engage.

Most of all….provide fresh content – This continues to establish you as an authority and search engines love it. They see that as a site that is new and with linking and trackbacks it builds your search engine juice.

So don’t just look at a blog as a necessary evil you have to “deal with” and “write for” but a real communications channel that can engage and make new sales in ways you never thought possible.

GrowSmartBiz 2010 Conference is on Nov 5 so Save the Date!

August 11th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Coming this fall is the second annual GrowSmartBiz Conference being held on November 5, 2010 at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC. Last year Network Solutions launched this conference and it was MC’d by Alex Orfinger of the Washington Business Journal. This year the Washington Business Journal is partnering with Network Solutions to make this a bigger and even better event than last year.

We listened to your feedback and this year we also plan to have multiple content tracks to really take this event up a notch. If you are interested in reserving your booth space before August 27, call 703-258-0800.

Register Now!

Our GrowSmartBiz registration site is up and running! Tickets are $79 per person and if you want to bring a group of 10 the cost $69 per person or $690 for the group. You can register at

http://washington.bizjournals.com/washington/events/2010/growsmartbiz/

If you are curious as to the quality of content, here are some videos from the 2009 GrowSmartBiz Conference.

This is an event not to be missed. We will be announcing more in the weeks ahead so fill out the form below and we will let you know the details as they are announced.

If you are curious as to the quality of content, here are some videos from the 2009 GrowSmartBiz Conference.

Preparing for the New 1099 Requirements for B2B Transactions

July 30th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

If you are in business for yourself it is safe to say that you probably utilize sub-contractors for your own business or for a client project. In the past it was pretty straightforward – if the person was not a corporation, they were a 1099 contractor. Company to company or B2B transactions were filed with the IRS through an I-9 form but that was pretty much it.

New regulations (don’t you just love them?) have mandated that all B2B transaction must be filed with a 1099 form. Section 9006 of the massive Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act will mean yet another huge paperwork burden for your small business. I wanted to thank Bobbie Lee who wrote this great article on Entrepreneur.com on the details buried in the new Healthcare legislation.

Here are some excerpts:

“Beginning in 2012, all businesses will be required to prepare 1099s for all services and goods purchased from all vendors in excess of $600. Current law dictates that only services provided in excess of $600 must be reported via form 1099 and that corporations (with the exception of attorneys) are exempt from receiving 1099s.”

“Beginning in 2012, corporations will no longer be exempt, and purchases of goods must also be included. The passing of this legislation is an attempt by the government to close the $300 billion tax gap, which will help pay for health-care reform. So I guess it indirectly relates to the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act in which it was included.”

Depending on the industry, many businesses must collect, report and pay over a variety of excise taxes, as well. How much does all that cost your business in bookkeeping and payroll preparation fees? Now business owners must report all business-to-business transactions. So purchases your business makes from Staples, Office Depot and other vendors are included as reportable transactions.”

To read the full article with more details on the impact on small business, check out http://www.entrepreneur.com/money/taxcenter/taxpertisecolumnistbonnielee/article207404.html

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New Kinds of Shared Office Space

July 28th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

As someone who has had office space in all shapes and sizes there are a few things I have learned over the years:

  • Stay flexible because you can grow out the space (that is a good thing)
  • Don’t get space based on filling it at some point in the future (not a good thing)
  • Having a fussball tables does not mean your company is hip and cool (you decide)

In the past I have been in five year leases which are great if you are an established company that understands its needs. But if you are a new company or a rapidly growing company, staying nimble is essential to growing your business. For years the concept of the “Executive Suite” was a shared office space that you paid for to get a receptionist, a conference room and a professional presence to meet with clients. It is expensive and for many small businesses that are virtual, mobile and cost conscious, not an option. Those who know me know that I am a big fan of coworking. Coworking is were people pay a membership based on usage from walk-ins to full time tenants. It creates a very flexible and collaborative space but can be noisy or problematic if you have security needs (document storage, locking an office).

One other concept in between has been the office incubator that is for new companies to grow and hopefully graduate a program to go into a regular office space. While that may work for tech companies, many other business models, like retail have been at a disadvantage.

Recently, I came across this article in Entrepreneur magazine on this company called POOL Together that is a combination of a marketplace and business incubator. Here is an excerpt on the concept:

Brad Weinstock got the inspiration for POOL Together-a combination marketplace/small-business incubator-from other popular public markets and shared workspaces such as the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Brewery in Los Angeles, and Pike Place Market in Seattle.

At its core, POOL Together is a business incubator. It offers local entrepreneurs affordable leases in a shared commercial space, and its owners provide assistance with business planning, marketing, space customization and cross-pollination as part of a comprehensive lease agreement.

You should start to see similar things like this in a city near you and if you haven’t this might be a whole new way to expanding your business. By owning the space and creating a community of small businesses around you.

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Creative Ways to Trim Payroll without Laying Off Staff

July 26th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

It is fair to assume that at one point in your career you will either be involved in a layoff by being laid off or doing the layoff. Nothing is more painful than letting talented people go because of an external issue (i.e. merger, lost business) and getting

I recently came across this great article from Entrepeneur.com on some creative ways to trim payroll without laying off staff:

Keep employees working. If there isn’t enough work to go around, consider switching up people’s duties, suggests Ray Friedman, a management professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. “I have seen big companies make it through downturns by having factory workers do maintenance work [such as] painting, fixing tools” and the like, he says. Small companies, he adds, can receive similar cost savings by having current employees perform jobs that you would otherwise hire someone to do.

While such a role reversal will likely upset some workers, Christopher J. Collins, an associate professor of human-resource studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., says that “complete honesty is really important.” If you articulate to your employees that such a job shift is only temporary, they may appreciate your resourcefulness and pitch in where they can.

Explore alternatives. As you converse honestly with employees about your business’s struggles, ask them for their cost-reduction thoughts, suggests Collins. “They may have creative ideas that have to do with nonpayroll ways to save money.” For instance, there may be some inefficient processes that an employee may have noticed that, if fixed, could save the company a bundle.

Ask for volunteers. You might also ask employees to consider a voluntary furlough, which is typically an unpaid temporary layoff or leave of absence. “Some employees may want time off,” says Friedman. “It’s better to let those who want, and can afford, time off to not work, rather than forcing it on everyone.” Some employees might consider using the time off to take a vacation, spend time with family or work on a personal project if they’re promised a job when the furlough is over.

Offer other incentives. Look into other forms of compensation, says Gene Marks, a small-business consultant in Philadelphia. For instance, providing stock options in lieu of payment may be acceptable for a short period. Additionally, if your company regularly provides bonuses but can’t afford them this year, consider offering nonpayment incentives instead, Marks says. “If you have anything like a vacation home or a timeshare that you can give to an employee that doesn’t cost you really anything, offer it,” he says. Just make sure you’re upfront about the switcheroo, as (understandably) many employees will chafe at having their bonuses disappear.

Install shorter work weeks. Reducing your employee’s hours may do the trick as well. For instance, Tray-Pak, a custom plastic packaging maker in Reading, Penn., has for the past two years instituted a four-day workweek during the typically slow months from February until April. “In our slow period, we really don’t need full staff,” says Ken Ritter, the company’s chief financial officer. Historically, he adds “we would have laid those people off.” However, Tray-Pak has found that it’s worth keeping the employees on because the training process, which takes three weeks, is so costly.

Reduce pay. If all else fails, consider reducing employees’ pay, says Collins from Cornell. This is obviously going to be controversial. However, since a person’s livelihood is on the line, a pay cut vs. a job cut, for many employees, may be preferable. The key to this predicament, he adds, is to “keep employees involved.” It will be a difficult conversation, but after relaying to your staff that the business is being squeezed and its overall stability is in question, a pay cut may be an easier pill to swallow.

Takeaways from this post:

  • If you are forced with trimming payroll you might not have to lay people off
  • You can get creative and explore many alternatives to cut costs and payroll expenses to make it through a tough time
  • If everyone is invested in keeping their colleagues by keeping their jobs everyone can benefit
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Using Social Media and e-Mail Campaigns for a one-two marketing punch

July 23rd, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

For the last few years people have been working with social media tools trying to increase customer acquisition and web site click through rates (CTR). Social media is at its very basic a conversation and anyone with an opinion or content can join in that conversation. This is different from e-mail which offers a more personalized and intimate level of contact with your customer.

GetResponse‘s “Email Marketing and Social Media Integration Report” found that the inclusion of social media sharing buttons in email generated click-through rates around 30% higher than email sent with no sharing options. The BizReport.com also says that “a Twitter button proved to be the most effective, increasing click-through rates by 40% but in order to garner the highest rates, around 55%, more than one social media button needed to be incorporated”.

Aweber has some great tips on how to leverage social media and e-mail campaigns together:

  • Occasionally, you may want to broadcast a brilliant newsletter beyond your list. Follow these steps to tweet your newsletter and show the Twitterverse the value of your emails. Put a sign-up form in the newsletter for new converts.
  • Post a sign-up form on your Facebook fan page. Your fans’ contacts will see any posts they make about you, and potential fans can also find your fan page via search. If they click over to your page, a sign-up form instantly invites them to join your list.
  • People who start following you via social media need a reason to subscribe by email, too. Make your web form is clearly visible, and try offering an extra incentive for signing up.
  • You aren’t the only one who can hype your campaign: your readers can, too.Buttons to share your emails on social networks offer opportunities to promote your message – and give you a chance to go viral.

Entrepreneur.com also has some great tips on making the most of your social media and e-mail marketing mix:

Make the most of the social media and e-mail marketing mix.
E-mail and social media marketing can work together to build on what each does best. Here are five things you need to know so you can make the most of the social media and e-mail marketing mix:

  1. Be where your customers are. You won’t know whether your customers are on social media sites, and which ones in particular, unless you test the waters and look for them. Different people prefer different means of getting their daily info and opinion fix. Millions like the streaming feed of Twitter. Others prefer the posts on Facebook. More professionally oriented people may use LinkedIn. You want to swim in the channels that are frequented by your customers and prospects.
  2. Use your e-mail list to build a social media presence. The big question we get from e-mail marketers is how to get that snowball rolling down the social media mountain. Here’s the good news: The secret is your e-mail list. Use it to jump-start your social media presence by inviting your subscribers to follow you on Twitter and become your fan on Facebook. They will get the ball rolling for you. How do you engage prospects on social media websites? The same way as with e-mail marketing: valuable, relevant, interesting content.
  3. Repurpose content from your newsletter. Content is still king. That applies to social media, too. You don’t need to create brand-new content to engage people on social networking sites. Instead, repurpose snippets of articles you’ve already created (or aggregated) for your e-mail newsletter. Think of these as “microcontent”-one tip, one idea, one article you found interesting. A teaser and a link back to your archived newsletter or blog is all the content you need to get started posting on social media sites.
  4. Invite people back to your website or blog. If your website is your online hub or headquarters, then think of social media sites as your satellites. They allow you to extend your business presence. When you post on social media, be sure to include frequent links back to your website, newsletter archive or blog, where interested people can learn more about your business. Then you can engage potential customerson a deeper level, away from the distractions of the social media world. Just be sure you’re not always selling; social media is better-suited for sharing information and expertise.
  5. Ask for mailing list sign-ups on multiple channels. Use your e-mail list to build a presence on social media sites, then use your presence on the sites to invite even more people to sign up for your mailing list. Put a link to your sign-up form on multiple channels, including your website and Facebook fan page. Tweet about your newsletter articles on Twitter, linking readers back to your newsletter archive, where they can sign up for your mailing list.

Your Email and Social Media Tactics

Have you tried any of these methods with your campaigns? Are you seeing a change in the relationships you have with customers and email newsletter subscribers?

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Pretty Gantt Charts and Easy Planner Plus a Year Free with Tom’s Planner

July 21st, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Have you been looking for a tool to create and share Gantt Charts for your project? Then I am gonna make your day. You need to check out Tom’s Planner. It is super simple way to create Gantt charts with drag and drop simplicity. You can see by the image below that it is a beautiful looking app which is lacking in many project planning tools out there today. I have been on a search for a great project planning tool for small personal projects that require little overhead yet communicate the tasks in a simple way.

It is important to note that this is not a full blown project system like LiquidPlanner but what is great about it is you can create these charts quickly, save them locally if you want and if required you can export this to Microsoft Project. Sweet.

The recently added a collaborative features to share and work on project plans with others. Just select a plan from “My schedules,” enter the name of the person you’d like to share it with and select whether you’d like them to be able to edit the plan or only view it. Tom’s Planner then generates a unique invitation link that you can send to your colleague.

Get a One-Year Free Account if you sign up by July 31, 2010

You can try a demo of the product without signing up here.  It’s worth signing up, though, because they’re currently offering a free, one-year account to all new users who sign up during the beta period, which ends on July 31, 2010.

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Small Business Quick Guide to Healthcare Reform

July 19th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Over the last year the healthcare landscape has changed dramatically leaving small businesses asking “how does this impact us?”. I recently came across this post from Entrepreneur.com on an “entrepreneur’s guide to healthcare reform“. It provides a great run down on the specific that impact small business along with dispelling some rumors that are floating about.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Before you worry too much about the changes, know that if your business has fewer than 50 employees, there are no penalties if you don’t provide insurance, even after the law goes into full effect in 2014. But that leaves small to midsize businesses trying to make immediate sense of the changes that are coming and prepare for them as the bill’s execution is finalized and implemented. Adding to the confusion is a rampant mix of misunderstanding and misinformation-not to mention that some elements just haven’t been finalized yet. However, there are some important facts you need to know now, as well as some that are coming at various intervals over the next several years.

On Immediate Provisions:

The bill made some “immediate” provisions to insurance policies, which need to be met within one year of the date the law was signed. Beginning in September 2010, children cannot be excluded from coverage due to pre-existing conditions. (This provision applies to adults in 2014.) Also in September, insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping insured people after they get sick, and the provision bans limits on lifetime coverage limits, prohibits policies that provide insurance only to higher-wage employees, and allows dependent children to be insured on their parents’ policies until their 27th birthdays. In all, the bill has 18 such short-term provisions affecting everything from coverage limits to Medicare.

Of course, these changes are just the start of reform. After all, the bill is approximately 2,600 pages of “broad strokes.” It will be up to the government agencies that implement and oversee the new system-such as the Department of Health and Human Services, the Internal Revenue Service, state insurance commissions, and others-to figure out how the details will be carried out. That is happening now.

At the heart of the bill are state-based exchanges called the American Health Benefit Exchanges and the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchanges. Administered in each state by the government or a nonprofit institution, these insurance marketplaces will offer qualified health insurance options for individuals and small businesses with up to 100 employees. They will be in place by 2014. In 2017, businesses with more than 100 employees will be able to purchase insurance through the SHOP exchanges.

On Tax Credits:

Starting this year, businesses with 25 or fewer full-time equivalent employees and that pay an average annual wage per employee of less than $50,000 are eligible for tax credits for a portion of their premium contributions. These employers must contribute at least 50 percent of the premium cost. Through 2013, the tax credit will equal 35 percent of the employer’s contribution. However, that maximum will only be available to businesses with 10 or fewer employees whose annual wages average $25,000 or less. As the number and employee wage average increases, the credit amount decreases. After tax year 2014, eligible businesses that purchase their insurance through a state exchange can receive tax credits of up to 50 percent of their contributions on the same sliding scale for two years.

“There should be about 4 million small businesses that can take advantage of this,” says Hayley K. Matz, spokesperson for the Small Business Administration. Analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Tax Commission in November 2009 estimated that only about 12 percent of those with coverage in the small group market would benefit from the credits in 2016. The IRS has devoted a section of its website to information about the bill, including tax credits.

On Tax Credits:

National Federation of Independent Business analysis cites fewer deductible medical expenses, an increase in Medicare payroll taxes on wages, and self-employment income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 joint) will increase to 2.35 percent and is not indexed to inflation, and flexible savings account contribution limits will be capped at $2,500 per year. In addition, if you offer more than “minimum essential coverage” under the law, your policy may face an additional tax to the insurance company, which will likely be passed along to you, says Arensmeyer. Employees may opt out of employer-offered plans and are then entitled to employer-sponsored vouchers that help them purchase individual policies in the exchanges.

There will also be changes at the individual level that may affect small-business owners and shareholders, including new taxes of 0.9 percent for individuals earning more than $200,000 individually ($250,000 for married couples) and a new 3.8 percent tax on unearned income, such as income from investments, real estate and business investments for high-income taxpayers. The Kaiser Family Foundation has published an excellent overview of the changes and when they take effect.

On the 50 Employee Threshold:

If you have or plan to have more than 50 employees by 2014, it’s probably a good idea to sit down with an accountant or qualified financial advisor and take a look at which provisions apply to you to begin planning for them, says the National Association of Independent Business’s Austin.

“There are several different phases of the bill, as far as implementation,” she says. “It’s important to know what is going to affect you and when it will affect you.”

Arensmeyer agrees that it’s critical for business owners to educate themselves and speak out through the channels available to them to help shape implementation. Various state and federal agencies are in the process of determining exactly how these changes will be implemented, so it’s time to make your voice heard. He encourages business owners to voice their opinions directly to government entities, including their state insurance commissioners, which will be very involved in setting up the exchanges, as well as through organizations like Small Business Majority, Chambers of Commerce, trade groups, and other business-related organizations.

“This is going to be a constant process of providing input to the states and to the federal government, which is writing regulations,” Arensmeyer says. “This is not the end of the game. This is a dynamic process and an interactive process going forward. It’s not too early to start weighing in on these issues, even though they don’t take effect until 2104.”

Dispelling Rumors:

Rumors are flying about health-care reform. Here are a few that we’ve heard, as well as the real deal on each.

  1. Health-care coverage is now reported as income on W2 forms and taxed as such. THE REAL DEAL: No. While the cost of health insurance and some other related expenses must now be reported on an employee’s W2 form, it is for information purposes only and not considered taxable income. The total is not used in calculating the individual’s tax liability.
  2. Businesses need to start sending 1099 forms to Staples. THE REAL DEAL: Maybe. Beginning in tax year 2012, if you spend $600 or more on business-related purchases with any supplier or vendor over the course of a year, you must gather that entity’s tax identification number and issue a 1099 for the total purchased. However, several of the small-business advocates and agencies interviewed for this piece are awaiting further direction from the IRS on this matter, so keep an eye on the agency’s website for updates.
  3. Businesses that offer tanning services face a new tax. THE REAL DEAL: Yes. As of July 1, 2010, there is a new 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services. Some medical devices will also be assessed new taxes. In 2013, certain medical devices will also face a new 2.3 percent tax.
  4. Employees who belong to certain religious groups, such as Muslims, Christian Scientists and Amish citizens, are exempt from health-care reform requirements. THE REAL DEAL: At this point, it appears that the exemption primarily applies to Amish citizens. However, more guidance on this matter will likely be issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Read the rest of the article over at Entrepreneur.com