Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nofollow Questions?

Nofollow, an HTML attribute, was designed by in early 2005 Google’s Matt Cutts and Blogger’s Jason Shellen and originally intended to stop comment spam on blogs.*  Nofollow was NOT meant to block access to content or block search engines spiders from indexing sites and content. 

Search engine optimization professionals started using the NoFollow attribute to control the flow of PageRank within a website, but google since corrected this error, and any link with NoFollow attribute decreases the PR that the page can pass on. This practice is known as PageRank sculpting. This is an entirely different use than it was intended originally. NoFollow was designed to control the flow of PageRank from one website to another.*

However, while search engines supporting the attribute exclude links that use the attribute from their ranking calculation, search engines treat the NoFollow attribute a little differently.

  • Google states that their engine takes "nofollow" literally and does not "follow" the link at all. However, experiments conducted by SEOs show conflicting results. These studies reveal that Google does follow the link, but does not index the linked-to page, unless it was in Google's index already for other reasons (such as other, non-nofollow links that point to the page).
  • Yahoo! "follows it", but excludes it from their ranking calculation.
  • Bing respects "nofollow" as regards not counting the link in their ranking, but it is not proven whether or not Bing follows the link.
  • ignores the attribute altogether.*
While NoFollow has supporters and detractors, no solid evidence exists on its potential harm or usefulness.  In general, the consensus tends to favor the use of NoFollow on internal links pointing to user-controlled pages.  Our opinion is to implement NoFollow; if negative results ensue, the process can easily be reversed.

A simple tutorial we found for implementing NoFollow is found here:

- AJ

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How do I start this business thing?

You've been laid off. Downsized. Replaced. Terminated. Your job moved to Pago Pago.

Or you're just sick and tired of the rat race and for your health and sanity, need to do something different.


Here are some simple steps to get started on the path.

- Start a personal budget immediately
- Eliminate those extras - the daily $5 lattes, the newspaper, weekly mani's and pedi's, eating out
- Defer payments on what you can - student loans, some insurance policies
- Determine your minimal living expenses and build in a 10% cushion
- Live within the budget you created

Now that you have an idea of what is needed to survive, start the process.

- Take a mental inventory of your skills and experience
- Connect with your network of friends, family, acquaintances, and industry contacts
- Ask yourself: What gets me up in the morning? What drives me?
- Do some research on your passion on the Internet, at the library or local community colleges
- Find your market niche

Ask if a market exists for your skills and passion. Do they fit together? If not, determine where the gaps are. Lack of skills? Take a class at a community college. Too few contacts? These are easily made through networking groups, churches, and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Start to write a simple business plan - nothing complicated - just enough to maintain focus. Business plans are living, breathing documents and will change as conditions do.

Obtain a taxpayer ID number from the IRS web site, if required. Sometimes a social security number is adequate.  For more information, here is the direct link to the IRS site:,,id=96696,00.html.

Begin your marketing campaign by determining an apt name for the business, a logo, and a catchy and relevant tag line. Nothing more is needed initially.

Register an Internet domain name using the business name if possible. If not, variations such as .net or .biz instead of .com or using '-' in the name are good substitutes. You may not need a web site immediately, but plan for the future and secure the name. Domain names can be purchased at a number of web sites including, or At the same time, create a Twitter and Facebook account too. LinkedIn is another popular consideration. Be consistent using the same name on all accounts.  Email accounts are a must as well.  Google, Yahoo, and Hotmail all provide free email accounts.

Register your business - is a good place to start - set up the accounting system - has a free basic package - and get whatever (if any) business insurance is needed.  We addressed insurance coverage in an earlier article.  If the business needs registration, bonding or licensing, ensure that is completed prior to launch.

Get business cards with your name, company name, tag line, logo, etc. Cards can be customized at Staples, OfficeMax or any office supply store.  A good source for free office products including pens, business cards, checks and more is VistaPrint. Always have cards on hand to pass out. Always! Remember, you are marketing a product or service and need to take advantage of every networking opportunity.

Determine your pricing structure, the cost of your product or service, and how the idea can turn a reasonable profit.  Test market the idea.  Use your friends and family as guinea pigs.  Take this time to work out kinks in the process and make perfect your vision.  When gaining feedback, use a written form for each tester and compare results to discover what may be a common (and major) issue or concern.  Make the needed corrections and prepare for launch.

Write and distribute a press release.  Depending on the nature of the market and product, this may involve signage, postings, adds or press in the local paper or an Internet release.  Prweb is a well-known and respected Internet press agency.  Ensure that your phone, fax, and email are working and the response process is timely and consistent.  Customer service really counts here, especially so in the early stages.

The business is now off and running.  Prepare for the unexpected, good or bad.  If the research and preparatory work was done correctly, you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.  You may even need to hire additional help to keep up with the overflow.  We provide some ideas for inexpensive labor in an earlier article posted on this blog.

And finally, check back at thesmallbizpro blog for updates, tips, money saving ideas, and general information.  Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question.  We'll do our best to provide answers.

May your future be bright and successful!

- AJ

Twitter Stats

Shame on me for this - I inadvertently left out our Twitter statistics in the web site update post.

We can also report a fairly successful foray into Twitterdom.  Considering none of the group's four partners had any experience with Twitter prior to its launch in late October or early November, we are very pleased that we've gained 850 followers or so as of November 30.  Talk about the blind leading the deaf and mute, that's us for sure.  Much time has been spent learning the ins and outs of Twit-speak and forming relationships.  For those of you that spent time on our site, we thank you and look forward to a strong future together.  And for the newbies, we welcome you with open arms and ears.  We want to provide what information and services we can to make your lives easier.  Just ask and we'll do the homework for you.

Thanks again and warmest wishes for this Holiday season!!!

- AJ

Update on site progress

Last week, thesmallbizpro team held its monthly meeting and recapped progress to date.  With satisfaction, we can report the following for the period Oct 1 to Nov 30, 2009, even though this blog and our Twitter accounts weren't activated until sometime during the aforementioned period. (And we are novices at social networking as well!)

For the web site - 192 visits with 714 page views and an average time on site of about 3 minutes.

For this blog - 211 visits with 596 page views and an average time of more than 6 minutes on the site.

We made a whopping $.37 from Google Adsense and about $2.40 from the Amazon affiliate program. 

These statistics aren't bad, considering we used no press release, started the Amazon program sometime mid-November, and were slow to adopt keywords and meta tags, etc.  And no Facebook account either!

Can we say our project has been successful to-date?  Yes, I believe we can say that.  We've proven that we can grow a successful web site and blog simply by providing good content and effective social networking.   

Friends take note, if we can do this, so can you!!!  And that's what we're here for: to provide you with a real view of options, available resources, and our experiences with them.

- AJ

Monday, December 7, 2009

Manager vs. Leader

"Managers lead with authority.  Leaders manage with respect."  - D Shaw

This concept remains unchanged for eons.  Managers often use authority and often use punitive or reward power to lead teams.  This military style of managing can be effective and even necessary under certain circumstances, but too often is used inappropriately in corporate settings. 

During difficult economic periods, employees are often stressed and concerned about maintaining their positions, income, and lifestyle.  The additional stress added by authoritative managers often leads to health problems, reduced productivity, and a negative attitude toward the workplace.  This is usually not a formula for a successful operation.

In contrast, the business manager that leads by virtue of respect from subordinates - not of position, but of personality - tends to be a positive influence and gains greater cooperation and productivity from a team.

As a small business manager or owner, one must decide which of these styles is appropriate and desirable for the situation and environment.  For instance, a retail store facing heavy volume periods (e.g. Christmas season), may require a more authoritative style to accomplish results.  Ideally, the manager has developed repoire and respect during slower times, thus limiting the need for managing by authority.

Happy Holidays!

- AJ

Friday, December 4, 2009

What is your link number?

Link building  - building up the number of links coming to your web site from other sites - is a lifeline for any online business or any entity with a web presence.  Links are one of the key factors in SEO (search engine optimization) and by extension, page rank, as indicated by Google.  Building these links can be as important an activity as preparing the content for your site.  Great to have good content, but if no one sees or finds it, what is the purpose?

I read an excellent article on web marketing by John Eberhard at  He lays out in very basic terms how to determine the number of links to a site, what the numbers should be, and how to achieve those results.

The process for calculating the number is simple: Bring up Google in a browser and type in your URL like this:
“” – in the search box and click the Google Search button.  Make sure you include the quotes, a space, a dash, the word 'site' a colon and the site address again. 
For example, this blog's entry as below:


What results is a listing of the sites currently linked to the your (or any) web site or blog.  The number can be depressingly small or wonderfully large.  Eberhard suggests a minimum of 1000 links - less means link building needs major attention.  The optimum number in Eberhard's opinion is 3000-5000 or more.  What you can also derive from this data is the quality of the links coming to your site.  Low-ranked or seldom seen sites at the top of your list are an issue and will not help your cause to gain more site or blog traffic.

In the next article, I'll reveal some tricks for building those links.

- AJ

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Zoho Productivity & Collaboration Applications

"Zoho is a suite of online applications (services) that you sign up for and access from our Website. The applications are free for individuals and some have a subscription fee for organizations." (

Aside from the free versions offered to individual users, Zoho offers a wide variety of online applications for individuals and business users.  The online nature of Zoho allows users to access their Zoho data from any computer in any location (provided an Internet connection exists) at any time.  No more carrying laptops around, worry about airport security, theft, or when the company tech will fix your computer.

Zoho offers a full range of standard office software, productivity, and collaboration tools: e-mail, word processor, spreadsheets, database, conferencing, project software, invoicing, and much more.  Zoho even offers shared calendaring, a BI (business intelligence) service, and online HRIS system!

For those that need or want to continue to use Microsoft Office products, Zoho offers a "plug-in" (small application by download) for any of the programs in the Office suite.  Further, Zoho supports all the standard office formats including .doc, .xls, and .ppt as part of its offering.  Zoho is also available for many mobile devices and up to 30 languages, depending on the application.

Regarding security, Zoho boasts of multi-level protection from disaster-rated data centers to biometric access for its employees, multiple firewalls and anti-malware scanners running 24x7.  Product support is available via blog, user forum or 24x7 monitored email.

Zoho's pricing structure is built on per application, volume, and complexity model.  The individual packages - all of the offerings - are always free, and the business packages cost $5 a month per user starting with the 11th user.  The first 10 users are free.  Package discounts may be available for larger groups and for non-profit organizations.

With a professional and user-friendly interface, Zoho's WYSIWYG products are convenient, affordable, and everything a small business needs to get up and running quickly.  This product is recommended and worth a look or test trial.

Create & Collaborate with Zoho

-  AJ

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Home Office Tax Deductions

If your home doubles as your office, many options exist for taking legal advantage of the tax code.  Recent changes in the law benefit workers that use the home as an administrative base even if actual 'work' is done outside of the home.

- Document, document, document.  Record all deductible items including: computers, office equipment, furnishings, pro-rated utility bills, rent, telephone costs, and even homeowners insurance and association fees.

- Discus with you tax adviser the option of whether taking a depreciation option for office space is a viable option (or not).

- Meet with your adviser on a scheduled basis.  Meetings may take place quarterly, annually or more frequently, depending on your circumstances.  These analysis and review meetings will help ensure that you are taking the options allowed.

The following web sites provide useful information and may help answer common questions:

-, the web site of CCH Inc.,an Illinois business information service.

-, the IRS web site and download IRS Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home.

- AJ

Tax Tips

As 2009 draws to a close, taxes take on greater importance.  Remember all those expenses and costs incurred during the year?  Do you have a record of those?  Have you accounted for all revenue generated?  Are you taking all the deductions you are entitled to as a small business?  Do you have employees or contract workers and are their year-end forms in the works?  These questions and many others are vitally important and in some cases, a legal obligation.

Here are some tips to help you along the 'taxing' path:

- If you haven't already, consultant an accountant or tax adviser.  This is especially important for start up companies and will save time, grief, legal problems, and quite possibly save you money.

- KEEP GOOD RECORDS.  This is the single most important issue that is overlooked and disregarded.  Nothing is worse than trying to find receipts (if you kept them) in some random paper pile on your desk.

- Pay estimated taxes (federal and state) during the year, probably on a quarterly basis.  The tax adviser you consulted in the first step will recommend an appropriate strategy for each situation.  Nothing is worse than a huge tax bill at the end of the year.

- Discuss any special deductions you are entitled to.  These many include home office deductions, charitable contributions or work, self-employment taxes, and health insurance deductions, among others.

Taxes do not have to be a major headache, provided the planning and records are in place and appropriate people are part of your business team.  Remember, Big Brother is watching you!

- AJ

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New blog layout

You've probably noticed the change in the format of this blog.  Basically, I thought the pages were too cluttered with ads and the content was lost in the mix.  This page is intended for you - not for making money via Google or Yahoo.  Those are only tests to see if money can really be made via affiliate referral and Adsense (more on this in another post).

We've been quite pleased with the number of visitors to our blog - several hundred unique over the past 30 days - without a press release of any kind.  Simply using Twitter and providing solid content has generated a good following; for that, we thank you very much.

Of course, this site is a community oriented site and we want to hear your opinions and get your feedback on our blog, web site - - content, layout or anything you wish to comment on.

We will continue to provide you the best information we can find (or links to) so you can go about the business of running your business!  We'll provide the background stuff for you to use - we want to make you successful.

To your success!

- AJ

Web sites with free stuff and coupons!

Whenever I run across a web site that has good deals or coupons or free stuff - not junk, but consumer staples - I will try to post it.  Sometimes I find these completely by accident, other times by searching, and sometimes via social networks like Twitter.

Without further explanation or wordiness, here are some links for you:

- - many coupons for food, beverages, household products, toys, etc.

- - features a printable and extensive coupon database (with everything imaginable), freebie, a "Krazy this week" feature and much, much more.

- - this site has free samples, grocery coupons, restaurant coupons, and features sorting by state.  Even specials for members of the military.

- - featured on NBC as per their tagline, and supposedly "the Nations Leading Coupon Website"

- - "Black Friday" deals, Craftsman tools, daily deals, grocery coupons, healthy choices and more.

In these difficult economic times, we can all use savings here and there, even if only a couple dollars.  Feel free to add more sites that may be useful.


- AJ

Monday, November 30, 2009

Free Web Site Hosting

As we've indicated before, we try to find ways to save you money in addition to providing information for your small business endeavors.

We ran across this nice little gem recently - a basic free web site hosting service available at

With any free service, there are some limitations.  In this case, a site is limited in disk space on the hosting server, bandwidth availability is lower, fewer traffic reports, and the site will have its own advertising to pay for the cost of hosting.  For experimentation or to showcase a basic web site, Tripod's offering may be appropriate and desirable.

Check it out - the link is above and browsing is free too!

- AJ

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Increase web site traffic for free!

How does a site get free publicity?  Recently I gained several suggestions by attending a local seminar given by a small business guru

Here are those tips:

1) Fresh and lots of content.  Write an article, blog, or post frequently.  Search engines rank sites based on new content, relevancy, and site traffic.   Traffic will increase, site gets higher rankings, and traffic increases more. 

2) Register on a site like " " and link the article to your site.

3) Cross link with area companies in similar industries.  If you make metal widgets, cross-link with a site that makes plastic widgets or parts components that work with your widget.

4) Publicity.  Spread the word.  Use Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or any other free social networking tools.

The Internet is a great way to get noticed and to sell your product or service.  Get writing and linking!

- AJ

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Free Office Software with Open Office

At Thesmallbizpro, we're not only providing information about starting up and running a business.  We will also try to save you time and money by providing links and information to free and low-cost alternatives.

Have a computer?  Have Microsoft (MS) office or considering buying it?  The full office suite is expensive but there are good alternatives.

Have you heard or considered 'open source' software?  This software, based on the Linux operating system, has many applications that mirror or duplicate ones available for Microsoft's Windows system.

Most notable of these is Open Office, available for FREE at .  At this site, the product can be downloaded, one can join the open source community, and assistance is available.  All of these services are FREE.

Once downloaded and installed, the word processing and spreadsheet applications are very similar to MS Word and Excel respectively, and can even save files or open files that have a .doc or .xls extension.  The user interface is very similar to MS products, stable, and easy to navigate.  Open Office also has database and presentation software (aka Access, PowerPoint) and is available in many languages.

For the start up company that wants to save big $$ on software licensing without losing the key functionality, Open Office is an excellent and attractive alternative.

- AJ

Licensed, Bonded, and Insured - What it means

A typical marketing phrase used by many companies is "We're licensed, bonded, and insured."  What exactly is the meaning of each of these?


For specific professions, a license is required to prove competency and/or permitted to conduct business (in the area of expertise) in a defined geographic area, including (but not limited to) cities, counties or states.  For example, attorneys are 'licensed' to practice law in states where they have passed the bar exam.  Licenses can be verified by local governments, trade associations, or the Better Business Bureau.  Companies that are licensed will often list the license number on their advertising documents.  Write down the number and check it with the mentioned agencies to ensure accuracy.


Money is set aside by a company, secured by a bonding company, and controlled by the state as a 'bond'.  Since the money is in control of the state, the company has no access to these funds and is available for claims made. Bonding generally means that a bonding company has conducted a thorough background investigation and determined that a company (or individual) is 'risk worthy' enough to have their work guaranteed against possible claims.  In case a claim is filed, an investigation is conducted (likely by a state agency) and the bond is used to pay the claim.  Bonding issues can vary by state; once again, do your homework.


Much like personal insurance, this refers to 3rd party coverage for damages that may be caused by the company and/or worker employed.  In some states, companies (or individuals) without insurance could potentially hold the customer liable for damages, e.g. a roofer falling from the top of your house while replacing shingles.  Again, prior to having work done by a contractor, have them prove their insured status.

In summary, it is advisable that ANY company/contractor/worker hired to perform a service is licensed (if applicable), bonded, and insured.  In a litigous society such as ours, the risk of lawsuit is too great to risk loss of personal assets for physical or bodily damage done to a hired party.

- AJ

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shorten that link!

Once again in my web surfing, I've come across a very useful site I'd like to share with everyone.

This one is - note no www used here.

This web site allows one to shorten the long web site link names into 10 characters or so, great for Twitter's 140 character limit.  I've experimented with this several times and never had an issue.

Further, will also save your links and track the visitor activity to it.  Developer information is provided for additional api developments.

This is an incredibly easy to use and useful link for Twitter, Facebook, e-mail links, etc.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Extra Money via Rental Properties

Here is another good way to make extra money, save your taxes, potentially help out others, and an area in which I have personal experience.  Rental property.  Now is certainly an ideal time to find inexpensive properties, though many of them may require repair and rehab prior to renting.

In our little 'barony', we own 3 properties: our primary residence, a townhouse, and our former single-family property.

Circumstances justified and sometimes compelled us to rent these units:

- Our grown daughters and their small children needed a place to live

- We had enough savings to cover at least six months in rent in a case of vacancy

- We felt that in the long-run (and we're only in our 40's), our properties would increase in value - despite the real estate disaster of 2008-09 - and provide an additional stream of income in retirement.  This could result from either rental income, sale of the property and subsequent investing, or a reverse mortgage.

- Real estate is good for portfolio diversification.  The stock and bond markets have demonstrated volatility over the past 18 months, and while real estate has declined, at least one owns a tangible, physical asset. (1)

- Our rental properties are within 10 minutes of our primary house, allowing us to keep a vigilant eye on them.

- If we wished, we could form a "property management company" allowing us to gain increased tax advantages from business write-offs. (2)

Taking on the responsibility of landlord is neither taken lightly nor without research and planning.  One must conduct thorough research on the marketplace to determine the rental need and property values.  If money is expected soley from rent, one must not incur a mortgage that exceeds rental income.  Also to consider are property taxes, fire and disaster insurance, and the cost of utilities, if those are offered.  One must also vett potential tenants, running credit reports, and asking for references.  Certain communitys - our townhouse is one - require association fees as well.  Those must be calculated in the overall monthly budget.

I won't lie - there are negative sides to the rental/landlord tenant aspect too.  We had a tenant in 2009 that lost her job and was unable to pay rent for a few months.  Despite our efforts to work with her, she could not or would not pay and her lease was not renewed.  Our next step to collect back rent will involve taking her to small claims court if the back rent is not settled. 

A second example of the down sides are a need to be immediately available if serious issues arise.  We had that experience this past summer when our second property had a fire started by a faulty bathroom exhaust fan.  Even though we were already in bed, we obviously needed to respond immediately.  Fortunately, no injuries resulted, and insurance picked up the majority of the cleanup and repair cost. 

In the end, we manage to do better than break even on the properties while providing our daughters with a residence we know is safe and secure.  Further, in the long run, the property value will increase and we have assets to sell in worst case scenarios.


1) We are not financial planners nor claim to be.  We strongly recommend consulting with a financial planner to discuss whether real estate is a good (or desirable) option for you.

2) We are not accounting or tax professionals nor claim to be.  Individuals considering forming a business, property management or otherwise, should consult with a qualifed tax professional for details.

- AJ

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This Thanksgiving, despite a difficult economic and personal year, I have many things to be thankful for:

- My friends and family

- My constitutional right of free speech and expression

- I appreciate and am grateful to the readers of this blog and our web site and hope they value its content.

- The relationships I've started to establish on Twitter and Facebook

- Linking up with older, long-lost friendships and classmates - those days were some of the best in my life

- Living through a terrible economic and personal year with my sanity, marriage, and life intact

- I am eternally grateful to my business partners - Caspar, Molly, BMac - for helping to realize a dream

- To my parents, for their emotional and financial support when times got really rough.  Also for the gift of a wonderful trip to Europe (an earlier birthday present).

- To Rich and Lisa - I am thankful that you found each other and love at last.  I am equally honored and thankful for serving as the best man at your beautiful wedding in Niagara Falls.  Semper Fi, my friend.

- To my current classmates for stimulating conversation and collaboration on our SAP work.

- To Fred and Wendy for your friendship, advice, support, and sanity checks.  You two truly are the cats meow.

- To Lilly and Melanie, for budding online friendships.  You are interesting, intelligent, talented, and beautiful, inside and out.  Never let others tell you otherwise.

- To the folks at the Department of Labor that have assisted me with sorting out major messes with a previous employer - could not have done it without your ongoing guidance, knowledge, and assistance.

- To my sister, Mandy, for her support and our improved communication and relationship.

- For all those I've missed - I apologize and thank you for all that you've done.

I look forward to the future with open eyes and ambition for projects unfinished and those yet to start.

Happy and healthy Thanksgiving to all - we each have much to be thankful for.

- AJ

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review of an excellent how-to freelance site

Making a decision to and starting a business is a major effort with many hurdles to overcome.  I browse the web daily looking for interesting web sites and content that is relevant to our effort to help our visitors ease into entrepreneurship.  Sometime sites are good, even great; many are spam or scams trying to get you to spend money to make money.  Thesmallbizpro team is not about that.  We believe in providing information to get your business started and keep it running.

Today I was lucky.  I came across a "How-to become a Freelance Developer" site by a talented professional - Amber Weinberg.  Her web site is  On this site, Ms. Weinberg provides a 6-month road map for going freelance with a brief month-by-month summary of actionable items.  A link to her personal portfolio is also included.

A solid summary for "knowing what is involved", potential entrepreneurs will find value in understanding the process and volume of work involved in building and running a successful operation.  Links are also provided at various points for freelancing resources, blogging tip sites, and others.

As she notes, Ms. Weinberg's steps are primarily appropriate for those interested in careers as freelance developers.  Those interested in freelance writing, editing, or other pursuits will glean some general information here, but will need to look elsewhere for specifics.

I do have two very minor observations: some of the links provided are services that must be paid for though many comparable programs are available for free via download (see BizonaBudget), and I think networking and market research/testing is not emphasized enough early in the process.  In order to successfully go it alone, a niche must be determined early (perhaps even before the 6-month process) and the waters tested for viability and potential profit.

Despite these minor reservations, Ms. Weinberg provides useful and salient information for anyone interested in freelancing.  We at Thesmallbizpro thank her for the contribution to the freelance business community and wish her much success on her journey.

- AJ

Monday, November 16, 2009

Who put that 'Key' in my 'Word'? Keywords are key!

Also known as an index term, subject heading or descriptor, keywords are arguably the most important feature of blogs and websites.  These "terms" or "keywords" capture the very basics of a posted topic of a document.  We can debate about layout, content, format, flash and CSS, etc., but if a site can't be found by a search engine, those points are moot.

Probably the most common use of keywords on the web are tags which are directly visible, often containing words, phrases or acronyms, and can be created by non-technical people. Index terms are created either manually with subject indexing via document analysis or automatically using sophisticated methods of keyword extraction and automatic indexing . Index terms may be taken from a controlled vocabulary or freely assigned.

For sake of simplicity and usability, keywords are stored in a search index with common terms such as articles (the, a, an) and conjunctions (and, but, or and nor) eliminated for efficiency.  Virtually every website in English contains the word "the"; including it in a search would create massive numbers of pages retrieved and information overload.

Since keywords essentially describe the essence of an article and assist site discovery, using them carefully and appropriately is vital to search engine optimization (SEO) and bringing traffic to your site.  A good (and free) tool I've found for determining relevant keywords is available at:  Simply enter in a keyword and the Wordtracker engine suggests approximately 100 alternative terms.  Wordtracker is like having a virtual thesaurus for your website!

 - AJ

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Excellent link about advertising tips for a website

Simply put, this article by Daniel Scocco is an outstanding, detailed version of various ways to use advertising on a web site or blog.

Fact-full of information, Scocco lays out the Pros and Cons, where to find advertisers, how much to charge, where to find the advertisers. 

You will never need another guide other than what Scocco has written out.  Read this if you are serious about blogging and web sites, and want to maximize your earning potential.  Be forewarned - it will require work and time - this is not a quick-money scheme.

Thank you to Daniel Scocco for this very valuable information and sharing it with us.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Self-employed? What the IRS thinks.

For tax reporting purposes, the IRS has several classifications of working individuals including:

  • Contractor
  • Employee
  • Self-employed
The first two categories were covered in a previous blog post.  In this one we review the IRS rules on what it considers self-employment.

The IRS considers a person as self-employed if:

The individual has a trade or business as a sole proprietor; or

The individual is a member of a partnership or limited liability company (LLC) that files a form 1065

Persons might also be considered as self-employed if owning a part-time business in addition to a regular job.  The weekend handyman or computer tech with his own tools and customers might be considered self-employed despite having a similar employee position with a company.

A complete summary of all employee listings is on our web site:

For additional details, please consult the IRS small employment web site:

Contractor or Employee - an IRS View

Contractor or Employee?  An IRS definition on the relationship between owner and worker.

It is incumbent upon a business owner to correctly determine whether persons providing services are independent contractors or employees.  Generally, organizations must withhold income taxes, pay unemployment taxes, and withhold and pay SSN and Medicare taxes to an employee.  Generally, employers do not have to withhold or pay any taxes on payments to independent contractors and subcontractors.

The IRS states that three distinct facts from Common Law Rules define the nature of the worker's relationship to the company:

1. Type of Relationship - Does a written contract or employee benefits exist?  Is the relationship continual or for a defined period of time?

2. Financial - Who pays for the business aspects of the worker's job?  If the payer or employer, a worker might get reimbused for expenses.  Generally, unless otherwise agreed upon,  a contractor would supply the tools required for the job.  For instance, a contract carpenter would be expected to pay for his hammer, screwdriver or measuring tape, etc.

3. Behavioral - Does the company have a right to control the worker's job and how the work is performed?  If so, the worker likely falls into the employee class.

"Businesses must weigh all these factors when determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Some factors may indicate that the worker is an employee, while other factors indicate that the worker is an independent contractor. There is no “magic” or set number of factors that “makes” the worker an employee or an independent contractor, and no one factor stands alone in making this determination. Also, factors which are relevant in one situation may not be relevant in another.

The keys are to look at the entire relationship, consider the degree or extent of the right to direct and control, and finally, to document each of the factors used in coming up with the determination."

If an employer is still unclear about a worker's status after reviewing this information, a Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status can be filed with the IRS for review and determination.  This process may take up to six months for resolution.

The full IRS article is here:,,id=99921,00.html

Monday, November 9, 2009

Something new - Amazon affiliate marketing

As I've said many times, we at thesmallbizpro believe that the best way for us to produce honest, valuable content is to try things ourselves, do our own research, and write about the experience.  Sometimes those will involve lessons learned the hard way, other times some may be put off by our content.  We accept and embrace that responsibility for our readers.

Another part of our goal is to offer transparency - we tell you the reasons behind certain decisions.  Today's news is the addition of Amazon affiliate marketing.  Simply, we want to test the affiliate marketing craze and determine if value exists for small business.  Similar to a prior post on get rich quick schemes with Google-mania, many sites claim to provide quick and easy money from affiliate marketing.  We can hardly state an opinion without trying this out for ourselves.

We will keep this Amazon link at least through the rest of the year and report results as they become available.  No promises of get rich quick schemes - much like Adsense, there are multiple factors involved, including the number of visitors to our blog, volume of buyers of featured products, commission rates, etc.  While we can't guarantee grand results, we can commit to providing you honest reports on our experiences.

As always, this experiment is simply that - our experience and our interpretation of the data.  We advise each of you to perform your own research and weigh the factors of advertising on a page vs. a clean look.  In the interim, we will continue to provide you with valuable content and ask for any feedback, positive or negative.  This blog and our home site - - are as much yours as ours.

- AJ

ps: Take a look at the deals Amazon is offering - Christmas is 6 weeks or so away - you may find something good!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Making Money with Google Adsense

We are constantly bombarded with emails, tweets, and other links that try to convince that money can be made from various Google work-at-home programs.  The only legitimate program offered by Google is Adsense.  The link for this is and registration is free.

Adsense does work - our web site and this blog has proved the concept.  Granted, because we are still building a clientele base, the revenue is minimal - only a few cents per day - but real.  We are also not profit-motivated and always transparent, which is why we share this information.  We would gladly post a copy of last month's Google Adsense report, but it is a Google-copyrighted document and therefore not for general distribution.

First for the non-Google sites that imply a Google link. This can be verified by looking at the bottom of the page and noting the disclaimer of non-Google affiliation..  These packages may or not provide legitimate income - we haven't tried any to confirm or deny the claim - but these sites generally charge a fee and/or ask for your email address and name.  The only place to register for Google Adsense is at and you can register without any costs. There are a lot of websites scams trying to sell information on Google work at home or businesses that are not affiliated in any way with Google. Don't waste your money. (from

As for adsense, registration is free, and the amount of money made depends on several factors
  • The level of traffic to the web site and/or blog
  • Placement of Adsense ads on the page
  • Frequency of add viewing
  • The number of times a visitor clicks on an add
Some important terms to know
  • PPC or Pay-Per-Click - as is implied, the amount earned when an add is clicked
  • Web Analytics - simply the measurement, collection, and reporting of Internet data for purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage.
  • SEO - or Search Engine Optimization - a process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing.
  • In-Text-Advertising - a form of contextual advertising where specific keywords within the text of a web-page are matched with advertising.  This form of advertising has drawn criticism from journalists for confusion created in a reader's mind as to what is 'news' and what is advertising.
Adsense will likely not be a sole source of income, on average a blogger or web site owner may make a few hundred dollars per month.  And bear in mind, this is also taxable income, further eroding any net profits.  Finally, in order to gain and maintain an income stream, a site must have 150 visitors per day to be approved by Adsense.  For return traffic and to generate new visitors, web/blog content must be fresh and unique.  This requires constant updating and new articles.  In summation, income can be generated from Internet advertising, but typically it is minimal and requires a substantial time commitment.

- AJ

More information about Google Adsense here:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Confession...

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you've probably noticed that most of the posts are written by myself, AJ.

While the above totally accurate, I have a confession to make.  My name is not really AJ.  I've taken that as a nom de plume or pseudonym for TheSmallBizPro.  The issue of anonymity is one the team has debated on several occasions and none of us are comfortable with the lack of privacy in cyber-space.  No, we are not felons or have any evil or malicious intentions.  Simply, some of us have been in the technology industry for many years and are well-aware of the nature of the Internet and the possibility of abuse.

The idea of fake names is, of course, quite old.  Mark Twain used one and some argue that Shakespeare may have (though this is conjecture).  Stephen King has written as Richard Bachmann in the last 25 years and many authors of adult-oriented sites and blogs use names other than their real ones.  Each individual must decide on a comfort level and whether real names are advisable or not.  Search the Internet sometime and see how many hits come up with your real name.  This may help in your decision one way or another.

Yes, I realize that a potential employer - and I am still unemployed - may like my writing and won't be able to contact me because of my name choice.   We have email for this purpose - . 

I am not advocating the use of a pen name one way or the other.  Much has been written and blogged on this topic; do some research and make an informed decision for yourself.  As for me, as Shakespeare famously penned: "What's in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Food for thought

- AJ

Future Plans for Thesmallbizpro

Last night we had a monthly team meeting to discuss our situation.  As always, we are believers in transparency and I will relate some of our discussion in this blog.  We learn as we go along and try to pass that knowledge along to those inclined to pursue their own business interests.

Snickers bars seem to be preferred over Milky way, but M&M's top them all. (Bmac brought leftover Halloween candy).

Water is the preferred beverage in the evening - used to be Jack Daniels - guess we're getting old, but that's another blog...

We reviewed analytic reports for the sites and were quite pleased to see that for the 10 days this blog has been up, we've hit almost 100 visitors and stay for about 7 minutes.  Something in the range of 400 page views.  Pretty darn good, we think, and we thank all our visitors for dropping by, commenting, and reviewing our content.  We want to be a go-to source for you - tell us what you need.  We are quite pleased by the response from the Twitter community.  In a little over 3 weeks, we've built a following of over 800, received valuable feedback, and established ongoing relationships with several.  Thank you.

We are going to re-work our primary web site - - to make it more content rich, easier to navigate, and improve the user friendliness.  We also want to include a forum that is easier to deal with than the one provided by Website Tonight.  The product is fine for those interested in an inexpensive, robust, and low-cost way to run a web business.  We want and need more and still use GoDaddy - their support and stability is outstanding - but instead create our own web pages without using GoDaddy templates.  Expect this effort to take a few months; in the interim, will remain up and running with minor changes and added content.

We want to create a true forum for the small business community.  A place where all can weigh in on topics, provide suggestions, ask questions, or muse on a subject.  We strongly reiterate our basic mission: Shared Vision - Shared Resources - Shared Success.  The true strength, success, and future of small business involves many components and moving parts.  Our goal is to help that effort.

Also discussed was the need to link to other sites to increase visibility and traffic to our site.  This is part of the search engine optimization effort (SEO).  We intend to conduct interviews with various local small business owners and ask their opinions about running successful operations.  We hope to have others from all over (via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) contribute to the effort - if interested, please email us at

Finally, as always, we greatly appreciate your continued support and visitation.  Thesmallbizpro looks forward to providing answers to your questions, writing (or referring to) useful content, and helping you learn as we do.

Best wishes to you all,

- AJ, Caspar, Bmac & Molly

Monday, November 2, 2009

Finding Inexpensive Staff

Finding Inexpensive Staff

On occasion, even the smallest of business needs additional staff, perhaps to meet seasonal demand, for a new product launch or a major event. 

Direct hires are expensive, sometimes don't work out, and in some states, are difficult to terminate.  Contractors can be costly and for simple tasks, overqualified and less than motivated.  How then to find those willing to work at reasonable rates or for nothing? 

Here are some suggestions:

1) Interns - don't think Monica Lewinsky here, but rather a college student that needs business experience and resume filler.  This can be a win-win scenario where the business gets an enthusiastic student in marketing and the student can gain valuable career insight.

2) Retirees - like the intern, the business gains someone with experience in a field, and the retiree can make a few extra $$ in a flexible position.  Seniors also tend to be very reliable and willing to share knowledge.

3) High-school work programs - many local high schools sponsor juniors and seniors in work programs as part of their coursework.  These students will need to perform adequately to pass, and are usually paid at minimum wage.

4) The local state unemployment office - post a notice of your need or talk to a office staff member.  They will be more than willing to help you find a capable and willing worker.

5) Local churches and community organizations - talk to the pastors or directors of these concerns and inquire about the skill set you are looking for.  They can publish in their newsletter or on their job boards.

6) Craigslist - most larger cities in the US and Canada have a website.  In this case, a little more of a risk is assumed with an unknown person, but I've personally found roofers and other workers with no problems on Craigslist.

7) Twitter - use the local job hashtag (#) or create a new one for your area.  See how many people respond to your inquiry.  I'd guess quite a few during this period of high unemployment.

People are always looking for a primary job, a second job or a part-time position.  Take advantage of this by exploring some of the options above.  The location and needs of your business will dictate which option is most appropriate.

- AJ

Why Work from Home?

Many businesses can be launched from home or performed remotely instead of in an office.  Ideas include freelance writing, website programming, crafting, mid-level-marketing (MLM), consulting, and many others.

So why start a home-based business?  Here are several reasons and justifications:

1) Freedom and choice - for night owls, early risers or those who prefer casual dress for comfort and productivity.

2) Cost - no rent for office space, no fuel costs, and lower vehicle expenses.  Use the savings for other expenses such as marketing or investing in new products.

3) Domestic reasons - be home for the plumber, a sick kid, older parents or a spouse with medical issues.  Use local organizations such as churches and coffee shops to network and meet.  Be available to coach your son's baseball team or attend your daughter's dance recital.

4) Workforce - build a virtual business team using the Internet and social networks.  Hire marketing experts, web designers, accountants, and other professionals as contractors not staff.

5) Technology - use DSL, cable or satellite for Internet connection.  Most of these services are less than $50 a month and many are bundled with phone and television.  Look for deals online for computers and any software needed.  Use Webex, Skype or Yahoo for tele-conferencing.

6) Be Green - less driving means less air pollution.  No heating or cooling an office saves energy. 

7) Health - less physical contact with an office staff means a lower chance of catching the office flu.  No drive to work, stress from a crazed boss or impossible deadline improves general health.

8) Taxes - a home business can mean savings on taxes by taking advantage of allowed IRS deductions. 

One important thing to remember: keep home time/space and work time/space separate and distinct.  Set up a space that is comfortable and everything is located in easy to reach locations.

- AJ

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Insurance for Small Biz

Another great suggestion to come out of last night's small business start up presentation was the type of insurance that may be necessary for a small business.

Depending on the legal business structure, you may be personally liable for any claims of damage, defective product, breakage, loss of client revenue, etc.  Examples include computer consultants that should probably carry errors and omissions (E&O)  insurance.  This is an insurance form that protects the insured against liability for committing an error or omission in performance of professional duties. Generally, such policies are designed to cover financial losses rather than liability for bodily injury and property damage.*

A second general common business insurance policy is broad form comprehensive general liability (BFCGL) endorsement.  This insurance is a comprehensive endorsement to be attached to pre-1986 editions of the standard general liability policy that provided coverage enhancements including blanket contractual liability; personal injury and advertising liability; premises medical payments; host liquor liability; fire legal liability on real property; broad form property damage liability, including completed operations; incidental medical malpractice; nonowned watercraft liability; limited worldwide coverage; additional persons insured (employees); extended bodily injury coverage; and automatic coverage for newly acquired organizations.*

Insurance policies are vital if:

A) You have personal assets you might lose in a legal judgment

B) The legal structure is a Sole Proprietorship or S-Corp where no corporate protection exists

Consider carefully your risks and whether you can sleep at night without adequate coverage.


The author of this article, thesmallbizpro, and affiliated entities are not certified insurance agents and claim no expertise or authority in the insurance industry.  Readers of this article are strongly encouraged to contact an appropriate insurance broker, agent, or appropriate entity to review individual circumstances.  This article is solely an opinion of the author who holds no liability for insurance options chosen by an individual, individuals, or organizations.

* Insurance definitions copied from the glossary at 

Increase Traffic to your Web Site or Blog

Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend Jeff Williams' seminar on "Starting a Business After 50."  As a small business owner and coach for 25 years or so, he is considered a guru in marketing, sales, and general business knowledge.  Those interested in his program can find more information at 

Jeff had many words of advice for the audience, including suggestions on how to increase visitors to a web site or blog.  Allowing for paraphrasing, here are some of his suggestions:

1) Maintain fresh content.  Write an article, blog, post or something as often as possible.  Search engines rank sites partially based on new content and visitors will return for the latest information.  Site traffic is also measured by the number of page views you have received on your articles. 

2) Register and write articles for a site like and populate your profile with links to your site.

3) Cross link with area companies that are not competitors.  An example might involve a craft business specializing in silver jewelry linking from a crochet or knitting craft site.  You link to them, they link to you, both sides win by gaining exposure and traffic.

4) Publicity.  As mentioned in a previous post, a press release can be a great way to increase traffic.  Using an Internet press release agency, such as, can expose your site to millions of potential customers around the world.

Thanks to Jeff for these great ideas and get writing!

- AJ

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free blog hosts for starters

It is increasingly easy to post a blog online for free.  Several sites provide this service and bloggers can often earn money via advertising and referrals just by posting an opinion or idea.

Here are a few common and popular web links to FREE blog sites:

Some of these sites have restrictions on content - no porn or defamation - but open to any other blogs.

These services are a wonderful way to get noticed in cyber space and state a personal opinion.  If one has expertise in a certain area, blogging is a way of passing along that knowledge.  If one wishes to drive viewership, post often and with relevant content.

Words of caution though: Any thoughts you place on the Internet can be searched by employers or authorities and potentially be used against you.  Anonymity is at risk so be smart and careful when blogging.  Also, blogs are not the best way to sell a product if that is a goal.  A better and more controlled way is via a web site and virtual storefront.

Happy blogging!

- AJ

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

News Releases

A big issue facing all small businesses, especially new ones, is marketing or 'getting the word on the street'.  How can others learn about my product and/or service?  Tweets, Facebook posts, emails and posting notices may help, but generally will not provide adequate exposure.  This is a major problem if my business is a locally based dry cleaner or pet grooming service. Not many people willingly send laundry or Rover across the state.

How about this idea - a press release?  The media is still the most significant and powerful form of marketing yet invented and provides instant credibility and exposure.  How often have we heard "I read it in..." or "I heard it on..." so it must be true?  This concept, known as 'social proof', prods people to browse or purchase. A story in a local newspaper or trade publication is often a golden ticket. 

Press releases are used on the Internet too, potentially creating traffic from search engines such as Google or Yahoo and exposing a business to a larger audience.  This is a major advantage when a target market is geographically large or the business sells via the web.

Tips for writing a winning press release:

- Consider the 'newsworthy' nature of the release.  Why would a journalist write your story?  A journalist writes to sell copy - the article - not your product or service.  Give them something unique and they'll gladly write about it. FOR FREE!  Both sides win; the writer sells more copy and you gain clients.

- What is unique or distinctive about your product or service?  Have you recently opened a theme restaurant or patented the Chia Chinchilla?  Do you have a new product or service for your target area?  This product or service may have succeeded elsewhere but is fresh and original where you are.

- Write in an inverted pyramid style.  This is different than fictional writing in which a story builds.  In a press release, put the important points first - who, what, where, when, how, why - and leave the details for the second half.  Readers like to skim and the first lines must catch their attention.

- Be short and to the point.  300 to 500 words, no more.  Be concise, simple, and relevant.

- The title of your release less than 10 words.  More is an article and boring.  Make it catchy.

- Include contact information.  Address, phone number, web site (URL), or email.  Ensure the person that responds to inquiries knows the product or service.  Don't turn off new clients with incorrect information. 

Any other suggestions?  Please add them to the comment area.  Thanks!

- AJ

Jeff Williams - Presentation on Starting a Business 10-28

I just received notice that Jeff Williams, a veteran and well-respected business start up guru, is giving a free workshop/presentation in the Chicago suburbs on Wednesday, October 28th.  Details below.

Jeff is an outstanding speaker and has been coaching would-be entrepreneurs for 25 years.  He is well worth the time invested.

Starting Your Own Business    
Wednesday October 28, 2009
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Location: St. James     School Basement
Street: 820 N. Arlington Heights Road
City State Zip: Arlington Heights, IL 60004                                  

Speaker:  Jeff Williams, BizStarters  
Old School Basement:  Enter Door A5 of the building located on the east side of Arlington Heights Road 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why the advertising and blog feeds?

Maintaining a web site, blog, Twitter, and Facebook accounts costs time and money. Since we are a free informational site, we'd like to make up some of the costs by using web site advertising. Google adsense is fairly easy to implement and seemed a logical path to recover at least a portion of the costs.

And about the blog feeds? Aren't you providing information from competitors?

In our view, information, opinion, and expertise is key. As we mention on our web site, - we are not experts in any area. And, since we are not a business, per se, we can't have competition! Yes, we have experience and a level of training in certain areas, however this does not qualify us to provide a cookie-cutter approach to all. We firmly believe in our mantra: Shared Vision - Shared Resources - Shared Success.

Everyone benefits by contributions from those experienced in various areas such as accounting, marketing, legal, etc. We feel we'd be doing the small business community and especially our guests a disservice by not openly inviting others to contribute.

This is a blog conceived to benefit all who visit. If another blogger has a differing or better idea, great. Feel free to slice and dice our take on life, the universe, and everything.

Best wishes and good karma to all!

- A.J.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

We made the switch

We've been debating whether to stay with GoDaddy's free blogcast (comes with the web hosting package) or move to another. The fact that you are now looking at Google's blogger ought to clue you in on the final decision.

Our reasons were simple: ease of administration, available features, opportunity for increased visitation, and subsequent revenue. All these taken into consideration, the move was a no-brainer.

GoDaddy is a fine product and certainly the paid version is likely better than the free, but for our purposes - and also as a consideration for our guests - the move to this provider is a major improvement. It's also free and can host advertising, etc. A future post will address that issue.

When choosing your hosting provider - web, blog or otherwise - you may need to try several before you settle on a winner. We may move again in the future as we grow, to be determined. In any case, keep this in mind:

- Don't commit to a long-term contract when starting
- How easy is the site to administer?
- Does it have desired features including links to Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites?
- How much does it cost?
- Can or will it host advertising, a potential source of revenue?
- What about pictures, videos, blogcasts, etc?

If your blog and/or web site is key to your business, be sure that the host has the features you NEED at the right PRICE.

- A.J.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Poll: Preferred Accounting Software

We are curious - which is your preferred accounting software?

In search of ...

At the-small-biz-pro, we started with an idea of transparency for everything we do and why we do it. This journey and each step has been related to you at our web site - - in the 'Our Story' section. We believe that sharing and collaborating is the best path to success and will continue this idea.

Next up, we've decided that we need a logo that puts our brand into visual form. The question is how to develop one? None of the 4 of us are astute at graphic arts or visual presentation - we are business people, techies, and customer service folks.

We can do a logo of stick figures or modify an existing one - but that isn't the same, is it?

Yes, we know many marketing folks, and many others exist online that can be contacted, but we don't wish to spend big $$ on developing this. We also think knowing a resource that can develop a logo using our tag line - Shared Vision. Shared Resources. Shared Success - is a valuable commodity for the business community.

We have a few artistically talented friends & associates we're going to ask first; if they can put a visual form to our ideas, we'll be happy to put a plug in for them and share contact information with you.

More on this process as it develops...

- A.J.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Unusual jobs to earn extra money

For those seeking jobs that are a little non-traditional and unusual, but needed in many areas, here are some suggestions for you. These positions often pay in cash and can help to supplement unemployment income. Warning to all: Not reporting income from work on your taxes is not recommended by the the-small-biz-pro and runs the risk of IRS audits.

Here is a list of possibilites - please feel free to add more!

- Dog Walker
- Elder care, helper or babysitter (note: any positions involving specific medical care typically requires state licensing).
- Baby sitter - even adults can do this and are often more desirable. Be prepared with references.
- Day care - same as above and states tend to have limits on the number of children under care at any one time without a business license.
- Errand runner - do those errands that others just don't have time for
- Handyman - can you use a hammer and screwdriver? Know some basics of home repair? Any advanced projects may require specialized training and insurance. Again, be prepared with references.
- Pizza delivery - have a car? This job is local and always in demand.
- Store shelf stocker - many large companies (e.g. Kraft) use independents to stock certain target market stores.
- Storage unit buyer - self-storage companies regularly have auctions of storage lockers in default. You end up buying all contents of a locker, site unseen, and can end up with junk or a bonanza of value. Many of these items can be taken to consignment stores or sold on E-Bay.

As always, with any of the above, insurance and regulations may apply state to state. Do your homework!


Social Networking for Small Business

Are social networking outlets valuable for more than just social contact? A recent article - - on BBC's web site thinks so.

According to the author, Claire Prentice, Facebook and Twitter have become a 'virtual marketing lifeline' for small businesses struggling during this recessionary period.

Smaller companies often have limited funds for elaborate marketing campaigns and depend on word-of-mouth for promoting their products and growing their customer base. In support, Prentice cites specific customers that are using Twitter and Facebook as a "virtual focus group, a bulletin board, a marketing campaign, and a branding exercise rolled into one."

Some businesses use social networks for more than just marketing. Appointment filling, surveys, promotions, and discounts are mentioned as additional advantages. Keeping in touch with customers, ability to react and offer rapid changes, and an additional 'personal touch' are considered valuable additions to customer service.

The author also points out dangers inherent in social networking. The potential for loss of control over an advertising message by opening a dialogue with customers is a significant concern. Some information systems experts suggest limiting social networking use to conversation and avoiding advertising. Another concern is saturation. The fine line between useful information and an overload of electronic hype is often blurred and easily crossed.

Social sites have arrived and are used frequently, if not continuously, and provide a wonderful opportunity to promote a brand or to gain a loyal following. These bonuses may be ultimately offset by a lack of content control and anonymity. Caveat emptor.

- A.J.

50 Best Cities to Launch a Business

I read an interesting article today about the best cities to launch a small business. Jointly researched by Fortune Small Business and the Kauffman Foundation, factors including growing economies, stable housing markets, low crime, and inexpensive labor were considered.

The top 10 cities listed were: Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Houston, Hartford, CT, Washington DC, Charlotte, Austin, New York City, and Baltimore.

Glancing over the imbedded map on this web site - - one can immediately see a bias toward the central south and north eastern areas of the country. Notable exclusions from the list included the west coast states (CA, WA, OR, NV) and population growth states such as Arizona and Florida.

The 'rust best' states fared poorly as well with no cities mentioned in Indiana, Michigan, or Ohio. Illinois had only Peoria and Wisconsin landed only Madison in the top 50. Colorado, Georgia and Idaho had no cities in the top 50.

Small business launches tend to be cyclical along with housing costs, population growth and crime rates. If one is considering jumping into the small business arena, research is key to understanding where a target market exists and is trending upward.

Food for thought...


Sites on Branding, Marketing & Technology

We are constantly blasted with emails, instant messages, blogs, tweets, etc. promising quick money using various (and often questionable) schemes. I decided to do a little research and ran across the following articles that look a little more helpful and promising:

The first is an intelligent and well-received blog by Chris Brogan about 'Community and Social Media'. I suggest this is a good primer for those interested in the social networking phenom and what it entails. "What Human Business And the Social Web Are About" -

Another solid blog in a similar vein is Seth Godin's blog covering marketing, branding, networking and technology. His sage advice is well worth reading here:

A third site that fully covers small business issues is from - a not-for-profit group that assists would-be entrepreneurs with advice and basic templates. The main site is located at: and well worth checking out.

While none of these are get-rich quick sites with formulas for instant success, they each provide sound fundamental advice that will help in the shorter term and longer term.

- A.J.

Money maker for those with time and skills

With the real estate meltdown of the past 18 months, hundreds of thousands of properties have been foreclosed or are in the process. This situation, while horrible for many, presents opportunity for others. Some homes - I've seen quite a few in the western suburbs of Chicago - have been abandoned and are in need of repair. These homes can be purchased either for a primary residence or as a rental property. If a rental property is desired, take a close look at what the 'market will bear' for rent rates and ensure adequate savings to cover the unexpected costs. A formal written lease is key here too with a listing of what is and is not permissible use of the property.

Many financial institutions are sitting on properties they want to eliminate from their books. Banks are not interested in owing, paying real estate taxes or dealing with the problems associated with home ownership. This pushes banks to make 'deals' in order to eliminate their headaches. Properties can be purchased for considerably less than market value at this time. The secret here is to do your homework. Work with a real estate agent that specializes in foreclosed or near foreclosure properties. Look into property auctions by counties, banks or government entities.

This money-making model is longer-term one and provides no guarantee of definite or predictable returns. This is another reason why research is so important: Research the community, the historical price trends, demographic changes in the area, the school systems and of course, if possible, the property itself. If you find a potential candidate, but can't view the property, ask neighbors about the previous owners and what they may know about the condition.

Remember that banks have tightened the lending process and a potential buyer will need to have a fairly clean credit record and probably a down payment to qualify for a loan on a rental property. Check with local banks, credit unions, and the Internet for current rates and conditions. A good site for this is

A final note: It also helps to be handy with tools and be ready to put in plenty of 'sweat equity' time!

- A.J.

Hobby or a business? An IRS view.

Yesterday I wrote about several possible small business opportunities, many easily done and with little to no startup cost. One of these involved turning a hobby into a money-maker. Naturally, of course, there are potential tax implications from such a move. If one intends to mix business and pleasure, be aware of the IRS rules and regulations. The following are taken directly from the IRS small business site:

"In order to make this determination (hobby vs business), taxpayers should consider the following factors:

  • Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • Does the taxpayer depend on income from the activity?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond the taxpayer’s control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Has the taxpayer changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
  • Does the taxpayer or his/her advisors have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Has the taxpayer made a profit in similar activities in the past?
  • Does the activity make a profit in some years?
  • Can the taxpayer expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

The IRS presumes that an activity is carried on for profit if it makes a profit during at least three of the last five tax years,including the current year — at least two of the last seven years for activities that consist primarily of breeding, showing, training or racing horses."

The entire IRS opinion is here:,,id=169490,00.html

Remember, always do your homework and don't cause trouble with the powers-that-be!

- AJ

Simple ideas for additional part-time income

Most of us would like to make more money - especially in these days and times. Or maybe we need to supplement a reduced family income or we're retired and want to do something interesting and profitable. Below is a list of relatively simple ideas for part-time income. Feel free to comment and add your own suggestions or success stories!

  • Home demonstrations/parties
  1. Lia Sophia
  2. Tastefully Simple
  3. Pampered Chef
  4. Tupperware
  5. Avon
  6. Adult novelties
  7. Cash for gold
  8. Usbourne Books

  • Free-lance writing
  1. Magazines
  2. Newspapers
  3. Internet blogs

  • Crafts - perhaps you make a hobby of knitting, crochet, or needlepoint. Create interesting and inexpensive items that can be sold either via local craft shows or via a web site.
  • Residential and/or small business computer installation and repair. Provide rates at lower than the big players and market yourself to local communities. This idea may require business insurance to cover any losses or coincidental problems caused.
  • E-Bay selling. Do you have a collection of 'stuff' you want to get rid of? Or perhaps know others that want to sell their 'stuff'? Offer to take the pictures, put listings on E-Bay (either for a percentage of the selling price or a flat fee) and ship the products.
  • Teach a class in your field of expertise at a community college or for a local ongoing education (often offered by municipalities) program.

The point here is opportunity exists - even in difficult economic times - to find some kind of part-time work and make a little extra. Or, maybe get your retired husband/wife/significant other out of the house!


- AJ

A Job Transition Journey

I was a Business Analyst my entire career until being laid off in January 2009. I had an interest in this career but did not have a passion. As I began a job search, I was encouraged to identify skills that would enable me to have a second career or be an entrepreneur. When originally thinking of these skills, I thought only of my long time Business Analyst skills and possibly marketing these skills as a consultant. I began a usual job search to continue my Business Analyst career with no responses after months of online application submissions. I also attended networking meetings, workshops, programs and seminars offered by the Arlington Heights Library, St Hubert’s Unemployed Ministry, Harper college, and IDES. Through these activities I began to expand my skill identification beyond traditional business skills to my passions. I have always been a life long volunteer as a Christian care/support giver, learner, and led an active/fit lifestyle. Could pursuing these passions empower me to reinvent myself and transition to a second career?

The question was answered with the assistance of a Harper College Career Stimulus program Career coach. During our meetings we identified these possible passion careers; college adjunct teacher, in home care companion (non medical), and personal trainer. We also defined a job search for each of these careers. I have been active in each search and through networking landed a part time job as an in home care companion. Because I have a passion for the job I now go to work excited and leave fulfilled. Also I am now considering blending two part time jobs I am passionate about in lieu of full time employment.


Can I Fire Myself?

If I am my own boss, can I still get fired?

One of the reasons a person may decide to go into business for themselves is to be independent of a structure imposed by a manager, boss, corporate policies, etc. The autonomy that is gained comes with challenges and more importantly,a high degree of risk. The first question to be addressed is “Do I have a product (goods or services) that a customer would spend money on?” A customer will spend money to solve a problem. What solution do I have to a problem and what value does it have? What is my product? Am I capable of taking on the responsibility of a business that delivers my product to customers?

There are a number of additional questions that must be answered:

  • Why do I want to be my own boss
  • As an entrepreneur, am I capable of functioning outside the structure of an existing business?
  • Do I have the organizational skills to manage a business,or do I have the financial position to pay someone else to take on these responsibilities?
  • Will anyone else value the product that I want to bring to the market? (This can also include a service.)
  • If this activity is something I enjoy doing, will I still want to do it enough to clear a profit?
  • Do I have the financial resources to support a fledgling business long enough to become established?
  • Do I have the support system in place (family and friends) to meet the physical demands of time, energy and motivation that are necessary when starting and running a business?
  • Do I want to start a business that is my own creation, or should I look at a structured business such as a franchise where the format and business structure is already predetermined and there is a support system that I can turn to for assistance?
  • Will I be able to take an objective look at my business and business process and make the necessary changes that will lead to a successful business and a profit?
  • What is the market for my product and how will I connect with my market?
  • Can I generate repeat business from my customers and establish additional revenue flows?
  • Can my product (or service) be duplicated by more employees so my business can grow?
  • If “I am” the business, what is the maximum capacity of my business?
  • Is that enough to generate the desired revenue (profit) to be my only source of income?
  • Do I do this part time in addition to my previous job or does the new business become my only job?
  • Am I prepared to expand my business and meet the expanding demands of a bigger business model, or do I stay small?
  • Is my product something that will become obsolete (such as Beanie Babies) or can I adapt to a changing market?
  • Will my customers reject my product at a later date or find there is no longer a need for my goods or services?
  • Am I capable of accepting the role my customers play in determining the validity and value of my product?
  • If my product is no longer relevant or marketable, will I know when to close the business? Do I have an exit strategy for my business?
  • If my business is rejected by my customers do I look fora new market, a new product or additional lines to increase my revenue flow?
  • If I close my business, will I be prepared to develop a different business or do I return to the role of employee in another business?
  • If I am “fired” by my customers, will I know it and how will I react to that change?
These are just a few of the questions that must be addressed before considering becoming your own boss and going into business for yourself. Once the decision to start a business is made, the actual “mechanics”of the business such as a business plan, the structure of the business,financial plan, etc is the next phase of the planning your start up. There are many resources to turn to for the mechanics of a business. Only you can assess your capacity as an entrepreneur in building and sustaining a business. If you don’t try, you may never know the depth of your skills and capacity as an entrepreneur.

- Molly B.

Welcome to TheSmallBizPro Blog!

This blog is a continuation of the ongoing saga of web site.

We, the founders, welcome you and your thoughts/comments/ideas and concerns. These pages are designed with you in mind and we will strive to create as rich an experience as possible.

Our home web site is . Our content will be updated frequently - join the community in helping others through the business start up and operations process.

Molly, Caspar, BMac, and AJ