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clunker.jpgI thought I was ahead of the curve when I wrote for Entrepreneur recently that the federal Car Allowance Rebate System--a new program that refunds up to $4,500 to consumers who trade in a gas-guzzler for a more fuel efficient car--might run out of money in less than a month, well before the end of its three-month planned duration. But turns out my sources were too conservative in their estimate--the $1 billion rebate program was out of money in about four days flat, and only kept going through last weekend with a last-minute House approval of $2 billion in additional funding. The official program site says CARS is still operational, but cautions consumers to keep checking back for the latest news.
social-networking-roi.jpgAre you Tweeting, LinkedIn, Digging, or Del.icio.us? Seems like every day I see a new article explaining how to use social media to build my business. But when I talk to business owners about social-media marketing, it seems like more of a timewaster for most than a useful business tool.

I think many owners are doing lots of online marketing not because it's effective, but because it's so much easier than picking up the phone or putting yourself out there in the flesh. Or because it's cheaper than direct mail. Or because they hope somewhere down the road, it's going to pay off.
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fakenbake.jpgIt's not the best time to be in the tanning salon business. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer moved UV-emitting tanning beds into its highest cancer risk category, prompting a media furor over the suggestion that tanning could be as bad as smoking.

There are some signs that the report won't make much difference to clients, but it's always likely that bad press will have a negative impact.
maid-franchise-giveaway.jpgWith its military-sounding name, perhaps it's no surprise that Maid Brigade has always been supportive of the nation's armed forces. The residential-cleaning franchisor is a longtime member of VetFran, and in recent years has partnered with the non-profit Operation Homefront to provide free housecleaning to military families in need.

But now the company is going a (big) step further with a contest that will give away over 100 franchise opportunities--worth $1.5 million total--to qualified veterans.
ent-unintentional-support.jpgIf you're flirting with the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, there's a website just for you. Outright, a free online bookkeeping site, and web services provider Network Solutions have teamed up to launch UnintentionalEntrepreneur.com, a free online resource for aspiring business owners and the self-employed.

Tomorrow, Outright co-founder and CEO Kevin Reeth will be in Los Angeles hosting the second in a series of Unintentional Entrepreneur networking events. If you're in town, here's why you should attend. (Check the schedule for upcoming events in New York City, Washington DC and Atlanta.)
social-media.jpgThe power of customer engagement is nothing new. What is new is that technologies and methodologies -- including the Internet, HTML 5, social networking, and user-generated and distributed content  -- have expanded the reach of customer engagement and its cousin, word-of-mouth advertising, and the speed at which it spreads. With social media engagement, word of mouth and engagement has become global and nearly instantaneous, and now according to a new study, shown to provide substantive business-related benefits to companies that effectively harness its power.
tug-o-war.jpgCIT, a major lender to small- and medium-sized businesses today sought federal help to avoid a potential collapse.

The institution's woes could hurt already struggling businesses that rely on CIT for cash flow lines of credit that allow them to keep inventory at proper levels. As a result, some experts are speculating that consumers could see less variety on retailers' shelves come fall and extending through the holiday shopping season.
min-wage-increase.jpgNext week (July 24), the federal minimum wage increases 70 cents to $7.25. The debate is on. Will it or won't it hurt the economy?

For businesses in places like California--with a state minimum wage of $8--the hike is irrelevant. But for the nation as a whole, there's no telling. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the Economic Policy Institute estimates the increase will add $5.5 billion to the economy, as workers spend (relatively) fatter paychecks. But that same article also describes a franchise owner who will be cutting employee hours to make payroll.
ifa-cit.jpgThe International Franchise Association joined the National Retail Federation and the American Apparel and Footwear Association on Tuesday in urging the federal government to offer aid to the struggling CIT Group.

In a letter addressed to Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, IFA President and CEO Matthew Shay pointed out that CIT has been the largest originator of SBA-backed loans to franchisees since 2000 and cited a recent IFA report showing that every $1 billion lent to franchisees results in 34,100 jobs and $3.6 billion of additional economic output.
google-chrom.jpgThe buzz in the geek world last week surrounded Google's announcement that it will roll out a computer operating system, Chrome, to compete with Microsoft's Windows franchise. The software isn't slated to hit the market until the middle of next year, but already a storm is brewing about which one of these tech titans will come out ahead.

Everyday business owners will be able to vote with their pocketbooks, too. Will they stay with the licensing fees, compatibility and convenience of Microsoft, or will they take a chance on an unknown system that happens to be free?

social-net-ad.jpgAn eye-tracking study of 25 people said to represent the average social-networking site users found that a majority of them approved of seeing advertisements and even engaged with ads while searching for products and reviews on their favorite social portals, according a report released this week.

The study, titled "Seeing Search Go Social," by search marketing agency Oneupweb, finds that 65 percent of that small sample that used sites such as Facebook and Twitter to find out about products ended up "engaged with sponsored ads within the first 10 seconds of their search. "

obamanmichelle.jpgThere seems to be a growing drumbeat among some small business owners against President Obama and his stance, perceived or otherwise, regarding entrepreneurship.

Rarely a week goes by that, during our interviews with entrepreneurs on unrelated topics, Obama's policies towards business creation come into question. He gets it from all sides, too: Liberals seem to fault his Small Business Administration for allegedly being pro-big-business, while conservatives fault his tax policy and stimulus packages as, as they put it, taxing the rich and providing a safety net for the unproductive.
online-reputation.jpgIf you haven't been paying attention to your online reviews, it's probably time to start. This morning, RatePoint, a firm that provides businesses with online reputation management tools, revealed the results of a survey illustrating the importance of customer feedback.

Nearly 25 percent of respondents said online reviews benefited their businesses, and only four percent indicated a negative impact. And not only are reviews six times more likely to help a business, but the numbers also imply a correlation between good testimonials and business growth: 71 percent of small-business owners who said they didn't know the impact of an online review reported a decline in business; but 55 percent who stated reviews had a positive effect perceived either no change or positive growth.

So in plain-speak, what's the significance of a business's online reputation? I asked RatePoint CEO Neal Creighton to explain.
stimulus-wait.jpgIntuit Payroll asked more than 1,000 small-business owners for their thoughts on the stimulus, and the results show a fair amount of cynicism: 94 percent believe success depends more on what they do for themselves than the government; 86 percent don't think the stimulus will directly benefit their business; and 75 percent say the government doesn't offer enough support.

Disappointment, along with a healthy dose of frustration, seems to be the popular sentiment, but in keeping with the (tentative) renewed optimism over the economy, I'd like to share a conversation I had with Steve King of research and consulting firm Emergent Research, in which he explained to me why it's just a matter of time before small-business owners see benefits from the stimulus.

mj.jpgIn the shadow of Michael Jackson's public memorial in Los Angeles, the value of Jackson's legacy seems to be growing.

Already, t-shirt and memorabilia entrepreneurs are on the move outside the venue where the memorial is taking place. Jimmy Jam of Jimmy's Jam T-Shirts in South Los Angeles says he's received orders from across the country for custom silkscreen designs in the king of pop's honor. Most of the customers want to turn around and sell the tops, he says.