Over the past year, Nell Merlino, CEO of Count Me In, a charitable organization that provides financial assistance and consulting to women-owned businesses, says bad news for small businesses has been plastered all over the media. During this time, she says, many small businesses focused on simply surviving the times; and thankfully many did, including those that participated in the program Make Mine a Million $ Business Race. In fact, the race winner nearly doubled its number of full-time employees.
“The Race winner, Sarah Stevens of Stevens Technologies, grew her revenues 129 percent from the previous year. She also grew her staff — created jobs in the middle of a recession — from twelve full-time employees to twenty-one. As a result, Sarah received a $100,000 check from Count Me In, which she plans on investing in the continued growth of her business.”
Small business owners everywhere appear ready to take the next step: to invest in marketing campaigns for potential growth. Merlino says that Count Me In has started a new program called “Survive and Thrive” to help business owners follow these dreams. “At www.makemineamillion.org/surviveandthrive you can find expert blogs, articles, and other free resources to promote business growth.”
I asked Merlino how health care reform has affected or will affect the companies with whom she works, and she notes a mixed response by business owners on this topic. Due to rising costs of health care for small companies, many had dropped insurance altogether, or had at least reduced the coverage they were offering employees. Though the full effects won’t be seen until 2014, Merlino expects that companies will see a reduction in costs as early as this year.
“Starting immediately, small businesses providing health insurance to their employees will see a tax credit of up to 35 percent of their premiums, and this is in effect for the next three years,” says Merlino. “However, since most small businesses in our community have fewer than 50 employees, they won’t be affected by the mandates and should save money because of the tax incentives over the next few years. Overall, we’re encouraged by what the bill offers small businesses.”
Merlino states that while the Obama administration has laid the foundation for small business growth in the form of tax cuts and health care, it is now up to businesses to take the next step. “We’re already seeing some small businesses scouting and securing new contracts, taking on new clients and new opportunities, and they’ve had to expand their offices to do this. As more businesses gain the confidence they need to grow, we’ll also see an increase in hiring and spending.”
Count Me In offers a variety of programs for women in business. They work on teaching business owners how to speak to customers and potential clients and how to clarify the mission of their business. Count Me In will feature an event on June 15 in Newark, N.J., where women small business owners can network with others to learn business skills and gain tools to grow their companies.
“As part of our ‘Survive & Thrive’ campaign, we’ve also launched a new online section called the ‘Elevator Pitch’. This interactive part of our site allows users to upload their elevator pitch stating their vision, their successes, and their goals. Right now, everyone who uploads receives free expert feedback so they can better pitch themselves to potential customers, clients, and even employees. You can go to www.makemineamillion.org/elevatorpitch to upload and receive free expert feedback.”
Visit Count Me In online at www.countmein.org