Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Small Business Grants

Everyone knows that it takes money to make money. But what happens if you just don't have the cash you need to start a business?

If you're an enterprising entrepreneur who needs money to start a business, or to expand your existing business, you need to know about the free small business grants program. Many states offer small business grants, allowing novice business owners the chance to start or improve their ventures. Others provide financial assistance in the form of loans or incentives for small businesses. It requires relatively little effort to apply for small business grants, and the payoff can mean the difference between failure and success.

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers small business grants to individuals who have good ideas pertaining to security-related innovations. Through the DHS Small business Innovation Research, small business grants are offered to qualifying businesses in the United States with 500 or fewer employees. An initial small business grant of up to $100,000 is available, allowing applicants six months to conduct the research required to prove the scientific, technical and commercial values of their concepts. If the DHS approves the proposal, the successful company may then apply for two-year free small business grant to develop prototypes of the product. Proposals must fall into one of the following categories: information technology, marine security or chemical and biological defense.

The federal government does not provide free small business grants; however a number of state-run development agencies do offer grants and other forms of financial assistance to help budding entrepreneurs start or expand their small businesses. Economic development agencies that extend small business grants exist in Kansas, Utah, Nebraska, New Hampshire and New Mexico. Other states offer financing and technical training services to individuals who want to go into small business.

Even though the federal government does not provide individuals with small business grants, it has spearheaded efforts to support individuals starting small businesses, through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Through the SBA, the U.S. government extends very attractive loan packages, along with the necessary technical support and training, to help small business owners succeed. The SBA was established in 1953, and has helped thousands of budding American entrepreneurs develop their small businesses. SBA offices can be found in every state, and work in cooperation with various lending, non-profit and educational and training organizations nationwide.

Small businesses account for more than half of the nation's gross domestic product, and continuously generate new jobs for the U.S. economy. With these facts in mind, the SBA intends to reach the 25 million small businesses that employ more than fifty percent of the total private industries work force.

With the huge contribution small businesses give to the U.S. economy, it is imperative that proper assistance and guidance be provided for individuals engaged in small business. Small business grants are small but important benefits given to these deserving individuals.

If you are a U.S. citizen with dreams of making it big in business, and a budget that requires you to start out small, look to your state government for information on how you can benefit from small business grants.

Small Business Marketing Tips

If you’re a small business owner, you probably don’t have a lot to spend on marketing. That’s okay, many small businesses aren’t taking full advantage of the many opportunities they have for marketing their business in basic ways that cost little or nothing to implement.

There are a number of things you can do to leverage your existing contact points with prospects and customers that require some initial effort to produce but go a long way in promoting your business, products, or services. Some of these methods include:

1. Business Cards. For less than $20, you can have a virtual billboard that promotes your business. Surprisingly many businesses forget about this great way to promote your business, your products, or special offers. When ordering your business cards, think about how you can use the space effectively. Some of the best business cards that I’ve seen include specific URL’s on the back for accessing free information, tools, resources, or product demo’s. I’ve even seen some with coupons on the back that turn business cards into a customer staple – giving them an incentive to have your business card handy at all times.

2. Invoices. Do you send your customers an invoice in print or electronically? If you do, use the invoice to promote your brand, product or service. This is also a valuable touch point to thank your customers and prompt them to learn about other things you offer. Some of the more effective messaging for your next invoice might be, “Thank you for your business. To learn more about our frequent shopper program call 1-800-555-1234”. This simple message can increase awareness and get your customers to take notice.

3. Emails. Nothing in marketing performs as well as your very own list of customer emails. Customers who offer their email address want to hear from you. Do what you can to encourage customers to provide you with their email address. You can always provide a small incentive like a pen with your business’s name on it, free information, or a white paper addressing an area of growing importance. Once you have this email list, communicate to your customers on a regular basis and encourage them to do more business with you. Satisfied customers are likely to forward your emails to others, growing the size of your customer base.

4. Thank You Notes. A number of small businesses are very effective at communicating with their customers. These businesses use every shipment as a vehicle to promote their products or thank their customers. You should do the same. When you make a sale and are shipping a product, insert a short thank you note that offers your gratitude and willingness to hear from the customer or perhaps your latest catalog or flyer. This goes a long way in showing your appreciation for you customer and interest in building a long term relationship with them.

5. Online Coupons or Offers. When you have a particular product to sell, you should offer information about it on your website. Additionally, offer an incentive for prospective customers (new customers). When individuals are on your website and take interest in your product or service, providing an incentive to buy can drive considerable response rates. You might be concerned about discounting your product or service to existing customers so be clear that your offer is only for new customers. Your existing customers understand that you’re trying to grow your business and won’t be disappointed to learn that you’re giving an incentive to new customers only.

6. Free Samples. Giving away free samples is one of the most effective marketing tactics available today. Even if you have a service business, offering up a method for prospective buyers to try a derivative of your service without paying for it can lead to increased trials and conversions. Large consumer product companies like Proctor and Gamble know that once a consumer decides that he or she likes the product, they will become a customer for an extended period of time which more than pays for the cost of their promotion.

7. Encourage Referrals. Small businesses that leverage the power of referrals experience strong growth. When you have others suggesting your product or service it’s like having your very own sales team. These referrals are even more powerful because, like word-of-mouth, the prospect is being encouraged to buy from an existing customer, associate, expert, or influencer. Think about how you can encourage referrals from your customers or other service providers. One way is to ask other vendors to distribute information about your business to their customer base in exchange for you doing the same.

Marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot. Use your own business to communicate your marketing messages and increase lead generation. These simple methods are effective for any small business owner regardless of industry, product, or service offering. Implement some or all of them to see the power of effective small business marketing.

Small Business Tax Tips

Any small business owner knows that they may live or die by the financial decisions that they make. While many cut corners by making prudent purchase decisions, few realize the opportunities that are available to them when it comes to working out the taxes for their business. In this article, we'll give you some tips to help you realize the best ways to optimize your taxes.

- One interesting write-off that many small business owners fail to realize is their health insurance. The taxing laws dictate that self employed people may write off a full sixty percent of their health insurance costs, saving them potentially thousands of dollars. In addition, medical savings accounts can be set up and the contributions made up until April 17th are considered by the IRS.

- When considering employees for your business, think family first. If there are people in your family that can help you to operate the business, you can allow them to take on some of the income of the business, allowing you to put your earnings into lower tax brackets, assuming the relative performs some type of service to the business.

- Another aspect often neglected by uninformed small business owners is the prospect of a retirement fund. You can contribute to a qualified self retirement fund which is completely tax deductible in your returns.

- The first year expense limitation for any small business is now $19,000. Don't forget to write off any business-related practices, including taking potential clients to lunch, or golfing, or whatever situation may merit as an expense. One technique often employed when it comes to lessening the taxes that you face is to buy supplies that you know that the office will need in the coming year early so that you can write them off. While it's not a permanent solution, it can defer the damage your taxes do to you.

Keeping track of your financial records and keeping a clear separation between expenses made for yourself and those made for your business can really ease your struggle come tax time. Being organized and having a plan can save you both time and all-important money.