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