West Points

Friday, January 17, 2014

Am I in Business?

by Heather Gurewitz
Women's Business Center Director
West Company

I’m not in business...or am I?

You don’t have to have a retail store in downtown Fort Bragg to be a business owner. Many people on the coast are “in business” and yet, they usually don’t know it.  However, if you are making a product, selling a service, or in some way taking money from someone for something that you do, you are probably in business.  There are more kinds of businesses than people realize.  A small side business that generates a few thousand dollars a year in supplemental income is still a business and many families on the coast depend on them to meet their needs.

A microbusiness is the most common business on the coast, which includes self-employed individuals. Microbusinesses have anywhere from 1-5 employees, including the owner and include retail stores, anyone offering house cleaning, gardening, or handyman services, as well as internet businesses, and consultants. It also includes crafters and food producers that sell at craft fairs and farmers markets.

In determining if you are “in business” there is a simple two-part question to ask: Do you have an employer that pays you for the work you do? If the answer is no, do you get paid for the work you do? If the answer is yes, then you are in business.

You should also determine if your business is a “hobby” business. Does it matter if you make a profit from your business? If it doesn’t matter than it is not really a business, but actually a hobby, however you are still subject to all laws, licensing, and permitting requirements as if you were in business.

 If the goal of your business is to make money to support your livelihood and you need money to survive, then you are in business and it is important to treat your time and investment as such.

Starting a business is not difficult. Anyone can fill out the paperwork at city hall, sign a lease, open a store, and sell something to someone else. However, starting a successful sustainable business, even one that seems simple is often more complicated.  There are many details that often get overlooked and can make a difference between success and failure.

West Company, as host to the Small Business Development Center and Women’s Business Center, offers a range of free business consulting services. If you are an aspiring or existing owner of a side business, service business, or even a small business, there are a number of free resources that can help you improve your income.  For more information visit www.westcompany.org.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Week Four/Five

by Heather Gurewitz
WBC Director

It is getting more difficult to write my blogs during session, there are so many important questions to answer.  Everyone is making progress, well, at least everyone who is left. Writing a business plan is hard. It takes a lot of thought, effort, and persistence. We are down to five participants. Considering we started with 10, I am really proud of the writers who are sticking it out. This is a rigorous program.  Everyone is getting close to finishing, but considering we have only 2 weeks left after this, there is a lot of work to do!  Tonight we started on financials. Luckily most people have already been working on this so it isn't too treacherous.  I see a lot of progress being made, I just hope we can beat the clock!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Business Plan Writer's Group, Week 2

by Heather Gurewitz
WBC Director for West Company

This week's major challenge is the flu bug that is sweeping the country by storm.  I was "lucky" to have got hit hard Friday night and "conveniently" had Monday off for the holiday. So I haven't had to miss any work. But we are definitely missing a few tonight because of this virulent flu that's going around.  However, unlike last week where there was a lot of confusion and fear about putting the pen to the paper this week there is not much but the quiet sound of key tapping as those of us that have made it type away! Questions this week seem to be much more specific, revolving around specifics of business operations, in particular, billing policies, type of business, etc.   I try my best to answer through a film of cotton in my head. I am also working to get people to really start thinking about numbers in their plans. Putting numbers to the plan is essential and it is best to do it as soon as possible. It is a struggle, but it makes things easier in the long run.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Business Plan Challenge - Week 1

by Heather Gurewitz
Women's Business Center Director for West Company

This week marks the first week of West Company's Business Plan Writer's Group. 10 women, 6 weeks, 9 plans being written simultaneously. A challenge for who? The women in the group? Me the facilitator? Both.  I love the Writer's Group.  I love helping people actually move their plans forward in a supportive and fun environment.  Unfortunately it is also my job to sometimes be the whip-cracker and our two volunteers from Soroptimists of Fort Bragg (our financial sponsor for the program)  were  both down with the nasty flu and unable to attend.  The biggest challenge for me: making sure everyone had what they needed and knew what they were supposed to be doing.  The biggest challenge for the participants: getting started.  I saw a lot of analysis paralysis and found myself saying over and over again "just get started, you can always change it later, if you don't know what to write, skip it and move to something that you do know. You can always go back." This is good advice for anyone writing a plan. Just remember, one drop starts the waterfall! Biggest Accomplishment for the night: Everyone who attended got something written, including me!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A day of inspiration...of the business kind

by Heather Gurewitz
Mendocino Women's Business Center Director

Sometimes we go through our routines (no matter how un-routine they may be) and things just seem stagnant.  And then there are days of inspiration...

Like when you see a client make a huge leap in their business development, launching their website, online store, and making sales! Such is the case with Delphine Davidson of Days Pharm.  She came to me with her product, Ultra Pure Breast Cream, and although we had some shaky moments I have seen her follow through with her plan, launch her business, and start selling her very unique product. Something that is always inspiring to the business consultant. (read more about Delphine in our client spotlight)

And then there are the youth at Shelter Cove. While I wish I could say I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a wild success, it has been a difficult project.  While we planned well and had great help from Matson's Building Materials and design help from Wheeler Munroe, I have to say I was really nervous until Ray, our dedicated volunteer showed up to help us.  While I wasn't surprised, I was more impressed that the students were able to pull together and complete the construction of a dog house in a day, yes, there is still work to do, but the day was a major accomplishment, and extremely inspiring.  Oh, and of course we still have two more dog houses to sell.  You can order on their website.

Everyone's work can be stressful, but on days when the magic happens and all that hard work actually pays off, it is all worthwhile!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pseudo-phone numbers, a Must for Start-Ups?

by Heather Gurewitz
Mendocino Women's Business Center Director
As more people are looking toward starting a business and self employment, there are some conflicts of interest that come up. For example, for professionalism as well as personal safety you want to have a separate business line, something different from your personal number or your house phone. However, a new business line can be expensive to set up, cost prohibitive in most cases, and in many ways less efficient. Yet, especially for women entrepreneurs, having a published personal number is not desirable, especially if you plan to have flyers pasted all over town. So, how do you maintain personal safety and privacy and a high level of professionalism? Technology to the rescue! Both Google and Skype are offering FREE "phone numbers" that you can link to your existing telephones. While I am not as familiar with the Skype version, with Google it is very simple. You set up your Google voice number so that it rings your home, cell, and/or other number choice. The best part is, if you have caller ID, you can have your Google number show up when calls come through so you know how to answer. And, if you decide a year down the road to get a business line in your new building, you don't need to necessarily change your number. You can just forward it to the new business line. Did I mention this was free?

If you are starting a business, there are a number of free online tools to check out. These are great ways to make your start-up experience more seamless and reduce those hefty expenses. For more on starting a business take our Building a Better Business series!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

QR Codes: Post Purchase Power?

by Heather Gurewitz

Mendocino Women's Business Center Director

I recently noticed a QR code on the inside of my phone bill, inside the container of my commercially grown strawberries, and on some other products for post-purchase clicking. So, is there value to post purchase QR codes? I think there may be...

One of the fundamental questions I always tell my clients to ask themselves is: "Are you making it as easy and convenient as possible for people to give you their money?" If the answer is not yes, the next question is: "How can you make it easier?"

If you are sending someone an invoice with "due on receipt", it probably still goes into a pile with other bills that are due on receipt and require the writing of a check. Even if you have a "pay on-line" option, that person still has to go find your online payment system, probably set up an account and make the payment. However, if you generate a QR code (which takes about 15 seconds) to put on every bill you send out that takes people directly to their balance due with the option to pay immediately with a credit card, paypal, or even checking account, imagine the possibilities.

Your client, instead of putting the bill in the stack, clicks on the QR code which takes them to your online PayPal, Google Checkout, or other merchant account, and allows them to pay immediately via their smart phone. I wish I could offer a guarantee that this would work, but hey, it's the world of business so instead we have to review risk versus potential outcome. So, what do you risk? 15 seconds of time making a QR code and maybe another 30 pasting it into the proper spot on the invoice. What's the reward? A faster turnover of accounts receivable means more available cash for the business, resulting in you sleeping better at night because you don't have to worry about your rent check bouncing.

While I still agree that QR codes are imperfect, as mobile technology grows, so does the market. In our recent survey most people said the cost was prohibitive, but as the efficiency, applicability, and access to the technology grows, more and more people are going to be using it, especially those with purchase power. So, if they have the power, let them purchase! Make it easier for people to give you their money. It's good for your business.