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obama-finance.jpgPresident Barack Obama's small business rescue plan, which has been around for more than a year, came back into the spotlight Wednesday, when Obama announced three specific proposals aimed at funneling more loan money to small businesses.

The big questions: Can he get these initiatives passed anytime soon? And if so, would it help?
worst-case-cover.jpgMost of us believe there's no way to prepare for Murphy's Law but wouldn't it be nice if you could? Enter The Worst-Case Scenario Business Survival Guide, a guide for surviving the most dangerous business situations.

This isn't some thick theory heavy business text. Instead, the authors David Borgenicht and Mark Joyner have teamed up to provide a step-by-step guide for dealing with five core business emergencies: finance, HR, productivity, sales and marketing and executive.
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wed-web.jpgI'm always fascinated by companies that present potentially disruptive new ways of communicating that could transform how we reach out to customers and find clients. This week, I've collected three interesting startups that are combining existing communication forms to create new modes for reaching out. They may not all be quite ready to use yet, but consider these concepts brain food to expand your idea of what is possible.

The U.S. Postal Service may want to watch out for Zumbox--it's providing a way for companies (and everybody, ultimately) to send formatted PDF mail direct to customers' computers, saving the postage stamps. The company's technology enables them to create a computer inbox--or Zumbox--for every street address in America. So companies don't need to know customers' e-mail addresses--with a street address (and the customer's permission) the company can electronically deliver their mail. Besides saving on postage, this will also allow companies to send interactive, multimedia mail with clickable links, videos, you name it.
sen-mary-landrieu.jpgWhile federal legislators continue to muse about whether there should be focused recession relief aimed at small business such as the nationwide emergency lending facility proposed by President Barack Obama last year, some states are stepping into the breach, calling small businesses together and trying to figure out how to help them.

For instance, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is holding a small business summit next month, inviting more than 20 business owners from around the state to brainstorm on how the state can make it easier to do business in the state. Planned session topics included cutting red tape, working with the state's Small Business Regulatory Advisory Council, and better connecting small business owners with the state's workforce agencies.
Questions and Answers
A new study from IBM forecasts mind-bending changes for the ad world. "The next 5 years will hold more change for the advertising industry than the previous 50 did," the study proclaims.

The question is, what do you plan to do about it? How will you reach your customers in the future?
sold-4-less.jpg It's been bargain week in the business-selling marketplace. The poster child: shrinking BusinessWeek's sale for less than $5 million to Bloomberg on Tuesday. 

Also making news: California's largest and oldest independent bookstore, Vroman's, which purchased another indie, Book Soup. In both cases, the acquisition moves likely mean the difference between survival and death for the acquired.

Still, many commentators seem more sad than relieved as they contemplate how business values in so many sectors have declined. And it is sad to think of owners putting so much money, time and sweat into their businesses only to see them bring so little in the end.
mark-zuckerberg.jpgOne of the great things about being an entrepreneur in the 21st century is there's no age barrier. The days when you were pretty much required to slog away in middle management in corporate America for decades before banks considered you mature enough to take out a loan and strike out on your own are so gone. Now, the Internet has made starting up on a shoestring easy, and businesses routinely sprout in college dorm rooms--think Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Just in the past few weeks, I've read about Boston University student Alex Hodara, founder of real-estate brokerage Hodara Real Estate, and about business-plan competition winner Omar Soliman of the University of Miami/Coral Gables and his partner Nick Friedman of Pomona College, whose company College Hunks Hauling Junk (don't you love that business name?) has becoming a growing franchise. There's Matt Rhodes in Thousand Oaks, Calif., who founded T.O. Student Tutoring while still in high school.

Now, young entrepreneurs who dream about starting their own businesses before they can legally drink are getting a boost.

social-conflict.jpgTime to muddy the waters a bit. Three new reports surfaced this week, each offering a different point of view on how business owners and executives value social networking for business. If you're considering adding social media to your marketing mix, you may find this interesting. If you're already sold--or feel like you were sold down the river--on the benefits of social networking for business, this applies to you as well.

First up, there's the "2009 Tribalization of Business Survey," which evaluated the perceived potential of online communities and identifies how businesses both large and small believe they may better leverage them. According to the survey, conducted by Deloitte, Beeline Labs and the Society for New Communications Research, 94 percent of respondents indicated that they plan to maintain or increase investment in their online community activities, while six percent plan to decrease theirs. However, the survey points out, while businesses are effectively using social media platforms and tools to engage with customers, partners and employees for brand discussions and idea generation, organizations admittedly struggle with harnessing social media's full potential. Of the 400 or so companies surveyed, the majority shared that increasing word-of-mouth, customer loyalty, and brand awareness are the top business objectives of their social networking activities, followed by idea generation from listening in, and improved customer support by engaging.

hate-website.jpgOrdinarily, I blog for Entrepreneur about news of interest to small business owners--that is, news other sources have reported. But today I want to report some news I've found on my own, over many years of reporting on this sector. If you've ever wanted to get your company noticed by the media, this news should be of interest.

Small business, your website sucks. And I'll give you five reasons why.
mike-moran.jpgTime was, business owners just wondered nervously what customers were saying to their friends about the company once they left the premises. In the Twitter era, of course, that anxiety has been resolved--their musings are online for all to see.

The question is, are you listening to what customers are saying on the internet? And if so, what's your response?

If you're still doing an ostrich about monitoring your online reputation, allow me to pluck your head from the sand. Social-media maven Mike Moran recently commented that in his experience, large corporations are all over online reputation monitoring and responding to grumpy customers, while small businesses aren't paying attention.

Which strikes me as kind of funny, because of all the newfangled social-media stuff out there, monitoring your reputation strikes me as about the easiest, cheapest thing you can do to make sure the Internet buzz on your business is positive. I mean, how hard is it to set up a Google Alert on your company name?
ftc.jpgFor the last year or so, I've been warning my clients that the Federal Trade Commission is becoming more involved in regulating online commerce, specifically in terms of disclosures relating to online content. In particular, I've been telling companies that the FTC is likely to implement new guidelines that will bring blogs, Internet forums, message boards, word-of-mouth marketing, social media marketing, social commerce, and other forms of electronic and viral marketing in line with fair advertising practices that have not been updated in more than 25 years.

Well, earlier today, in a highly anticipated move, the FTC did just that. By a vote of 4-0, the Commission has approved new rules requiring bloggers and social media users to disclose payments they receive from companies for reviewing their products. The rules, which go into effect Dec. 1, give clear guidance to advertisers on how to keep their endorsement and testimonial ads in line with the FTC Act (warning: link takes you to a pdf file, not a Web page).
extended-healthcare.jpgHave you had a hard time finding just the right workers for your business? Now may be your chance to grow the workforce you want.

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that a local company, Extended Care Clinical, sees the current high unemployment rate as a golden opportunity--to reach out to the unemployed and retrain them to fill their nursing slots. Despite the downturn, qualified nurses remain in short supply, so they're offering to pay for nursing school for candidates willing to retrain to join their company as nurses.

This article got me thinking about how many other small businesses might benefit from the current large pool of available workers. For instance, could you save money by taking someone with good skills, but lacking the exact background you'd normally want, and hire them in at a lower salary, ramping them up with on-the-job training? That's a great opportunity for the worker to move up the career ladder, while you get a more-affordable, highly trained employee.
business-questions.jpgQ1 - Business cards: While exchanging business cards remains fairly common, more professionals it seems are also opting for Web-based card exchange services and digital business cards. Companies like BusinessCard2, DubMeNow, CloudContacts, TwtBizCard, Bump, BeamMe, SnapDat, Retaggr, and Poken all offer digital business card options. Do you still use the traditional business card or have you transitioned some or all of your company's card exchanges to the digital format?

Q2 - Reputation: Do you actively monitor your company's reputation online? If so, what tools do you use to stay on top of what customers and others are saying about you and your business?

Q3 - Product Placement: Ask any business owner if they'd like their product or service featured on Oprah, and they're likely to say YES! Aside from Oprah, where's the best place for your products or services to be featured from a product placement perspective?

Q4 - Challenge: What's the most challenging aspect of your job?
localdirt.jpgSocial media isn't just the massive sites that are discussed endlessly--Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. In some industries, powerful industry-specific sites--known as industry verticals--are being created to help industry players connect with each other and with customers.

An example is LocalDirt.com, a new portal that connects farmers with customers nearby. The site debuted at the Fall 2009 DEMO technology conference in San Diego last week, pitching its concept to conference producers along with 70 other tech firms. Local Dirt won a DEMOgod award, given out at the event to exceptional companies, and was also picked by innovation and venture-capital newsmag VentureBeat as one of the 10 best companies at DEMO.
ent-bond.jpgThe thing about being an entrepreneur is that often, it's a lonely battle. You're so busy running your own business that there's rarely time to get together with other entrepreneurs and share ideas. Also, a lot of networking groups cost a bundle.

Two new organizations are aiming to change all that.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, which has long focused its philanthropy on initiatives that enable entrepreneurial growth, earlier this month started Build A Stronger America. Billed as an entrepreneurs' movement, Build A Stronger America aims to provide entrepreneurs with "a central hub to share their stories, hear about issues affecting them and create a unified voice."