When the Internet boom was going full force, we began investigating ways to use Internet technology to better serve our audience -- top decision-makers of local companies. As we were putting the finishing touches on our plan, the bubble burst.
Undaunted, we moved forward with our vision of building a Web site that not only met the needs of busy executives but did so profitably. The revised SBN Online (www.sbnonline.com), launched as a pilot site in our Cleveland market, has met both our goals.
Each subscriber to SBN Cleveland has been pre-registered for SBN Online. By using the user ID and password we supplied by mail, readers can activate their registration and get a personalized home page containing local business news and information relevant to them. Our database of thousands of articles, ideas and resources is filtered using a reader's profile, resulting in the display of news, events, presentations and other information that best matches the profile.
The response has been great. We are ahead of our projections for users and site activity, though SBN Online is only a few months old. We are so pleased with the success that we plan to expand the concept to other cities this summer.
As I look back on what it has taken to relaunch SBN Online, a number of important lessons stand out.
1. Stick to what (and who) you know. We spent a great deal of time and money researching our concept for SBN Online. What became clear is that while we may not be concentrating on the biggest market, we are concentrating on the best market. Middle-market companies account for only 10 percent of all businesses, but they boast nearly half of all corporate revenue and purchasing power.
2. Work within a budget. In the headiest days of the Internet boom, we were quoted incredible prices for products and services. While many of these offers would have met our needs, we continued to look for the right deals with the right partners.
3. Stay the course. Even as events conspired against us, we pressed forward. The bursting of the Internet bubble had everyone rethinking the role of the Internet for businesses. As the economy weakened, more doubts crept into people's minds. Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Each one of these developments could have caused us to put the project on hold. Instead, we made adjustments and kept moving forward.
Having done these things, SBN Online was reborn even as the bursting of the Internet bubble caused other business Web sites to fold or take significant steps backward.
If you haven't registered for SBN Online, I encourage you to do so soon. If you receive SBN Magazine under your name, you were sent a user ID and password. If you've misplaced it, e-mail your name, business and address to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will reply, or call us at (216) 228-6397 and ask for SBN Online customer service.
And please let us know what you think. We already are at work on improvements and welcome your feedback.
Some things never change While many have embraced e-business as the most efficient method of doing business, some people still prefer the old-fashioned way of using sales catalogs and the telephone.That's why a company must communicate the value of its e-business initiative to its intended audience, says Jeff Guritza, senior marketing and communications analyst for Timken's e-business initiative.Accordingly, Timken's PTplace.com includes tutorials that walk users through the e-business process, from how to register and log on to how order online and beyond."Always consider your audience and their skill set, whether they're internal salespeople or external distributors and customers," says Guritza. "And remember that if your e-business initiative is to succeed, a culture change must occur first."
The Tasty Pure Food Co.
Akron-based wholesale food distributor The Tasty Pure Food Co. has acquired J.B. McCoy Co. of Canton. The acquisition will allow Tasty Pure to provide a wider variety of food products to institutions and restaurants. The company will remain at its newly expanded Akron headquarters.
Marketing and Creative Solutions
The agency is remodeling its Akron headquarters and building an addition onto its printing shop. The company has also hired Mark Schweitzer as vice president. The Akron-based agency, founded in 1992, provides creative advertising and marketing services.
Jones & Wenner Insurance Agency
The Fairlawn accounting firm has opened a Columbus branch. It will be managed by Larry Price, who will focus primarily on trucking industry related markets.
The Akron-based bank has launched an online investing service through its Web site, www.firstmerit.com.
The Davey Tree Expert Co.
Davey Resource Group, a division of The Davey Tree Expert Co. of Kent, recently received an "Innovation and Commitment to Change" award from The Pulte Land Group, the country's largest home builder. The award was given the Davey Resource Group for helping the homebuilder become a better environmental steward, according to Karen Wise, a manager for the Kent company.
Fax announcements of company mergers, awards and expansions to: Editor, SBN Magazine, (330) 668-6224.
W.S. Rudner CPA & Associates, Inc., a local Canton accounting firm focused on closely held businesses, has joined Cohen & Co., a regional full-service CPA and consulting firm. W.S. Rudner & Associates will change its name to Cohen & Co. and will continue to operate out of its Belden Village office.
Wern Rausch Locke
The Canton advertising agency has formed a strategic alliance with Worrell Wingfield Baer, an Akron advertising agency. The firms will jointly market their services.
Graphic Enterprises Inc.
North Canton-based Graphics Enterprises Inc. has finalized the acquisition of CalGraph Inc., forming GEI-CalGraph. The new entity will focus on servicing the wide-format printing industry in North America, with a focus on newspaper, engineering and commercial markets. GEI-CalGraph's headquarters will stay in North Canton.
Jones, Dunn & Co. of Hudson has changed its name to Advantium. Founded in 1995, Advantium, assists businesses in the recovery of money lost during everyday business processes. The rebranding focuses on Advantium's shift to develop innovations in post-audit software capabilities and business processes, and in its partnership programs, both key in today's downturned economy.
Akron Glass Tinting
The company, which installs window film on commercial and residential properties, has moved its headquarters from Cuyahoga Falls to Akron. The new facility on Moe Drive will allow it to continue to grow by providing more vehicle, warehouse and office space.
Falls Lumber and Millwork
The Mogadore-based company has acquired Markulis Signs and Wood Works Inc. The company, now a division of Fall Lumber, is headed by Markulis Signs' founder, Joe Markulis.
The Akron-based manufacturer of specialty tire and wheel service tools has acquired the assets of the Dowley Manufacturing Co. and Oldforge Tools. Dowley/Oldforge Tools is a manufacturer of specialty mechanics' tools. The acquisitions will help boost Ken-Tool's manufacturing and marketing capabilities and will add a well-respected product line and brand to the company.
Allen Keith Construction Co.
The company, formerly of Uniontown, has moved to a 30,000-square-foot facility on Greenburg Road in Green. Allen Keith Construction specializes in the restoration of residential, commercial and industrial buildings damaged by fire, water, storm or other disasters.
Equity capital, such as corporate venture capital funds, private venture capital funds, investment banking funds, mezzanine funds and SBICs, can be an alternative to borrowing. However, according to the National Venture Capital Association, Ohio companies attracted just 0.4 percent of the total U.S. venture capital investments in 2001.
Fortunately, angel capital, a less publicized form of equity capital, is readily available in Ohio. Angel capital sources are generally corporate executives seeking high return on investment opportunities within industries in which they have experience and contacts.
How do you put yourself in a position to locate and communicate with anonymous angel investors? Here are the steps:
1. Establish a team of advisers. The benefits of having an experienced team, including a lawyer, a CPA, an industry expert and other professionals who have taken companies through the private investment process before, far outweigh the cost. Experienced advice will save you headaches and greatly increase your chances of success. These advisers are already networking in the same circles with angel investors, who typically locate prospective investment opportunities via those circles.
2. Fine-tune your business plan. It will play a crucial role in the process of gaining this type of equity capital. Involve your advisers in reviewing the plan. Make sure it is brief and includes a "value proposition" (the compelling reason for investing in your venture) that is clear and easily understood by a person outside of your industry.
The plan should focus on sales and marketing issues. Highlight immediate financial projections and cash flow issues that will directly affect the investor's risk.
3. Read "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore, based on the experiences of companies trying to establish their product. It may help you make changes to your marketing strategy and business plan, and help you market your business as a worthy investment.
4. Practice makes perfect. Practice your investment presentation on a tough audience. Advisers and impartial industry-knowledgeable third parties are a good start. Prepare a 20-minute "Conference Room Presentation," that clearly focuses on your value proposition, and a 30-second "Elevator Presentation" that quickly communicates who you are, what you do and why an investor will make money.
You're ready to meet angel investors. Ask for personal introductions and seek out seed capital funds (formal angel groups) that sponsor forums, like the Innovest Conference in Akron May 8-9. Gary Salhany is a manager at Cohen & Co. with experience in equity capital issues. He can be reached at (330) 374-1040.
But long-term care doesn't come cheaply -- average nursing home costs range from $40,000 to $80,000 each year.
"Don't assume Uncle Sam will help, because Medicare doesn't cover most long-term care costs, " says Sandy Stanovic, vice president of The Church Agency Inc. in Akron.
That's why long-term care (LTC) insurance is a popular way to protect yourself against the catastrophic costs of unexpected, prolonged care, Stanovic says.
"Most LTC policies allow for visiting nurses, at-home helpers and companions, assisted living homes and skilled nursing homes," says Stanovic. "You can also design your own policy to designate your daily benefit amount."
While some employers offer these benefits to employees, most of the LTC insurance market is composed of individual products. However, a June 2000 Analysis of Employer Group LTC Insurance (conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disability, Aging and Long-Term Care Policy) reveals that LTC insurance sold through employers has advantages over policies available through the individual market.
For example, a majority of employers offered less restrictive underwriting. Some even guarantee to issue policies by not requiring health information during initial offerings to employees. A majority also offered coverage to spouses, parents and parents-in-law.
In the survey, employers offered a full range of coverage for most recognized LTC services, and the benefits resembled those of individually purchased policies. Most employer plan policies stipulated a waiting period that acts like a deductible, and all offered some type of inflation protection.
"That's so the amount of coverage per day benefit goes up as the policy ages," Stanovic says.
More than half the employers surveyed offered some type of nonforfeiture benefit that provides a level of benefits if coverage stops because of a lapse in premium payments. The most common nonforfeiture benefit is a "reduced paid up benefit" that provides a reduced benefit amount over the same benefit period as defined in the policy.
The bottom line, Stanovic says, is that people don't want to spend down assets prematurely for unexpected, prolonged care. They don't want to cut corners and jeopardize their well-being. And they don't want to burden their families
"This is a way to save your estate from being depleted if you find yourself faced with the long-term care issue," Stanovic says. How to reach: The Church Agency Inc., (330) 733-1800 or www.churchagency.com
An eldercare alternative
More than 16 million U.S. citizens are 75 years old or older. Mirroring a concept established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, an Akron accounting firm has established an Eldercare practice area that helps older people manage their financial affairs.
"Eldercare enables the elderly to live as independently as possible while also reassuring them and their families that their day-to day financial needs are being met," says Karen J. Randall, a CPA and tax manager at Bruner-Cox LLP.
In addition to providing personal bookkeeping services, a B-C Eldercare consultant can provide advice about insurance, tax and investment matters. How to reach: Bruner-Cox LLP, (330) 376-0100 or www.brunercox.com
Jackson has been drawing up these policies since the mid '90s, but over the last three years, he's seen the need -- and the demand -- for them, rise. He says, policies can enable an employer to investigate past wrongdoing and help curtail current wrongdoing.
"E-mail and obtaining and forwarding objectionable information from the Internet seem to play an ever-increasing role in harassment cases," he says. "That's one of the main reasons employers want to have the ability to monitor or restrict Internet and e-mail use. You need to do that as a company just to attempt to minimize liability to some degree."
A policy outlining allowable e-mail and Internet usage can also help protect trade secrets, he says.
The Stored Communications Act -- the law referred to most frequently regarding e-mail usage -- basically puts a limit on what the owner of the equipment (the employer) can do. It was written to prohibit wiretapping, but has been applied to situations in which an employer has monitored e-mails or Internet usage.
"Essentially, what the courts have said is that the act only prohibits an employer from accessing e-mail which is in the process of being transmitted or before it's been viewed by an employee. Once the employee views it or discards it or puts it into permanent storage, then that Stored Communications Act prohibition no longer applies," Jackson says.
After that point, an employer has a right to access stored or deleted information on a computer.
Jackson offers the following considerations in creating a clear policy on e-mail and Internet usage.
1. Put the policy in writing and put it on your computer system. "Have it in written form and have the employee acknowledge that they've received it," he says. "That removes that issue of, ' I didn't get it.'"
2. Start with a philosophical statement -- because you can't cover every scenario -- that e-mail and Internet access are provided as business tools and should only be used for business-related purposes. Make it clear that since the employer owns the equipment, employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their e-mails.
3. Include a statement that the company insists that employees respect copyrights, software licenses, and privacy policies.
4. Make it clear the company has and will monitor e-mail activities.
5. State that employees must refrain from making false or other statements which could expose the company to liability, particularly if their e-mail addresses are the company's e-mail address.
6. Make it clear employees must only access the Internet for business-related purposes, and before they send something from the Internet through the company's e-mail system, it needs to be approved. This is for content and for security reasons.
7. Even from business-related Web sites, employees should not download files they believe are untrustworthy.
8. "You want to caution your employees not to open an e-mail unless they know where it comes from. That's not a guarantee, but you're supposed to know who your source is before you open any attachments," he says.
9. State that e-mail is not to be used to transfer proprietary information or trade secrets to a competitor.
For more information, contact Jackson at (330) 849-6657.
Have you ever stopped to think about what this means? The customer is the lifeline of a business. Besides employees, customers are the greatest asset a company can have and must be treated accordingly.
For many companies, this has been a difficult time. People are waiting it out and treading cautiously through this first quarter, keeping purchases to a minimum. However, some have prepared for a time like this and are in a position to stay on the offensive and press forward.
Those companies took careful measure of their return on each investment, assembled the best management team and are quick to adapt to new circumstances. They instill confidence in their customers.
For customers to continue to make investments, they have to be reassured yours is one of those companies.
Here are four principles customers look for before making an investment with you.
1. Innovation. Are you leading or following? Find new ways to set yourself apart from the competition.
2. Value. Give customers more for their money. When people receive more than they expect -- in goods or services -- they place more perceived value on that transaction, which leads to higher customer satisfaction.
3. Sound leadership. Good leaders make good decisions. Evaluate whether you have the right leadership to keep your company on top.
4. Customer service. Service doesn't end after the transaction is done. If you want to keep customers happy, stay in contact after the purchase. Stay up to date on their needs and find out what they like and dislike about your product or service, which will help you fine-tune it for the next customer.
Even when you think customers are wrong, if you listen carefully, they're probably telling you something about your business that needs correcting.
In the current economic climate, you can't afford to ignore them. If you and your staff remember the customer is always right, you'll never go wrong. Fred Koury (email@example.com) is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.