Archive for August, 2008

Certification for Shredder

August 29, 2008
According to Trans Union , a credit bureau, New York State ranks in the top ten in highest incident rate of identity theft per person nationally and the most popular source of information for identitiy theft is employer records.

Michael Hasting is an aspiring African-American entrepreneur with a dream of making Omega Secure-Shred a mega business. Recognizing the onslaught of document security threats, he founded his Troy located mobile document shredding company in March of 2007.

The company was growing steadily through a well thought out marketing strategy, but realized that there could be additional opportunities through certification in New York State’s Minority and Woman Owned Enterprise program. Since, he passed the one year anniversary of his start the three to four month application process began with the assistance of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

We have found with MWBE certifications that the most important advantage is not necessarily the certification, but what the company does with the certification once it is granted. Many view the certification as the magic beans that will have customers breaking down their doors to do business. Unfortunately that is not reality and persistent and tenacious selling and marketing their products and services still falls to the business. Instead of solely utilizing the MWBE certification as a marketing strategy, Omega Secure-Shred utilizes their certification as a component of an otherwise sound marketing strategy; coupled with a valuable service that is in demand within the market.

 

Successful MWBE companies have taken the initiative to seek out the business in both the public and private sectors utilizing both government set asides and corporate supplier diversity programs. Hasting’s portable shredding business has negotiated contracts with two NYS agencies, RPI, and four large private firms under supplier diversity programs.

 

Through their MWBE certification, Omega Secure-Shred is given a greater opportunity in bidding on NYS contracts by creating an avenue for the agency to comply with MWBE set asides. In addition to the NYS contracts, Omega Secure-Shred uses their certification as an added benefit for companies that have supplier diversity programs and purchasing departments that are looking to fulfill the company’s commitment to supplier diversity.

 

 

 

 

 

Shredder Truck

Omega Shredder Truck

Minority and Women Owned Businesses Need Certification

August 25, 2008

One of the most often asked question at the Small Business Deveopment Center: what programs are available for Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE)?

The answer is simple, but the process can be complex. In a competitive business-to-business and business-to-government market, certification can make the difference between securing a procurement contract or not.

Certification does not result in buyers breaking down your door to do business, but it is an important piece of your overall marketing strategy. As a tool certification creates greater exposure with inclusion in many databases and directories specific to minority and women owned designated companies.

Also, certification provides access to government and larger Fortune 1000 companies opportunities that set-aside certain percentages of contracts to MWBEs. Most of these organizations will not do business with diverse companies without certification. The designation states that your company has at least 51 percent minority and women ownership and that you control and operate that business.

The certification designation also provides a level of credibility and viability for a small business. It shows that the company passed an examination of business records, references, and overall business practices. Another sign of viability is the requirement for a business to be operating for at least one year for state and two years for federal certification.

Empire State Development, New York’s economic development agency, administers the MWBE state certification program. The program is designed to assist in the growth and development of MWBEs with the overall goal of increasing participation of those businesses in New York State procurement opportunities.

Upon certification, a MWBE is officially recognized by State agencies and authorities as a source of goods and services. These companies are also indentified in directories that are used beyond New York State by the federal government and major corporations.

The federal certification program, the SBA 8(a) program, has different requirements and can be somewhat lengthy. For the time being I would suggest going through the State certification and file an 8(a) application on a later date. This will also give you an idea as to whether or not the procurement programs are working for you.

If you are small company that is not interested in becoming a supplier to large corporations and governmental agencies, you will not benefit. And you should consider how your type of business products and services fit into the market place. For instance, retailers would not be good candidates, while I know a local women-owned painting company that has done well with state contracts.

The best place to start is Empire State Development where you can find further criteria and applications. Also, utilize local business development groups for assistance. Many organizations such as the SBDC have a staff member specifically dedicated to helping businesses through the certification process. There are also various training workshops that focus on certification, for example, check out this event.

Friday, October 17th

Why certify as a minority- or woman-owned business?

Sponsor: McKenna, Long & Aldridge LLP

Valuable procurement opportunities are widely available for minority- and woman-owned business enterprises (MWBE), and contractors are constantly seeking to work with these companies. Presented by the Chamber’s Entrepreneurial Assistance Program, this informative event features Michael Jones-Bey, Executive Director, NYS Division of Minority and Women Business Development, who will discuss the many benefits of MWBE certification and how to use your certification to generate new business. Embrace the opportunities that await you. It just might be one of the best business decisions you’ll ever make.

8:30am – 10:00am / the Desmond, 660 Albany-Shaker Road, Albany / Cost: $10, open to the public

 

A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Cafe

August 22, 2008
Maiden Lane, Albany, New York
A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café opened on May 8, 2006 as an ice cream and gelato shop during the summer months with the additions of soups, breads, specialty coffees, teas, and hot chocolate during the winter months. They have expanded to create unique gelato cakes for birthdays and special occasions as well as provide gelato to several area upscale restaurants. A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café serves the downtown Albany market with a strong focus on customer service.
Fran & Kathy

Fran & Kathy

Business partners, Kathleen Forbes & Frances Nolles, met while job sharing at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Before they retired from New York State, they had dreamed of opening up an ice cream/gelato shop.

Kathy and Fran did a tremendous amount of market research in order to complete their business plan. This research included taste tests at nearly every Tech Valley business that carries gelato both wholesale and retail. In addition, they stood on the street corner where they intended to open up shop with a clicker counter to count the number of individuals who passed by the street each day. They also handed out surveys to take a poll to determine the interest level of such a shop in downtown Albany. Their market research proved positive. As a result, they forged ahead with the financial section of their business plan with great zeal. With assistance from a relative with an accounting background, the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce loan department, the Downtown Albany BID office, and Chamber business consultants, they launched.
A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café was awarded a $1,000 grant award incentive donated by First Niagara Bank as well as a one year Chamber membership awarded by the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce through the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program. They used their winnings to attend a training session on gelato-making. This particular gelato class allowed a rebate at the end to be used towards gelato-making equipment. Thus, with their creative thinking and business skills, the $1,000 grant award was effectively doubled!
A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café requested and secured a loan from the Capital District Community Loan Fund and SEFCU for $115,000 for equipment and supplies, renovations and start-up expenses. They have also put in around $25,000 each towards the business. Their hours of operation are from 11AM to 5PM Monday through Friday with Saturday summer hours of 11am to 3pm and they will stay open for special events in downtown Albany on evenings and weekends depending on the scheduled event.
With all of the positive things that occurred to them during the early stages of their business, they have had some challenges. We recently spoke with Fran and Kathy to discuss the obstacles in owning their own business. Here is what they shared with us:
Unexpected circumstances
After all of the projections and prep work on financials, it cost us $600 to have the window taken out and put back in so we could get the display case into the cafe. The best part of the whole thing was our landlord, unbeknownst to us, had the same window replaced two days prior to the arrival of our case.
Collecting revenue
For wholesale, gelato is sometimes challenging. For instance, we have had an outstanding balance in excess of $400 for just one customer. Occasionally, we have multiple outstanding balances at one time. What we have done in some cases was to hold up any new deliveries until payments were received.
Charitable donations
They present a big problem. Every day there is a new request for a donation or sponsorship. It is so hard to say no to them but a new business cannot keep giving away product or money. We try to accommodate as many as we can and probably do more than we should because of our nature but it costs us in the long run.
Time
This is another obstacle. You don’t realize how much time a business takes to run. You basically have to give up most of your personal life. We never get to leave at the time we planned. I am sure this gets better as you are able to hire more staff to free up some personal time for yourself but we aren’t there yet.
Manual labor
This is one area that we did not expect to be so hard on us physically. In our case, this is hauling buckets, breaking down all the equipment, cleaning, sanitizing, lubricating them and then putting them back together. For some of the equipment, this happens every day. (Our fingernails are a mess because they are constantly in water and sanitizer which totally destroys them.) Again, at some point in time, we may be able to have more assistance.
Cash flow worries
This is a biggie for us and probably ranks very high on our list. Of course, it affects every one of the above frustrations and concerns. Having to constantly borrow money to add to the business because we don’t generate enough revenue to be self-sufficient as yet.
The economy
The economy has had a negative effect on us this year. If it weren’t not for our wholesale portion of the business, our sales would be down over $6,000. As it is, we still haven’t taken in as much money as last year.
Paperwork is overwhelming
There is so little time. For example, we have a couple of reports to file, one of which should bring us some refund money, but we haven’t had the time to get the paperwork completed and documents photocopied to reap the benefits.
Networking is difficult
Because of our time constraints, we can’t get to networking events. Networking is so important because it usually brings in more business but many events take place during our busiest hours that we miss out on so much.
Location, location, location
We thought we had picked the ideal spot but it turns out we didn’t. For a seasonal type business as ours, we need to do business seven days a week including evenings for the spring, summer and fall. However, our location doesn’t warrant being open evenings and weekends because there are very few people downtown during those times.
The Up Side
Sometimes we feel like all we do is whine about how tired we are and how the bad weather and economy are killing us. But the up side to all of this is……we had a dream, we worked endlessly to fulfill it and we are living it. And except for all of the frustrations and stumbling blocks, we are so proud when people smile and get that look on their face as they taste our gelato, compliment us on the decor, and are elated when they pick up their cakes.

Recession

August 19, 2008

The dreaded R-word. If there is another piece of lexicon that sends bigger shivers up and down the spines of financial pundits and consumers alike, it would have to be Depression. We’ll save that for another equally uplifting entry.
So what is a recession, in business terms, at least? It refers to a period of economic downturn and is defined by Barron’s Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms as:
“ ..Defined by many economists as at least two consecutive quarters of decline in a country’s Gross Domestic Product”.
In other words, if the market value of goods and services produced in the US decreases for two straight quarters, we can safely, albeit unhappily, declare ourselves to be in a recession.
It would appear though, that the definition of a recession has taken on a subjective quality; trawling the business and political news in the past few months has shown a startlingly wide array of arguments as to whether or not we are in a recession.
It seems we can’t even agree on bad news.
What can you do to protect your business from the downturn? Not a lot, quite frankly. There are fairly significant forces at play here. There are a few things you can do to either ride out or take advantage of the situation.
1. Revisit your strategic plan or business plan. Remember that document? What contingencies did you put into place to anticipate and mitigate a reduction in sales? If you didn’t prepare contingency plans, it’s never too late to do so.
2. Cut back. Take steps to trim any excess. The emphasis should be on running lean and running efficiently.
3. Prepare your employees or partners. If you anticipate being impacted by the downturn, you should have conversations with your employees. Discuss how both you and they would be affected. Will there be cuts involved? What steps can you take together? Some businesses welcome voluntary pay or hour cuts. Remember, the more your employees feel they have a stake in your business, the more likely they are to step up.
4. Shop for deals. Take advantage of reduced prices and a willingness of suppliers to negotiate. A reduction in profit margins is better than no profits at all. Caveat Emptor
5. Barter.
6. Put on your game face. Look yourself in the mirror, square your shoulders and say: “I signed up for this – in good times and in bad. Let’s make the most of this.” This isn’t the first case of economic downturn and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

August 18, 2008

A self-described foodie, photographer and avid cyclist, Khamel Abdulai is the Entrepreneurial Services Director for the Albany Center for Economic Success. With an MBA and hands-on experience, Khamel helps entrepreneurs develop their business and marketing plans. He also partners with other agencies and entities to provide learning and training opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Khamel is originally from Ghana.  He moved to the US about 13 years ago.  As an undergrad, he majored  in Geology; however, as Khamel describes it, his “marriage with geology was on the rocks.”  He was increasingly drawn to business and commerce which led him to explore the relationship between people, ideas and the ensuing exchange –  his passion.  What Khamel loves most about his job is working with a diverse set of clients whose interests, backgrounds and goals are richly varied.

The hardest part? “Being confronted daily with the harsh realities that a large size of the population faces – social and economic distress. Playing the role of realist and watching people’s crestfallen faces as they weigh the enormity of an entrepreneurial jaunt and all the planning, sacrifice and sweat involved.”

The program at ACES is specifically designed for economically distressed populations, minority- and woman-owned enterprises. In addition to one-on-one counseling and group classes, ACES provides incubator space.

What is the biggest pitfall for new business owners?

“Not being adequately equipped – being undercapitalized and under-informed.”

What advice do you offer someone who is thinking of starting a new business?

“Plan, scan, then plan again. When you can answer all the important questions to yourself and others, take the plunge!”

 

The Chamber’s Art n Soul

August 14, 2008
Janet Tanguay

Janet Tanguay

Meet Janet Tanguay. Janet is the Entrepreneurial Assistance Coordinator for the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce AND she owns her own business: Art n Soul, Inc. , where she is a creativity coach and artist Representative. As part of her business, Janet assists creative types in pursuing their goals and dreams by helping them create a brush with opportunity. “I help artists obtain gallery shows and sell their work in corporate environments.” She is also a mixed media

Peacock Pride

Peacock Pride

artist. “One of the reasons the Chamber hired me is that I am an entrepreneur. I’ve worked through the kinks in starting and growing my business and I can share those experiences first hand with the entrepreneurs in my program. I love the mindset of entrepreneurs….typically innovative, creative and risk-taking. I’m absolutely passionate about helping people start new businesses.”

Janet grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Her dad had several businesses, including a magnetic sign business, a snow plowing business, a maple syrup business and a concrete company. In addition to owning Art n Soul, Inc., Janet is the author of two children’s books: Be Bee and Dustbunnies Don’t Eat Carrots. In 2007, she was voted “Best Visual Artist” in the Times Union’s Readers’ Poll.

With her Chamber hat on, Janet designs and coordinates a 60 hour comprehensive training program for entrepreneurs. She provides one-on-one counseling to individuals seeking to start or expand a business and advises clients on where to find resources for funding a business. She assists with business plan writing, M/WBE certification and contract procurement. She also connects clients to a wide network of business consultants, attorneys, accountants and others that assist small businesses.

What does she love most about her job?

“I am passionate about inspiring people to pursue their business dreams and goals. I love watching an entrepreneur come into my office with an idea and then assisting that goal so that it comes to fruition.”

What is the biggest pitfall for new business owners?

“The biggest pitfall is not doing market research ahead of time and not having a solid business plan. Partnerships with the wrong person are also a big cause for concern. Another problem that arises is that entrepreneurs get so caught up in the day to day operations of the business that they don’t make time to network and market themselves properly.”

For those starting a new business, Janet offers the following advice. “Do a lot of research before opening up shop. Make phone calls to similar businesses either in the area you are looking to open or if your competition is reluctant to talk, do research in a similar size city in another market. Find out about pricing, demographics, sales, expenses and anything else that you might need to consider to get your business off the ground. Learn from other people’s experiences. I know of some restaurants and gyms that change hands regularly every year. This is probably a tip that this particular location isn’t working in some way.”

The Albany Colonie Chamber of Commerce is a membership organization that provides networking opportunities, health insurance programs, cost-saving benefits and many other services and programs. Janet explains: “The networking opportunities through the Chamber’s EAP training course are amazing. We have over 2,700 members. Many members are EAP instructors and offer great resources for entrepreneurs to get started.”

 

 

Business Junkie

August 13, 2008

Meet Bill Brigham. He’s a “business junkie”.  After working in and around small businesses for the last 25 years what else would you expect. 

Bill & his family in Ecuador

Bill & his family in Ecuador

Bill is the director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), at the University at Albany. The Center is staffed with 10 Business Advisors that provide free one-on-one counseling to existing and startup small businesses, including: business planning, marketing, creating financial statements, and training. “Some business owners just want to talk or bounce ideas off us, so we sit down and guide them through the problems and issues that they face.”

Beyond his business obsesssion, Bill is a distance runner and golfer and recently spent two weeks in Ecuador where he and his family learned about the cloud forest and the indigenous people. Not a typical vacation for a suit & tie bureaucrat (whatever that is).

Prior to the SBDC, Bill was the Marketing Manager and the Vice President for two local family-owned manufacturing firms – the ideal on the job training for what he does today. It involved sales and marketing, product development, quality control, production scheduling, figuring out how to make payroll along with the typical “putting out fires” of small business management. Bill’s toughest decision: laying off 40 people three weeks after Christmas. (We’ll hear more about that in a future blog).

In addition to first-hand experience, Bill is an SBDC Certified Business Advisor. For five years prior to becoming the Director ten years ago, he worked on a pilot SBDC program that was structured as a three person “swat” team to trouble-shoot distressed family businesses in New York State. He also teaches an e-commerce business planning course in the University’s MBA program. “This keeps me in tune with current trends and issues.  It also allows me to feed off the enthusiasm and unique perspectives of a group of extremely intelligent young people.”

What do you like most about your job?
“We empower people! We make entrepreneurs successful!  Also, the diversity of the region’s businesses involves working in “pizza to aerospace”.  Analyzing and assisting existing businesses is a welcome challenge.”

What is the biggest pitfall for new business owners?
“The obvious, lack of capital, planning, and experience.  Simply put, small businesses are victims of what they don’t know.   My best advice for someone starting a new business or even an existing business: Plan Plan Plan.  Also, use the resources that are out there.”

The SBDC at the University at Albany staff is comprised of serial entrepreneurs, former business owners, and technology and economic developers. The services are tailored for any small business (500 employees or less), start-up or existing.   The program specializes in business planning, financial analysis, strategic planning, marketing, international trade, and even has access to a 5 business librarian research network, which includes pro blogger Roger Green, that supports the entire 23 center network with market research for clients.  The services are of great value, even though the services are free.  

The SBDC: Here to make New York State businesses successful.  

The Original Chocolate Gecko

August 12, 2008

Lissa D\'Aquanni

Lissa D

My name is Lissa D’Aquanni.  Nine years ago, I created the Chocolate Gecko in my basement.  I wasn’t sure where I was headed with it — all I knew was that I was disappointed with the quality of chocolate that was available for purchase in the Capital Region and I needed an outlet for my creativity.  Growing up, my Aunt had a chocolate store in Westchester.  I remember it being a magical place — who could be miserable in a candy store?  I think there was a part of me that wanted to recreate that magic at the Gecko.  The gecko name — well, that was just frivolity.  I liked geckos and a chocolate one seemed doubly attractive. 

I began the business in the Winter of 1998.  That season — Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter — was fairly busy for a new business.  So I decided to make a go of it. As soon as I decided that, business dropped off.  The phone didn’t ring all summer. “OK, I thought, “it was fun while it lasted.”  Then in September, the phone began to ring again.  That was my first experience with a seasonal business — who knew?  (Just about everyone who had ever run a business — but that wasn’t me.) 

The business continued to grow.  We had a unique, fresh product and our customers were our best advertisers.   In 2002 I decided to expand the business from my basement.  I purchased an abandoned building in my neighborhood, renovated it and re-introduced the Chocolate Gecko.  That’s the short version.  The long version included piecing together a financial package that included private investors, an SBA loan via my credit union (SEFCU), a loan from the city via the Chamber, and assistance from the Capital District Community Loan Fund.  It included coordinating neighborhood volunteers and friends who selflessly gave up their weekends to help gut and rebuild this diamond in the rough.  It included negotiating the often confusing and frustrating maze of contractors, subcontractors and the city’s building department. It included recruiting two other start-up businesses that helped make the project complete.

The business continued to grow.  And as it grew, I became aware that it was no longer a little niche business.  It had the potential to be national — our product was good enough to compete. But I didn’t have the knowledge to get us there and after 9 years of exhausting holidays, I wasn’t sure that I had the energy.  I decided to sell the business.  Do you remember the game show “The Weakest Link” — well, I felt like the weakest link.  I’m not putting myself down — it’s good to recognize what we are good at and when we need to hand off.  Recognizing that it’s time to step aside is just as important as stepping up.  

When I sold the business in 2007, it was with the intention that the new owners would be able to infuse the energy, time and capital necessary to take the business to the next level.  I’m pleased to report that they are doing just that. 

Over the course of this blog, I’ll be reporting on some of the challenges and joys that made owning the Chocolate Gecko an incredible experience.  Staffing, marketing and advertising, financing, vendors, community and networking are just a few of the topics I’ll discuss.  

As for now, I’m an adjunct Professor at the University at Albany and the College of Pharmacy.  I teach public relations and communication.  I love teaching and the students are energizing.  I also started another business: Out On A Limb Consulting.  I provide public relations, marketing, program and campaign assistance to micro-entrepreneurs and nonprofits.  Why Out On A Limb?  It’s all about perspective.  When I owned the Gecko, Entrepreneur magazine wrote an article about creative financing and featured the Gecko.  The article was called “Out On A Limb: when the money tree looks dry, sometimes you just have to create your own branch.”  There were many times when I felt that my back was up against the wall and I was out on a limb (i.e. no options).  But when I got over my fear of heights (excuse the metaphor) and looked around, I realized that there were options I had never seen before — they were creative, entrepreneurial options.  Like I said, it’s all about perspective. 

Over the next few posts, I’ll be introducing the other bloggers at EbizNY and as a blog team, we’ll spotlight other entrepreneurs in the Capital Region and some of the issues they face.  If you have comments or have something that you would like us to address, please let us know. If there is something you are struggling with in your business, email us.  We’re here as a resource and support for you.

Lissa

 

 

 

Welcome to EbizNY!

August 11, 2008

Welcome to the “Entrepreneurs’ Business Information Zone for NY” blog — EbizNY!  It’s designed for those folks who run their own small businesses. That’s  the American dream, right?  It’s sexy and enviable.  Oh, the allure of being your own boss. OK, wake up. Now let’s talk about the realities of owning your own business. The long days, the sleepless nights, the lack of capital, the staffing problems . . . but you’re not alone – we’re here to help. Together, we can put the luster back on the nickel and more nickels in the bank!

We have a stellar group of bloggers who have signed on for the ride. My name is Lissa D’Aquanni. I owned my own gourmet chocolate business, The Chocolate Gecko, for 9 years, at which point I sold it. You’ll read about my story — what my challenges were and why I decided to sell my business. Cowriters include: Khamel Abdulai, Business Development Counselor for the Albany Center for Economic Success; Bill Brigham, Director of the Small Business Development Center; and Janet Tanguay, Coordinator of the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program at the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce.  All of us are committed to helping your small business work for you.

This blog will feature spotlights on the resources available to small business, case studies of other entrepreneurs, and discussions of issues that affect small businesses.  If you are have an idea, suggestion, comment or question, please let us know.  We look forward to building an online community of resources and supports for entrepreneurs.

And now for the fine print: The views expressed here are those of the bloggers and not necessarily those of the affiliated organizations (ACES, NYSSBDC, A-C Chamber of Commerce, University of Albany).