Small business owners, make your voice heard!

The Del Mar College Small Business Development Center is partnering with the Federal Reserve on a Small Business Credit Survey for both pre-start and existing businesses, and we’d like you to participate. Your answers will help business service providers and lenders understand real-time business conditions. This short survey takes less than 9 minutes to complete. Individual responses are confidential and summary results will be shared with you.
Take the survey today!
If you have problems with the survey link above, copy and paste the following URL into a new browser window:
Advertisements

Hurricane Harvey – Disaster Recovery Assistance for Businesses and Individuals

Information compiled by the Del Mar College Small Business Development Center’s Business Advisors
September 12, 2017

 

Steps you can take NOW:

  1. Apply with FEMA THIS IS THE FIRST THING YOU MUST DO!!  (if you are in the affected region, even if you don’t think you need any assistance now, you may need it later, so register now):

If you have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers resources to help you recover.

Visit www.fema.gov/hurricane-harvey for trusted recovery information. To find and apply for assistance, visit www.disasterassistance.gov

  1. Apply for SBA Disaster Loan Assistance (homeowners, renters, businesses of any size):

If you are in a declared disaster area and have suffered any disaster related damage you may be eligible for federal disaster assistance. Homeowners,  Renters, and Businesses must register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to obtain a FEMA Registration ID Number by calling 1-800-621-3362. Homeowners, renters, and businesses are encouraged to apply even if you are not sure you need or want a loan.

https://www.sba.gov/loans-grants/see-what-sba-offers/sba-loan-programs/disaster-loans

Apply here: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/

Phone: (800) 659-2955

Email: disastercustomerservice@sba.gov

https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Documents/Three_Step_Process_SBA_Disaster_Loans.pdf

Fact Sheet: https://www.sba.gov/content/disaster-loan-program

For those in the affected counties covered by Del Mar College SBDC: Nueces, San Patricio, Live Oak, Jim Wells, Kleberg, Kenedy, Brooks  please contact Del Mar College SBDC.

Del Mar College SBDC Advisors are available to assist you with your SBA Business Disaster Loan Assistance documents.  If you are already a client of the SBDC and seeking an SBA loan to assist with your business recovery, please contact your advisor directly for assistance with the application.  If you are not a current client of the SBDC, please register at http://dmc122011.delmar.edu/sbdc/counsel.html  to become an SBDC client if you would like SBDC guidance.  When registering to be an SBDC client, please check the DISASTER RECOVERY box on the Area of Assistance page after the online signature page.   Del Mar College SBDC office (361) 698-1021 or sbdc@delmar.edu.

For those in the Port Aransas area you can visit the SBA Business Recovery Center at:

Port Aransas Community Center (next to the museum)

408 N. Alister St.

Port Aransas, TX 78373

Mondays – Fridays, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Saturdays and Sundays, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

 For those in the affected counties covered by UHV SBDC: Aransas, Bee, Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Gonzales, Jackson, Karnes, Lavaca, Refugio, Victoria  please contact UHV SBDC.

 University of Houston-Victoria SBDC Advisors are available to assist you with your SBA Business Disaster Loan Assistance documents. Contact your current Business Advisor or the SBDC office at (361) 485-4485 or sbdc@uhv.edu.

  1. Apply for Texas Workforce Disaster Unemployment Assistance for Employees and Self-Employed

TWC is accepting applications for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) as a result of severe weather due to Hurricane Harvey. Under Presidential Disaster Declaration (FEMA 4332-DR [ https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4332 ]) dated August 25, 2017, workers who lost their jobs and self-employed individuals who have been unable to work due to damage sustained from Hurricane Harvey may be eligible for relief. Applications for DUA must be submitted by September 27, 2017.TWCs website contains more information about Disaster Unemployment Assistance [ http://www.twc.state.tx.us/jobseekers/disaster-unemployment-assistance ].Individuals can apply for disaster unemployment benefits online through Unemployment Benefit Services [ http://www.twc.state.tx.us/unemployment-benefits-contact-information-claimants ]or by calling a TWC Tele-Center Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 800-939-6631.
FAQs:  http://www.twc.state.tx.us/news/efte/hurricane-faqs.html

  1. Additional Guides and Resources:

 Red Cross:  http://www.redcross.org

 The Texas Department of Insurance – Help after Harvey: http://www.tdi.texas.gov/consumer/storms/helpafterharvey.html

 Salvaging Wet Materials:  https://www.ischool.utexas.edu/response

 OSHA Hurricane eMatrix for Response and Recovery: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/hurricane/index.html

SBP (St. Bernard Project): http://sbpusa.org/

Please click the links below for assistance in Hurricane Harvey Recovery for your business and home. SBP is a national nonprofit organization committed to helping residents and communities recover from disaster promptly and efficiently.

SBP is currently marshaling resources and we’ve committed to providing the following services to help support Harvey recovery efforts:

  • Boots on-the-ground – As soon as it is safe, SBP can deploy a team of AmeriCorps members and staff to support immediate recovery needs
  • Advisory to state and local leaders – SBP’s team can provide free advisory services to support decision-makers as they build long-term disaster recovery contracts and processes
  • Collaboration, best practice sharing and capacity building with local nonprofits
  • Mold remediation training
  • Damage assessment support – SBP can provide tools to conduct door-to-door damage assessment surveys, which collect valuable information on community needs
  • Rebuild homes, when the time is right

We also have free, downloadable guides and checklists on our Recovery Resource Page that can be shared to help impacted residents take control of their recovery, including:

For Contractors – Disaster Contracting Critical Things to Know:

http://www.aptac-us.org/hurricane-harvey-disaster-contracting-critical-things-to-know/

Texas Association of Builders Resource Links:

Texas Association of Builders – http://www.texasbuilders.org/about-us/consumer-information.html

National Association of Home Builders Disaster Recovery Resources –

https://www.nahb.org/en/consumers/homeownership/disaster-recovery-resources.aspx

  1. Volunteer or Donate:

https://www.nvoad.org/hurricane-harvey/hurricane-harvey-how-to-help/

4 Social Media Marketing Mistakes You’re Making (and How to Fix Them)

August 12, 2017 Nathan Mendenhall

 

Living and breathing social media marketing is a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, there’s always something new to learn and try. However, not everything makes sense when it comes to marketing your brand and sometimes people can lose focus on strategy due to the bright and shiny nature of the new tactics that pop up.

Recent conversations got us thinking, so we wanted to talk about some social media marketing mistakes we see brands make, and how they can fix them.

1. No Content Strategy

Whenever we work with a new client, one of the first things they want to know is what we’re going to be posting. Typically, I’ll work backwards here and recommend a content strategy, not just “postings”.

The difference between the two is simple – a strategy is comprised of content pieces meant to serve a specific purpose, while posting is publishing content just to have something in the feed for that day.

Never post for the sake of posting. Ever.

We recommend drafting out a content calendar that outlines the days, themes and goals of each content piece so that you have a top-level view of the content being served to your social audience. Consider your content strategy a living entity that’s strict, yet also very flexible and can change with trends.

A proper content strategy is key to every successful social media strategy.

 2. Poor Visuals

With the rise of cinemagraphs, GIFs and videos, your social media visuals need to be high quality to be noticed.

Not every brand has the budget to invest in hi-res photos and video shoots, however there are resources out there like Pexels and Death to Stock Photo that provide high quality graphics for free. You can create some awesome content using free stock photos and doctoring them up in a platform like Canva.

At the end of the day, your content speaks about your brand. Don’t rely on itty bitty thumbnails or link previews to help tell your story if they aren’t visually appealing. Take the extra time and make sure you’re presenting people with something that looks so great they stop scrolling.

 3. Incomplete Reporting

We firmly believe in providing as much data as possible to clients.

Typically, we start with reports that feature the “meat and potatoes” KPIs, like social community growth, impressions, engagements and website traffic. With this base data, we can then start answering more detailed and specific questions that a client might have, such as behavior on the website or demographics.

Unfortunately, when we partner with clients, we usually find that they either don’t have any reporting set up or are focusing on irrelevant data points.

When you have incomplete reporting, you don’t have a clear picture on how your social media efforts are impacting your business. Find out what’s most important to your brand and measure it meticulously.

 4. Neglecting Social Ads

The number of social advertisers has doubled year-over-year, and it’s no surprise why.

There is no more cost-effective way to reach a targeted group of consumers than ads on social media, however we still see brands reluctant to spend media dollars on social. Meanwhile, they’re confidently dumping a few thousand dollars a month into billboard placements. With all the targeting capabilities available, it is a huge mistake to not invest in social ads.

With consistent effort, you’ll see website traffic increase, which enable remarketing pools and a lift in bottom line results.

If you’re looking to social media to help build your business, avoid making these mistakes – it’ll save you a lot of time, money and frustration in the long run.

10 Ways To Boost Employee Engagement

work team office

by Brian Engard

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 51 percent of employees are either actively searching for new jobs or keeping an eye on job openings. This likely has something to do with the fact that only a third of American employees are engaged by their work, and only a fifth feel that they’re managed in a way that motivates them. While it used to be common for employees to move up the ranks in their company, now 91 percent of employees report leaving their company the last time they changed jobs.

American employees are feeling less satisfied by and invested in the companies they work for, and companies need employee engagement ideas that work if they’re going to retain their talent and develop a high performance culture.

Modern American employees vary in their interests and in what they want from a company, and there are many employee engagement ideas out there. Here are 10 employee engagement ideas that work:

Encourage employee input.

It’s easy for employees to become disconnected from their work, or to become upset by a change or policy they don’t fully understand. The best antidote to this is open, safe communication between managers and employees. Open-door policies are a great way to facilitate this, and ensuring that employees have a safe space in which to provide feedback to the company can help them develop a sense of agency and ownership within the company, which can increase engagement.

Let employees drive social events.

Many companies have social events such as happy hours or holiday parties. Allowing employees an active hand in planning these events can ensure that they get the most out of them. Giving employees a chance to blow off steam and relieve stress is important, and it can be even more effective when they get to decide what activities are available to help them do that. Giving employees the reins on social activities also creates opportunities to celebrate their success when those activities go well.

Create opportunities for work friendships.

The average American workweek is more than 40 hours, and almost four in 10 American workers say they work at least 50 hours each week. Given that people spend so much time with their coworkers, creating an environment where employees can be friendly with and have fun with each other can make that time more pleasant and productive. But fostering workplace friendships goes beyond simply creating a pleasant work atmosphere. When employees are invested in each other, they work to ensure each other’s success, and that helps the company succeed.

Foster mentorship.

It can be difficult to know who to go to for advice or help when faced with a tricky problem at work, and employees who don’t ask for help or advice may make mistakes or feel isolated. Create opportunities for employees to mentor each other, whether a manager is mentoring a direct report or a more senior employee is mentoring a new hire. Engaging in a supportive mentorship with an employee allows the individual to seek guidance and improve performance.

Promote health and wellness.

Modern jobs are increasingly sedentary, providing little opportunity for exercise or activity. This can take a toll on employees’ health, which can affect their mood and energy levels in significant ways. Promoting employee health and wellness can be a great way to combat the sedentary modern lifestyle and foster a sense of community and reward in the process. Benefits like weekly yoga, gym membership discounts or fresh fruit in the break room are all great ways to promote health and show your employees they matter.

Set clear goals and provide feedback.

Many employees struggle in their jobs because their roles aren’t clearly defined, and they don’t know by what metrics they’re being evaluated. Taking the guesswork out of an employee’s job can improve that employee’s performance and satisfaction within that position, and providing regular positive feedback can provide the employee with a sense of being appreciated.

Celebrate employee achievements.

And speaking of positive feedback, it’s important to celebrate employees when they achieve something important. This certainly applies to events such as completing a big project or earning a promotion, but it also applies to personal achievements like a birthday, wedding or anniversary. When employees are celebrated at work, they feel a stronger connection to the workplace community and a greater sense of being valued.

Maintain a flexible dress code.

Part of feeling valued within a job is feeling respected by the company and by one’s managers. A simple, effective way to show respect to employees is to allow them to make their own choices with regards to dress. Rigid dress codes can cause employee morale to suffer; they can cause employees to feel disrespected and robbed of agency and autonomy as well as creating artificial barriers between employees and management.

Support flexible schedules.

Employees have numerous demands on their time outside of work, and a workplace that accommodates those demands within reason can improve employee engagement overall. Flex time, personal leave and allowing employees to set their own hours are all important ways to give employees control over their daily lives and ensure they’re able to focus on work while they’re at work.

Establish remote work opportunities.

Like being flexible with scheduling, providing employees the opportunity to work from home can result in significant increases in satisfaction and engagement. In fact, the most engaged employees tend to be those who spend 60 percent to 80 percent of their week working remotely.

Advancing a Career in Business.

Maximizing employee engagement is an important part of becoming a leader in business. With an online associate degree in business administration, an online bachelor’s in business administration or an online MBA from Campbellsville University, you can gain the skills you need to take your career in business to the next level. Learn in a flexible, online environment that allows you to maximize your own engagement, on a schedule that works for you.

Ask the Expert – Insight on Business Loans

July 6, 2017

The Del Mar College Small Business Development Center (SBDC) would like to share some insight from our resource partners to our clients. We teamed up with Laura Leal-Estrada, Market Manager, for our local micro-lender, LiftFund, and asked for answers to some frequently asked questions. A few snippets from our conversation are listed below and the full list of questions and answers can be found at http://www.delmar.edu/sbdc by selecting the “BLOG” tab.

Question – What are the top three things lenders look for when considering a lenders package from a small business:

Answer:

1) Capacity – The borrower’s ability to pay back the debt and clearly articulate the amount of money needed and for what purpose i.e. equipment purchase, real estate

2) Credit – Is the applicant current on all debt such as home loan, car loans, student loans, child support, IRS (have they taken the time to get their credit information from all three credit reporting agencies prior to applying for a loan?)

3) Financials – Are they prepared to provide copies of their bank statements, tax returns, purchase order requests, purchase contracts, purchase agreements, business plans and financial projections?

Question – How long is the approval/rejection process for a lender?

Answer:

For traditional financial institutions a response can take anywhere from one to two weeks.

For a micro-lender such as LiftFund, once all the financial documents have been received, a provisional authorization to move forward for a loan request is given within 24 hours. Once the loan is authorized to move forward, and the required documents have been submitted by the applicant, an approval or declination will take place within 48-72 hours.

Question – Is there a minimum credit score that lenders prefer for consideration?

Answer:

The credit score depends on what type of institution you plan to use. Alternative lenders such as LiftFund, a micro-lender, start with a credit score of 500 or more, whereas credit unions and banks start with a credit score of 630 or higher. All lenders will review the payment history, as well, to determine the risk factors.

Question – What are the top three most common obstacles you have seen arise with clients?

Answer:

1) Credit – Most commonly includes IRS liens, court ordered payments such as child support and civil judgments for unpaid obligations

2) Co-mingling personal and business financials – Some business owners intermingle their personal banking and business banking with deposits and/or payments

3) Financial documents – Not understanding the importance of maintaining of profit and loss statements, income statements and balance sheets

Question – How can an entrepreneur help their lending chances? How can they “stand out”?

Answer:

The applicant should have industry experience and a clear understanding of their business needs. They will have done market research regarding the business they want to open and demonstrate how it will meet the needs of the community they will be servicing or catering to. Also, they should be prepared to provide the business legal documents (LLC, sole proprietorship) as well as financial documents.

Question – Who is ultimate decision maker as far as approving lending where LiftFund is concerned?

Answer:

Ultimately the underwriter will provide the final decision whether to approve, decline or offer a counter offer for a loan request. However, the Business Development Officer and the lending assistant are the client’s best advocate. Often times a final approval is not just the applicant’s ability to pay back the loan but justification from the Business Development Officer as to why the loan should be approved by the underwriter.

Question – What kind of collateral does LiftFund take when considering lending approval?

Answer:

Typically, the equipment the borrower plan to purchase will be used to secure the debt. Alternative collateral options can include the borrowers existing equipment, furniture and fixtures, personal vehicles without a lien, non-homestead real estate properties and personal belongings, such as jewelry, that have been appraised and retain their value.

LiftFund_Over20YrsENG 7.5.2017.jpg

LiftFund for over 20 years takes great pride in meeting their mission to help entrepreneurs build success and a pathway to fulfill their dreams through education and business loans.

 

This piece was written for the Del Mar College SBDC July – September 2017 newsletter. To view the entire newsletter, please visit dmc122011.delmar.edu/sbdc/newsletter.  If you want to find out more about our services, please visit http://dmc122011.delmar.edu/sbdc/index.html.

 

 

Operation Tech Trap targets tech support scams – and offers insights for business

By: Lesley Fair | May 12, 2017 12:43PM

Does the thought of losing everything on your computer leave you queasy? That’s the anxiety fraudsters attempt to exploit with tech support scams – and it’s conduct the FTC and law enforcement partners are challenging through 16 civil and criminal (yes, criminal) actions announced as part of Operation Tech Trap.

Tech support scammers’ modus operandi is to run ads that resemble pop-up security alerts from Microsoft, Apple, or other companies. Consumers are warned that their computers are infected with viruses or are under hack attack. Some pop-ups even feature a countdown clock, supposedly showing the time remaining before the hard drive will be fried – unless the consumer calls a toll-free number supposedly affiliated with one of those big-name companies.

Once operators have consumers on the phone, the real theatrics begin. Operators claim to need remote access to consumers’ computers so they can run “diagnostic tests.” Those tests purport to reveal grave problems that can only be solved by one of their “certified technicians” – for a hefty fee, of course. Companies use high-pressure tactics to strong-arm consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs, anti-virus protection or software, and other products and services. (Here’s an example of a pitch in action.)

In four of the just-announced Operation Tech Trap cases, the FTC and the State AGs of Florida, Alabama, and Ohio allege that the defendants used methods like that to take consumers for millions. (The defendants in those actions include Repair All PCTroth SolutionsVylah TecUniversal Network Solutions, and a cast of individuals and other companies the FTC and AGs allege were in on the action.) In three of those cases, federal judges have entered temporary restraining orders to halt the practices, freeze assets, and appoint temporary receivers to take control of the businesses.

In addition, settlements were announced in two pending cases. Following up on a complaint filed last year against Help Desk National and a host of others, the FTC and the Florida AG have shut down an operation that ran a tech support boiler room in Boynton Beach, Florida. The defendants in that matter are banned for life from providing tech support products or services and will turn over $700,000 in assets.

Settling another case filed in 2016 against Click4Support LLC and others, the FTC and AGs from Connecticut and Pennsylvania announced that the defendants are banned from marketing technical support services, will pay a total of more than $554,000, and will forfeit an additional $1.3 million held by the court-appointed receiver. A federal judge in Philadelphia also entered a $27 million default judgment against a related party.

But that’s not all. As part of Operation Tech Trap, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois announced five indictments and one guilty plea in connection with its investigation of First Choice Tech Support, LLC and Client Care Experts. (The Florida AG had obtained an order halting the outfits in June 2016.)

How does this boil down for businesses?

  • Consumers get caught in tech support scammers’ web, but so do small businesses and people who work from home. The FTC has updated its advice on what you can do to protect yourself. Also, we’ll be hosting a roundtable this summer for law enforcement agencies leading the charge against this kind of fraud and for businesses affected by tech support scams, including companies whose names have been misused by con artists. Looking for tips on spotting other B2B scams? Our new Protecting Small Businesses site is designed with you in mind.
  • Tech support scammers inflict injury in two ways. First, they use deceptive tactics to whack consumers in the wallet. Second, they undermine genuine efforts to encourage people to protect their computers from viruses and malware. There are legitimate products out there that can help people safeguard their systems – often at a much lower cost than what tech support scammers charge for their ineffective services. Reputable businesses shouldn’t have to compete against outfits that use phony-baloney pitches to fix what ain’t broke.
  • Operation Tech Trap illustrates the close relationship among federal, state, and local law enforcers. We’ve also been working with authorities in India to crack down on tech support scams operating in that country. That’s good news for consumers and bad news for companies that think they can profit from “divide and conquer” strategies.
  • People who participate in tech support scams aren’t just risking their assets and future livelihoods. They could face criminal prosecution. Enough said? We hope so.

Consumer Review Fairness Act: What Businesses Need to Know

The Consumer Review Fairness Act protects consumers’ ability to share their honest opinions about a business’s products, services, or conduct in any forum – and that includes social media. The FTC has tips to help your company comply with the law.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) protects people’s ability to share their honest opinions about a business’s products, services, or conduct, in any forum, including social media. Is your company complying?

Contracts that prohibit honest reviews, or threaten legal action over them, harm people who rely on reviews when making their purchase decisions. But another group is also harmed when others try to squelch honest negative reviews: businesses that work hard to earn positive reviews.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed in response to reports that some businesses try to prevent people from giving honest reviews about products or services they received. Some companies put contract provisions in place, including in their online terms and conditions, that allowed them to sue or penalize consumers for posting negative reviews.

Here are some basic tips for complying with the law.

WHAT KIND OF REVIEWS DOES THE LAW PROTECT?

The law protects a broad variety of honest consumer assessments, including online reviews, social media posts, uploaded photos, videos, etc. And it doesn’t just cover product reviews. It also applies to consumer evaluations of a company’s customer service.

WHAT DOES THE CONSUMER REVIEW FAIRNESS ACT PROHIBIT?

In summary, the Act makes it illegal for a company to use a contract provision that:

  1. bars or restricts the ability of a person who is a party to that contract to review a company’s products, services, or conduct;
  2. imposes a penalty or fee against someone who gives a review; or
  3. requires people to give up their intellectual property rights in the content of their reviews.

WHAT SPECIFIC CONDUCT IS PROHIBITED BY THE STATUTE?

The Consumer Review Fairness Act makes it illegal for companies to include standardized provisions that threaten or penalize people for posting honest reviews. For example, in an online transaction, it would be illegal for a company to include a provision in its terms and conditions that prohibits or punishes negative reviews by customers. (The law doesn’t apply to employment contracts or agreements with independent contractors, however.)

WHAT CAN A COMPANY DO TO PROTECT ITSELF FROM INAPPROPRIATE OR IRRELEVANT CONTENT?

The law says it’s OK to prohibit or remove a review that:

  1. contains confidential or private information – for example, a person’s financial, medical, or personnel file information or a company’s trade secrets;
  2. is libelous, harassing, abusive, obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit, or is inappropriate with respect to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or other intrinsic characteristic;
  3. is unrelated to the company’s products or services; or
  4. is clearly false or misleading.

However, it’s unlikely that a consumer’s assessment or opinion with which you disagree meets the “clearly false or misleading” standard.

WHAT’S THE PENALTY FOR VIOLATING THE CONSUMER REVIEW FAIRNESS ACT?

Congress gave enforcement authority to the Federal Trade Commission and the state Attorneys General. The law specifies that a violation of the CRFA will be treated the same as violating an FTC rule defining an unfair or deceptive act or practice. This means that your company could be subject to financial penalties, as well as a federal court order.

To make sure your company is complying with the Consumer Review Fairness Act:

  • Review your form contracts, including online terms and conditions; and
  • Remove any provision that restricts people from sharing their honest reviews, penalizes those who do, or claims copyright over peoples’ reviews (even if you’ve never tried to enforce it or have no intention of enforcing it).

The wisest policy: Let people speak honestly about your products and their experience with your company.

OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT

The National Small Business Ombudsman and 10 Regional Fairness Boards collect comments from small businesses about federal compliance and enforcement activities. Each year, the Ombudsman evaluates the conduct of these activities and rates each agency’s responsiveness to small businesses. Small businesses can comment to the Ombudsman without fear of reprisal. To comment, call toll-free 1-888-REGFAIR (1-888-734-3247) or go to www.sba.gov/ombudsman.

February 2017