Small business information, insight and resources | Thu, 19 Apr 2018 19:27:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Amazon Launches a Set of Do-it-Yourself Alexa Templates Thu, 19 Apr 2018 18:24:52 +0000

Amazon today introduced Skill Blueprints, a new “fill in the blank” way to create personalized skills and responses for an Alexa device. Using a set of easy-to-use templates, anyone can create customized interactions with Alexa, “within minutes,” claims Amazon. The skills and responses you create with Skill Blueprints will be available instantly on all Alexa-enabled devices associated with your account.

How might a small business use it?

The creators of 25,000+ skills have shown there is no limit to fun or productive voice-activated skills. As the skills are linked to one device only, an Echo Dot could serve as a Q & A device for shoppers who want a quick answer to question like, “How much does this blue widget cost?” or “Where can I find the paint department?”

Note | Unlike the publicly-available Alexa Skills developed using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), the new Alexa Skill Blueprints are for personal use only and are not published to the Alexa Skills Store. Developers who want to create Skills available to any Alexa user, can register here to start the process to begin using ASK development tools.


Quote via

“Whether it’s your own answer to the question “Alexa, what is the best city?” or a skill that offers helpful information for the pet sitter,  allow you to build personalized voice experiences with Alexa, helping you make Alexa even more useful around your home.

“Using Skill Blueprints is as easy as filling in the blanks. You can have fun customizing Alexa’s responses to questions like “Alexa, who is the best mom in the world?” or “Alexa, am I your favorite painter?” You can also use Skill Blueprints to create an interactive adventure story with your child as the lead character with the “Adventure” Blueprint, or create a skill to poke fun at Dad’s corny one liners with the “Family Jokes” Blueprint.

Video provided by


Photos: Amazon


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Amazon Alexa’s Growing List of Small Business Skills

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Taskrabbit, IKEA’s Gig-Economy Home Service Marketplace, Gets Hit By Hackers Tue, 17 Apr 2018 20:18:13 +0000

TaskRabbit, the on-demand home-service platform acquired last October by Ikea, announced that it has taken down its site and app in order to investigate a cybersecurity incident.

Founded in 2009, TaskRabbit was an early “gig-economy” success. Using a smartphone app to facilitate task-matching, TaskRabbit allows customers needing help with a home service to find “taskers” who have the necessary skills. Typical tasks are services like cleaning up a yard, organizing a closet or delivering a package across town. Last October, TaskRabbit was acquired by Ikea.

The company said it was working with a cybersecurity firm but didn’t specify what happened, how many people may have been affected or how it learned of the security breach.

The company said it had notified clients and “taskers,” those who offer their services and have been vetted by the company, and said it would reschedule any uncompleted tasks and compensate workers for the tasks that couldn’t be completed Monday because of the disruption, according to



The message now appearing on the site’s homepage (4.27.2018)

Dear TaskRabbit Community,

TaskRabbit is currently investigating a cybersecurity incident. We understand how important your personal information is and are working with an outside cybersecurity firm and law enforcement to determine the specifics. The app and the website are offline while our team works on this.

We will be back in contact with you with more information once we have it. As an immediate precaution, if you used the same password on other sites or apps as you did for TaskRabbit, we recommend you change those now.

Thank you for your patience while we investigate the issue and for being such an important part of our community.

– TaskRabbit Team


Also on

Two Small Business Trends That Contributed to Ikea’s Decision to Buy TaskRabbit | 2017

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How to Bookmark a Tweet (Privately) | 2018 Mon, 16 Apr 2018 18:37:57 +0000

Recently, Twitter added a new “share” icon that provides more options to, well, share — and, finally, to save — tweets. Actually, the book-marketing feature is the only thing that’s actually new, but an interface tweak related to the bookmark feature makes some previous features seem more intuitive to use.

Note: Bookmarks are available for Twitter for iOS and Android, Twitter Lite and (In other words, not on a desktop.)

How Twitter Bookmarks work

A desire to save content for later reading is something people have asked for a long time, according to product manager Jesar Shah. Because so much news circulates on Twitter, often including links to longer articles, you don’t have time to read in the moment., she said. “Twitter users sometimes found it uncomfortable to use the Favorite button for saving tweets because of the nature of the tweet’s content.”

Twitter users have previously come up with private workarounds to bookmark tweets, like:

  • DM’ing tweets to yourself
  • Saving them in Notepad or similar apps
  • Emailing them to yourself
  • Opening them in a new tab

A better (and private) way to save a tweet: Bookmarks

To use the new feature, click on a new “share” icon that’s found to the right of the heart icon (the “favorite” button.” share the tweet in a variety of ways – including by bookmarking it, DM’ing it, or via other methods – as had been previously available through the top-right drop-down menu.

  • When you want to view your saved tweets, tap Bookmarks from your profile icon menu.
  • To remove a saved bookmark, tap the share icon from the Tweet within your bookmark timeline and select Remove Tweet from bookmarks.

Click the GIF to watch how it works

Images: iStock, Twitter

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What Percentage of New Businesses Survive? (By State, Industry, Time) Mon, 16 Apr 2018 14:08:29 +0000

In response to our Top 20 most frequently asked questions about Small Business article, we often are asked where researchers can dig deeper into certain answers we provide. (The answers have links to sources, but it’s a challenge to find just the right answer you may be seeking when plowing through the massive vaults of data maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

One of the most consistently asked questions has to do with the survivability of a new business. Apparently, someone once-upon-a-time said that (fill-in-the-blank) businesses fail within (any-number-you-make-up) years. There are many reasons this statistic is wrong (no matter what you put in the blanks), but here are a few obvious ones: Businesses in one industry have survivability rates different from businesses in other industries. And different regions of the country have recessions and booms at different times. And different locations within one section of a town have closure rates a block away. You get the idea.

The good news: long version

Another thing that “failure” statistics users fail to mention. The vast majority of Bureau of Labor and Statistics data is focused on job creation and “closures” of business.  And “closures” are not always failures. For example, closures of profitable businesses occur frequently. Mergers and acquisitions of businesses can result in one less business, but that’s not the same as a failure to the BLS, the most comprehensive source of statistical data related to business and job creation, survivability and length of operation.

Want to go for a deep dive into statistics related to business survivability? If so, the links below are to information maintained by the BLS that are related to jobs, businesses (or establishment)  and survivability rates in a broad range of industries and in all 50 states.

The table of size standards can also be found online in the Small Business Size Regulations published by the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. You can also check whether your business is small using the size standards tool.

The great news: short version

Want to skip the thousands of spreadsheets linked below? In 2014, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker did the math to show that businesses don’t fail as often or as fast as the pseudo-experts may claim. Here’s what they discovered:

“As far as we can tell, there is no statistical basis for the assertion that nine out of 10 businesses fail. It appears to be one of those nonsense facts that people repeat without thinking too clearly about it.”

Washington Post Fact Checker



Jump to state-by-state data

National Data by Industry

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting

Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction




Wholesale trade

Retail trade

Transportation and warehousing


Finance and insurance

Real estate and rental and leasing

Professional, scientific, and technical services

Management of companies and enterprises

Administrative and waste services

Educational services

Health care and social assistance

Arts, entertainment, and recreation

Accommodation and food services

Other services (except public administration)

Establishment age and survival data by state

US Map

Massachusetts Rhode Island Connecticut New Jersey District of Columbia Delaware Maryland New Hampshire Vermont Montana Colorado Wyoming Washington Virgin Islands Puerto Rico Alaska Hawaii Oregon California Idaho Nevada Utah Arizona New Mexico North Dakota South Dakota Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma Texas Minnesota Iowa Missouri Arkansas Louisiana Wisonsin Michigan Illinois Indiana Ohio Kentucky Tennessee Mississippi Alabama Florida Maine New York Pennsylvania West Virginia Virginia North Carolina South Carolina Georgia









District of Columbia





















New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Puerto Rico

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota






Virgin Islands


West Virginia




Last Modified Date: November 8, 2017

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How to Avoid a Buyer Scam When Selling Something Online Fri, 13 Apr 2018 16:40:21 +0000

If you sell things on eBay or similar online marketplaces, here’s a scam that’s been around forever and won’t go away. Groups like the Better Business Bureau have been warning sellers about this scam, but there’s a constant flow of new sellers who apparently keep falling for the same old scam.

The Set Up

    1. You’ve just posted a big-ticket item (a car, computer or furniture) on eBay, Craigslist or another marketplace.
    2. The con artist, pretending to be an interested buyer, contacts you.
    3. They claim they want to buy the item right away and arranges to meet for the exchange.
    4. However, when the buyer arrives, the buyer doesn’t have cash.
    5. Instead, they claim they’ve sent you the money using PayPal.
    6. You check your email and, sure enough, you have what appears to be a message from PayPal confirming the transfer.
    7. The scammer may even claim that the transfer is “invisible,” and that’s why you can’t see it in your PayPal account.

The Sting

There is no such thing as an “invisible” transfer. The scammer didn’t send any money and is just trying to take your item without paying.

Variations | The scammer “accidentally” overpays you for the item and requests you wire back the difference. By the time you figure out the PayPal transfer was a fake, the scammer is long gone.

Tip from the Better Business Bureau on how to avoid buyer scams

    • Don’t accept checks or money orders | When selling to someone you don’t know, it is safer to accept cash or credit card payments.
    • Do not accept overpayments | When selling on Craigslist, eBay or similar sites, don’t take payments for more than the sales price, no matter what convincing story the buyer tells you.
    • Always confirm the buyer has paid before handing over the item |  Don’t take the buyer’s word for it.
    • Be wary of individuals claiming to be overseas | In many different types of scams, con artists claim to be living abroad to avoid in-person contact. Consider this a red flag.
    • Meet sellers/potential buyers in person and in a safe place | Meet in a public area and never invite buyers/sellers into your home. Ask your local police department if they have a “safe lot” program. Even if they don’t, suggesting the parking lot or lobby of a police station as a meeting place might be enough to scare off a scammer.

    More tips for avoiding buyer scams:

    ]]> 0 Alibaba Founder Says Trade Tariffs Will Hurt U.S. Small Businesses Wed, 11 Apr 2018 21:47:53 +0000

    Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma today issued a plea to the White House, urging President Trump to avoid a trade policy Ma believes will hurt U.S. small businesses. Since going public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014, one of Alibaba’s priorities has been focused on helping American small businesses export their products and services to China. Appearing in the Wall Street Journal, Ma’s opinion essay echoed similar points made by U.S. retailer and agriculture trade groups.

    “At the heart of Alibaba’s mission – to make it easy to do business anywhere – is our support for small businesses. A vibrant small-business sector is good for any economy because small businesses create jobs,” Ma wrote. “This trade war will hurt millions of American small businesses and farmers.”

    Ma, who hosted a trade show for U.S. small businesses in Detroit last June, said, “I feel for these men and women, because I met many of them when I toured the U.S. last year to host our “Gateway” trade showcase in Detroit.

    “Small-business owners and farmers traveled from all over the country to learn how Alibaba could connect them to the massive Chinese consumer market. Those attending Gateway saw what the future could hold for their business. I saw the entrepreneurial gleam in their eyes.

    “The U.S. has been a consistent defender of free and open markets, but this time it is resorting to protectionism that will not improve American competitiveness. Any country seeking to increase exports would do better to focus on developing good products and channels to access foreign markets rather than putting up trade barriers.”


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    Trade Tariffs Have Unintended Consequences Warn U.S. Retailers, Farmers

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    How the On-Demand Economy is Changing Insurance Coverage | 2018 Mon, 09 Apr 2018 18:08:56 +0000

    The rise of the on-demand (or “gig”) economy (like drivers who provide rides via Uber or Lyft) is not only changing the way its participants work, it is also changing how companies provide insurance to those participants.

    A recent article in the Economist provides this example: A courier hits and injures a pedestrian.

    • If the courier company employs the driver and provides the worker a van and salary, the accident would be covered by a standard commercial insurance policy.
    • But on-demand “gig” couriers, who use their own cars and work whenever they choose, must often insure themselves. Even if the courier has personal insurance coverage, it will not usually pay out for accidents that happen while they are driving for work. If the coverage is available, it can be expensive.

    This isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity

    Insurance by the hour | The UK startup, Zego, brokers third-party liability insurance for couriers who pay for the insurance by the working hour. Coverage starts when they activate the courier’s smartphone app and stops when they sign off.

    Insurance by the mile | Uber drivers, through the insurance broker Aon, can purchase coverage against illness, disability, and death for as little as $0.04 for each mile they drive. If local regulations allow, Uber will raise the rate it pays drivers by the same amount, making it look like an employment benefit but in the context of an independent worker approach.

    Insurance by stages of risk | In Ontario, Uber and Lyft both have brokers who have packaged a “three-stage” approach.

    Stage 1 | Kicks in when a driver launches the Uber (or Lyft) app.
    Stage 2 | Higher coverage, starts once a ride is accepted.
    State 3 | Even higher coverage when passengers are picked up until they are dropped off.

    Insurance by the user | Since 2011, Airbnb has offered a “host guarantee” against theft and vandalism. While it works like insurance, no third-party firm is involved. Airbnb makes payouts itself.


    Also on


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    Trade Tariffs Have Unintended Consequences Warn U.S. Retailers, Farmers Wed, 04 Apr 2018 14:02:16 +0000

    Retailers and Farmers have gone on record with their opposition to an escalation of U.S.-China trade tariffs. The current round of tariff battles began in March when the White House increased tariffs on steel and aluminum. On Monday (4.2.2018), China responded with tariffs up to 25 percent on 128 U.S. products including frozen pork, as well as on wine and certain fruits and nuts. Yesterday (4.3.2018), Trump announced that up to 1,300 more Chinese items could be hit with higher tariffs.

    Retailers say tariffs are a tax on consumers

    The National Retail Federation (NRF)  objected to the latest round of tariffs on Chinese imports issued by the Trump Administration on Tuesday (4.3.2018). The tariffs include as many as 1,300 products and $50 billion in Chinese electronics, aerospace and machinery products.

    “Tariffs are taxes on consumers and a drag on the nation’s economy,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “This entire process creates uncertainty and makes it difficult for retail companies that must rely on complicated global supply chains. Tariffs threaten to hurt consumers, jeopardize job creation and increase the cost of doing business here in the United States. Once again, we urge the administration to work with our trading partners to hold China accountable, advance targeted solutions and recognize the unintended consequences of protectionist trade policies.”

    The list was drafted to achieve “the lowest consumer impact,” according to Robert E. Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative. So, clothing and toys were excluded. But Rick Helfenbein, CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, said that machinery used to make footwear or clothing will be hit with tariffs. “This would directly raise costs on domestic manufacturers and impact our ability to grow Made in USA,” he said in a statement.

    Agriculture groups also concerned

    “If the trade situation continues to deteriorate, our lives as farmers and ranchers will become more difficult,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said when the White House first announced the steel tariff. “America’s farmers and ranchers export more than $20 billion of farm products to China – more than 15 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports. After Canada, China is our second-largest customer for ag exports,” said Duvall.

    “Farm income across commodities has fallen by about 50 percent over the past four years. Retaliation in the trade arena makes our outlook even worse. This could not be happening at a worse time for American agriculture. We expect all countries to trade fairly, and we support enforcement of trade rules. But we also hope trade disputes can be resolved without harming an industry that is a bright spot on trade and is so important to rural America.”

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    Major Retail Chains and Associations Tell White House That Tariffs Will Hurt American Families | 2018

    photo | istock

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    How Some Small Businesses Are Trying to Master the New Tax Code | 2018 Tue, 03 Apr 2018 21:29:18 +0000 takes a look at how some small businesses are seeking to lower their 2018 tax bills by splitting their company in two, changing their legal status and reclassifying workers. (Note: Don’t try these at home without the hands-on help of your trusted advisors. Even then, if you’re out in front too far, you should expect some future conversations with the IRS .) 

    Quote from

    “Owners of closely held businesses … are splitting operations apart, reclassifying them and re-categorizing their activities, all in an effort to get as much of their income taxed at the new low rates as possible. The legislation contains more uncertainties than usual for a tax overhaul because of the speed of its drafting, which left little opportunity for the public and congressional scrutiny that often identifies confusion in bills.

    “Tax experts are searching for moves business owners can make that will disrupt their businesses the least, while best qualifying for new tax breaks Congress has dangled. The private sector’s old game of cat-and-mouse with the Internal Revenue Service and Congress, in other words, is intensifying, and is likely to play out over years in regulations, audits, appeals, and litigation.”

    Continue reading at | “Crack and Pack: How Companies are Mastering the New Tax Code”



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    The Novice Can Often See Things the Expert Overlooks | #MondayMotivation Mon, 02 Apr 2018 18:03:28 +0000

    Today’s Monday Motivation is from the Gapingvoid daily newsletter. You can subscribe to it or to a weekly version here.

    The famous Zen master, Suzuki talked about “beginner’s mind”.

    “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,
    but in the expert’s there are few.”

    Beginners make fast progress because they are not aware of the mistakes they’re making. They just “goes for it” simply because they don’t know of the alternatives or the consequences.

    And then time passes and the beginner must trade in the beginner’s mind for experience. Sic transit gloria mundi.

    It’s impossible to stay in the beginner’s mind forever.

    It’s the human condition. Life is suffering. Existence is baggage.

    The trick is making it worthwhile, somehow.

    (via: Gapingvoid daily email.)

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