Entrepreneurial

from The Great Debate:

‘The only crime that I committed’

Editor’s note: This week, Reuters Opinion is publishing five excerpts – one each day – from D.W. Gibson’s new book, Not Working, an oral history of the recession. Gibson spent months traveling across America talking to people who had been laid off.

Today’s story is Christine Zika’s. Christine is a veteran and small-business owner mostly from St. Louis and the surrounding towns. She is 40 and married to an electrical engineer.

Years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I had an expectation of the life I was going to lead. And that life included being in public relations and communications. Instead, I went into the Army National Guard. After two years in college, I went there, and I served 13 years total, having served three deployments at different times. I served in Desert Storm. I also served during Operation Joint Endeavor, which was the Bosnian conflict, and then I also went to Kosovo.

When I came home from Desert Storm, I found myself with only two years of college. Even then, without a degree they didn’t want to hire you in public relations and corporate communications, which was my dream. So the next best thing was to go into nonprofit work. They want those skills; they want everything that you have. And so I went into nonprofits because they accepted me fully, and I believed in a lot of the things that I was doing. I worked for several local nonprofits in membership services. I worked public relations and communications, so newsletters and all sorts of things.

In 2002, I got hired by a local fraternity that helps children. They’re not a 501(c)(3), so they’re not really accountable to the donors or whatnot. And it is a social, fraternal organization, so they can pretty much do what they want do to. Is it their responsibility to keep me employed? No…I saw my job dissipating for a long period of time.

Why the debt ceiling debate won’t stop America’s small businesses

– John Krubski is an entrepreneur and the architect of The Guardian Life Index: What Matters Most to America’s Small Business Owners. He is currently working on his next book, “Cracking the America Code: How to Get US Back on Track”. –

As recently as April of this year, the Amex Open Survey announced that “For the first time since 2006, growth has surpassed survival as the number one priority for entrepreneurs… Perhaps further evidence that economic recovery is reaching Main Street, more than one-third (35 percent) plan to hire, the highest level since the fall 2008 survey.”

Just a few short months later, the headlines were filled with gloom and doom about the impending, “unprecedented” default of U. S. debt, followed quickly by predictions of a “double-dip” recession.

Credit crunch forces small businesses to get creative

United National Consumer Suppliers, a Ft. Lauderdale, Florida broker of clothing, toys and other merchandise for discount stores such as Marshalls, has been seeing more suppliers ask to be paid up front amid worries over the uncertain economy.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said CFO Todd Hartstone, who in exchange for complying can often garner deeper pre-payment discounts.

“We’re going to monopolize on that opportunity,” said Hartstone, whose business has been putting up good sales numbers as consumers seek more bargains from discount stores. “Fortunately having a little cash strength puts you in a position where you can drive the purchase.”

Exclusive: Fewer small businesses shopping for credit: PayNet

When the financial crisis hit, panicked small businesses were scrambling to find credit. Nearly three years later it’s a much different story.

The level of credit shopping – when a borrower seeks a loan or lease from more than one lender – by small businesses has fallen nearly 30 percent since September 2008, according to new data released by PayNet Inc and it may lead lenders to offer better terms said William Phelan, PayNet’s president and founder.

“It indicates that it’s not a very competitive market right now,” said Phelan, whose Skokie, Illinois-based company released the data as part of the launch of its new Credit Shopping Indicator, which measures the number of lenders a borrower shops for business credit. “In 2008 you would have expected it to be high because of the recession and the lack of availability of credit.”

Big banks see slow recovery for small business

Marc Bernstein’s response to reports of loan facilitators advising small business clients to avoid big banks: “It’s simply bad information.”

The head of Wells Fargo’s small business lending initiatives then pointed to the $3.7 billion the country’s fourth-largest bank (by total assets) lent to small firms over the first three months of the year – an increase of 27 percent over the first quarter of 2010.

“That’s not small change,” said Bernstein, who added Wells Fargo is the largest national lender of loans under $100,000 and was recently honored as the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 2011 Large 7(a) Lender of the Year. “We are trying to do everything we can to get people who apply for a loan approved, but the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of small businesses that unfortunately have been hit very badly by the downturn and are struggling and it’s hard to see how they’re going to handle more debt.”

Small business confidence taking a beating

All those pundits who declared the current recession dead and buried, obviously haven’t been talking to small business owners.

Chapman University economists are the latest to announce the official end of the recession – with the codicil that the recovery will be more tortoise than hare.

In stark contrast to that report is the latest National Federation of Independent Business survey that shows small business confidence is locked in a downward spiral, that is worse than at any time during the last big recession in 1981-82.

Beer startup needs to create a buzz

Erica Shea (L) and Stephen Valand. REUTERS/Julie Gordon

As the jobless rate climbed toward 10 percent this summer, Erica Shea and Stephen Valand, quit their advertising jobs, took $10,000 in personal savings and started selling their 1-gallon home brew beer kits from a stand at the Brooklyn Flea Market, testing the theory that beer is recession proof.

“When you go from an actual salary down to $0 an hour, it’s quite an adjustment,” admitted Shea, who got the bug for beer making after she stumbled across her dad’s old home brewing kit. But when Shea and Valand went to brew their first batch they discovered there was no place in New York to buy the ingredients, so they created the Brooklyn Brew Shop. The kits take up only a foot of floor space and come with everything needed to brew your own beer.

Shea said they opened their stand, which they rent for $100 a day, on the July 4th weekend, but sold just five kits. By the end of the month they had moved 40 kits, which go for $40, or $30 without grain. The kits, which make about 12 bottles through a four-week process, include a 1-gallon glass jug, some tubing, a racking cane, a thermometer, sanitizer and the yeast, hops and grain. (read the full story here)

America’s economic recovery lies in the middle market

bonneytom5x5Thomas Bonney is founder and managing director of CMF Associates, a financial consulting, staffing and recruiting firm based in Philadelphia, PA, that serves private equity, middle-market and small-cap public companies nationally. The views expressed are his own.

In his 1988 Republican National Convention acceptance speech, George Bush championed the tradition of the American community, describing it as “a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”

More than 20 years later, this tradition still forms the core of our country’s strength – particularly the “thousand points of light” that comprise our medium-sized, family- and private-equity owned business community. I believe it is this community that will ultimately drive the tailwind of economic recovery and growth.

Is your business failing? It’s your fault

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Brace yourself, because George Cloutier has some unsettling news: your failing business is your fault.

Cloutier is the no-nonsense CEO of American Management Services and author of Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing, a literary slap in the face to small- and medium-size business owners who wonder why sales are slipping and cash is tight.

Like the gruff boss he urges small business leaders to be, Cloutier doesn’t waste any time trying to get you to like him — he wants your respect, and his book fires off rules without apology: “Love your business more than your family”, “End your denial” and, perhaps most startling, “Give up golf – it’s a waste of time!”

Is the government giving small biz a fair shake?

smallbiz

Last year was a record for small businesses, which scooped up more than $93 billion in federal contracts, a $10 billion jump from a year earlier, according to a report by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

It’s good news to be sure, but critics are already grumbling that the government only allotted 21.5 percent of its promised 23 percent target to small businesses for fiscal 2008.

Key among their complaints:

* High costs: Small businesses often opt out of the running for government contracts for fear that they can’t absorb the proposal costs that can run as high as $25,000 to $500,000, The Washington Post reports.

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