Monday, June 29, 2009

Something For Everyone!

I've been away for a week, and oh my how information piles up. So there are a number of interesting things that have crossed my email and desk in the last week that I thought some or all of you might be interested in.

First up, for those interested in local foods and agricultural issues, this website has an interesting audio interview with Jeffrey Smith on genetically engineered crops.

Second, since we are in the climate of possible "extra seasonal help," for those types of businesses who do the bulk of their work in the nice weather (can't say we've had much of that in Pennsylvania...) there is tax information readily available on how to treat seasonal workers. You can find it here.

Third, beginning in late 2009, the IRS will be focusing on employment taxes and will be auditing randomly selected businesses to see if they meet four standards for dealing with employment taxes. To read more, go here.

Now that I've caught up, I feel much better!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an internet based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. It will allow participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees. E-Verify is FREE and VOLUNTARY.

Employers can compare employee information taken from their Form I-9 documentation against more than 449 million records in the Social Security Administration's database and more than 80 million records in the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) immigration database.

E-Verify includes naturalization data, which instantly confirms citizenship status. It also includes a photo-screening tool, allowing employers to check the photo on his or her new hire's Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or Permanent Resident Card ("Green Card") against the 14.8 million images stored in DHS immigration databases.

To participate in the program, an employer must register on line and accept a "memorandum of understanding (MOU)" which details the roles SSA/DHS and the employer will play.

To find out more about E-Verify, click here. An Employer Quick Reference Guide as well as a User Manual is available. To register as an E-Verify user, click here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Alternative Financing Resource in Northeast PA

In this difficult economy, with credit being what it is, and access to capital at an all time low if your credit score is less than 700, there are options available which sit outside the realm of conventional financing, and allow you--the small business owner--an opportunity to obtain a loan for your company.

One such option is MetroAction's Micro Loan programs. If you haven't heard of MetroAction and you are unfamiliar with microlending, you may want to choose from the list of training sessions below, being offered over the next several weeks in various county locations, to learn more about the program and your opportunity for financing.

Here is the upcoming schedule:

Business Basics Seminar – East Stroudsburg: Thursday, June 11, 9:00 – 11:00 AM
Business Basics Seminar - Milford: Thursday, June 11, 2:00 - 4:00 PM

MetroAction will provide a free informative seminar designed to take the mystery out developing a successful small business. This program will review the steps needed to develop a successful business and link you to valuable resources to help you grow your business. Attendees will learn how small business loans work, what documents and information are required, and review the requirements to qualify for small business financing. The clinic will also explain about small business grants, what lenders look for, and how you can improve your chances of qualifying for a small business loan. The clinic is free but pre-registration is required.

The East Stroudsburg Program will be held at East Stroudsburg University. Visit www.MetroAction.org to register or call (570) 341-0270.

For more information on the Milford program location, please use the contact information above.


Financial Fitness Seminar – Honesdale: Thursday, June 25, 9:00 – 11:00 AM
Financial Fitness Seminar - Jim Thorpe: Tuesday, June 30, 10:00 AM-12:00 Noon
For many people, the critical path to financial independence is blocked not only by a lack of access to credit, but also by a lack of financial literacy. MetroAction will provide a free informative seminar designed to help individuals harness the power their credit and finances. MetroAction staff will share tips and tools on how to manage money by gaining a better understanding of your financial health, including understanding personal credit, developing a budget, what lenders look for, and how you can improve your chances of qualifying for a loan. The seminar is free but pre-registration is required.

The Honesdale program will be held at The Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, Honesdale. Visit www.MetroAction.org to register or call (570) 341-0270.

For more information on the Jim Thorpe location and program, use the contact information above.

MetroAction provides MicroLoans to small business in northeastern Pennsylvania that do not have access to traditional sources of credit. MetroAction services the counties of Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.

MetroAction spans some of the counties of The University of Scranton SBDC and the Wilkes University SBDC service territories. If you reside in, or are opening a business in the counties of Lackawanna, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne or Wyoming, you may contact the Scranton SBDC for assistance with your business plan and or other business needs. MetroAction staff members have spent time training both the staff of the Scranton SBDC and the Wilkes SBDC in the protocol and paperwork required by the microlending process. If you reside in, or are opening a business in the counties of Carbon or Luzerne, please contact the Wilkes University SBDC.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Social Media Quick Reference Guide

Ezine articles has a great one on social media, and we'd like to share some of the key points. To read the article in full, go here. Thanks to Keith Yurgosky, of the SBDC staff, for bringing it to my attention.

Many smaller companies have turned to social media networking in light of non-existent marketing dollars for some more conventional approaches. Instead of dropping off the face of the earth, networking through social mechanisms, has afforded an opportunity for small businesses to keep in touch with their clientele.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube seem to be the popular choices. If you have a web page, you can highten its visibility by marketing it through using SMO (social media optimization) tools.

Blogging is another way to have your own personal views, events, news spotted across a wide variety of readers. Blogging affords you the opportunity to show who you are--your own personal views on what you have to offer, your image, your mission and message. By using "keywords" in your blogging efforts, you can tie into search engines and be picked up by customers looking for what you have to offer. Blogging is also interactive and allows those who read to offer comments. You can utilize small surveys as part of your blogging, picking up on key customer trends, wants, and ideas.

Just to illustrate, over the Easter Holiday my family elected me as chief-find-a-place-to-eat-out. Of course, I totally forgot about it until the very last minute when I was sure I would not be able to get a reservation. Facebook to the rescue! A local restaurant on Facebook sent me their Easter menu and easy access to reservations out of the blue. I called it "divine intervention" at the time, which was much better than facing my entire family's wrath. Eleven of us trooped off to the dining establishment where we had a fantastic meal at an affordable price, and I was a super star. The restaurant now has quite a number of new customers (my family) and referrals based on our experience. Sure they have a website...but I didn't even know who they were until they reached me on Facebook.

Don't discount Social Media! Use it to your advantage.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

ATTENTION RESTAURANT OWNERS! (Or Those Interested in Opening...)

For the latest survey results on “hot trends” in the restaurant industry (as identified by more than 1,600 American Culinary Federation member chefs), see the links at
http://www.restaurant.org/research/chef_survey_2008.cfm.

Number one is “locally grown produce” (beating out #3 “organic produce”). Here are the details.

A whopping 89% of the survey respondents agree that “locally grown produce” is “hot.” For perspective, the item at the bottom of the list (ranking 208 out of 208 choices, with only 9% calling it “hot”) is…drum roll please… Potato Salad!

For a “bite-sized” summary of the results, here is an article from Progressive Grocer:

Local, Bite-sized, Organic Are Foodservice Watchwords for 2009, Says NRA
Dec 11, 2008


A new National Restaurant Association survey of more than 1,600 professional chefs - members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) - revealed that "nutrition and philosophy-driven food choices" will be the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2009, according to the foodservice trade group. Local produce, bite-size desserts, organics, healthful kids' meals, and new cuts of meat topped the list of nearly 210 culinary items, in NRA's third annual "What's Hot" chef survey. Rounding out the top 10 trends were kids' vegetable/fruit side dishes, superfruits (including acai and mangosteen), small plates/tapas/mezze/dim sum, artisan liquor, and sustainable seafood.

In October 2008, the association surveyed 1,609 chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation, asking them to rate 208 individual food/beverage items, preparation methods, and culinary themes as a "hot trend," "yesterday's news," or "perennial favorite" on restaurant menus in 2009. Nutrition/health as a culinary theme was ranked number 11 in the survey, underscoring the growing trends of consumer interest in healthful living, said NRA. Among the top 20 items, nutritionally balanced children's dishes and side items, produce and fruit items, smaller dishes, fish and gluten-free/allergy-conscious meals, illustrate that restaurant menus will continue to expand options for health-conscious diners.

Several of the top 20 trendy items were related to philosophy-driven food choices, including local sourcing, organics, artisanal items, sustainable seafood, and free-range pork/poultry. Locally grown produce - rated the number-one trend on restaurant menus in 2009 - has grown tremendously in popularity. Several factors drive this trend, including culinary creativity, cost-consciousness, and interest in lean protein, said NRA.The hottest trends in culinary themes included nutrition/health, gluten-free/allergy-conscious, food-alcohol pairings, umami (known as "the fifth taste"), and the slow food movement, the chefs told NRA. In the preparation techniques category, braising tops the list, followed by smoking and sous vide.

If you are a restaurant owner and don't know where to obtain local produce or locally grown and raised food, please visit http://www.localharvest.org; or for those of you in Pennsylvania, visit http://www.buylocalpa.org.

Organic Initiative: EQIP GRANT INFORMATION!!!

For those of you who may be interested in pursuing grant funding via the 2009 EQIP Organic Initiative:

PLEASE JOIN A Q&A WEBINAR SESSION ON Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) ORGANIC INITIATIVE Thursday, Jun 4, 2:00 to 3:00 PM at https://breeze.psu.edu/AgEnvPartnership

A live question and answer webinar session on the new Organic Initiative will be cosponsored by Penn State Cooperative Extension, the Penn State Agriculture & Environment Center and the Pennsylvania Natural Resources Conservation Service. Pennsylvania’s organic farmers – and those transitioning to organic farming – are urged to sign up with NRCS by Jun 12 to have an opportunity to tap $880,000 set aside for conservation practices for organic operations. This Thursday’s Q&A session will feature NRCS’s Dan Dostie, State Resource Conservationist, and Gwendolyn Crews, Resource Conservationist for Organic Agriculture. They will provide a brief overview of the program; however, the primary objective of the session will be to enable participants to interact with NRCS with questions about the new Organic Initiative.

Pennsylvania’s organizations working with organic farmers, are also encouraged to participate in the session. Producers are also welcome to attend.

To Participate: To access the webinar – Obtain a Friends of Penn State Account. Sign up for a free “Friends of Penn State Account” to obtain a user ID and password that will give you access to the webinar the day/time of the program. The Friends of Penn State Account can be obtained by clicking the above link. NOTE: You are encouraged to set up the Friends of Penn State Account prior to the webinar session so that you can easily sign on at the meeting time.

Sign on to the Webinar at the start time: On Jun 4, the webinar site will open at 1:45 PM – and the program will begin at 2 PM. To access the webinar, go to: https://breeze.psu.edu/AgEnvPartnership and sign on using your Penn State user ID and password obtained from Friends of Penn State. NOTE: A high-speed internet connection is needed.

Alternative viewing options. If you wish to view this program live – and are unable to do so at your office or home, please contact your county Extension office. If you need an alternative method (CD or hardcopies of the presentations) for viewing this program, please contact Anna Marie Nachman, amn6@psu.edu, 814-865-9468.

Background: The 2008 Farm Bill created a provision for organic producers and those who are in the process of becoming organic producers. Over $880,000 has been designated by NRCS for Pennsylvania’s organic producers in 2009 in support of conservation practices that protect the Commonwealth’s natural resources. Online resources are available that offer details about the Organics Initiative including:

NRCS’s Organic Initiative Overview: http://www.pa.nrcs.usda.gov/Farmers/Organic/index.html.

A recorded session with key NRCS staff working with the Organics Initiative in Pennsylvania can be viewed at https://breeze.psu.edu/p37532470/ .

The PowerPoint presentation from this session is available at http://www.pa.nrcs.usda.gov/Farmers/Organic/finalNRCSHelpforOrganicAgriculture.pdf

For more information about Thursday’s webinar, please contact Kristen Saacke Blunk, director of the Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center, 814-863-8756, ksaackeblunk@psu.edu.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How Not To Get Run Over By The Recession Bus

I have a friend who has lived in a big city all of her adult life and has never purchased a car. She relies heavily on public transportation, and where she has lived, it has been provided.


But in recent weeks she has complained of how the price of her bus card has increased. I, being the low-on-empathy person that I am, really find that I provide little sympathy, seeing as how gas just went up this week, and I live 23 miles from my place of work (a 46 mile trip each day).


It was as part of that conversation she noted that previously grumpy or non-committal bus drivers, have--miraculously--in the past month or so, become joyful, smiling, "how are you today" kind of folks in her city.


That got me to thinking. Just the other day I went back to a market I haven't frequented in some time to purchase some food shopping items. At the check out I was treated like I had just won the powerball and had decided to leave 1/2 of the proceeds to the store. I went home and asked my husband: "Have you been to X Market lately?" He had not. "Well, you should go," I continued. "I think it would be good for your ego."


Then, just today, I read an article in Susquehanna Business Life entitled "Color Outside the Lines...But Don't Fall Off the Page!" written by Jeff Tobe (Spring/Summer 2009), and decided there were too many coincidental fonts of knowledge leading to the same path, and that I needed to share them.


Mr. Tobe discusses the value of being creative, especially in today's economic environment, and the fact that businesses too often "commoditize" themselves, rather than seeking to break out from the pack in a unique and differentiated model of "how best we can serve you--the CUSTOMER."


I think I liked Mr. Tobe's article as much as I did because he was preaching what we at the SBDC preach every day to our clients:


(1) R-e-a-l-l-y p-l-a-n, and in the process take a look at your financial picture (income and expenses) in a timeline format (ie month-by-month cash flow). What do you need to do in order to survive expense-wise? If you don't examine your expenses, you won't be able to answer this question at all.


(2) Any new goals lately? Most people put a plan on paper and then forget they ever did it. No review, no measurement, no analysis. Did you even reach previous goals you set? If so, how? What were you doing right? Can you do more of it, maybe in a bigger way? If not, why not? Are you the same-old-same-old to your customers? Are you building great relationships with everyone who comes through your doors? Goals don't have to cost much. Let's say the bus driver wore a different funny hat every day. Heck, I'd want to see what s/he had on the next day and might not ride the subway in order to do so.


(3) Don't become a victim. Again, maybe it's my lack of empathy (I must confess I work on this every day....) but whining isn't going to help. If you don't take your business by the seat of its pants and give it a good shake, no one else is going to be able to help you. There may be tough decisions to be made, but you will have to make them. Don't waste time. Time can be money. Examine what you do with a critical eye and how you might make your customer's experience a bit more inviting....better.


(4) Showcase your strong points. In business and strategic planning lingo, this is called "competitive advantage" or "core competencies". What do you do best? What was the rock, the foundation that your business was built on? How far away from it are you now? Have you lost sight of it? If so, head back full speed to that "what you are noted for" aspect of business management.


It's not hard to realize that most of these things relate directly to the customer--how you treat them, their experience, and what will keep them coming back. Sometimes it's not about price-cutting and discounts. Sometimes it's simply about a smile, a helpful discussion and making them feel like they just won the lottery.