Since today is Small Business Saturday, I hope you will do some shopping at a small business in your neighborhood, village, town or city today!
The concept was created last year in grassroots fashion and has spread, with a number of important business sponsors this year and the U.S. Small Business Administration also on board. According to their data, small businesses have generated two out of every three net new jobs in the U.S. over the past 15 years and they employ over half of all private sector employees.
For more information on how to support Small Business Saturday in your area, check out the SBA site, the Facebook page (which had 2.6 million "likes" as of yesterday) or use #SmallBizSat on Twitter.com.
Thinking about starting your own venture in 2012? Take advantage of some excellent, free business startup resources online.
The National Association for the Self-Employed has put together a small business startup kit on its website. Topics covered include: how to think like a business owner; how to handle your tax responsibilities; choosing the proper business structure for your company; how to fund and market your business.
The Startup America Partnership, an Obama Administration initiative that has brought together some of the brightest U.S. entrepreneurs, has a dynamite website packed full of great resources and information.
And of course I would be remiss if I didn't plug our fantastic small business channel at Bloomberg Businessweek.com. If we haven't already written about your business problem or issue, email me and I'll try and address your question in an upcoming column.
The good news is that there are ways to give without getting hit directly in the wallet.
First, shop small and shop local. Studies show that every dollar you spend with local merchants gives back exponentially to your community.
If you're shopping online, use GoodShop.com, a site that funnels a percentage of every purchase you make back to your favorite charity. The site also donates about a penny to your designated charity every time you do an Internet search. GoodDining.com, an affiliated program, does the same for your restaurant purchases.
If you work for a large corporation, they may have a Volunteer Time Matching program that donates funds to match the volunteer hours you put in at your local food bank or community charitable organization. I volunteer at Foothill Unity Center every year, setting up several of their big events, and I wish I had a way to get matching funds for them.
Collect old cell phones and other electronics and donate them to a group such as Gazelle.com. You can use such a donation to raise money for a community group or have cash generated from your donation go directly to a charity you designate.
The idea, launched by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship, is to focus efforts on helping "current and aspiring entrepreneurs gain the knowledge, skills and networks necessary to grow sustainable enterprises."
This year, there are 1,400 organizations signed up to host 3,500 events in the U.S.
Most Americans are grateful to our military for the sacrifices they make to protect us. The majority of service members report that they get "thank-you's" when they're out in public and strangers buy them coffee or pick up their tabs in restaurants.
But once they leave the service and shed their uniforms, veterans are not easy to identify. Turns out while we hear a lot about disabled veterans, homeless veterans and jobless veterans, many veterans are becoming entrepreneurs.
What a fascinating guy. He has a way of looking at the world - and at himself - that is both refreshing and charming, and all too rare among very successful people.
We talked about the future of print media, and he was pragmatic. "The people who started making car parts are not the same people who made carriages and buggy whips," he told me. "The people who started monetizing the auto industry are the ones who grew up immersed in it."
In other words, it's not traditional media that will succeed on the Internet. It's people who can bring innovation like my kids, who grew up online and don't know any different. It's a sobering view, but I think it makes a lot of sense.
He has great admiration for print and gave me half a dozen reasons why physical books are superior to e-books, though he said that overall electronics are far superior to print. Young believes that half the jobs in print media will disappear over the next decade or two.
He ended on this sobering thought: 'If you can't move your job in publishing from paper to electrons in the next 10 or 20 years, you have a 50 percent chance of being out of work." Check out the whole article - and Bob's trademark red socks, they're a hoot.
I know more than a couple people of a certain age who are discouraged about finding new or better jobs.
"There are so many 20-somethings out there looking for work!" they exclaim, with the implication being that not only are the youngsters better-versed in technology, they're also willing to work on the cheap.
"But you bring so much experience and authority to your field," I reply, knowing deep down that some employers don't want either quality in their employees. (Makes them too difficult to boss around and exploit, I'm afraid.)
Put together a short video or essay and submit it to the My Startup Story Contest sponsored by Hiscox Small Business Insurance.
You could win $10,000. And even if you don't win, it's a great exercise and a way to practice your "elevator pitch." And you can check out the startup stories of some terrific entrepreneurs on the company's Facebook page.
You may or may not be familiar with the SBDC (Small Business Development Centers). As a long-time source, entrepreneur and author Bob Reiss says, they've "never won any marketing awards."
Nevertheless, the SBDC network has more than 1,000 U.S. offices and their sole purpose is to help entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses. Their services are free or low-cost and I have no doubt they are also underused.
Now, they have a revamped website that you should visit sometime. A link to Bob's blog is there under "inspiration."
A new survey of micro-retailers has found nearly half more optimistic about holiday sales this year than last. And with consumer spending up 0.6% last month, they may be right.
The poll of 1,000 retailers by Manta.com, a online small business community, also showed that 75% of respondents will use social media to promote their holiday specials. Some said they feel that the message about the benefits of shopping locally are getting through to their customers.
Unfortunately, says the survey, "... retailers’ optimism for the holidays isn’t translating into jobs. An overwhelming majority (86 percent) doesn’t plan to hire additional holiday staff; half say it’s because they don’t need the help and one-third because they can’t afford it."
Readers frequently ask me about the role of luck in starting a business. And I've always been curious about it, too.
Certainly persistence, planning, education and a positive attitude are crucial to small business success. But there are also a host of factors that can't be controlled: timing, big picture economics, competitors, trends and plain old luck.
So how big a role does good (or bad) fortune really play in success? The New York Times business section had an author who has written a book on this very topic opine on it in Sunday's paper.
He analyzed extremely successful businesses to try and isolate the role luck played and came up with a ROL (return on luck) factor that takes some of the uncertainty out of it. Fascinating stuff - give it a read.