Small Business Skills

Transition: At Its Heart, The Localist Movement is About Love…


From BALLE
Thanks to Mari Rodin

First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech this week has been described by many as unique in the world of politics. Political affiliations aside, what moved so many of us was her use of a particular word, used repeatedly, throughout her speech: Love.  Politicians don’t often talk about love, but it is a word we use at BALLE. And this week something happened that could be described as an outpouring of love in Bellingham, Washington, the community where I live.

A 15-year old natural foods store, Terra Organica/Public Market, put out a call for help on facebook last week. This is a BALLE business and a member of local business network Sustainable Connections. The owner, Stephen Trinkhaus admitted he’d taken some expansion risks the past year that had over-extended their business. He said that they were now on the brink of closing.

He said he had decided to ask for help because if they closed, 60 people would lose their jobs — and because he really believes in what he offers our community. If they closed, we would have fewer healthy, thoughtfully selected products and services. So he asked if we’d consider shopping there…a lot…in the next few weeks.

Within hours the Bellingham Herald had posted his letter on their website and by closing their sales had already increased by $2,000 for the day. The next day was their busiest day in all of 2012, and the following day was their busiest in fifteen years of doing business here.

A customer came in and offered a $1,000 check as a gift! Others contributed money as well. One person had the idea of buying extra food to give to the food bank, and through facebook, many others decided to do the same. Far away friends of friends on facebook sent in donations! A local citizen organized a “cash mob” to be held five days after the plea for help

Stop rigging the system against small business…


From ELIZABETH WARREN
Politico

I meant what I said.

I stood before a group of voters in Massachusetts last year and talked about what it would take to move forward as a nation. I laid out how we all needed to invest in our country, to build a strong foundation for our families today and make sure the next kid with the great idea has the chance to succeed.

But too often that kid can’t succeed because the system is rigged against him.

Small-business owners bust their tails every day. They’re the first ones in and the last to leave, six and often seven days a week. That’s how my Aunt Alice ran her small restaurant, where I worked as a kid. My brother and my daughter both started small businesses. And I’ve visited and talked with small-business owners across Massachusetts. From the insurance agency in Brockton to the coffee shop in Greenfield and the manufacturing plant in Lawrence – all started and run by people with good ideas and a determination to succeed.

Small Biz: Pragmatic Entrepreneurial Populism



From MIKE LUX
The Huffington Post

The progressive movement is at a challenging but fascinating time in our country’s history. Even when the Democrats had a newly-elected president who ran on a platform of big change, 60 votes in the Senate, a big margin of control in the House and the most progressive Speaker in history, we still had trouble getting big changes passed. We accomplished some important things, but not nearly as much or as progressively as we had hoped. Now, with a Republican House,

Small Biz: In Broken Market, ‘Swipe’ Fees Must Be Regulated


 

By LARRY NANNIS
Business Week

Small merchants pay too much to process credit- and debit-card transactions. The Fed’s proposed rules will be far more fair—unless big banks and card issuers block them

America’s small business owners have long endured a broken credit-card and debit-card processing market and its attendant ills. Visa, MasterCard, and issuing banks have long charged merchants interchange—or “swipe”) fees every time a consumer makes a payment with a credit or debit card. The fees are excessive for merchants of all sizes, but tier pricing disproportionately affect small companies because their transaction volume is lower than that of their large competitors.

Survey Finds “Buy Local” Message Benefitting Independent Businesses



From NEW RULES PROJECT

For the fourth year in a row, a national survey of independent businesses has found that those in communities with an active “buy local” campaign have experienced markedly stronger revenue growth compared to those located in areas without such a campaign.

The survey, which was conducted over an 8-day period in January, gathered data from 2,768 independent businesses, including retailers, service providers, restaurants and others. It found that those in places with a “buy local” initiative reported revenue growth of 5.6% on average in 2010, compared to 2.1% for those elsewhere.

Among independent retailers, which accounted for nearly half the respondents, there was a similar gap in holiday sales performance, with those in “buy local” communities seeing a 5.2% increase in holiday sales, while those elsewhere

A New Deal for Local Economies: The Good News


From STACY MITCHELL
Sheepless.org
Story here

A New Deal for Local Economies: II. The Birth of Corporations
A New Deal for Local Economies: III. Bigger Is Not Better
A New Deal for Local Economies: IV. The Value of Community
A New Deal for Local Economies: V. Keeping Money Local

Let me begin by sharing some good news. Scattered here and there, in my country and in yours, the seeds of a new, more local and durable economy are taking root.

Locally grown food has soared in popularity. There are now 5,274 active farmers markets in the United States. Remarkably, almost one of every two of these markets was started within the last decade.(1)  Food co-ops and neighborhood greengrocers are likewise on the rise.

Some 400 new independent bookstores have opened in the last four years.(2) Neighborhood hardware stores are making a comeback in some cities. More students graduating from pharmacy school report that they would rather open their own drugstore than work for chain. In April, even as Virgin Megastores prepared to shutter its last U.S. record emporium, more than a thousand independent music stores were mobbed for the second annual Record Store Day.

Small Business News from the New Rules Project


From NEW RULES PROJECT

Misrepresenting Small Business
In this commentary for Business Week, the New Rules Project’s Stacy Mitchell argues that the two groups that have traditionally spoken for small business in Washington often push an agenda that only big business could love . READ MORE

Grassroots Financing is Underwriting a New Crop of Neighborhood Businesses
Securing a loan to open a new independent bookstore in Brooklyn looked like a long shot even before the financial crisis. After the meltdown, it seemed downright impossible.

Then business partners Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting hit on an idea: they turned to neighbors and future customers to help finance the business, raising $70,000 in small loans in a few months.

Although no hard data exist, the number of businesses relying on their customers and neighbors for financing appears to be on the rise. Just as CSAs have played a key role in the rebirth of small-scale farms, so too may these new community-supported enterprise models help launch a new generation of independent grocers, bookstores, and other neighborhood businesses.   READ MORE

Farm to Family School Bus Turned Farmers Market


From INTERIOR DESIGN

If you see a school bus rolling down the streets of Richmond, Virginia, look closer- that bus might not be transporting school children, but fresh produce from the peripheral rural farming areas around the city. Mark Lilly has transformed a 1987 diesel school bus into a mobile produce market in order to connect local farms with communities to re-establish a personal relationship with locally grown food, and of course to encourage better eating and general well-being. Farm to Family, the bus market and CSA program, changes its offerings throughout the year to reflect what’s growing every season. And the space itself, inside the bus, is smartly planned and built-out as a sturdy framework for toting vegetables around town. Check out their website to see where they’re pulling up next!

~~

Dave Pollard: How a Community-Based Co-op Economy Might Work


From DAVE POLLARD
How To Save The World

Most people have been brought up to believe that the competitive, grow-or-die, absentee-shareholder-owned, “free”-trade “market” economy is the only one that works, the only alternative to a socialist, government-run economy. This myth is perpetrated in business and other schools, by the media, by accountants and lawyers and bankers and, of course, in the business world. This amoral-capitalist economic model has “succeeded” in the same hostile way our species has “succeeded” — by brutally suppressing, starving for resources, using power to steal from, and, when all else fails, killing off anything deemed a “competitor” or threat to its monopoly on power and resources. It relies on massive subsidies and near-zero interest rates thanks to well-rewarded political cronies, on political graft and corruption worldwide, on oligopoly and restraint of competition, on wage slavery and worker ignorance, on phony money and unrepayable debt, and on advertising, human insecurity, ego and greed to create an artificial demand for its shoddy, overpriced crap. And, on top of all that, it’s utterly unsustainable.

For an alternative, natural economy to work, we either have to wait for this amoral-capitalist economy to collapse (which it will, but probably not for a few decades), or we have to plant the seeds for this alternative economy in the cracks where the current one is already failing most badly — at the community level where the economy is most obviously failing to produce meaningful work, sucking resources, wealth and opportunity out, and dumping mass-produced and imported crap that ends up in the landfill, and pollutants in our air, water, soil and food that make us sick and contribute to climate change…

more here
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What is Lump Charcoal and Why Use It?


From THE LUMP CHARCOAL DATABASE

[Years ago, when I learned Alice Waters over at Chez Panisse in Berkeley used Lazzari Mesquite Charcoal in her restaurant grilling, I converted from briquettes and have used only Mesquite since. The co-op now carries lump charcoal and so does the Farm Supply. I get large bags of Lazzari Mesquite from Harvest Market in Fort Bragg when we are over on the coast. Lamb sausage hot dogs, and lamb burgers, from Owens Family Farm in Hopland, over mesquite... oh, yeah! I'm headed to the Farmers Market right now. And: Is lump charcoal a local business opportunity? (see photos below) -DS]

What is charcoal?

In general, wood charcoal is a substance obtained by partial burning or destructive distillation of wood. It is largely pure carbon. Wood charcoal is prepared by heating wood in the absence of oxygen. In this process volatile compounds in the wood (e.g., water, hydrogen, methane and tars) pass off as vapors into the air, and the carbon is converted into charcoal. (Tar is a generic name for big, smoky, sticky molecules that form liquids when they’re cool. The tars, in particular, can contain carcinogenic compounds, like benzo-A-pyrene.) With the volatile component driven off, you are left with wood charcoal that is about 20 to 25-percent of the original volume of the wood. It’s chiefly carbon, with traces of volatile chemicals and ash. When it burns, it won’t produce as much smoke as burning wood, and it will burn long, hot and steady. Charcoal, being almost pure carbon, yields a larger amount of heat in proportion to its volume than is obtained from a corresponding quantity of wood.

What forms does charcoal come in?

As far as cooking is concerned, there are two main forms, lump charcoal and briquettes. Lump charcoal is charcoal which has not been formed into briquettes. Briquettes are the pillow shaped little pieces of compressed ground charcoal.

Which is better, lump or briquettes?

Doc Searls: The Bottom Line Isn’t Everything


From DOC SEARLS
Linux Journal

Is there something new that [computer] open source development methods and values can bring to the economy? How about something old?

I think the answer may come from the developing world, where pre-industrial methods and values persist and offer some helpful models and lessons for a networked world that’s less post-industrial than industrial in a new and less impersonal way.

This began to become apparent to me a few years ago I had a Socratic exchange with a Nigerian pastor named Sayo, whom I was lucky to find sitting next to me on a long airplane trip. We were both on speaking junkets. He was coming from an event related to his latest work: translating the Bible to Yoruba, one of the eight languages he spoke. I was on my way to give a talk about The Cluetrain Manifesto, a book I co-authored.

My main contribution to Cluetrain was a chapter called “Markets are conversations. Sayo asked me what we meant by that. After hearing my answer, he acknowledged that our observations were astute, but also incomplete. Something more was going on in markets than just transactions and conversations, he said. What was it?

I said I didn’t know. Here is the dialogue that followed, as close to verbatim as I can recall it…

“Pretend this is a garment”, Sayo said, picking up one of those blue airplane pillows. “Let’s say you see it for sale in a public market in my country, and you are interested in buying it. What is your first question to the seller?”

“What does it cost?” I said.

“Yes”, he answered. “You would ask that. Let’s say he says, ‘Fifty dollars’. What happens next?”

“If I want the garment, I bargain with him until we reach an agreeable price.”

“Good. Now let’s say you know something about textiles. And the two of you get into a long conversation where both of you learn much from each other. You learn about the origin of the garment, the yarn used, the dyes, the name of the artist, and so on. He learns about how fabric is made in your country, how distribution works, and so on. In the course of this you get to know each other. What happens to the price?”

The Soul Desires Expression at Work


From JOHN O’DONOHUE
Anam Cara (Soul Friend) 1998

For many people, the workplace is unsatisfactory and permits neither growth nor creativity. More often than not, it is an anonymous place where function and image have control since work demands such labor and effort, it has always made the worker vulnerable. Even in the ancient Celtic tradition, negativity could be harnessed to make nature work against the worker…

In the modern workplace, a negative atmosphere can be very destructive. When we speak of an individual, we speak of his presence. Presence is the way a person’s individuality comes toward you. Presence is the soul texture of the person. When we speak of this presence in relation to a group of people, we refer to it as atmosphere or ethos. The ethos of a workplace is a very subtle group presence. It is difficult to describe or analyze an ethos; yet you immediately sense its power and effect. Where the ethos is positive, wonderful things can happen. It is a joy to come to work because the atmosphere comes out to meet you and it is caring, kind, and creative. If the ethos of the workplace is negative and destructive, then when people wake up in the morning, their first thought of going to work literally makes them ill. It is lonely that so many people have to spend so much of their short time in the world in a negative and destructive work ethos. The workplace can be quite hostile; it is often an environment of power. You are working for people who have power over you. They have the power to sack you, criticize and bully you, or compromise your dignity. This is not a welcoming atmosphere. People have power over us because we give our power away to them…

Frequently people in power are not as strong as they might wish to appear. Many people who desperately hunger for power are weak. They seek power positions to compensate for their own fragility and vulnerability. A weak person in power can never be generous with power because they see questions or alternative possibilities as threatening their own supremacy and dominance. If you are going to be creatively confrontational with such a person, you need to approach that person very gently in a nondirect manner. This is the only way that the word of your truth can reach such a frightened, powerful person.

The workplace as a place of power can also be a place of control. Control is destructive because it reduces your own independence and autonomy. You are placed back in an infantile role where you are dealing with an authority figure. Because of our untransfigured relationship to our parents, we sometimes turn authority figures into giants. There is a crucial distinction here between power and authority. When you are awake to the integrity of your inner power, then you are your own authority. The word authority signifies your authorship of your ideas and actions. The world functions through power structures.

5 Free and Open-Source Software Alternatives for Small Businesses


From MASHABLE

[...] Many business owners and managers don’t realize is that they can get all the software they need to run a business — quite literally all of it in most cases — 100% free of charge. That includes operating systems, word processing programs, accounting software, email servers, graphic design programs and more.

If you put in some time to do some research, you might find perfectly free software alternatives that work just as well as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop (Adobe Photoshop), QuickBooks, and other better-known programs.

Best of all, since FOSS is free to download and try, there’s no risk in testing it out. Take a look at some of these programs and see if a few of them would fit your business needs…

GIMP is a free Photoshop substitute that will satisfy all but the most demanding professional graphic designers. If you need to make simple web graphics, retouch a few product photos, or create flyers or other marketing materials, this program should work nicely for you. It’s robust, and if you’ve used Photoshop or Photoshop-like clone programs, the interface and commands will be familiar to you. The images you create can be saved in an array of common formats, including PSD Photoshop files, in case you need to send your files to a Photoshop user.

All in all, GIMP might be the single greatest money-saver on this list. It’s completely free, whereas a single Photoshop license — which you’ll need to pay for again each time Adobe releases a new version of the software — can cost hundreds of dollars per user…

For years, there’s been the commonly held idea that Linux OSes are command-line intensive, difficult to use, easy to crash and generally for nerds only. Much of this “fear, uncertainty and doubt” has come from corporate entities that benefit most from these drastic misperceptions. While you might want to reach out for a little help when installing your Linux OS for the first time, you’ll be shocked at how simple and user-friendly a Linux distro (that’s short for “distribution,” the Linux term for version) can be. The interfaces are elegant and intuitive, much more so than even Windows or Mac for many users…

1. OpenOffice open-source alternative to Microsoft Office.

2. GNUCash …alternative for Microsoft Money and Quicken

3. GIMP …alternative for Photoshop

4. Zimbra …alternative for Microsoft Exchange email

5. Linux …alternative for Windows and MacOS

More details here.
~~

Seth Godin: Goodbye to the office


From SETH GODIN

Factories used to be arranged in a straight line. That’s because there was one steam engine, and it turned a shaft. All the machines were set up along the shaft, with a belt giving each of them power. The office needed to be right next to this building, so management could monitor what was going on.

150 years later, why go to work in an office/plant/factory?

1. That’s where the machines are.

2. That’s where the items I need to work on are.

3. The boss needs to keep tabs on my productivity.

4. There are important meetings to go to.

5. It’s a source of energy.

6. The people I collaborate with all day are there.

7. I need someplace to go.

But…

1. If you have a laptop, you probably have the machine already, in your house.

2. If you do work with a keyboard and a mouse, the items you need to work on are on your laptop, not in the office.

3. The boss can easily keep tabs on productivity digitally.

4. How many meetings are important? If you didn’t go, what would happen?

5. You can get energy from people other than those in the same company.

6. Of the 100 people in your office, how many do you collaborate with daily?

7. So go someplace. But it doesn’t have to be to your office.

If we were starting this whole office thing today, it’s inconceivable we’d pay the rent/time/commuting cost to get what we get. I think in ten years the TV show ‘the Office’ will be seen as a quaint antique.

When you need to have a meeting, have a meeting. When you need to collaborate, collaborate. The rest of the time, do the work, wherever you like.

The gain in speed, productivity and happiness is massive. What’s missing is #7… someplace to go. Once someone figures that part out, the office is dead.
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Microbusiness Independence: Invent your way out of the rat race


From ANNA HESS and MARK HAMILTON
Wetknee Books

Did you know that people in pre-Industrial societies worked only 3 hours per day on average?  Why are you working 40+ hours per week when you could feed yourself and your family on just a couple of hours a day?

With less than a thousand dollars in startup costs, we built a small, home-based business which started paying all of our bills in just six months.  I’m here to tell you that you can make money from home too, and in a way that fits a simple, homesteading lifestyle.  In fact, using all of the tips in this book, I’ll bet we could have reached our current work at home income level in half the time.”

Microbusiness Independence is not a get rich quick book. 

E. F. Schumacher Rides Again


E. F. (Fritz) Schumacher

From JOHN MICHAEL GREER
The Archdruid Report

Last week’s Archdruid Report post [Becoming a Third World Country] fielded a thoughtful response from peak oil blogger Sharon Astyk, who pointed out that what I was describing as America’s descent to Third World status could as well be called a future of “ordinary human poverty.” She’s quite right, of course. There’s nothing all that remarkable about the future ahead of us; it’s simply that the unparalleled abundance that our civilization bought by burning through half a billion years of stored sunlight in three short centuries has left most people in the industrial world clueless about the basic realities of human life in more ordinary times.

It’s this cluelessness that underlies so many enthusiastic discussions of a green future full of high technology and relative material abundance. Those discussions also rely on one of the dogmas of the modern religion of progress, the article of faith that the accumulation of technical knowledge was what gave the industrial world its three centuries of unparalleled wealth; since technical knowledge is still accumulating, the belief goes, we may expect more of the same in the future.

See rest of article Why Factories Aren’t Efficient here
~
See also SmallIsBeautiful.org
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Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace


From MICHAEL SHUMAN
Post Carbon Institute Fellow for Local Economies
Via Energy Bulletin

Article Excerpt
It’s time to connect the headlines between persistent unemployment in the United States and growing food insecurity. The next Obama stimulus package should focus on how local food can address both simultaneously.

A study done two years ago found that a 20% shift of retail food spending in Detroit redirected to locally grown foods would create 5,000 jobs and increase local output by half a billion dollars. A similar shift to Detroit-grown food by those living in the five surrounding counties would create 35,000 jobs – far more than ever will come out of the multibillion-dollar bailout of the auto industry. The experience of microenterprise organizations around the country suggests that each of these jobs can be created for $2,000-3,000 of public money–a tiny fraction of the price of the last stimulus.

To some skeptics, locavorism is a cute hobby only embraced by Prius-driving environmentalists in rich countries. Libertarians like those at the Cato Institute argue that the best way to localize is to open Walmarts in every community. Progressives like Peter Singer of Princeton University ask, “If you’re living in a prosperous part of the United States, what’s really ethical about supporting the economy around you rather than, say, buying fairly traded produce from Bangladesh, where you might be supporting smaller, poorer farmers who need a market for their goods?”…

Originally published January 25, 2010 in The Huffington Post

Report Excerpt
From the executive summary of Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace, by Michael Shuman, Alissa Barron and Wendy Wasserman

New Network of Responsible Business Organizations Forms


From Better World Club

Turmoil at the US Chamber of Commerce Is The Backdrop

A number of Responsible Business Organizations came together on October 23rd to agree on principles for a network of responsible business organizations, the American Sustainable Business Council. The groups included New Voice of Business, Green America, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), and B Corporation, among others…

The new network comes together against the backdrop of turmoil at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has announced a hardline stance against action on climate change, a policy that may have breached the Chamber’s internal rules as it was not passed by a board vote.

In September and October 2009, several companies quit the Chamber due to the Chamber’s stance on environmental impact reform, including Exelon Corp, PG&E Corp, PNM Resources, Apple Inc, and Mohawk Fine Paper. Nike, Inc decided to resign their board of directors position but to continue membership. Nike stated that they believe they can better influence policy by being part of the conversation.

Give credit where it’s due: The US Chamber of Commerce “Knows Drama” (our apologies to TNT). In a move calculated to simultaneously grandstand and stall for time (until another round of elections?), the Chamber attempted to force the Environmental Protection Agency to arrange a climate science hearing before any federal climate regulations were passed and in order to challenge the very notion of human-caused climate change.

In any case, regardless of their impact on society and whether they are warming or cooling the earth, the fossil fuels that are a substantial source of climate change are polluting. And products should be priced so that pollution and its impact on 3rd parties are discouraged.

The Chamber opposes the Waxman-Markey energy bill and is threatening to sue the EPA if it regulates greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that such a move would dramatically increase “the price of everything that uses energy.”

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