5 Things I Did Not Know Before Local Lift 2013

Local Lift's fantastic venue - HVCC's new TEC-SMART Campus

Local Lift’s fantastic venue – HVCC’s new TEC-SMART Campus

Local Lift 2013 lived up to its promise and more. An initiative of Capital District Local First, Local Lift was a one-day workshop for independent business located in and around Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties. The event was built around a number of sessions addressing insurance, finance, marketing, social media and green certifications, creating a fast-paced, information-rich day for those who attended. Here are my top five takeaways from the event.

Health insurance for small business owners is about to get simpler.

Starting this October, small businesses and individuals are about to get the same bargaining power as large corporations in selecting affordable health insurance. The New York Health Exchange‘s Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) will allow employers to open up a gamut of options, allowing employees to choose between multiple carriers, different plans and coverage tiers. Employers can set contributions caps by percentage or fixed dollar amounts and will receive a single bill every month. While the Affordable Care Act makes health coverage a mandatory offering for larger companies (50+ employees), the Health Exchange does create opportunities for smaller companies to do the right thing. Enrollment begins October 1, 2013.

Community Service Society offers counselling and guidance to employers looking to navigate the changing health insurance landscape. Their Small Business Assistance Program provides more details, including a helpline number.

Mentoring is an email away.

This event wasn’t the first time I had heard of SCORE, a nationwide association of volunteer business mentors, but it was the first time the message really sunk in. I had access to experienced professionals ready to counsel, advise and guide me for free! This was an opportunity no newbie entrepreneur should pass up. SCORE offers access to over 13000 mentors online, each with a detailed individual profile listing their areas of expertise and years of experience. The website has dozens of templates and worksheets, ranging from basic business plans and book-keeping essentials to advice on mergers and exit strategies. SCORE Northeast offers face-to-face counselling at their Albany office, meetings can be setup online. The representatives at Local Lift were exceptionally welcoming, full of energy and charm. They have definitely convinced one entrepreneur to make an appointment.

There are ways for small businesses to get free legal help.

The Legal Project, a non-profit founded by the Capital District Women’s Bar Association, offers pro-bono legal services for a variety of needs, small business being one of them. They cover a wide range of issues, from starting or expanding a business, negotiating leases and contracts, reviewing copyright and trademark claims to managing employment issues.

Affordable alternatives to the home office exist.

Beahive, Beacon’s export to Albany, is much more than shared work space. Offering a mix of work and recreation amenities, Beahive is open, flexible and surprisingly affordable. Solo-preneurs can choose to work at the location once a month and expand to a monthly rental with access to a number of conveniences. For those finding it increasing hard to work from home or just plain bored, Beahive could be your new hang-out.

Chambers of Commerce are not the only options for business networking.

Local First of the Capital Region is shaping up to be an exciting alternative business association in the area. For enterprises that believe in circulating money in the local economy, Local First plans to offer referral programs, cooperative marketing and advertisement discounts, networking events, group discounts and bartering opportunities. They have streamlined their membership application and they did a bang-up job of organizing Local Lift this year on volunteer time. Here’s wishing them greater success!

[ The venue for Local Lift, the shiny, new TEC-SMART campus of Hudson Valley Community College deserves special mention. Dedicated to the high-tech course offerings of HVCC, the campus houses a dozen classrooms, labs and an intimate auditorium, all enclosed in a strikingly beautiful building. The campus is powered by a combination of wind, solar and geothermal energy and makes for a fantastic conference venue in the Capital Region. ]


5 Things To Do Before Starting A “Buy Local” Campaign

A Farmer's Market at Saline, MI (cc Dwight Burdette, 2010)

A Farmer’s Market at Saline, MI (cc Dwight Burdette, 2010)

As the holiday season draws to a close and the New Year looms on the horizon, it seems like a good moment to sit back, draw a deep breath and reflect on the months past. And time to start sorting out those receipts. Let’s face it. The year-end festivities have become one-long shopping extravaganza. The National Retail Federation estimates that the average shopper will part with $740.57, adding up to a whopping $586.1 billion nationwide. Family gifts will make up the biggest share of the budget, a good $420. Shoppers are likely to shell out over $100 on candy and food, $45+ on cards and flowers and $50+ on decor. (Yes, that is right, all that holiday decor adds up to a $6.9 billion industry!) Continue reading

“Made In USA” Claims: A Quick And Dirty Guide

“Made in USA”, Lupor Metal Products, NY (CC Joe M., 2007)

Have you ever bought a product because it said “Made in USA”? I have, because I believe in buying local. Because I hoped that my money would go towards creating jobs and help businesses grow, creating local economies that are largely self-supporting. I looked at the label that boldly stated that it was manufactured in this country and I trusted the company. Ah, the innocence! Little did I know that claiming to be “Made in USA” is a territory marked with loopholes, misinformation, ambiguous labeling and outright lies. “All-American” goods like Converse sneakers and Levi’s jeans are made overseas. Good old American cars are from Mexico. Coors is equal part Canadian, Brazilian and South African as it is American. New Balance is in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the advertising watchdog, for making “American Made” claims, as was Craftsman. The list is long and saddening. Continue reading

Sustainability Reporting For Small Businesses – Five Questions To Ask Yourself.

Nike wins Best Sustainability Report 2010 at Ceres ACCA Awards (Copyright: Nike, Inc., 2010)

Have you ever sat at a restaurant and wondered what the kitchen looks like? Do they keep all the surfaces clean? Do they use fresh ingredients? Do they follow the “Employees must wash hands” policy to the letter and then some? If only the kitchen had glass walls, the germophobe in you thinks wistfully. Now extend that to knowing what went into any everyday product, where they were made and what happens to them once you throw them out and you have a wonderful, transparent world. With the multitude of information sources on the internet, that scenario is not that unthinkable. Customers, investors, employees or any concerned citizen can find and create searchable information on businesses. What about companies themselves? One way for businesses looking to stay one step ahead and put out accurate, permanently available and third-party reviewed information on their operating practices is to publish a sustainability report. Continue reading