4 Graphs on the Importance of Entrepreneurship Programs
By Kristin Lawton on 05/06/2013 @ 02:45 PM
Why You Should Take the Microenterprise Census Survey
By Katherine Lucas McKay on 04/03/2013 @ 11:00 AM
The 2013 U.S. Microenterprise Census—the nation’s leading source of data on the microenterprise industry—launched yesterday! The Census, created by the Aspen Institute’s FIELD Program in 1992, has become the most comprehensive and widely used source of information on this field. It provides quality, up-to-date information illustrating the size, scale and impact of the U.S. microenterprise industry.
If your organization offers microenterprise training and technical assistance, IDAs for microenterprise, or microloans, please take the survey! Even if that’s only one part of your mission, your input is valuable. The first organization to complete the Census will receive a prize, and additional incentives will be offered throughout the course of FIELD’s Census campaign. Also, CFED will raffle off a free registration for the 2014 Assets Learning Conference (a $700 value) to those who fill out the Census by June 2. All you need to do to enter the raffle is complete the survey.
The Microenterprise Census is important to CFED because it demonstrates the power of microenterprise ownership to help lower-income families lift themselves out of poverty. Throughout CFED’s 33-year history, we have promoted microenterprise as an asset-building strategy, and, thanks to the Census, we have the data to prove it. One analysis of Census data, for example, found that microenterprise owners who received training and loans over a five-year period increased their revenues by 60 percent; the percentage of clients living in poverty declined from 16 percent to 9 percent, a reduction of more than 40 percent.
By participating in the Census, you not only help make the case for microenterprise as an income- and asset-building strategy, you also help your organization succeed. MicroTracker is increasingly becoming a valuable source of data and information on the micro industry for funders, the media and other stakeholders. Participating in the Census also gives you access to valuable data that can help you manage and showcase your program’s performance, including metrics that compare your organization to industry averages. Join the more than 800 organizations that have participated just in the past five years and take the Microenterprise Census today!
Seven Strategies for Starting a Successful Social Enterprise as a Means for Job Creation
By Brian Spero, Guest Contributor on 03/21/2013 @ 03:30 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: At CFED, we often tout the positive impact starting a business can have on one's long-term financial security. Today's blog post extends that idea by making the case for starting a social enterprise.
As the job market slowly continues to awaken from its long slumber, many young Americans remain searching for quality employment. For those who have struggled to find work, are underemployed or are unfulfilled by a current career path, starting a social venture may be the answer. Becoming a social entrepreneur doesn't hold the potential of a financial windfall like many other pursuits, but it can be a means to sustainable long-term employment that's personally rewarding and leaves a positive impact on society.
For those who hear the calling of this noble life choice, consider these sound strategies for starting a successful social enterprise:
- Lead With Your Heart. Starting a social venture takes passion, commitment and endurance, so it's essential that you choose an initiative that inspires you. This is your chance to finally do something that you love for a living, and reap the satisfaction knowing your efforts mean even more to the community it serves. It's important to look deep within to learn not only what moves you to action, but also that which will continue to hold your ongoing attention.
- Check Your Head. It's called "social entrepreneurship" because it takes entrepreneurial business acumen to get a social venture off the ground. Make a real assessment of what you are capable of by taking inventory of your skills, your experiences and your core attributes. If you feel you are lacking in any area, be it handling accounting or managing logistics, it could mean you need to find a business partner who complements your organizational needs, or perhaps you are better suited to work as part of an ensemble team.
- Choose Wisely. The success of your enterprise starts and ends with the central mission. While stopping worldwide hunger may be your ultimate wish, an approachable goal, such as feeding hungry local children, may be a more realistic place to start. Some of the most effective social ventures focus squarely on something that can and should be changed, such as malaria plaguing people in developing nations, and providing a straightforward solution, such as supplying those in need with mosquito nets to protect them from the pests that spread disease.
- Make It Your Business. Don't let the altruistic element of social ventures fool you - the essence of what you are doing is starting a business. If you have hopes of making things work, you have to not only make a considerable time commitment, but also carefully create a plan to build your organization. Branding, marketing, building internal infrastructure and managing outbound logistics are just several of the tasks you may have to account for to give your venture the structure to endure.
- Capitalize on Advantages. As with many nonprofit or charitable organizations, opportunities exist to help your venture thrive, from tax advantages to funding grants. Educate yourself on every program you could potentially benefit from, and legally structure your organization to maximize tax relief. There are many organizations like CFED that support, fund and mentor social entrepreneurs. Other examples of these organizations include the Skoll Foundation, Acumen Fund, and Draper Richards Foundation.
- Walk Before You Run. The downfall of many promising ventures is when it expands too rapidly. Keep your goals realistic and train your focus, resisting the urge to grow before your foundation is firmly established. Position yourself for a sustainable future, while defining yourself philanthropically. If you are doing good work, growth will occur naturally.
- Put Yourself Out There. Social entrepreneurs are resourceful, innovative and creative, fearlessly lobbying for action to achieve change. Asking for help, whether it's in the form of a financial contribution, strategic partnership or the commodity of time is never easier than when you are asking for others. Always be on the lookout for ways to promote your cause, utilize efficient online marketing techniques like social media, and value the contributions of friends, family and like-minded individuals.
Social entrepreneurship is a viable alternative to the workforce grind, providing a platform to find financial stability through helping others. By choosing a worthy cause, creating a sound business structure, and generating the ideas and energy necessary to succeed, you can create new opportunities for yourself and others while effecting real change.
What other tips can you provide to those who wish to engage in social entrepreneurship?
Brian Spero is a contributor for the online resource, Money Crashers Personal Finance. He writes about ideas related to economic policy, small business and money management topics.
New From Citi: Money Matters EITC Report
By Sean Luechtefeld on 02/20/2013 @ 10:30 AM
For the second time, Citi has created Money Matters, a free publication available in English and Spanish that is customized for a number of states across the country. This four-page publication is designed to enable hard-working taxpayers to take advantage of the tax benefits that are available to them, and provides information on savings, claiming the EITC, and connecting with local organizations. Most importantly, Money Matters provides lists of local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites, where IRS-certified volunteers provide free assistance with preparing and filing tax returns.
One of the most important services that these volunteers provide is to ensure that working people claim the benefits to which they are entitled, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which can result in substantial tax refunds.
The Money Matters publication provides details about the EITC, the availability of free tax preparation services through the VITA program of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), partner spotlights and helpful tips on how to save your money and make the most of your tax return.
To read the Money Matters publications, visit the Citi Community Development website today.
CFED Awarded $125,000 Grant from Capital One for Innovative Asset-Building and Microenterprise Services Initiative
By Kristin Lawton on 02/08/2013 @ 11:16 AM
Funding will be used to advance the financial security and upward mobility of low-income entrepreneurs.
CFED announced a $125,000 grant today from Capital One Financial Corporation to support work to identify new scalable opportunities to help disadvantaged entrepreneurs achieve upward economic mobility. The grant will facilitate a partnership between CFED and several microenterprise organizations, including Accion Texas, Inc., the California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity (CAMEO), the Enterprise Development Group (EDG) in the Washington, DC metro area, and others. Through these partnerships, CFED will promote emerging practices that service providers can implement to ensure that their clients have access to the financial products and skills they need, and are actively using them to make their businesses stable and sustainable.
“Accion Texas, CAMEO, and EDG, all high-performing, innovative leaders in serving low-income entrepreneurs, will be able to elevate their promising practices and cross-pollinate ideas that can help clients achieve financial security and upward economic mobility,” said Andrea Levere, CFED president. “Capital One’s leadership and support is making it possible to extend the project’s impact beyond our four active partners and reach the wider field of microenterprise practitioners, policymakers and financial institutions.”
The Capital One grant will fund a number of the project’s core activities and products in 2013 including:
- In-depth interviews with key staff at the four partner organizations to learn about their clients’ specific financial capability and product needs, and the operational opportunities and obstacles that affect capacity to deliver new solutions.
- Small group convenings to share our findings and identify ways to replicate effective innovations.
- The development of public education materials, such as an Emerging Practices Guide, a Policy Analysis Report, and several Field Innovation Briefs to be disseminated to policymakers, practitioners, financial institutions and other key stakeholders to make them aware of field developments and opportunities to support promising approaches.
“CFED is a leading national intermediary with decades of experience that combines expertise in both microenterprise and asset building to create synergies in support of microenterprises and the self-employed,” said Daniel Delehanty, senior director, Community Development Banking at Capital One. “Through Capital One’s Investing for Good program, we continue to work with organizations like CFED to help microentrepreneurs grow their businesses through capacity building and integration of innovative financial capability training and support that ultimately helps to create more jobs and stimulate local economies.”
About Capital One
Capital One Financial Corporation, headquartered in McLean, Virginia, is a Fortune 500 company with more than 900 branch locations primarily in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Its subsidiaries, Capital One, N.A. and Capital One Bank (USA), N. A., offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients. We apply the same principles of innovation, collaboration and empowerment in our commitment to our communities across the country that we do in our business. We recognize that helping to build strong and healthy communities - good places to work, good places to do business and good places to raise families - benefits us all and we are proud to support this and other community initiatives.
Recordkeeping Fundamentals: NEW! Online Module for Self-Employed Taxpayers
By Lauren Williams on 02/05/2013 @ 02:30 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This post originally appeared on the National Community Tax Coalition's blog and can be read here.
Few entrepreneurs go into business because they love keeping detailed records of their business finances. Many, instead, launch a business in pursuit of self-fulfillment, independence, personal satisfaction and even necessity. Still, sound recordkeeping is essential for tracking business performance, making critical adjustments to improve performance and for tax purposes. Even the most talented entrepreneurial makers and doers often need some guidance when it comes to keeping accurate, timely and organized records.
The tax filing season is a built-in, structured opportunity for self-employed individuals to get organized and learn good recordkeeping habits. Preparing for tax time, though a hassle in the short-term, can reward entrepreneurs over the long-term in ways that eclipse the brief stress and complexity brought on by getting and staying organized. Not only does early and thorough preparation for tax filing help entrepreneurs acquire and maintain better control of their business finances, a study on the behavioral triggers that incent business owners to keep better records showed a significant correlation between preparedness and clients’ tax refunds: the more prepared a client was, the higher their tax refund.
CFED and the NCTC have partnered to develop “The Fundamentals of Recordkeeping,” a brief online NCTC University course that takes self-employed individuals from start to finish through the recordkeeping process. The material guides the client from the basics of determining their self-employed classification, to the rationale behind keeping good records, the types of necessary supporting documents, the details of tracking expenses, depreciation, business use of home and more, testing their comprehension through quick quizzes along the way.
VITA programs and other community-based tax assistance programs are powerful intermediaries that can help microbusinesses get a handle on their finances at tax time and introduce them to a host of products and services that support small business development and asset building. We encourage programs to inform their volunteers and clients that this course is available and to keep an eye out for flyers and handouts they can provide to their clients.
Self-Employment IS Job Creation
By Sean Luechtefeld on 12/10/2012 @ 03:30 PM
Twenty-twelve was a banner year for small business. The election, combined with the lingering aftereffects of the Great Recession, brought small business to the forefront of a national conversation about job creation. Indeed, the American public refuses to believe that it’s only large corporations who create jobs.
In fact, not only is it not the case that large corporations create new jobs, but rather, according to research by the Kauffman Foundation, it’s new and small businesses that are solely responsible for all net new jobs that are created in this country.
All net new jobs.
Although this fact is realized by the owners of startups under a year old – those responsible for job creation – the public is yet to embrace a system that supports entrepreneurs who, in essence, create jobs for themselves where employment is otherwise unavailable. Meanwhile, millions remain jobless in an economy that still has a long way to go.
The struggles facing low-income people who turn to self-employment, though real, certainly aren’t insurmountable. For example, one barrier facing the self-employed is that the cost to file the taxes necessary to stay “legal” is high. In many cases, paying to file taxes which themselves come with a lofty price tag simply isn’t viable for business owners who lack liquid capital in the first place. Yet, programs exist to help these filers. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites – nonprofit programs authorized by the IRS to provide free or low-cost tax filing services – not only defray the cost of filing, but can also help low-income entrepreneurs claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Annually, the EITC delivers $7.5 billion in capital assistance to 4.4 million self-employed households.
As a related example, low-income business owners often lack capital and business services that help more established businesses succeed. These services are currently being offered by nonprofits all over the country who help owners of startups access checking and savings accounts or who offer workshops and trainings on homeownership, foreclosure prevention, business development and financial management.
These programs are already proving successful in hundreds of communities throughout the US. To expand on these successes, the federal government should expand programs that help entrepreneurs. Doing so would help more low-income entrepreneurs succeed. When they succeed, we all benefit.
The key, of course, is making the obvious yet overlooked argument: that self-employment IS job creation.
Intuit Wants to Make Your Small Business Dream Come True
By Veronica Weis on 12/07/2012 @ 09:00 AM
Until December 21, Intuit is running the Small Business Big Wishes contest to support local small businesses around the country. Entrepreneurs are invited to apply by sending over a business wish, along with a photo. Since popularity influences the decisions, after hitting submit, they should share it with friends and ask them to vote for their wish. Each weekday they'll grant one for up to $5,000.
NALCAB To Award $280K to Nonprofits that Support Small Businesses
By Veronica Weis on 11/13/2012 @ 01:00 PM
The National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders has announced the availability of $280,000 in grants for nonprofit organizations seeking to strengthen their small business development programs. The funds are made possible with the generous support of Sam’s Club Giving Program. Eligible organizations may apply for grants that range from $20,000 - $25,000 and Request for Proposals (RFP) must be submitted no later than November 28, 2012.
NALCAB builds and expands nonprofit asset-building infrastructure that can competently serve Latino and immigrant communities and thereby bring equitable and enduring change to low-income Latino and immigrant communities across the region.
Eligible organizations are nonprofit organizations that provide culturally and linguistically relevant training and technical assistance to small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. There are no regional restrictions on applicants for this pool of funding.
Applications should be received no later than midnight PST on Wednesday, November 28. They can be directly submitted to Carol Rodriguez at email@example.com.
Be Your Own Boss! California’s Opportunity to Support Self-Employment and Job Creation
By Heidi Pickman, Guest Contributor on 11/09/2012 @ 08:30 AM
Right now, California leaders have the opportunity to assist the unemployed to become self-employed, create jobs and reduce the unemployment rolls – all at the same time. Last spring, the federal Department of Labor government set aside $5.3 million for California to help unemployed workers start their own businesses, but so far the state has left that money on the table. The money is part of $35 million in grants that Congress made available for states to implement expansions of the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) program. Under the SEA program, unemployed workers receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits while starting a small businesses – a full-time job in its own right. Participants receive training and assistance and do not have to look for other full-time work during that time. States have to opt in to the SEA program, but California has not yet done so.
To start a California SEA program and access the $5.3 million, the state legislature needs to pass a bill. CAMEO is working to make this a reality, but surprisingly there is opposition. “We initiated the Help Unemployed Be Your Own Boss (BYOB) campaign because California’s unemployment rate continues to remains higher than the national average,” said Claudia Viek, C.E.O. of the California Association for Microenterprise Opportunity (CAMEO). “If the unemployed can’t find a job, they can create their own. California needs to apply for these federal funds and train the unemployed to become their own boss.” CAMEO launched this petition to show Governor Brown and state legislators that Californians need and want this program.
California has had double digit unemployment for more than three years and a persistent problem with long-term unemployment. The percent of long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks or more) as a share of total unemployed in California rose from 19.9% in December 2005 to 44.5% in December 2010. This dramatic increase in long-term unemployment has hit all demographic groups in California, but some populations experience more long-term unemployment than on average, including minorities and older workers.
Self-employment must be part of any economic recovery plan for California because existing companies are simply not creating enough jobs. Self-employment is a growing labor market trend; before 2000, self-employment grew at an average of 1.4% a year but post-2000, self-employment grew at an average of 3.5% a year. As of 2009, self-employment was more than 25% of wage and salary employment in California. The self-employment rate is projected to continue to grow in the years to come, increasing by an estimated 7.2% in the next five years. The SEA program would help those jobs develop faster and ensure that new business owners have the skills they need to succeed—but only if California acts soon. The deadline to apply for the $5.3 million in SEA funding is June 2013.
Please support CAMEO’s efforts! Sign the Be Your Own Boss petition and invite 10 or more friends to sign it. Spread the word with Facebook and Twitter.
DECA Idea Challenge
By Kim Pate on 10/31/2012 @ 10:30 AM
In recognition of Global Entrepreneurship Week USA, the folks at DECA have launched Idea Challenge 2012. The Idea Challenge is a fast-paced competition that challenges secondary and college-aged student teams to find a new use for a common, everyday item while creating the most value possible in eight days. Teams will share their results in a three-minute YouTube video.
What I find so exciting about the Idea Challenge is that it engages youth by getting them to develop their entrepreneurial skills. These skills – creating value from nothing, assessing and communicating results, and leveraging limited resources – are essential both in young people’s ability to navigate the mainstream economy later in life, as well as in their ability to explore self-employment as a strategy for creating their own job. Increasingly, training youth in entrepreneurship has shown to be an important step in empowering them financially, and programs like the Idea Challenge are a fun and educational way to teach these critical skills.
For more about this exciting opportunity, download the flyer from DECA.
Celebrating National Women’s Small Business Month
By Veronica Weis on 10/26/2012 @ 12:30 PM
We’re celebrating National Women Owned Small Business month this October by recognizing the tremendous progress made by female entrepreneurs over the past few decades.
The American Express Open Forum recently released a study on women-owned businesses across the country. The data, measured from 1997 to 2012, reveals that the number of businesses owned by women has increased by a remarkable 54 percent.
The rate of growth in the number of women-owned enterprises over the past fifteen years is 1.5 times higher than the national average. Though the study does note that their firms tend to remain smaller than average.
For women looking to open a new business, Washington, D.C. boasts the businesses with the greatest growth in economic clout. It ranked at the top of the state- and metropolitan-level analysis which took into account revenue and employment growth, including growth in number of firms.
Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona and North Dakota also rank at the top. While Iowa, Ohio, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maine fared the worst.
Despite rapid growth in the construction, retail trade, finance & insurance, real estate and professional/scientific/technical services industries, health care and education are still the largest industries for women-owned businesses.
The study did conclude that the growth of women-owned businesses drops off around the 100-employee threshold and the million-dollar mark. Although the latest numbers point to the relative strength of million-dollar women-owned firms in the past decade.
One of the ways our organization assists small enterprise owners, including women, to grow and formalize their businesses is by helping them to take advantage of the tax code. In turn, they help grow the economy by creating jobs and asset-building opportunities for others.
For a closer look at the research findings, we encourage you to read the full study. Research and findings of this kind are encouraging and point to the benefits of a more inclusive economy for all Americans!
How Self-Employment Becomes Cooperative Employment
By Blair Benjamin, Guest Contributor on 09/21/2012 @ 08:45 AM
The session titled “Innovations in Entrepreneurship” introduced attendees to various approaches to building assets through entrepreneurship assistance, which is a topic close to my heart (it’s the core of my own Assets for Artists program). We learned about national work by Noel Poyo’s National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders and Elizabeth Isele’s Senior Entrepreneurship Works program, and examples of local initiatives including WAGES in Oakland, CA, and work in San Francisco’s Mission District by Luis Granados’ Mission Economic Development Agency, which I blogged about yesterday after attending the “Tax, Savings & Entrepreneurship Institute.”
What struck me the most after the session was the model pioneered by WAGES. Alex Armeta discussed how they build worker-owned green cleaning businesses that generate healthy dignified jobs for low-income women. Most of the co-op members have been sole proprietors in the past, and have chosen to pursue their work in the more mutually supportive environment of the worker-owned co-op.
Alex made a strong case for how asset-building in a worker-owned co-op is still very much asset-building. Members automatically accumulate savings in the form of retained earnings. Median retained earnings of their less mature co-ops are $3,422, and members have the opportunity to take emergency no-interest loans from the co-op, which effectively removes them from the predatory lending world. The co-ops also develop human capital assets. Most recently, WAGES has begun developing partnerships that can help the members put some of their profit distributions into appropriate financial products and providing customized financial education and coaching to assist with savings, credit building, etc.
I had heard of WAGES before, but this session got me thinking that even as we champion the stories of the self-employed and seek to help them as solo entrepreneurs, there are some entrepreneurs who succeed better in this hybrid world of worker-owned co-ops. However, there seem to be very few models of support for the difficult challenge of establishing successful worker-owned co-ops. Alex noted that they’re interested in looking at other industries where they can work with partners who have industry knowledge that can be matched up with WAGES‘ knowledge about developing and supporting worker-owned co-ops.
I’ll be thinking more about how the industry I work in (serving self-employed artists and artisans) might present some opportunities to explore co-operative business development in a more rigorously supportive way. I can think of many overwhelmed sole proprietors who might thrive in a co-operative business, if the right supports were in place. Yet another idea to further research back home.
Integrated Services 101
By Blair Benjamin, Guest Contributor on 09/19/2012 @ 07:45 PM
As a practitioner whose asset-building program has had a laser focus on one thing – providing a matched savings account program to low-income artist-entrepreneurs – I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the concept of “integrated service delivery.”
That idea of integration was the focus of the Tax, Savings & Entrepreneurship Institute that I attended on day 1 of the ALC.
Thankfully, Lauren Williams of CFED led off with a definition of integrated service delivery: “it’s a practice of offering a suite of services in a coordinated way to solve multiple problems.”
We learned about several versions of integrating services, particularly in the context of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs, which serve a large volume of clients and can act as an entry point to other services. For many VITA programs, that possibility to use the tax moment as a gateway to other financial interventions has been the holy grail.
I thought the most provocative comment of the afternoon came from Luis Granados, Executive Director of Mission Economic Development Agency in San Francisco, who urged the institute attendees: “Do not confuse referrals with integrated services.” Not exactly fighting words, you say. Perhaps not by the standards of cable news shows, but it felt almost like he was throwing down the gauntlet to other panelists who talked, without shame, about providing referrals to achieve integration.
Luis was gentlemanly enough to acknowledge that the “process” by which a referral is made can define whether that action is “just a referral” or rather a form of vertical integration. If there’s an ESL class offered by a partner organization, and at the end there’s an opportunity for the students to actually apply for certain financial empowerment services that may be offered by a different organization, then that’s a referral that qualifies as service integration because of the explicitness and the clear pathway for follow-through.
Still, I sensed a philosophical difference. Luis seemed inclined to build capacity internally to offer the most critical integrated services in-house in order to assure staff quality, while the panelist that followed him, Anne Johnson of AccountAbility Minnesota (AAM), had developed a sophisticated system of partnerships to offer appropriate financial services and products in coordination with AAM’s “core” tax preparation services. Anne’s model is effectively a referral model, but a tightly structured one. She shared an “Integrated service mapping activity” worksheet that she finds helpful in evaluating the opportunities for integrated services and the pool of providers who could potentially serve as partners to meet a particular need. For her, it comes down to being very selective in developing partnerships (including clear MOUs outlining exactly how and when partners will respond after a referral is made – which Anne offered to share with any attendees in template form), and it’s critical to make sure that staff and volunteers at the VITA sites are well trained to identify what partner services should be recommended to particular clients.
There was also the question of whether service integration can be achieved much more seamlessly with an emphasis on technology, as in the case of the ResourcesMatch software product developed by Mission Asset Fund in San Francisco and the Efforts to Outcomes software used by LISC’s Financial Opportunity Centers, or whether there’s a danger in relying too much on software, which might mean that staff are not as well grounded in the various services that are part of the service integration model.
Daniel Lau of MAF made a strong case for the powerful ResourcesMatch software tool compared to the dreaded “resource binder” that has been a staple of social service delivery, and the ETO software described by LISC’s Jennifer McLain seemed equally impressive (although more focused on case management than on making referrals to other services). But again it was Luis Granados of MEDA who cautioned that technology, while it can add efficiencies, should be seen as a complementary tool that helps knowledgeable staff guide clients to other programs and services that will meet their needs.
Another point that came up repeatedly was the importance of securing staff and volunteer buy-in when you’re developing a more integrated service model. There needs to be buy-in from the top, to begin with. And then it needs to be supported at other levels through staff discussions, volunteer presentations, and a process of exploring and documenting how clients can benefit from service integration. AccountyAbility Minnesota, for example, developed a “Share your Story” campaign to find out “What my refund means to me.” They now use those stories, which often involve an act of aspiration and transformation (college savings, debt reduction, etc.), to help build understanding among their staff, volunteers and partners about how important it is to integrate other financial services with tax preparation.
This workshop has definitely spurred me to think more about the possibility of adding additional services or partners to offer a more integrated range of services in my own asset-building program. In some ways, I think that my program’s focus on artists (who are not typical clients of other services like VITA) might make it an excellent candidate for increased service integration. But it will take a lot more research on the ground in my own region to better understand the existing gaps and how to fill them with increased internal capacity and/or carefully selected partnerships. I’m sure I’ll be following up with some of the panelists to learn more of what has worked for them.
2012 Microenterprise Census: Micro Matters
By Katherine Lucas McKay on 07/30/2012 @ 01:15 PM
2012 Microenterprise Census Uses Data to Make the Case that Microenterprise Matters
Every year the Aspen Institute’s FIELD Program collects data on the products and services offered by microenterprise development organizations across the United States. Over time, the Microenterprise Census has become the most comprehensive and widely used source of information on this field, providing quality, up to date information illustrating the size and scale of the U.S. microenterprise industry. The 2012 Microenterprise Census is now open. If your organization offers microenterprise development, training and technical assistance or microfinance, we encourage you to be counted and take the survey today!
Much of the data the survey collects is available for free to anyone who registers to use microTracker, the tool that FIELD developed to analyze and share Census findings. Taking the Census will help you make the case for your programs to funders and policymakers and can be a marketing tool to reach new clients.
This year’s Microenterprise Census includes new Performance Measures relating to client outcomes and loan performance. Collecting and transparently displaying this data will be a powerful statement especially for funders and policymakers because it demonstrates the value of impact investments in the field and the worthiness of government investment in microenterprise. The new Performance Measures will help the industry establish reliable comparisons and standard benchmarks for success.
By participating, you will benefit from additional analytical tools to evaluate your organizational performance and capacity, as well as help the field and raise your organization's profile. Sources as diverse as Opportunity Fund, Minnesota Public Radio, Businessweek, and the Los Angeles have linked to past censuses and referred visitors to programs' data profiles.
Curious about who else has taken the survey this year? Check out the latest data from the Intersect Fund and Washington Community Alliance for Self-Help. To take the 2012 Microenterprise Census, visit www.microtracker.org/census.
CFED Publishes Advocates’ Guide to Self-Employment Assistance Program Expansion
By Katherine Lucas McKay on 06/28/2012 @ 10:15 AM
Last month, the Department of Labor (DOL) sent a Guidance Letter to each state’s economic development and workforce agencies about $35 million in grant funding available for states to establish or expand Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) Programs. Today, CFED has published an advocacy guide to help microenterprise and asset-building advocates take advantage of these new resources (link).
SEA is a federal program that allows states to offer entrepreneurship training to unemployed workers who are interested in starting their own businesses. This proven program has had only been adopted by a few states because the process to opt in can be very difficult, requiring an act of the state legislature. Over the past few years, CFED worked with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to develop a proposal to expand SEA and make it easier for states to participate. Many elements of our proposal became law in February when Sen. Wyden included it in Unemployment Insurance legislation that Congress passed in February.
This policy has the potential to help thousands of unemployed workers launch businesses while receiving unemployment benefits and training to help their businesses succeed. It can also help microenterprise development organizations across the nation expand their services through partnerships with state workforce agencies.
States can apply for the grant funds any time between now and June 30, 2013. In order to receive an award, however, a state must have an SEA program. Our advocacy guide includes a step-by-step breakdown of what advocates need to know. The guide details:
- How to persuade state agencies to opt in to SEA and apply for funding
- Recommendations for effective partnerships with the workforce development field
- Where to start, based on your state’s current SEA status
- Links to a variety of additional resources from DOL and some of our partners. The nation has been struggling with an unemployment rate higher than eight percent for more than three years and nearly half of all unemployed workers have been out of work for more than six months. For some job seekers, starting a business provides a way to create their own jobs.
We encourage you to read the guide and get in touch with us if you put it into action! If you have any questions about the guide, SEA or other microenterprise and self-employment resources, please contact Federal Policy Analyst Katherine Lucas-Smith.
Setting a ‘Recognition Budget’
Posted on 06/14/2012 @ 03:30 PM
Media reports often make entrepreneurship seem like a glamorous endeavor.
The truth is, though, that many of those who pursue self-employment identify with Rodney Dangerfield’s famous quote: “I don’t get no respect.” That’s because entrepreneurship is a solitary pursuit that often involves chasing ungrateful clients and struggling to define – let alone achieve – business success.
Even accomplished entrepreneurs can feel as though they toil in obscurity
Consider the public relations professional who helps others gain fame and fortune but who remains relatively unknown. The success he’s earned brings him a surfeit of work and money, but he’ll likely resent the prominence his clients have earned. With no stake in their companies, he stands to gain only from the reflected glory that comes with having worked for them. He’ll soon find that time and distance weaken such glory to almost nothing.
So what should he do?
He should give some serious thought to what needs to happen in order for him to feel appreciated.
Perhaps this means getting mentioned in news articles, delivering a seminar on public relations to a group of leaders in the industry he serves, writing a bestselling book, or achieving external validation in some other way.
Once he’s given this issue some thought, he should write a list of goals (each with deadlines) for gaining acclaim in his field. I call this list a “recognition budget.”
Let’s pause for a moment to note that the idea of seeking out praise and recognition makes some people leery.
Many people will claim they don’t care about acclaim; they say they are in the business to please customers and build a strong organization. That all sounds nice on the surface, but it falls apart upon some deeper digging.
Think about it this way: many people also say they don’t care about money. What they really mean is that they want to avoid becoming ruthless private equity barons who slash jobs in favor of short-term profits. They are really saying they are unwilling to compromise their values in the interest of enriching themselves. Fair enough, but they still need money to live.
Recognition works the same way. We mock reality TV stars who devote their lives to grabbing attention, but we, too, require some degree of recognition to stay motivated and regard ourselves as successful. (But if your goal is to have a reality TV show, sit tight. Recent trends suggest everyone in New Jersey will eventually get one.)
You already (I hope) make a budget for your business each year and project the amount of customers you intend to serve. Your next step should be making a list of ways in which you would like to be recognized.
Consider options that allow you to share your expertise with a mass audience or a few influential people. Speak at conferences, write opinion editorials, start a blog, write a book. Do something.
After all, making yourself known is your best chance to get the respect you so richly deserve.
Can Crowdfunding Accelerate Economic Development?
By Jimmy Crowell on 05/25/2012 @ 03:00 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third and final installment in our self-employment blog series celebrating National Small Business Week 2012. Click the links at the bottom of this page to check out the first two blog posts and use the comments to let us know what you think about the potential of crowdfunding. CFED gratefully acknowledges the support of Sam's Club for their support of small business owners and of National Small Business Week.
With Obama’s recent signature on the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, crowdfunding has been receiving a lot of buzz lately. But, can crowdfunding really accelerate the growth of entrepreneurship and economic development?
Prior to the JOBS Act, businesses couldn’t rely on crowdfunding for capital because of government restrictions and red tape. Often times, small business owners had to finance their enterprises through loans, sometimes backed by the value of their homes. This is a dangerous game, especially for low income entrepreneurs who have trouble accessing fair and secure lines of credit. Other options for obtaining capital, such as from venture capitalists, are few and far between and not a possibility for microbusinesses operated by low to moderate income entrepreneurs. Although 65% of all jobs are created by small businesses, only 17% receive business financing from venture capitalists, angel investors or bank loans.
Existing laws and regulations put in place by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prohibited unaccredited investors looking to spend small amounts of money to capitalize small businesses. With the JOBS Act, Main Street will have access to capital from small time investors who could previously only invest in giant public companies on Wall Street. Small businesses can raise as much as $1 million a year without having to do a public offering, a process that can cost thousands of dollars.
But still, what type of an impact will crowdfunding have on microbusinesses operated by low income entrepreneurs? Microfinancing, or giving small loans to low-income entrepreneurs who have no access to credit, has helped many microbusinesses. Crowdfunding essentially does the same thing; it circumvents traditional funding mechanisms to open up capital to a larger market. With the internet and social networks as the main platform for crowdfunding, funding opportunities can reach many more people.
Donation-based crowdfunding, from websites like Kickstarter.com, may be the best option for low income entrepreneurs who may not make enough profit from initial investments to offer a return on loans made. However, there are other unique ways to incentivize loaning small amounts of money to microbusinesses. LuckyAnt.com reminds funders of the important service they are providing their communities but also allows businesses to offer coupons and special deals for small time funders.
Will crowdfunding have the same impact microfinancing has had on low income entrepreneurs? Only time will tell, but the potential of crowdfunding is definitely exciting.
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CFED Awarded $350,000 to Support Small Business Owners
By Jimmy Crowell on 05/25/2012 @ 10:00 AM
On May 23rd, Greg Cathey, Vice President and Regional General Manager of Sam’s Club in the Northeast, and Sam’s Club regional representative Bill Witt, visited the CFED national offices to present a grant award to support our small business development strategy, the Self-Employment Tax Initiative (SETI). The award, totaling $349,545, will enable CFED to continue advancing SETI, which takes advantage of the tax code to help low-income, self-employed individuals formalize and grow their businesses, create jobs and access tax-based asset-building opportunities.
Specifically, this grant will enable us to intervene during tax time and connect small business owners who are filing taxes with microenterprise organizations and other business development services. Throughout the 2012 and 2013 tax seasons, we will continue working with partners like Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union and Mission Economic Development Agency to provide support, catalogue best practices, share them with the field and catalyze improvements in small business tax service provision. We’ll also explore ways to leverage behavioral insights to improve practice techniques and tools at tax assistance programs and microenterprise development organizations. Finally, this grant will help CFED stage a media campaign that highlights the importance of entrepreneurship and microbusiness as engines of economic development and job creation.
Sam's Club has a strong history of charitable giving, with more than $101.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions made in 2011. The Sam’s Club Giving Program, which focuses on preventative health and wellness and small business support, pledged more than $2 million this year to help micro lenders and others to grow small businesses in the U.S.. As part of the program, leading nonprofits were awarded grants to continue their work. The organizations include ACCIÓN in the US, CFED, Count Me In For Women’s Economic Independence and the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders.
Sam's Club President and CEO Rosalind Brewer reaffirmed the company's commitment to supporting American small business. At the Dream Big Small Business of the Year awards luncheon, part of the annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Summit, Brewer spoke to over 800 small business owners in the country.
"At Sam's Club our small business owners are our partners, and we want to put our money where our mission is – which is to be agents for and support our members and the small business community," Brewer said. "I realize that I have an incredible opportunity to lead Sam's Club and to be an advocate for our small business owners in America. You are the heart and soul of our economy, and no one takes more risks and works harder every single day than those of you who are out there following your dreams and running your own businesses."
Cathey echoed Brewer’s words at the CFED offices and voiced his excitement for our partnership. He reminded us that Walmart founder Sam Walton created Sam’s Club to “be in business for small business” and to help small business get access to products and services at prices traditionally only available to big business.” Sam's Club has more than 600 clubs across the US and serves around 600,000 Business Members daily. In addition to stocking products for work or home, Sam's Club also offers Business Members access to microloans and health plans through third-party providers.
Entrepreneurship Opportunities for the Recent College Grad
By Jimmy Crowell on 05/23/2012 @ 01:00 PM
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jimmy’s blog post is the first of a three-part series focused on entrepreneurship in commemoration of National Small Business Week 2012. Check back tomorrow and Friday for the second and third installments in this series
As a wide-eyed 20-something American, I have watched my peers struggle to prove their worth, build their skillsets and find employment in today’s tight job market. I considered myself one of the lucky ones; I had the opportunity to leave my small town in Massachusetts, attend a large university and gain employment in Washington, DC. Now, when I look back at my town and my old high school classmates, most of them, including my peers that attended college, are struggling to start their careers. Today, half of college graduates under 25 are either jobless or underemployed and college debt and defaults are at their highest levels in history. Fortunately, another trend has developed that could be the solution to these epidemics: the growth of youth entrepreneurship.
The labor market is slowly recovering, but prospects for recent high school and college graduates will continue to remain grim for quite some time. With opportunities hard to come by, young adults need to create their own opportunities. Entrepreneurship is one way to do this. However, young adults with little collateral and fledgling credit scores have very restricted access to start-up capital. Not only do aspiring entrepreneurs face these obstacles when trying to obtain capital from traditional financial institutions, there are few alternatives. Microloan programs do not currently reach the vast amount of young Americans trying to develop their entrepreneurial skills. Help from family and friends, as my father relied on when he began his 40 year career as a self-employed commercial fisherman, is no longer a viable option for many young Americans. Family and friends struggling with their own financial problems are less likely to invest in young entrepreneurs. There needs to be a better support system for eager, unemployed Americans with innovative ideas.
One resource that young workers who are receiving unemployment insurance compensation need to know about is the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) Program. SEA is an optional federal program that states can opt into; it has a more than 20-year history of connecting unemployed workers to entrepreneurship training and development services. Currently, seven states have active programs. In 2011, Senator Wyden’s (D-OR) START UP Act proposed an expansion of SEA so it would be easier for states to start their own programs. Most aspects of this bill were included in unemployment insurance reforms that became law in February 2012. The law allows states to offer SEA to unemployed workers who are receiving Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), the extended benefits available to the long-term unemployed. Workers can participate for up to 26 weeks and can receive between $10,000 and $13,000 in benefits that can be used as start-up capital. Most simple service-based and technical ventures cost a few thousand dollars to get off the ground and to operate, so these funds could help aspiring entrepreneurs usher their ideas to fruition while supporting their basic living expenses. Unfortunately, SEA can’t reach many of the youngest unemployed Americans because they are not eligible for unemployment insurance unless they have been laid off from a job they previously worked at least half-time. We also need additional policies to reach the many high school and college graduates who enter the workforce and are unable to land that first job.
Another option for aspiring entrepreneurs to access capital would be to turn to the emerging field of microlending and microenterprise development. Very common abroad, the popularity of microlending has been growing in the U.S. in recent years. Organizations like ACCIÓN Texas , Grameen Bank, Community Reinvestment Fund and Self-Help offer loans from $1,000 to $50,000 along with other business development services. These organizations often look at the big picture and take into account passion and opportunity, not just credit scores and experience. Programs and organizations that support entrepreneurship, particularly youth entrepreneurship, need to be expanded and taken more seriously as a method for combatting unemployment. For example, the Small Business Administration could make more funding available for microlending via intermediary organizations and establish a funding priority for those who target training opportunities to youth entrepreneurs.
I know first-hand from watching my father that self-employment is a fulfilling career option. Young Americans with good work ethics and an entrepreneurial spirit should be afforded the opportunity to start their own businesses. This entrepreneurial spirit should be fostered from an early age in the U.S. education system with a stronger financial education curriculum. When given the tools and knowledge to succeed, young entrepreneurs can rebuild the American economy. Not only will youth entrepreneurship reduce joblessness among the under-25 age group, it will also help the American economy to recover and prosper.
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