Archive for September, 2014

SBA Fund Adds Manufacturing, Lifts $200 Million Limit

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

impact investment fund

The Small Business Administration has just added advanced manufacturing to a national priority list for SBA backed investment. It has also raised a $200 million annual limit on the amount of funding to support investment in these sectors.

The SBA’s Impact Investment Fund was initially launched in 2011 to support the growth and development of America’s impact investment industry.

In a release announcing the change, SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet (pictured above) explained:

“As head of the SBA, my main goal is to increase access to capital for our nation’s entrepreneurs, especially to our underserved communities. This expansion of the Impact Investment Fund today puts more capital into the hands of entrepreneurs, while offering impact investors a tremendous platform to reach small business owners with innovative ideas.”

Here’s what you need to know about the program.

What Are Impact Investments?

In case you aren’t familiar with impact investments, here’s a quick definition:

“Impact investments are put into companies, organizations, or funds with the purpose of positively impacting social and environmental goals, as well as creating a financial return.”

The SBA’s goal with its Impact Investment Fund is to help capitalize Impact Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs). These companies invest funds in businesses not only with the goal of maximizing financial returns. They are also generally attempting to generate a measurable social, environmental, or economic impact.

The SBA initially launched the Impact Fund as a five-year, $1 billion pilot effort. With the recent amendments to the program, it’s clear that the SBA plans to carry it beyond 2016. The agency had already committed to providing roughly $200 million of its $4 billion annual budget to the Impact Investment Fund.

What’s New with the Impact Investment Fund

Prior to the announcement, Impact Investment Fund capital had to be aimed at businesses in underserved communities, the education sector or the clean energy sector.

But with the recent addition of advanced manufacturing businesses to the list of eligible impact investments, the SBA is making this sector a priority too. The agency is encouraging fund managers with expertise in the field to consider applying for an Impact SBIC license.

Additionally, the lifting of the $200 million restriction potentially puts Impact SBICs on a par with Standard SBICs for access to funds. Also, existing Standard SBICs may opt-in as Impact SBICs through December 1, 2014.

What This Does

The expansion of the Impact Investment Fund means access to more potential investment for businesses in the advanced manufacturing sector, of course. This could also include companies that have already received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants. But it could also mean fiercer competition for existing SBA funding funneled through the SBICs. Get more information about the Impact Investment Fund here.

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Is Hidden Gender Discrimination Hurting Your Business?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

hidden gender discrimination

Do women employees at your company feel like they’re at a disadvantage compared to men? Even if you believe you’re a very equal-opportunity employer, and even if you’re a woman yourself, your female employees may not feel the same.

A new study by Palo Alto Software polled more than 1,000 employees and business owners, both men and women, and found that women are more than five times as likely as men to have experienced gender discrimination in a professional setting.

Over half (52 percent) of women report having experienced hidden gender discrimination in a professional setting, compared to just 9 percent of men. For example, nearly twice as many women as men (40 percent vs. 22 percent) say they’ve been called “bossy” at work.

Gender discrimination isn’t always so overt, of course. Hidden gender discrimination often takes the form of being left behind in terms of advancement, promotions and salary raises because of family issues.

While the average nation globally offers 18 guaranteed weeks of paid maternity leave to workers, the U.S. offers – zero. This lack of support for the efforts involved in raising children has a direct effect on women in the workforce. More than four in 10 (43 percent) women in the survey say they’re taken substantial time off from their careers, quit their jobs, or reduced their roles as business owners to care for children. Just 15 percent of men have done the same.

Taking even a short time off can have a big impact on a woman’s future career success. For example, the study found women with MBAs who took 18 months off earned 41 percent less, on average, than women with MBAs who didn’t take time off from their careers. No wonder 27 percent of women, compared to just 11 percent of men, agree with the statement “I believe I make less money than I would without children.” And while 38 percent of men say having children had no impact on their careers, only 19 percent of women said the same.

When it comes to child-friendly policies, the survey was somewhat surprising: More than half of both male and female CEOs surveyed say they’d consider allowing parents to bring their children to the office once in a while—and more than one-third of both women and men say they’d take advantage of that opportunity.

But why did the other two-thirds say they wouldn’t bring their children to work? Clearly, in the average workplace – being a parent is seen as a liability.

Why should small business owners want to change that? Here are just a few reasons.

  • Instituting parent-friendly policies enables both men and women to keep working during their most productive years—instead of forcing one parent to opt out of the workforce, even temporarily.
  • Parent-friendly policies make your business a place both men and women want to work—helping you attract and retain qualified employees.
  • With more women than men now earning college degrees and pursuing higher education, we can’t afford to keep forcing women to choose between career and children. If the best-educated individuals in the U.S. workforce get squeezed out, how will our businesses and our nation compete?

Take a good look at your business and your attitudes – are you guilty of hidden gender discrimination? And what could it be costing your business?

Equality Photo via Shutterstock

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BSP to Carry Out ‘Nationalization’ of Politics

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Coalition BSP – Left-Wing Bulgaria has vowed in its election program to fight injustice committed by “the few percent” having most of the power.

Led by the BSP and including a number of smaller left-wing parties, the coalition calls on voters to give it support for the “radical change” it previously failed to carry out and for its mission to bring about “sustainable accelerated development” to Bulgaria.

The socialist will be seeking to remove corporate power from state and municipal institutions and to restore trust in politics.

Institutions in charge of revenues should for their part be able to withstand the common practice of employers to conceal the real value for employees’ salaries.

An economically active state should act not only as a regulator, but also as an owner and an investor, participating in key sectors to mitigate the negative social impact of market mechanism, socialist believe.

It should be up to the state to point out priorities of economic development, namely energy, agriculture and related processing industry, tourism, certain sectors of engineering, chemistry and information technologies, culture and creative industries. The state should also be responsible for erasing the inequalities between the different regions.

Unemployment, poverty and access to heathcare should be addressed using the taxation system, more specifically introducing progressive taxation.

Enterprises enjoying a dominant position or a monopoly should undergo economic regulation, and Bulgarian producers should receive state support.

The Growth and Development program should be subject to improvements, since it is a key step to adopting a national program on ivestment which operates with Bulgarian (state) and European funding and also with money from commercial banks.

Legal changes should be prepared with regard to commercial banks and banking supervision to reduce the risk posed to depositors.

The activity of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) should be thoroughly reviewed to make sure it is acting as a supporter of stability within the banking system. Competences of the Financial Supervision Commission should be given a boost and the institution should be entitled to control the application of rules on receiving and use of public funds from commercial banks.

Socialists argue Bulgaria will be able to cut unemployment by half within two full terms if it keeps to these prescriptions.

Minimum wages, pensions and social benefits should gradually increase in line with labor productivity and the real cost of living.

Efforts should be pursued to deepen the integration of ethnic communities (and mostly that of Roma people) to make sure they do not only ejnoy the benefits, but also carry out the obligations of every active Bulgarian citizens.

Bulgaria should also implement an active European policy while at the same time safeguarding its own national interests.

The party stresses it is categorically against any attempts to stir up divisions and confrontation between the EU and Russia, with further sanctions on Russia being rather undesirable.  

BSP’s “red lines”, described as “a prerequisite for participation in government”, include:

- Introduction of the progressive taxation system for both individuals and of family taxation.

- Increased state funding for education at state and municipal schools.

- A healthcare system which, involving a stronger commitment of the state, equals access to medical services across Bulgaria’s regions, introduces clear standard for medical activities and equal financial conditions for all types of hospitals.

- Pension reform under which decisions on retirement age are tied to life expectancy.

- Re-industrialization of Bulgaria creating the environment for new, modern production and restoring parts of enterprises of structural importance to the Bulgarian economy.

- Continuation of the South Stream pipeline project.

- Development of nuclear energy through:

     –  taking active measures for the construction of the Belene Nuclear Power Plant (NPP);

     -  extension of the exploitation deadline of Unit 5 and 6 of the Kozloduy NPP;

     -  continuation of capacity building at the Kozloduy NPP, but while defending national interests.

Along with that, the party would consent neither to the application of shale gas exploration and extraction technologies nor to those for coal gasification. No concessions would be made in the BSP’s position that Europe should not backtrack on social and ecological standards when discussing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US.

These red lines, the party’s program reads, reflect commitmets which could be fulfilled through cooperation with other parties.

The BSP has vowed to agree on its participation in a government coalition only if there are precise and publicly spoken out conditions.

 

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Law Will Prevent Punishment for Bad Reviews

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

punishment for bad reviews

The state of California has passed a law that appears to prevent businesses from trying to punish customers financially for a poor review online. The law is apparently a response to several high profile cases in which businesses, upset by the new weight placed on customer feedback online, tried to fight back.

Earlier this year, a hipster guest house in the Catskills made headlines over such an issue. A supposed policy charged guests $500 for leaving negative online reviews about their experiences at the establishment. The Union Street Guest House near Hudson, N.Y. allegedly went so far as to try to fine wedding parties if anyone in their group posted a negative review while they were staying at the guest house.

The policy in question later mysteriously vanished from the guest house’s website. The removal seemed to coincide with negative coverage of the policy peaking in August. The guest house’s management eventually insisted the whole thing had been a bad joke. They also claimed no fine had ever been levied against anyone. But few customers were laughing.

In a potentially weirder case, an eCommerce site called KlearGear allegedly tried to bill a Utah couple $3,500. The reason was a negative comment they had posted about the company’s customer service. The couple claimed the company then tried to ruin their credit as well.  KlearGear allegedly claimed the couple was in violation of a “non-disparagement” clause in the terms of service of its website. However, a federal judge disagreed.

Hopefully, most small business owners these days know better than to try to solve customer service problems this way. For those who don’t, the new California law makes things pretty clear.

California Assembly Bill 2365 updates the state’s rules on unlawful contracts explaining:

“This bill would prohibit a contract or proposed contract for the sale or lease of consumer goods or services from including a provision waiving the consumer’s right to make any statement regarding the seller or lessor or its employees or agents, or concerning the goods or services.”

Once in place, the new law would authorize the state Attorney General, a district attorney or city attorney to bring suit against any business that attempted to violate the law. A business could be found in violation for either attempting to place language limiting a customer’s speech into a contract or for threatening customers over a negative review.

A business owner would be fined $2,500 for a first offense and $5,000 for each follow-up. A $10,000 fine would be possible if it is determined the violation is “intentional.”

Some might argue the new law and those that will doubtless follow open small businesses to fraudulent claims as well. But the real lesson might be simply to make sure your business is handling feedback correctly.

The new law is expected to go into effect in California by 2015.

Complaint Photo via Shutterstock

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Media Chiefs Demand Equal Treatment On Election Day

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Editors-in-chief and directors of more than 10 of the leading pint, electronic and internet media in Bulgaria demanded equal treatment on election day over the announcing of exit poll results.

By law, the announcing of exit poll results on election day, before the closing of all polling stations, is forbidden. Some of the electronic media, however, have found their way around the ban and publish results, concealed as song charts, movie and book rankings and weather forecasts.

In a letter to the head of the Central Electoral Committee (CEC), Ivilina Aleksieva, asking how the equal treatment of all media will be provided, considering that at the previous elections some media were fined and others weren’t.

According to the media chiefs, the ban on publishing exit poll results on election day was unnecessary and was depriving the voters of information and was underestimating their intelligence by assuming that exit poll results would swing their political choice.

“We are responsible to our audience for providing relevant information, but at the same time we are forbidden by law to inform them of the exit poll results,” the media chiefs write. “In practice, in this age of advanced information technology, this ban cannot be applied equally to all and only “official” media can be prosecuted, unlike anonymous websites, blogs and social media posts.”

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Brent crude at lowest since July 2012

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Traders point to excess supply and end-of-quarter activity

Energy Watchdog Postpones Decision On Price Hike For Wednesday

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Bulgaria’s energy watchdog (DKEVR) will decide on the new, higher, electricity prices on Wednesday, reports the Bulgarian National Radio.

DKEVR was supposed to make its final decision on the expected price hike on Tuesday, but its meeting was delayed by protests of various organisations and parties and started on Tuesday afternoon.

The electricity price is expected to go up by an average of 9.79%. The clients of CEZ Bulgaria in the western parts of the country would see the highest hike – by 9.9%. Clients of EVN in southern and south eastern Bulgaria would see their bills increase by 9.5%.

In an interview for the bTV national channel on Monday, the head of DKEVR, Svetla Todorova, hinted that in the next months the electricity price might increase by a total of 50%, if it were the only means of helping troubled National Electricity Company (NEK), which has a significant deficit.

She said other options will be sought, as such high electricity bills would be socially unacceptable.

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Surge in M&A deals in 2014

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

In the first three quarters of the year, the value of mergers and acquisitions hit $2.66tn

14 Tips and Tools to Create Original Images and Visuals

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Create Original Images

Thanks to hundreds of tools that now exist online, it’s easier than ever to create original images and visuals to share on your website and social sites like Facebook and Twitter.

According to Wishpond, photo posts on Facebook generated 104% more comments on an average post than those without. In addition, because 83% of learning is visual (according to j6 design), your readers will absorb more information from content with images than from those without.

Below are some tips, tricks, and resources you can use to create original visuals for social media and written content.

1. Canva

Canva is an easy-to-use free visual designer web app. Once you sign up for a free account, you can choose the format you’d like, from a Facebook cover photo to an image to accompany a Twitter post. Additionally, if you want to use Canva’s premium graphics, they are just $1 each.

2. Fiverr

The Fiverr online marketplace has “gigs” starting at just $5 and surprisingly boasts some great designers that can make logos, infographics, and visuals for your online content. You can view actual samples and reviews of gigs that have been completed by the user and even order additional “extras”, like expedited turnaround or the Illustrator or Photoshop file.

fiverr

3. PicMonkey

PicMonkey is another freemium online image designer, and has a lot of great fonts, textures, and graphics to dress up your existing images. The paid subscription offers seasons clip art and illustrations that are modern and have a fresh look, which is helpful for seasonal campaigns.

4. Illustrative Screenshots

If you want to illustrate your point in a blog post or debut a new feature, an illustrative screenshot may be all your need to get your point across. Use Microsoft Window’s Snipping Tool or a browser plugin like Awesome Screenshot to take shots of your desktop or browser. Awesome Screenshot also allows you to add arrows to your screenshots to highlight what you are trying to show your readers. Screenshots can also cut down on frequently asked questions if the directions could be confusing for some.

5. Put a Bird/Scroll/Frame on It

Portlandia was right: Adding a decorative element to something visual really can make a difference. Use Canva or PicMonkey above to add flourishes to your images to make them standout, whether that be frames, starbursts, or a textured layer.

quotes

6. QuotesCover

QuotesCover is a great site for creating quote images. Quote images are extremely popular on social media (especially Pinterest) and are an easy way to include an image that isn’t a cheesy stock photo, but adds emphasis to the words of the text. QuotesCover instantly pairs colors and fonts together to create an image that you can customize to make it fit the style of your brand or content.

7. Pixlr

If you don’t have Photoshop or Illustrator but want features that go beyond Paint, try the web app, Pixlr, which has many of the same functionalities of Photoshop, but in a lighter version. You can add layers, retouch photos, and add filters to make sure they are the best version possible.

8. Get a Unique Font

As part of your branding, the marketing and design team should decide on a font or set of font that will be used on all company materials, both offline and online. Most web designers like using Google Fonts as they are accessible to a large number of people and are free to use. Having a specific font that you use on all your visual content will help users subconsciously begin to recognize your content, separating it from others.

9. Pull from Your Existing Collateral

If you are running low on promotional images to use, check your own company’s files. There may be an inventive past campaign, newsletter, t-shirt design, or giveaway promotion that has great images that you can reuse for your current campaigns. While you shouldn’t use the same images every season, occasionally repeating images can cut down on creation time and design budgets.

10. Use Unique Event or Product Photos

Actual photos that are taken of your company events or products will have a much larger impact on social media and blog posts, because they humanize your company and allow users to see your employees, products, or services in a more personal light.

11. Make Infographics With Piktochart and infogr.am

If you don’t want to hire a designer to make your infographics, give Piktochart and infogr.am a try. Both of these infographic creation platforms are easy to use and offer free and paid accounts, with varying levels of templates, editing capabilities, and custom branding.

12. Stats Make an Impact

Another way to use QuotesCover or another image editor is to create statistic graphs or points of interest. A graphic that pulls a statistic out of content makes more of an impact than just the content itself. Similarly, you can use free online graph-making tools like ChartGo to make basic graph images.

13. Ask For User Photos

One thing clothing and decor retailer ModCloth does really well is managing and interacting with their online community, which actively submits actual photos of themselves modeling the items they’ve gotten from the site. This not only helps users see how a dress lays, for example, but it gives the product a chance to shine in a new light, beyond the model and studio background that is used for most eCommerce sites. Encourage your customers to share photos of themselves using your products and promote them on social media or in an article or round-up piece.

14. Make a Collage

Using your user-submitted photos, or ones you have on hand of events, employees, or products, make a collage of the images to share. PicMonkey has a collage maker, and BeFunky allow you to add text and backgrounds to collages on their tool. These images can highlight customers, employees, products, or a specific season or promotion.

Being creative with your social media and article images doesn’t have to be difficult, especially with the aforementioned free tools and resources. Incorporate original content creation to your regular schedule, and you’ll be increasing your engagement with visuals in no time.

Images Photo via Shutterstock

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Real Madrid Arrives In Sofia

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

The Spanish football team Real Madrid arrived in Sofia on Tuesday afternoon for its match against Bulgaria’s Ludogorets in the Champions League.

The team was welcomed by many fans and had a practice at the Vasil Levski national stadium where the two teams will play on Wednesday evening.

The tickets for the game have been sold out last week.

According to the betting agencies, Real Madrid will beat Ludogorets.

Meanwhile, the police informed the public that will step up security in Sofia’s centre on Wednesday and warned of possible traffic congestions, as the area around the stadium will be closed for traffic.

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