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AIBA fought the good fight to get Austin Energy to roll back the peak demand threshold to 20kW rather than the 10kW currently in place. We threw in the towel when Austin Energy said no three times and the City Council failed to make this policy change twice.


This effort was born from an attempt to get better electric rates for local, small businesses in the 10-20kW category (called Secondary 2). Originally there were 7,733 commercial customers caught in this category. Of particular note is the fact that this category of small users is paying more than twice the percentage of revenue above cost of service over any other category, including the big users. This is an unfair practice that AIBA works to correct.


Austin Energy has taken some steps to help. The use the average of the four summer months’ peak to determine peak threshold rather than one instance. This removed 1,300 customers from Peak Demand.


Austin Energy also instituted a load factor discount. This gets really complicated but it’s designed to give relief to a business that uses electricity in peaks and valleys vs. a business that uses a higher level of power but on a steady range. This program gave discounts of almost $7 million annually to small users.


In addition, the conservation programs now offered, and those being designed, better address the range of use conditions small, local business presents. Austin energy has met with local business owners to discuss their needs and it seems like they are designing programs to better meet those needs.

The Secondary 2 rate class still pays considerably more above cost of service than any other class but these programs do help some businesses. AIBA continues to work on reducing this disparity.

Local business drives our local economy, creates 85 percent of the new jobs, defines and reflects our local culture, collectively contributes the most to local charities and pays its full share of taxes (no breaks here). We built this city. We aren’t corporate giants—we’re your neighbors and family. Shopping at a locally owned business doesn’t help a corporate CEO buy a second or third vacation house. It helps a shop owner’s little girl get dance lessons, the owner’s son play soccer. And it’s money spent here in Austin, further driving the local economy. You’d think our City Council would be excited to support the local business community through policies and programs—but they aren’t.
On March 2, the City Council Agenda included a proposal to address affordability in a comprehensive way. For the first time, local business was included in the conversation on affordability in Austin. Council Member Troxclair and her staff worked closely with AIBA to make sure local business was included and some of our issues were addressed. But not just the conversation, the Austin Affordability Action Plan included a section directly addressing small, local businesses:
Small & Locally-Owned Business Support
In order to address affordability issues facing Austin’s existing small and locally-owned businesses, the City shall convene a stakeholder process of locally-owned businesses and organizations to consider economic development policies, land use policies, incentives, and other programs to support our locally-owned, small businesses. The City Manager shall consider and make recommendations that include, but are not be limited to, the creation of a lead local business position in the Economic Development department, advertising and marketing locally-owned businesses and local-business districts to tourists, encouraging or incentivizing affordable lease or lease-to-own commercial space, and other policy options that will address affordability for Austin small and local businesses.
These initiatives are based on AIBA’s Local Business Manifesto and goals from our two Local Business Conferences. But you won’t see any of this because the City Council killed the plan. Worse, they voted to postpone it indefinitely with Council Members Troxclair, Kitchen, Houston, Flannigan and Mayor Adler voting for and Council Members Pool, Garza, Rentiera, Casar, Tovo and Alter voting to postpone.
Our City Council Members will tell you they love local business. That they shop locally as much as possible. That they support our local business community. Every one of our Council Members ran on a local business platform. All but our one most recent electees (we did not ask Alter in the 2016 election or Flannigan, who signed the pledge in 2014) signed our Local Business Pledge. Yet in more than ten years of advocacy at City Hall, this is the closest we’ve come to actual progress. And it failed. 
In the past year alone, we took a leadership role in three major issues:
We petitioned the City Council to return Austin Energy’s Peak Demand threshold from the current 10kW to the 20kW of the past to help small, local businesses escape the pain of Peak Demand Rates. The Council voted no.
We fought to keep punitive policies out of expedited permitting. The Council voted no. We were, however, able to achieve a staff-recommended policy that excludes small projects.
We championed the Austin Affordability Action Plan outlined above. The Council voted no.
Our advocacy extends far beyond these three initiatives. We visit with Council Members regularly, bringing local business issues to their attention and usually with a plan to fix or at least help the situation. 
In more than ten years of advocacy, one Local Business Manifesto and two Local Business Conferences involving more than 200 local business owners producing 26 proposals, programs and policies, we stand at zero results. We get exceptional and impressive lip service and nothing else. Austin can do better.
By John Leo Weber
Geek Powered Studios
Pay-Per-Click advertising (known more simply as PPC) is a type of marketing that allows businesses to place ads directly on Google search results pages. PPC is an effective way to reach targeted customers based on which keywords they are searching. 
PPC advertising is done through the Google Adwords auction platform, where different advertisers bid to have their ads show when a certain word or phrase is searched.  For instance, if you are a dentist in Austin, you can bid on the phrase “best dentist in Austin” so that anytime that phrase is searched, your ad can show up.  Other dentists may be bidding on the same keyword, so it is important to monitor your bids closely so that you can be competitive.  There are usually 3 or 4 ads that show at the top of the Google search results, so theoretically, the dentist with the highest bid would show first, the next highest bid shows second, and so on. There are many other factors that dictate where and when your ad shows, so it is important to fully understand the Adwords platform before spending money on a campaign.
Why Is It Called PPC?
This type of advertising is called Pay-Per-Click (PPC) because you only get charged once somebody clicks on your ad.  This is a very efficient system, because you are only paying for actual customers coming to your website. Compare this to TV advertising, where you pay for the ad without having any way to track how many people actually looked at your ad.
Want To Learn More About PPC?
The team at Austin digital marketing company Geek Powered Studios put together a quick video explaining how PPC works. The video breaks down how the advertising platform works, and will help you decide whether a PPC marketing campaign is right for your business! 
John Leo Weber is Director of Digital Marketing at Geek Powered Studios and can be reached at 512-369-3882.
We would like to thank Rebecca and everyone at AIBA for the chance to tell you a little about how the Austin Clubhouse is saving the lives of Austin citizens struggling with mental illness every day.
Austin Clubhouse is a local non-profit that helps those with major mental health issues re-integrate into society through our housing, educational, wellness and job programs. Our member's most requested program, Transitional Employment, has a long waiting list because we need jobs!
"Austin Clubhouse exists to provide acceptance and empowerment so adults living with mental health diagnoses can pursue personal goals and play a meaningful role as co-workers, colleagues, family members, and friends."
Our members can do anything! Our dream jobs are 6-9 months per member, 10-20 hours per week, and our staff provides absentee coverage at no cost to you! We also provide longer term, Supported Employment positions. Of course, if you fall in love with your member, you can hire them independently. Our TEs often get hired directly from the program and promoted!
Our community partners are vital to the success of our Employment programs which provide hope and a new life for our members.
If you are interested in becoming one of our partners, please call or come by for a free homemade lunch and a tour of our beloved Austin Clubhouse!  Below is a short video that gives a better look at how our services can be live-saving for our members:
We are located at 610 E 45th Street, Austin, Texas 78751
Our hours are Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, Thursday's until 8pm.
Contact the Austin Clubhouse at (512) 925-5877 or contact
Kris Kavanaugh, Associate Director at (205) 331-7020.
Every year on Halloween night, October 31st, Planet K hosts a free Dias De Los Muertos Fireworks show for the community of Austin. We like to kick off this time of year honoring our departed loved ones with a month of giving. We use the fireworks celebration as a tool to spread awareness about some of our favorite local charities. We have raised tens of thousands of dollars in the past, and aspire to raise even more in the coming years. We have been working with Central TX Food Bank, House the Homeless, Meals on Wheels, Austin Harm Reduction, and Austin Pets Alive, taking in both monetary and supplies donations at all 9 of our Austin locations. We invite you to join our efforts to support these local charities, and all contributions made will be tax deductible.
By agreeing to participate in this annual and growing community event, you will also have the name of your business included alongside the charities in tons of outreach. We have several media partners, and facilitate advertisements through a number of avenues including over: 108,000 postcards, 1,000 radio spots, 200 television spots, 170,000 print circulations, 56,000 web page views and 5,000 views on social media.
If you would like to find out how to participate in this years Planet K Texas Dias De Los Muertos Fireworks Celebration, or if you would like more information, please contact Justine Carmack at 214-208-0055, or at PlanetKWordpress@gmail.com.
If you own and operate a retail store (whether your store is brick and mortar or an online store), I bet that you sold plenty of gift cards this past holiday season. Gift cards have become a very popular gift item, for Christmas, birthdays and other occasions (in fact, according to GiftCards.com, over $100 billion is spent each year on gift cards in the U.S.!). As an operator of a retail business, what should you know about selling gift cards? 
As a little background, all states have had escheat – or unclaimed property – laws for a long time. Banks have had to comply with the unclaimed property laws by filing reports and sending the money in unclaimed bank accounts to the Texas Comptroller. These unclaimed property laws have fairly recently been applied to gift cards. In addition, federal laws have been enacted that impose some minimum standards on gift cards, and laws have been adopted in almost all states that impose higher standards on gift cards. Here are a few highlights of these regulations that you should know about. 
  • Expiration date: If you want to set an expiration date for the gift cards that you sell, you can do so – but the expiration date must be within five years from the issue date. The expiration date must be clearly and conspicuously printed on the card, and you need to advise the purchaser that there is an expiration date when the gift card is purchased. 
  • When gift cards will be deemed abandoned: A gift card will be presumed abandoned and deemed unclaimed property on the earlier of the expiration date (if there is one) or the 3rd anniversary after the last use of the card. 
  • Remitting value of abandoned gift cards to the State: Once a gift card is deemed abandoned, you must remit the value of the gift card to the Texas Comptroller as unclaimed property.
  • Reporting requirement: If you sell gift cards, you must regularly report as unclaimed property the value of the gift cards that are presumed to have been abandoned.  
  • You must file a report with the Texas Comptroller on July 1 of each year, reporting all unclaimed property that you hold as of March 1 of that year and remitting to the Comptroller the value of all gift cards that are deemed unclaimed property.
  • Loyalty awards: Loyalty awards, such as a 10% off coupon or a $5 coupon given to customers, are treated differently from gift cards and are exempt from these regulations, as no value was exchanged for such awards or cards. 
  • Dormancy or inactivity fees: Be aware that there are special provisions relating to dormancy, inactivity or service fees and when they can be imposed, so be sure that you know what those restrictions are before you impose a dormancy fee on any gift cards that you have issued. 
Selling gift cards may be a great way to increase business and encourage customers to shop at your store or site – just be aware of your obligations. Good luck! 
Kathryn L. Turpin, licensed to practice law in both Texas and California, helps business owners with all aspects of starting and running a business, including drafting all contracts for a business, handling employment issues, reviewing leases, and buying, selling or closing down a business. Ms. Turpin has the skills to implement sophisticated solutions, but knows that sometimes the simplest solution is still the best solution!  You can reach Kathryn at kturpin@thefowlerlawfirm.com or at 512-441-1411. Kathryn is an AIBA Advisor for all things legal.

One of the most broad (and confusing) terms in online marketing is SEO. In addition to being a broad and confusing term, SEO is also a broad form of online marketing and encompasses lots of different types of activities.
The purpose of this post is to outline the basics of SEO, introduce you to the two types of SEO, and highlight some general best practices for both types of SEO.
What is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is any online marketing activity that impacts how your website appears and where it ranks in organic search results.
The key takeaway from my previous sentence is "impacts" because there are ways to both positive and negatively impact your website through SEO, but that's a topic for another day.
Tracking your SEO
It's important to understand how SEO is tracked and measured, because if you're not tracking SEO, you're wasting your online marketing budget. Tracking your SEO helps us gauge if our efforts are working ("good SEO") or not working ("bad SEO"). Good SEO means your website is improving where it appears (organically) for a particular keyword.
Bad SEO means your website is not improving where it appears (organically) for a particular keyword.
Your website's rank is not where it appears on Google for you. Your website's rank is where it appears on Google for everyone else.
This is one of the more confusing things about SEO. You can't effectively measure or gauge your impact of SEO efforts without professional tools, like moz.com.
Google knows your browsing history, the device you're using, your online habits, and your current location — Google uses this information to custom tailor your search results.
That means when you search for a keyword on Google you're seeing potentially different results than what others may see.
Moz.com's Keyword Explorer is a great SEO tool that helps you do some basic SEO reporting.
Here's a simple way to track your SEO efforts using a spreadsheet. You'll want to create four columns:
  • Date: Enter the date you ran your report and took a measurement (take a new measurement every 30 days).
  • Keyword: Enter the keyword you're tracking. You'll track the same keyword every 30 days and hopefully identify new keywords to include as you progress.
  • URL: Enter the URL you're tracking (where the keyword appears). Remember, every page on your website can impact your SEO.
  • Page Rank: Enter the rank for the keyword/URL combo you're tracking.
An example of how this might look is below:
Now that we've covered what SEO is and how to measure it, let's learn about different types of SEO activities.
SEO falls into two main categories:
1. On-page SEO (SEO you do "on" your website)
2. Off-page SEO (SEO you do "off" your website — elsewhere on the web)
On-page SEO
On-page SEO includes anything you do on your website (or on a page within your website) to impact how your website appears (and ranks) within organic search results.
On-page SEO also helps you control how your search results are displayed. Your meta information (page title and page description) are used by search engines to display information about your site and specific pages on your site.
Some examples of best practices for on-page SEO, include:
  • Including a robots.txt file for search engine spiders. Search engine spiders are bots that crawl your site, indexing your pages and content.
  • Creating a sitemap.xml file for search engines to properly map links to your website (and the pages and content on your website).
  • Reviewing/updating page meta info (keywords, page titles, and descriptions) to include keywords related to your business.
  • Updating and expanding your website content with more keyword-rich content (images, blog posts, pages, etc.)
  • Hosting different types of content (videos, images, text) on your site — all related to the same keywords.
  • Monitoring how people use your website (i.e. Google Analytics) and optimizing the user experience.
  • Keyword-appropriate page names (e.g. https://comnio.com/services/website-management/)
  • Securing your website with SSL (Google shows favor toward SSL-secured websites).
Here's a handy guide to help you visualize how your meta information is used when displaying search results...
1. Keyword search
2. Paid search results (PPC ads)
3. Page Title and 4. Description for our website
In the above example, the first organic result for "On Demand Marketing | Experienced..." will likely always out-rank comnio.com because they have the keyword "on-demand marketing" in their domain name (ondemandmarketing.net).
The key to success with on-page SEO is maintaining your website's code and content on a regular basis. 
The other type of SEO is "off-page" SEO. 
Off-page SEO
Off-page SEO includes anything you do off your website to impact the organic search ranking of your website and specific pages on your site.
Off-page SEO involves far more variables, because it involves building online (and often, offline) relationships with other websites to create backlinks. A backlink is a link to your website, from somewhere else on the web.
Not all websites that link to your site are created equal. In fact, search engines use a lot of data to calculate the value of each backlink to your site. 
Here are some of the factors that can impact the value of your backlinks:
  • Relevancy (is the backlink to your Austin-based pet store, from a candle maker in Idaho?)
  • Trustworthiness (is the backlink hosted on a trusted site — those known for accurate/good content)
  • Location (is the backlink within the page content near the top of the page, or buried in the sidebar or footer?)
  • Anchor text (are the words forming the backlink, related to the keywords you’re trying to improve your rankings for?)
  • PageRank (Google's measurement of the value of the page where your backlink lives — is your backlink on a high-PR page?)
  • Association (is the backlink near backlinks to other high-authority websites? If so, good. Your website is considered an equal alternative!)
  • Uniqueness (are all of your backlinks from the same website, or do you have backlinks from several different websites?)
  • Not reciprocal (reciprocal backlinks are valuable, but not linking back to the other website is more valuable.)
Search engines also value backlinks based on whether or not they were paid for (i.e. paid placements) and if they are among many other backlinks on the same page/site, or if they are few and far between.
The key to a successful off-page SEO strategy is building and nurturing relationships with the people who manage the sites where you want your backlinks included.
Ross Clurman is Co-founder of Comnio, affordable, on-demand marketing and is an AIBA Advisor. 
SEO is an effective form of online marketing for many businesses. Hopefully, this information helps you better understand SEO.
Austin by Austin is a celebration of local businesses and creative communities during SXSW, March 11 - 19, 2017
Austin by Austin (AXA), presented by The Austin Chronicle and co-sponsored by Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), aims to showcase the incredible range of Austin’s creative and local business communities during Austin’s biggest festival, South by Southwest.
Each year SXSW brings tens of thousands of visitors to town, all eager to check out what makes Austin different from the rest of the country. Austin by Austin will give both visitors and locals a chance to explore AIBA’s IBIZ Districts and participating businesses that make Austin a unique, vibrant city. From musicians performing in vintage shops to artist installations in favorite local bars, Austin by Austin will spark ideas and bring creative collaborations into local neighborhoods.
AXA is a chance for artists, makers, entrepreneurs and innovators to show what they do best, and give the local community and visitors a chance to support local businesses and find the best hidden treasures Austin has to offer.
Any local business in Austin can participate! All local business are invited to join AXA and showcase local artists, musicians, and creatives in their space. You must be locally owned and be a member of AIBA. What? Not a member yet? Join us! The Chronicle and AIBA have teamed up to offer you a special advertising and membership package. You can participate with a listing of what your business will be doing for free or take advantage of this amazing deal. For more details or to participate in Austin by Austin, contact: axa@austinchronicle.com.

We're declaring February Love Your Locals Month. Share the Love!
AIBA has created this Love Your Locals program to build identity and customer loyalty for you with February as the kickoff of a year of love.
Take advantage of this free promotion now.
AIBA members can showcase their business online! Send us a photo and 100 words to promote your February specials and offerings. We'll post it to the website and promote your business through all our social media. It's just one more benefit of membership in AIBA. This program is is for retailers and consumer services only. Email your photo and text to Rebecca to participate.
What? Not a member! Join us now to take advantage of the Love Your Locals promotion and all the other benefits of membership.

The Power of Local, a one day retreat for local business was held yesterday and was a huge success. This was AIBA's first all-day event and attendees gave rave reviews. Every panel and speaker brought wit and wisdom to the event. We will soon have videos of each presentation available on Youtube. I'll keep you posted on when this is available.

"Just wanted to THANK YOU and your talented team for all of the hard work and efforts with the event yesterday (and all year round). You all did an AMAZING job! Although It was extremely well coordinated, perfect venue, very informative, fun and did have great value!  Count me in for the next one."

"My favorite thing was being surrounded by so many local business people willing to talk and give advice."

"So many good ideas!"

"Such a supportive atmosphere. Loved the variety of businesses on the panels."

"It was fantastic to listen to the panelists, hearing local stories and struggles and successes and their advice."

A very special than you to our sponsors:


It’s easy to overlook the benefits of accepting credit cards at your business. As a line item, credit card processing fees may cause small-business owners frustration. However, credit card processing fees are the cost of doing business and come with their own benefits.
Why Do Credit Card Processing Fees Exist?
To process credit cards, merchants must have specialized card-reading equipment and a credit card processing company to manage payments and send them to the corresponding credit card company, whether associated with a bank, such as Bank of America, or a national provider, such as American Express. Instead of managing relationships with each of these companies, merchants have a credit card processing company do it for them.
Credit card processors have specialized infrastructure to accept payments and verify the authenticity of the cards. Credit card processing fees cover more than just the infrastructure required to accept payments. They also accept a lot of the liability associated with credit card usage, so merchants and credit card companies have less risk.
Buyers Expect Credit Card Acceptance
Many buyers no longer carry cash with them, as most of the places they shop accept credit cards. They expect merchants to accept multiple forms of payment. Large and successful companies accept all types of payments, as they strive to accept payment in any form. They see processing fees as a part of accepting payments from customers.
Credit Card Seller Benefits
Credit card processing isn’t just beneficial for buyers. Using a credit card processing company is also beneficial to the merchants that rely on them. First, merchants have a centralized point of contact for processing payments instead of having to work with a large number of banks and credit card companies. There’s also a considerable amount of protection processing companies provide to merchants against fraudulent payments.
While it may not seem like it at first, credit card processing fees do exist for a reason. They pay for the infrastructure required to process payments from credit card readers. They make it easy for customers to make a purchase online and in retail stores. They even provide a service to sellers.
Keith Miller started working in the processing industry in 2001 and founded Authorized Credit Card Systems in in Austin in 2006. He learned first-hand that many card processors were not interested in the client’s experience and created a company that puts its customers first. Keith Miller is an AIBA Advisor for all things involving payment processing. 

Changes are afoot at AIBA World Headquarters! AIBA will be returning to our two newsletter format to better serve you. You have been receiving the AIBA Community newsletter every other week. It's great. It's huge. It's full of important and fun information for businesses and consumers alike. In fact it's too full! Beginning February 1, we will separate our newsletter into two—one for local businesses and one for consumers.

AIBA Community will tell you everything you need to know about what AIBA is doing for you, upcoming events, notices and more. As a local business, it's essential reading. You'll receive AIBA Community on the first of every month.

IndieAustin will tell consumbers about you. Where to go, what to do, where to shop and more will be included so customers can keep up with all things indie biz. don't forget to submit your announcements and happenings to Latest From Your Locals by the 10th of each month to be included in IndieAustin on the 15th of each month. We'll send IndieAustin to our local business subscriber list too so you can see how we are marketing you to the public. And we all shop local too. Right?

By Michael J. Kallstrom, Nature's Treasures
All fossils are rocks, but not all rocks are fossils.  Once-living organisms can become preserved and, under the right conditions, the organic tissues of the organism can slowly become replaced by minerals such as calcite or quartz turning the remains into stone.  This process applies to wood as well as the better known ammonites and dinosaur bones most people think of as fossils.

Petrified wood can occur in any number of colors due to trace elements that find their way into the replacement minerals.  Because this process occurs atom by atom, many of the wood structures and textures can be perfectly preserved including bark, knots, and even tree rings!  Sometimes the knots and hollows of a limb will fill in with druzy quartz.  Although most petrified wood ends up replaced by the chalcedony member of the quartz family, some specimens have been known to form from hematite and even malachite replacement.  This process can take thousands of years to occur after the decades to centuries of life represented by the wood itself.
As one would expect, petrified wood has been adopted by the New Age community as a talisman representing new beginnings and ancient wisdom because of its transformation from a mortal state to an immortal form.  The strong association with trees that the petrified wood comes from means that it can help one to appreciate nature and the nature of time.  With this appreciation one recognizes the cyclical patterns of life, death and new life, which can then be applied to transform oneself and begin a new season of one’s lifetime.  The grounding properties of petrified wood provide us insight into our familial and spiritual roots.
There are plenty of places that you can go rock-hounding for your own petrified wood.  Toledo Bend in East Texas hosts petrified palm wood, the state stone, representing a time 100 million years ago when Toledo was beachfront property due to a shallow sea that spanned across most of the state. See fossils and more at Nature's Treasures, 4103 N. IH 35, 512-472-5015.

Human Resources  can have a huge impact on employee attitudes.  If your workforce isn't happy then it typically shows in their performance resulting in loss for the business.  It is important for HR leaders and business owners to  set goals that support a positive workforce atmosphere.
Here are some places to start making improvements  to help your business succeed:
1. Payroll- If your employees are not getting paid effectively and efficiently this greatly effects morale. Having the right time and attendance tools as well as efficient reporting and resources in payroll takes the stress and worry away from the HR leader and business owners. This function is often outsourced giving more time for the business owner to focus on growing.
2. Performance Incentives- designing a benefit and incentive plan correctly is a great way to motivate employees. While there are a lot of small businesses who can't afford to offer Group Health plans there are a lot of other options such as Flexible Spending Accounts, Supplemental Insurance, and other pay incentives that are tangible for most businesses, providing motivation and often times a break in a percentage of payroll tax.
3. On boarding and Exit Policies- the way employees come into a business and leave a business have a great effect on the rest of your staff and your company image. New hires need to feel welcomed and  given the resources to be succesful. If either of these 2 things arent done effectively it could have a domino effect. When an employee exits a company it can be for various reasons but not ending the relationship correctly can cost you financially and with your reputation, not to mention the rest of your existing staff.
Goal setting and planning in these 3 areas is a great start to helping your workforce flow smoothly. Using industry experts to help make an effective plan or review your current model is a good idea. Kazdon helps companies overcome these workplace challenges. Your success depends on your employees and our success depends on you! Happy goal setting!
Holly Acosta GBA, MSP is Vice President at Kazdon, Inc. based in Austin, providing Payroll Services, HR, FSA, Benefit Administration and Education. With 20 years experience in the Consulting and HR industry she is valued for her broad expertise in leading HR initiatives including benefit administration, compensation, compliance reporting, handbook development, HR audits, and training and development. Holly is an AIBA Advisor on all HR issues.

Yes, Virginia you do have competitors. They can make your business growth more complicated. They can help you or hurt you in the short run or long term. Your job as the business owner is to decide your response. Will it be to treat them as friend or foe? Depending on your personal approach to business, one will be more successful for you than another. 
A Win-Lose Competitor Strategy is Good and Bad for Growth
If you are a competitive person, you may choose to focus on “beating” or even “beating up” on your competitors. Avis car rental found it very successful when they claimed they “try harder” than Hertz. Most of us remember “where’s the beef “, the highly successful Wendy’s ad slogan poking fun at McDonalds and Burger King..
Win-Lose can be detrimental to your growth. It can keep you focused on what others are doing instead of meeting your Platinum Profile™ customers’ needs and wants.  It can cause you to keep changing what you do or sell, lower your pricing or rely on discounts to be competitive, hire the wrong people, locate in the wrong place, and more. Unless you have the inside track on a competitor, it’s good to be as current as you can with their business processes but not to use them to dictate yours.
Why Adopt a Win-Win Competitor Strategy?
A win-win competitor strategy may not seem a great idea. But “Coopetition” as it’s called by marketing professionals, does have a place in  competitor growth strategy. Based on game theory, coopetition recognizes that there are times when cooperation makes more sense than skewering the competition. Maybe it is right for your business growth.
It does take an attitudinal shift. It’s easier for most of us to criticize than to cooperate. But if you like to see how long you can keep a ping pong or tennis volley going instead of “putting somebody away”, a win-win strategy might work for you. It can give you what you want to make your sales and marketing efforts more pleasant because you aren’t out there alone.
There are examples of Win-Win competitor strategy. You see it more often than you may realize. It is fundamental to trade associations, chambers of commerce and business associations such as AIBA, and it is what makes their IBIZ Districts effective. Each of these organizations focuses on bringing competitors together to create common opportunities and address common problems. It has drawbacks.  What others want to do may not be best for your business. Choose your coopetition partners carefully based on shared ethics and goals. 
The Key to Your Competitor Strategy Success
The strategy you pursue must work for your Platinum Profile customers™, those who keep you profitable. It also must be right for your business culture and your style. What research shows is that you (and I) won’t change our style and management approach easily or for the long term. Don’t even try.  It’s ok to be you — competitor or cooperator. 
Jan Triplett, Ph.D., CEO of the internationally recognized Business Success Center, is an entrepreneur and small business activist. She is a frequent speaker on business growth models, funding and pricing strategies, alliance building, and sales processes. Triplett is a published author of The Networker’s Guide to Success, a guest blogger for allbusiness.com and Business Bank of Texas, a SXSW presenter and mentor, and winner of national and international awards.  Jan is an AIBA Advisor for business success.

By Olivia LaVecchia

Originally published by the Instiute for Local Self Reliance

For all of its reach, Amazon, the company founded by Jeff Bezos in 1995 as an online bookstore, is still remarkably invisible. It makes it easy not to notice how powerful and wide-ranging it has become. But behind the packages on the doorstep and the inviting interface, Amazon has quietly positioned itself at the center of a growing share of our daily activities and transactions, extending its tentacles across our economy, and with it, our lives.

Today, half of all U.S. households are subscribed to the membership program Amazon Prime, half of all online shopping searches start directly on Amazon, and Amazon captures nearly one in every two dollars that Americans spend online. Amazon sells more books, toys, and by next year, apparel and consumer electronics than any retailer online or off, and is investing heavily in its grocery business. Its market power now rivals or exceeds that of Walmart, and it stands only to grow: Within five years, one-fifth of the U.S.’s $3.6 trillion retail market will have shifted online, and Amazon is on track to capture two-thirds of that share.

But describing Amazon’s reach in the retail sector describes only one of the company’s tentacles. Amazon is far more than a big, aggressive retailer. As we show in this report, Amazon increasingly controls the underlying infrastructure of the economy. Its Marketplace for third-party sellers has become the dominant platform for digital commerce. Its Amazon Web Services division provides the cloud computing backbone for much of the country, powering everyone from Netflix to the CIA. Its distribution network includes warehouses and delivery stations in nearly every major U.S. city, and it’s rapidly moving into shipping and package delivery for both itself and others. By controlling this critical infrastructure, Amazon both competes with other companies and sets the terms by which these same rivals can reach the market. Locally owned retailers and independent manufacturers have been among the hardest hit. READ MORE. DOWNLOAD THE REPORT.

What is General Liability Insurance?
Liability insurance (also known as Commercial General Liability) protects a company’s assets and pays for obligations – medical costs, for example –incurred if someone gets hurt on your property or when there are property damages or injuries caused by you or your employees. Liability insurance also covers the cost of your legal defense and any settlement or award should you be successfully sued.  Typically these include compensatory damages, nonmonetary losses suffered by the injured party, and punitive damages. 
General Liability Insurance helps protect your business from property damage claims, bodily injury claims, and/or personal and advertising injury claims that could put your business’s assets at risk. For example, General liability insurance helps protect you and your business in the event of the following:
• A customer slips and injures himself in your store. The injuries result in costly medical bills and maybe even a lawsuit.
• While on the job, you accidentally damage a customer’s property and the repairs are costly. Should a claim like one of these be made against your business, then your commercial general liability insurance policy may help pay for the damages. 
What Does Umbrella Insurance Cover?
An umbrella policy provides additional coverage or “excess liability” above the limits of your basic policies. It can protect you from bodily injury liability claims and property damage liability claims. Umbrella policies also provide a broader form of coverage and can help cover legal fees, false arrest, libel, and slander.
How Does Umbrella Insurance Work?
Your umbrella insurance can come into play if you are found liable and need to pay damages, or if you are sued and need to pay for your legal defense – even if the result is that you are not found to be responsible. An umbrella policy only pays once your basic liability limits have been exhausted or the claim is excluded from the basic liability coverage. The claim will be made against you, the policyholder, on behalf of the wronged party. Then your insurance company may pay the settlement amount up to the limits of your coverage. If the settlement amount exceeds your coverage limits, you are responsible for paying the remaining amount out of pocket.
Thanks to TrustedChoice.com for their contribution to this article.
David Miller, CPCU, AAI is Senior Vice President/Shareholder with Eckert Insurance Group, a Trusted Choice, Independent Agency serving Austin area clients for 50 years since 1966. For more information contact: dmiller@eckertgroup.com, 512-472-6969. David is an AIBA Advisor covering the insurance industry.

You have built up a good solid business and things are going great. Because of your hard work, you have many loyal and valued customers and you have established special relationships with quality vendors and suppliers. You have taken steps to protect your trademark or service mark (possibly because you read an earlier AIBA blog about how important that is!), but you should also consider protecting your trade secrets.
The services that you provide (or the products that you sell) incorporate special skills, unique component parts, or distinctive techniques that would take another person a long time to develop, figure out, or identify. All of this confidential business information gives your business a competitive edge – and so this information constitutes your trade secrets. Trade secrets are not protected like a patent or trademark, but they still constitute personal property that can be protected. For some businesses, the trade secrets are the most valuable asset of the business. It may be well worth your time to shore up your protection of this valuable part of your business. 
Here are some specific ways to protect your trade secrets: 
The best way to protect your trade secrets is, well, to keep them secret! Keep confidential information in a safe place, and only provide access to this information to long-term, trusted employees or employees who have a need to know (such as employees who work with your customers or employees who handle the purchases from vendors and suppliers). 
If you have confidential information preserved in writing (such as written customer, vendor or supplier lists or written techniques or procedures), add a notation at the bottom of those documents that indicates that the information is confidential. A simple footer like “CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION OF XYZ, INC.” is fine.
Ask each employee to sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement at the commencement of employment. At the very least, this will make it clear to each employee that the information about your business is confidential and is personal property that belongs to the business. 
Ask existing employees to sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement, to clarify their understanding and your expectations regarding the business’ trade secrets. 
If you enter into discussions with a third party that will involve disclosing any confidential information, refuse to disclose information until a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement is signed. Sometimes, when two parties are negotiating a business transaction, each party will disclose to the other certain confidential information; in those cases, a mutual non-disclosure agreement is appropriate. 
There is no foolproof way to prevent disclosure of trade secrets, but these steps will help protect one of your business’ most valuable assets. Good luck! 
Kathryn L. Turpin, licensed to practice law in both Texas and California, helps business owners with all aspects of starting and running a business, including drafting all contracts for a business, handling employment issues, reviewing leases, and buying, selling or closing down a business. Ms. Turpin has the skills to implement sophisticated solutions, but knows that sometimes the simplest solution is still the best solution!  You can reach Kathryn at kturpin@thefowlerlawfirm.com or at 512-441-1411. Kathryn is an AIBA Advisor for all things legal.
Rules Will Not Take Effect On December 1; Future Thereafter Uncertain 
Excerpted from our friends at the Texas Retailers Association
In a dramatic last-minute development, a federal judge in Texas today blocked the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL’s) overtime rule from taking effect on December 1, handing an eleventh-hour victory to employers across the country. Agreeing with arguments posed by concerned states and business groups, the judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing the rules from being implemented on a nationwide basis. 
The fate of the overtime rules is now uncertain. The Trump administration will take over the USDOL in less than two months’ time, and the incoming administration has repeatedly indicated that it wants to eliminate unnecessary regulations hampering the business community. Unless an appeals court reverses course in the next several weeks and breathes new life into the rules, it is quite possible that the rules will be further delayed, completely overhauled, or altogether scrapped once President Trump takes office. Stay tuned for further updates.

December 1st is quickly approaching. This means all employers must comply with 160 pages of changes made by the Department of Labor to the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime rule. Employers will now be required to pay non-exempt salaried workers overtime unless their salary is raised to $47,476 annually or $913 per week. Most workers are classified as either exempt or non-exempt employees. The most common personnel who fall into the exempt classification from this rule include teachers, lawyers, doctors, outside sales, administrative, executive, professional employees, and computer professionals. 
The most appealing reason for employers to classify employees as exempt is that you don’t have to track their hours or pay them overtime. The exempt employees are simply exceptions to the rule but the guidelines are narrow and must be strictly followed. The ruling, however, made no changes to the FLSA duties tests. The employer bears the responsibility of complying with the rules and misclassifying an employee can be costly.
What should employers do to comply?
The obvious first strategy is to reclassify the employees to nonexempt status and pay overtime. The default is that anyone can be classified as a nonexempt employee.  The final rule permits additional compensation – such as bonuses and commissions – to satisfy up to 10% of the minimum salary level.
The DOL offers three basic options:
Increase salaries to above $47,476
Reclassify positions that pay between $23,660-$47,476 to nonexempt and pay overtime 
Restructure job duties to decrease hours to less than 40 hours per week
The additional compensation, $1,186.90 per quarter, may be used to satisfy the remainder of the salary requirements, but must be paid quarterly at least.  The DOL does allow for certain employees to be paid on a fee basis. Payments are based on the accomplishment of a single task and not on the hours worked. The test for fee payments must still be met however, considering the time worked to complete the job establishing that the fee received is at a rate that would yield at least $913 per week if the employee worked 40 hours. 
Employers should remember that it’s usually illegal to give comp time (time off) in lieu of paying overtime. The Department of Labor enforces and investigates complaints when violations are found. According to the DOL willful violators may be prosecuted criminally and fined up to $10,000. A second conviction may result in imprisonment. Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate the minimum wage or overtime pay requirements are subject to civil money penalties of up to $1,100 per violation. 
Holly Acosta GBA, MSP is Vice President at Kazdon, Inc. based in Austin, providing Payroll Services, HR, FSA, Benefit Administration and Education. With 20 years experience in the Consulting and HR industry she is valued for her broad expertise in leading HR initiatives including benefit administration, compensation, compliance reporting, handbook development, HR audits, and training and development. Holly is an AIBA Advisor on all HR issues.

The next time you hire someone, hire someone who listens. If they are a good listener and remember what they heard, it can save you time orienting and onboarding them. This way you can step away or move on to other tasks sooner. 
If they really listen, have a good memory, and act on it, you have hired a “homerun hitter” who can and will make you sales. What they hear and remember can become market research for the business and possible ideas for new product or services. If they are involved in sales, what they process through listening can become an effective way to how what additional products or services to offer to improve the customer’s experience and your bottom line. One researcher found that effective listening was a significant predictor for patient satisfaction — always a tough group to please. Happy customers buy more, come back, and tell others.
Listening has been identified as one of the top skills employers seek in entry-level employees as well as those being promoted. But, listening is hard. You’d think it would be easy since we can listen more than three times faster than we speak. (The average person talks at a rate of about 125 – 175 words per minute; we can listen at a rate of up to 450 words per minute). 
But, listening without commenting or correcting and really processing what is said is tough for adults. It doesn’t help that people listen using one or more of four primary styles (people-oriented, time-oriented, action-oriented and content-oriented). Over 40% of listeners use at least two styles. According to research conducted in 2000 by Barker and Watson, women are more likely to be people-oriented listeners and men are more likely to be action, content, or time-oriented. 
And then there are the barriers to listening that adults have to overcome. Watson & Smeltzer (1984) identified the top three reported listening barriers for business practitioners:
Environmental distractions such as phones ringing and other people talking, 
Personal and internal distractions, such as hunger, headache, or preoccupation with something else, and 
Rebuttal tendency – developing a counter argument while the speaker is still speaking 
Even good listeners can get distracted. Hire the best listeners you can and change, reduce or eliminate what you can in order to get the most from your staff. 
Listening is both a skill and an attitude. It trumps skill and experience every time. It is tied directly to effective leadership, your growth and your long-term success. Make sure anyone you hire or promote is an active, accurate listener.
For more research on listening, check out Listening Facts compiled by Laura Janusik, Ph.D., Rockhurst University with assistance from Lynn Fullenkamp and Lauren Partese. 
To see how good your listening skills are, check out this quiz from Mind Tools. (CAVEAT: There is nothing to listen to here. I’m not sure how revealing it is as an evaluation tool. 
Here’s to your success!
Jan Triplett, Ph.D., CEO of the internationally recognized Business Success Center, is an entrepreneur and small business activist. She is a frequent speaker on business growth models, funding and pricing strategies, alliance building, and sales processes. Triplett is a published author of The Networker’s Guide to Success, a guest blogger for allbusiness.com and Business Bank of Texas, a SXSW presenter and mentor, and winner of national and international awards.  Jan is an AIBA Advisor for business success.