Small business information, insight and resources | Fri, 26 May 2017 17:45:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Six More Tips for Taking Control of Intra-office Email Fri, 26 May 2017 17:37:39 +0000 Earlier this spring, we shared some advice for handling intraoffice email. That led to several people suggesting even more advice. Which leads to this list of suggestions, mostly from Econsultancy, with a couple thrown in from a guy down the hall. If you have more suggestions, share them with us via—what else?—email at

1 | Limit an email to four sentences

“Q: Why is this email four sentences or less? A:

If you follow the link you’ll see the remarkably simple premise – limiting the length of email responses. Short emails can be composed and the signature explains that far from being curt, the intention is to increase the efficiency of communication.

2 | Set up an office blog

Do big corporations still use the term “intranet”? Automattic, the folks behind WordPress use their P2 theme (try it here) that allows different teams to maintain their own pages, where people can comment and search for information. (See our previous article about Automattic’s “no office” workforce.)

3 | Don’t check email in the morning

When you start your daily work, use the first hour of the day to do some actual work, rather than wading through emails. Later in the day, when correspondence starts to pour in, you can deal with emails knowing you have already gotten some work under your belt.

4 | Use Slack (etc.)

Slack encourages employees to use a system of direct messaging, video and audio chat all organized into projects. It works, as long as everyone on a team uses it.

5 | Use a project management platform like Basecamp

Basecamp, the popular project management platform that has been around since 1999, provides the direct messaging organizational magic of a platform like Slack with a more robust project management approach.

6 | Schedule standup meetings

More regular face-to-face meetings mean less email, but they must be quick and efficient.



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How To Determine if Your Unpaid Internship Program is Legal Thu, 25 May 2017 10:00:35 +0000

Ah, it’s that time of year again. The season student internship programs at many small businesses. But if you think the term “student internship program” means “free summer worker,” it’s very important that you read on—if you don’t, you are risking a lot of legal hassle down the road.

Use this six-part test to determine if your internship program can be “unpaid”

Unless your internship program meets this six-factor test below from the Department of Labor, you may be breaking state wage laws and the Federal Labor Security Act. Even if your company passes, if you have unpaid interns, make sure to seek guidance from your professional and legal advisors, as laws and regulations can differ by state and local jurisdiction. You should also have clear and thoroughly written descriptions of your internship program, which describes the training offered by the program and clearly discloses that the position is unpaid.

  1. The training must contain a significant educational component.
  2. The training must primarily benefit the intern.
  3. Interns may not displace regular employees but work under the close supervision of existing staff.
  4. Your company must not derive an immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.
  5. The intern should not necessarily be entitled to a job at the conclusion of the program.
  6. There must be a clear understanding that the intern is not entitled to wages.


An unpaid internship must clearly benefit the intern and contain a significant educational component. Unpaid internships are not summer employees you don’t have to pay.


(Photo: Thinkstock)

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How to Recruit Great Interns: Provide a Great Learning Experience & Pay Them

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Etsy’s Activist Shareholders Want to Recraft the Company Tue, 23 May 2017 22:10:16 +0000

Etsy, the pioneering online marketplace for creators, crafters and other makers, is the subject of a Bloomberg/Newsweek report exploring the publicly-traded company’s battle with a shareholder group challenging the company’s priorities and corporate structure. 

Leading the challenge is Seth Wunder, a hedge fund manager based in Los Angeles. According to Bloomberg, after the company went public and started to decline in value, Wunder saw Etsy as a business that was fundamentally sound. Moreover, it also has a similar business model to one that has worked well for EBay Inc., which has made money for 21 straight years According to the Bloomberg report, Wunder wondered, “Why is Etsy not making more money?” He saw the answer in the way the company was being run.


“Etsy’s general and administrative expenses amounted to 24 percent of total revenue. (EBay is about 10 percent of revenue on such expenses.) Etsy had been hiring like crazy, having increased its staff 55 percent since the end of 2014, and doling out all manner of perks: an elegant Brooklyn headquarters with Manhattan views, art installations, and a “breathing room,” along with salaries and benefits common at much, much more profitable tech companies.”

Wunder’s Black-and-White Capital began buying Etsy stock, eventually acquiring 2 percent of the company, enough to launch an activist campaign against the company, especially targeting its then CEO Chad Dickerson.

When the company went public, it had doubled in price, but soon dropped to one-half its IPO value. Then, last May, before what was going to be a lackluster shareholder’s report, Etsy announced that it was laying off 80 employees—about 8 percent of its staff—and that Dickerson had been fired also.

These changes increased revenue—Etsy brought in $365 million last year, on more than $2.8 billion in gross merchandise sales—but exacerbated tensions with sellers, who complained that the growth made it hard for truly distinctive merchandise to stand out.

Will Etsy return to a sales-based business model, rather than one which preferences seller services?”

Stay tuned.


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How Big Box Retailers are Hurting, How Small Town Retailers Can Benefit Tue, 23 May 2017 18:25:29 +0000

“Everything gigantic in American (retail) is about to get smaller or die,” wrote James Kunstler in a Business Insider article in 2013.  Kunstler wrote that big box retailers were on the brink of scale implosion, and that “every element of economic reality is now poised to squash them.” Fast forward to 2017, and we’ve gone over the brink. 

The Washington Post reported last month that troubles for big boxes have been building for years and are now arriving full force. It seems like every week brings another story of big retail jobs lost, the shuttering of stores, and the financial losses at big retailers.

With all the doom and gloom around retail,
you might think small retailers,
especially small town retailers, don’t stand a chance.
But that’s not true. 

eCommerce (Amazon) is not the only cause of the big box decline

There are constant news stories that point to eCommerce as the cause of big retail’s decline and also as its replacement. Today, you can reorder all your regular items like paper towels or laundry soap just by tapping a button mounted right in the cabinet or by telling your voice-controlled assistant to handle it. Even more automated, you can set up all regular items on recurring shipments that you don’t even think about. Soon your refrigerator and cupboards will notice you’re low on something and just reorder it. That means no chance for a big box store to capture an impulse purchase when you make a quick run to the store for those items.

But online sales today only amount to 8% of all retail sales

Sure, online sales are increasing. The dominance of Amazon increasing. But online sales can’t be the only cause for big retail’s decline or the only replacement.

So where are the rest of the big box sales going? 

While all boring retail purchases (translation: commodities) get automated, there is a trend of specialized and unique retail purchases becoming small, sustainable, curated, handcrafted, local and integrated with technology.

Items we care about, are interested in,
and want to enjoy shopping for,
will come from small local retailers.

Customers are already shifting their spending to smaller retailers. The MasterCard SpendingPulse for Small Business has reported on the “general consumer trend to shop small” for the past four years. IBM Research says that in five years, buying local will once again beat online because of local retailers’ increasing use of technology. (This is IBM, remember.)

Smart local stores will merge digital with physical retail. The physical store is closer to the customer and gives immediate gratification. Merge that with the product information and reviews of online, plus more personalized data, like wishlists and recommendations.

What can local stores in small towns do today to capitalize on retail’s big split? 

  1. Use big retail’s own tools against them. Try these 7 big-retail tricks including automatic orders, delivery, and better recommendations.
  2. Add more technology to be more human. Use tablets to improve your service. Teach customers how to buy from you through Alexa and Siri.
  3. Offer items that can’t be bought online. Locally-produced items, personalization and special services give you an advantage.
  4. Be your best small town self. Use your 7 Strengths as a small town retailer and shore up these 7 Common Weaknesses of Local Shops.

Cover photo: AP Hammock
Parking lot, Warehouse: iStock


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The Things a Bird Must do to Fly | Wilbur Wright | #MondayMotivation Mon, 22 May 2017 21:37:33 +0000

To even mention all the things
the bird must constantly
keep in mind in order to fly securely
through the air would take
a considerable part of the evening.

Wilbur Wright

On this day, May 22, in 1906,
The Wright brothers were granted
U.S. patent number 821,393 for their “Flying-Machine”




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Supreme Court Tightens Rules in Blow to ‘Patent Trolls’ Mon, 22 May 2017 18:28:30 +0000

More than 40 percent of all patent lawsuits are filed in East Texas. Of those, 90 percent are brought by “patent trolls,” according to a study published in a Stanford Law School journal. A Supreme Court decision handed down today will likely dramatically change those statistics.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 today (May 22, 2017) that patent lawsuits can be filed only in courts located in the jurisdiction where a targeted company is incorporated. The decision overturned a ruling last year by a Washington-based patent court, that said patent suits are fair game anywhere a defendant company’s products are sold.

According to analysts, today’s decision will make it harder for so-called “patent trolls” to win cases. (“Trolls” is a nickname for individuals and companies that generate revenue by suing over patents they purchase, often in bulk, for the sole purpose of suing potential infringers.)

Before today’s decision, such trolls could shop for friendly courts in which to bring their suits, a major pain for high-tech companies that are constantly hit with such lawsuits.

According to Reuters, the ruling is likely to lessen the steady flow of patent litigation filed in a single federal court district in rural East Texas because of its reputation for having rules and juries that favor plaintiffs bringing infringement suits.


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Research Reveals Correlation Between Use of Digital Tools and Small Business Success | 2017 Thu, 18 May 2017 17:23:25 +0000

According to a report (PDF) commissioned by Google and conducted by the consulting firm Deloitte, small businesses with the highest utilization of digital tools (or “digital engagement”) create more jobs and grow faster than those with lower levels of utilization. 

Four Levels of Small Business Digital Engagement

Of the 2,000 small businesses surveyed, the percentage of respondents displayed these four levels of digital engagement.

20% | BASIC level of digital engagement

Relatively undeveloped digital presence, using only basic tools such as an email address, with no website or social media presence.

30% | INTERMEDIATE level of digital engagement

Businesses with digital tools such as a simple website that make use of basic online marketing tools, online directories or third party marketplaces.

30% | HIGH level of digital engagement

Have tools like a more advanced website, such as one with mobile or e-commerce capabilities, and is engaged with multiple social media and online marketing channels

20% | ADVANCED level of digital engagement

Utilize more sophisticated digital tools such as data analytics and mobile apps.

Success metrics of the top 20% most digitally advanced U.S. small businesses

2X | Earned 2 times as much revenue per employee
4X | Experienced revenue growth over the previous year that was nearly 4 times as high
3X | Were almost 3 times as likely to be creating jobs over the previous year
6X | Employment growth rate that was more than 6 times as high
3X | Were 3 times as likely to have exported goods internationally the previous year

About the research

The report explored the channels through which digital engagement drives greater revenue and jobs growth, acknowledging that small businesses with higher growth also have greater capabilities to invest in using digital tools. The analysis found that businesses with increased digital engagement also have higher levels of exports, customer diversification, innovation and inquiries across the sales funnel. These benefits illustrate how small businesses are able to use technology to create opportunities to grow through new markets and products.

VIA | Download the Report (PDF)



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If Laptops are Banned From Planes, Here’s a Lego-like Smart Phone Alternative Wed, 17 May 2017 16:20:13 +0000

Last month (April 2017) we shared a theory put forth by some analysts that travel-warrior laptop computers may be on their way out, replaced by smartphones that can pair with accessories like Bluetooth keyboards. Why? Soon you may not be able to carry on your laptop onto a flight. Already banned on certain flights from the middle east to the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security is considering expanding that prohibition to include several more countries.

Now, a few weeks later, some companies are already promoting their Bluetooth lego-like laptop alternatives that can keep the digitally dependent tech user online with a smartphone and Bluetooth attachments. A recent CNN article listed some accessory gadgets and gizmos already available that, when pieced together, can come close to a working “laptop-ish” smartphone.

Here is their list of devices for a lego-like laptop, followed by our response.

iPhone Clamps

A company called “Lockjaww” makes a clamp that holds onto your phone or tablet and latches onto the tray table in front of you. (Amazon, $20)

Cordless Headphones

Apple’s AirPods ($159) or Bragi’s The Headphone ($149). The AirPods’ batteries only last five hours, so if you’re flying across the Atlantic and want to listen continuously, you’ll need a backup pair.

Bluetooth keyboards

There are plenty of inexpensive bluetooth keyboards that connect to any device, like OMOTON’s Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard (Amazon, $14). There are also slimmer, but more expensive, options like LG’s Rolly 2 keyboard (Amazon, $50). It also has a built-in dock, which you can set your smartphone.

Battery Charger

Since many economy seats still don’t have a USB port, you’ll need a solid portable battery charger. The Anker brand is consistently among the highest rated on Amazon. They start at $23 and promise to charge an iPhone 6 for 3.8 charges.

Our Observation

Next month (June, 2017), Apple is expected a to refresh its line of laptops (MacBooks). They will be the first major line of laptops released since the ban. While it likely will not happen, Apple engineers have probably been in non-stop discussions with TSA engineers to explore the possibility of making a plane-friendly laptop. (Just a guess.)

However, one thing we can say for sure. The lego-like configuration of devices in this article is missing a screen that can be used on an extended flight. Even with the largest mobile phones, the necessary squinting will grow tiresome soon. (Maybe binocular glasses?)



Also on

Why Laptops May Be on Their Final Lap

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How to Monitor Small Business Computer Security Alerts Sun, 14 May 2017 19:24:54 +0000

Upon hearing or seeing news alerts about major security issues occurring on the internet, it is natural for small business owners and managers to turn to Google to learn what’s taking place and if they can be affected. As each exploit is unique (for example, they can be directed to one specific website or large networks globally) the news can change rapidly about the status of the problems.

Here are some ways to keep up with the most current information from informed sources.

Computer Emergency Readiness Team (Homeland Security)

Official alerts from U.S. Homeland Security’s computer emergency team.

Technical alerts | email or via text


While owned by Kaspersky Labs, this site is run as an independent news service.

Twitter | @threatpost

Krebs on Security

Breaking news and updates from former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs.

Twitter | @briankrebs


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GM Drives into the On-Demand ‘Gig’ Economy Fri, 12 May 2017 16:55:35 +0000

General Motors recently announced a program called “Gig” that rents their all-electric car, the Bolt, to freelance drivers for $229 per week. Part of GM’s Maven set of car sharing options, this offering is aimed at independent drivers working for the various ride-hailing and delivery services. (Article by Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research and a regular contributor to

The $229 rate includes maintenance, insurance, and free electric charging at EVgo stations and is designed to make it cheaper and easier for drivers to work for multiple services.

Key quote Car&Driver’s GM Launches New Program to Capitalize on Growth in Freelance Economy:

GM’s research shows demand is greatest for ride-hailing services at different times of day than it is for delivery services, so the company believes Gig can be a way for drivers to maximize their earnings and stay busy throughout their desired work period. Further, the program’s weekly rates can help drivers schedule vacations or other time off without having to commit to a rental vehicle for an extended period of time.

Gig launched last week in San Diego and will soon be available in San Francisco and Los Angeles. GM expects it will be in many more markets by year end.

The $229 price per week is quite aggressive, especially since it only requires a week by week commitment and includes maintenance, unlimited mileage and access to free fuel via electric charging stations. This will no doubt be attractive to people who drive full- or near full time, especially if they work for multiple services.

GM’s Maven division is charged with exploring how car sharing is changing car ownership and usage. Gig is a natural extension of their efforts. Ford, BMW and other auto companies are also experimenting with car sharing and on-demand car services.

This service illustrates the growing range of services and products designed to support independent workers. This is a clear signal that the gig economy is both growing and maturing.

VIA | The Small Business Lab

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