Here’s a roundup of some of the news last week from the On Small Business Blog. Check back daily.
Many small firms are worried about whether they’ll be in business next year, and they’re blaming their fears on Uncle Sam.
More than one out of three small-business owners are moderately or very worried about going under in 2012, according to a recent Gallup/Wells Fargo poll. Roughly the same number of owners are concerned they will be unable to hire new employees, unable to pay their current workers and struggle to compete with their large competitors.
The statistics were derived from interviews with 604 small-business owners conducted earlier this month (margin of error of 4 percentage points). The data was weighted to reflect the views of business owners with less than $20 million in sales or revenue.
The group also released its latest small-business index, which is meant to convey owners’ ratings of the present economic climate and their expectations for the near future. After turning positive (+12) in January for the first time since early 2009, the index dipped back down to 0 this summer and has gone negative (-3).
So what’s ailing small business? Twenty-two percent of those polled said government regulations represent the biggest thorn in their side.
— J.D. Harrison
Frank Lavin has spent years giving business owners a single piece of key advice: expand abroad.
Over the years, though, the Commerce Department’s former undersecretary for international trade realized this was easier said than done.
“The smaller the company, the less practical it becomes to learn a new language, deal with new tax codes and currencies and to take a huge global risk,” said Lavin, also a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore.
He is hoping his new Internet service Export Now can fix that by connecting American businesses with Chinese consumers.
Here is how it works: American businesses mail their goods, on consignment, to Export Now’s U.S. facilities. From there, items are collected and shipped by sea to a warehouse in China. Once the merchandise arrives in China, business owners can begin advertising and selling their items on Tmall.com, an online marketplace similar to eBay.
“For the American business, this is just like a domestic sale,” Lavin said. “They deal with U.S. sales representatives and do business in dollars. And for the Chinese customers, it has the convenience of a local transaction: they pay in yuan and get the product within a matter of days.”
There is an annual fee of $3,000, plus a 10 percent transaction fee on each sale. Lavin hopes to have between 10 and 20 companies signed up by the end of this year.
— Abha Bhattarai
The Federal Communications Commission is creating an online tool to help small businesses — which account for about 40 percent of cyberattacks — protect themselves against breaches of security, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said at a launch event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 24.
The Small Biz Cyber Planner, which will be available in November, will help business owners identify viruses and malware.
Until then, here are some tips from a panel of experts assembled by the chamber:
Turn on your computer’s firewall and anti-virus software and make a habit of checking for updates every month or every quarter.
Choose a secure password. One-third of people use the same password for everything, making them particularly susceptible to wide-spread attacks, said Richard Wang of cybersecurity firm SophosLabs.
Contract with an outside party for credit card payments so sensitive information is not stored on your company’s servers.
Enable security logs that track all user activity. This is the first thing law enforcement officers will ask for if there is a security breach.
— Abha Bhattarai