Must Reads

On The Scene: Businesses try on Twitter

People from all walks of business packed a casual luncheon Tuesday on the second floor of Portland's Bridgeport Brewpub + Bakery. Business cards were swapped left and right, but the focus of the lunch had more to do with the laptops and smart phones lying on the tables than straight-up networking.

The Oregon chapter of the American Marketing Association was holding a “Tweetshop," a workshop designed to help companies use Twitter to its fullest potential. On hand to school the eager learners were digital strategists David Veneski of Intel and Alex Williams of eROI.

The stats brought up during the workshop spoke volumes about the astounding growth of Twitter this year: The site jumped over 131 percent in unique visitors from February to March and reached 23 million unique visitors in June, surpassing the mighty New York Times website and catching up to CNN.com. With such a large user base, networking is easy; Veneski talked about connections he made simply by following people on Twitter. “It’s pretty interesting," Veneski said. "You get access to people you normally wouldn't be able to [reach].” Plus, with users frequently "re-tweeting" other people's posts, Veneski said information can quickly go viral no matter how big your follower base is.

On The Scene: Keeping the mug half full

With the summer sun shining high over Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, throngs of people milled about the grounds in flip-flops and sunglasses holding froth-filled mugs. I was at the 22nd annual Oregon Brewers Festival, curious to find out if people were still willing to spend their hard-earned cash on craft beers.

While admission to the event was free, visitors instead purchased a taster package ranging from $10 to $50 for beer samples or full drinks. But for those in attendance, it was clear that money was no object in their quest to sample the 80 brews available under the wide, roomy tents. Beers from across the country were represented at the festival, but from the conversations I had, a passion for local brews and sharing it with others is what’s keeping the beer economy from running dry, at least in Oregon.

“There’s a real love of the craft brew,” said Ken Baer, co-founder of Portland startup Taplister.com, who was at the festival promoting the company. “‘Craft’ is a perfect word for it. I think people also want to have that sense of community, and in Portland, it seems like the level of pride is going up.”

Your Business: Finding the right recipe

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There are a lot of moving parts that go into starting a successful new business — a good idea, sufficient capital, a quality team, and so on — but a vital, often overlooked factor is the need for a good business recipe.

Your Business: Getting started in e-commerce

Steve: I read your previous column where you suggest that if business is slow in my area (and it is) we should consider getting into e-commerce. I like that idea, but I’m not sure how to start, and I’m not sure what to sell. Thoughts? — Deanna

Deanna: You bet. In fact, I recently did a webinar at AT&T called E-Commerce Essentials that explains the process of creating an e-store and selling online.

Basically, it is a seven-step process.

Your Business: It's time to get schooled

The kids here in Portland go back to school today, and with my youngest starting high school, it occurred to me that some of the advice we routinely give our children could just as easily be given to each other.

Isn’t the following true for your small business? It is for mine.

Your Business: Show us the money

Where do you go if you need some money for your business? Home equity is no longer a solution and credit cards can be a poor one. SBA lending, though better, is still not great. So what do you do?

Given the current state of the credit markets, it was no surprise to read in the Oregonian that “dozens of small-business owners crowded into a downtown meeting room [last] Tuesday to tell U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader that federal efforts to stimulate the economy have skipped over them” and that something must be done to make more money available to responsible small business owners. (Schrader is the chairman of the House Small Business Committee's subcommittee on finance and tax.)

Indeed, a recent opinion piece in the Statesman Journal nailed it: “If Congress and the Obama administration want to get the economy going, they must get money flowing to small businesses. That hasn't happened.”

Your Business: the better business plan

People often want to know if they really need to draft a business plan. The answer is yes. Creating a business plan is an important exercise for new and established business alike.

And yes, I know you are not looking forward to it. I have written three business plans over the years and I know that writing one is time consuming, a lot of work, and a sometimes frustrating process.

The first two times I did it, I drafted the plans from scratch, using models that I had read in books. They were fine business plans, not great by any means, but serviceable. Certainly the process of writing the business plan was very valuable. Doing so lets you think through the venture carefully, helping you to avoid problems before you encounter them.

You don't have to go it alone

Out of work, out of benefits, wondering what to do? There are resources that can help you start your own business.

Not surprisingly Ben Jacklet’s blogs regarding which Oregon businesses are hiring have proven to be popular, and for good reason. People need jobs. Indeed, not a few folk who have been out of work for some time are starting to get antsy as the period they can receive unemployment benefits starts to dwindle.

So the time is now to start to think about starting your own small business. It need not be an expensive endeavor, nor a full-time one. Even starting a home-based, part-time venture that brings in a couple of hundred dollars a month can make a difference and is the sort of thing that can grow bigger.

Are we more ethical?

I was recently playing racquetball with my friend Rick (I won for once, yeah me!) After we were done Rick asked me if I thought that businesses here are more ethical than in other places.

It got me to thinking about an incident that happened to me a few years back.

I owned a hot tub and wanted to sell it. A buyer came over and asked me whether, if she bought it, she could continue to keep it in my back yard for a month until she had her deck finished. No problem.

More help on the way

Last week I reported that our own freshman senator Jeff Merkley was doing some good work in sponsoring a bill to help small business. Although there is a lot more Congress could do to help small business (we’ll tackle that one down the road) the good news is that another Oregon lawmaker is looking to pass legislation that will help small business.

Congressman David Wu is the co-sponsor of a bill sailing through Congress, the Enhancing Small Business Innovation and Research Act.

I am often asked if there really is “free money” available for small business startups. The short answer is, not surprisingly, no. But the longer answer is that there is some federal grant money available in very specific cases, due to this program, SBIR.

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