What your area code says about your business

The choice of area code carries more weight in consumer perception than zip code, according to more than 70 percent of small companies polled in a survey conducted by communications and messaging service company j2 Global Communications Inc.

Nearly the same percentage of business owners said having the right phone number gives them a competitive edge.

“Reinforcing that you’re the right person to be working with, building that credibility is the most important thing (owners) have in building a small business,” said Mike Pugh, j2′s vice president of marketing communications, adding that a San Francisco area code was more likely to be seen as optimal for tech startups, while a Detroit number would be preferable for someone in the automotive industry.

“They really just have the impression they can make,” Pugh said, noting small businesses with 800 numbers and preferred area codes said they are more likely to project an image of greater scale and prestige to their customers. “Having the right phone number really just helps with that impression.”

As Internet and mobile communications take on greater importance in business services, physical presence such as the leasing of expensive real estate diminishes, according to the survey. It found only 8 percent of respondents said location was the most important factor in business image.

from Reuters Money:

Raw deal: Why Groupon might be bad for business

When Fan Bi wanted to get the word out about his new company, Blank Label, he instantly thought of popular daily-deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. By offering a healthy discount for custom-designed dress shirts, “it wouldn’t cost us anything up-front, and we’d get all these new customers,” Bi remembers. “It sounded like a no-brainer.”

So he signed up with the deal site BuyWithMe, offering $100 gift certificates for $50. Only thing is, the discount worked a little too well. Almost 250 customers snapped them up, and after the deal site took its cut, “we were losing around six dollars a shirt,” he says. “If we’re losing money on every single order, it’s not even worth doing.”

It’s a common refrain from merchants who are testing out the increasingly popular daily-deal sites. For customers, as long as you actually cash in the coupon, it’s often a terrific bargain; for business owners, it can be a riskier gamble than they realize.

Author self publishes aromatherapy-scented children’s books

The idea for a children’s aromatherapy-scented book about a rescue dog came to Margaret Hyde in a dream.

“I woke up with the idea for it in the middle of the night, four years ago,” said Hyde, author of the Mo’s Nose book series. “I got up, wrote the idea and wrote the first version of the first story. I even saw it illustrated in Japanese ink brush in my dream.”

The dog in Hyde’s dream belonged to her best friend Amanda Giacomini, whom she asked to illustrate the first book, “Mo Smells Red”. Giacomini didn’t know how to use Japanese ink brush, but learned the skill for the books.

Are peer-to-peer loans a good small business Idea?

– Cynthia Hsu is a contributor to FindLaw’s Free Enterprise blog. FindLaw is a Thomson Reuters publication. This article originally appeared here. –

Have you tried to get funding for your small business, only to get met with denials from banks and other big lenders? Peer-to-peer loans, or person-to-person loans, are a new and rapidly growing area where businesses can get some starter funding.

If you’ve heard of microfinance, the idea behind peer-to-peer loans is fairly similar. A large network of “lenders” come together to help borrowers raise money for various purposes.

from Business Traveller:

The story of LUXE City Guides

His “piece of folded card” has now sold over a million copies; the man behind the sassy and saucy LUXE City Guides explains why no other travel companion comes close

Grant Thatcher, Luxe City Guides' founder and editor

By Grant Thatcher

Two and a half years after arriving in Hong Kong in 1996, and having travelled all over Asia grumbling about how cruddy, boring and unstylish all the available travel guides were, I moved to Bangkok.

I had swiftly come to realise that not only were these guidebooks not written for me, they were written by people with completely different lifestyles, values, needs and interests. Moreover, they were predominantly written by people who didn’t actually live in the city at all, but who were paid to visit and record their thoughts, then edited by someone in a foreign city who had probably never travelled to that destination.

Top 50 small business workplaces

Creating a workplace where employees love to be has been a key factor in the success of Firespring. The Lincoln, Nebraska-based marketing company recently made Inc. magazine and Winning Workplaces’ 2011 Top Small Company Workplaces .

“From the beginning at Firespring, we focused on making sure the employees felt a sense of empowerment and entitlement,” said Jay Wilkinson, CEO of Firespring. “If an employee doesn’t feel like they’re taken care of, then they’re not going to take great care of the customer.”

Besides Firespring, other winners include Cal-Tex Protective Coatings, training company TRX and audio firm Skullcandy. Bob LaPointe, president of Inc. magazine believes it’s important to recognize the commitment of the companies to creating work environments where employees are as important as customers.

Reboot your life by taking a sabbatical

Thinking about taking a break from the working world? You’re not alone. The “Sabbatical Sisters” — Catherine Allen, Nancy Bearg, Rita Foley and Jaye Smith — advocate people give themselves the “gift of time” by taking a sabbatical in their book, “Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career & Life by Taking a Break.”

Reuters interviewed Bearg, a national security consultant, about incorporating sabbaticals into one’s life.

Why take a sabbatical?

We think everyone needs one. There are a number of different reasons to do it. People who are stressed out from work, tired, people who need a career change. People who are nearing retirement might want to take a break to contemplate what to do in retirement.

Fewer small businesses taking summer vacation

– Robin Enos is a contributor to FindLaw’s Free Enterprise blog. FindLaw is a Thomson Reuters publication. –

We’ve written about how small businesses don’t really have a legal obligation to give employees paid vacation time. But what about the owner’s small business vacation time?

You’d think owner vacation time would rank low on small business owners’ priority list. And you would be right. A majority (59 percent) took no vacation last summer, says a report released by American Express.

from Reuters Money:

Self-employed? When to graduate from sole proprietorship

When Darin Edmonds started Waterproofing Solutions, Inc. earlier this year he knew making a go of it wouldn’t be easy in a struggling economy. But he was determined to get things off on the right foot, and to him part of doing that was putting a wall between his personal and business assets by setting up a Subchapter S Corporation.

“When I began in this business 21 years ago it was okay for me to start out as a sole proprietor. At this stage in my life, when I have personal assets to protect, that’s no longer a sensible option,” says the 46-year-old Corona, California, contractor.

Whether they are running a small side business, investing in real estate, or are established professional service or trade professionals like Edmonds, go-it-alone, self-employed individuals typically start out as sole proprietors because it’s easy and relatively uncomplicated. Under a sole proprietorship -- or general partnership if there is more than one owner --a business can get started simply by hanging out a shingle.

Small business at a crossroads

– Jeff Stibel is the chairman and CEO of small business credit rating agency Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. The views expressed are his own. –

What is a small business owner to make of the headlines?

Right now, leading indicators – like lending, hiring and optimism – paint a conflicting picture of the direction of the country’s small business sector. It’s no wonder we’d be confused. It seems one index rises, while another falls.

Take, for example, small business optimism.  There’s no doubt we’ve come a long way from where we were at the bottom of the recession. But, the leading optimism index, calculated by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), still looks like a seismometer in the days following an earthquake.