This week in May has been National Small Business Week as our country does its best to honor the entrepreneurs who are trying to pull us out of recession. Except this event has not exactly made the headlines. Instead our newspapers and magazines have been concentrating on poor employment numbers, house prices continuing to fall, and LinkedIn demonstrating the continuing bubble in tech stocks. This has been the trend for the last few years. Big businesses grab the headlines and, although politicians say they have the interests of small business to heart, there’s no one on Capitol Hill to speak for small business interests. The money is not there to pay for the lobbying to give them the priority they deserve. Why do they deserve priority?
However you look at the world today, the fact of the internet has changed the way in which business relates to the world. Twenty years ago, if a customer had a complaint, he or she was a lone voice in the wilderness. Unless a newspaper was prepared to publish details, there was very little the complainer could do to be heard. Now it’s routine to email, sms and tweet, we have hundreds of cyberfriends on Facebook and other networking sites, we join forums, post messages on bulletin boards and, if we choose to spend a few dollars, we can even set up our own website.
If you go back to the 1960’s, computers for important tasks like payroll filled an air-conditioned room with endless rows of large boxes with flashing lights, card-readers sorting, and tape-readers spooling. Whenever you see a spy drama recreating the war-room of the Pentagon, you might think such scenes an exaggeration, but that’s how big computers used to be.
Even though Washington finally increased the debt-ceiling and averted a default, it has done nothing to solve the problem of creating new jobs. In fact, taking the shutdown of the FAA as an example, it has actually been throwing more people out of work. Put simply, Washington politicians play politics with jobs. At both the federal and state levels, the conventional wisdom is that we can always grow our way out of any economic problem.
As you sit at work, watching how the different tasks are performed, it’s not unusual to think of a way in which one particular task might be made easier or safer. If inspiration does strike you, what should you do about it? The first problem is your contract of employment. Most have a standard clause that requires you to hand over the intellectual property rights of anything you develop as an employee.
When our grandparents and parents set up their businesses, they relied on pieces of paper and stored the increasingly heavy weight in filing cabinets. This had the virtue of certainty. As long as people were disciplined in labeling each file, everything was easy to find. But, if there was a fire, it was equally easy to lose everything whether to the flames or the water when the fire department used their high-powered hoses. Then along came computers and there were problems as entire blocks of data could just disappear.
You cannot have failed to notice the very bad weather in the first half of this year. No matter what you might think of the idea of global warming or climate change, there’s no disputing the incredible amount of water that’s been falling from our skies. Most recently, Hurricane Irene came ashore on the eastern seaboard. It seemed to bring half the Atlantic with it judging by the worst flooding in centuries and the mudslides that hit upstate New York, New England, and Vermont.
Let’s start with a statement of the obvious. Many businesses store a large amount of data that’s of little use to anyone else. It may be historical records or just general information about the business and how it runs. No one would consider this sensitive and any loss would not affect anyone. But there are always elements of data that should be kept confidential and, to encourage you to take great care, there are a raft of laws and regulations intended to punish you if any of this data is lost in a security breach.
Some people in politics want everything to be black and white. “Big government bad, small government good” and similar slogans have become rallying cries during town hall meetings and elections. Sound bites are convenient ways of getting a message across, but unhelpful when it comes to more complicated issues. On the face of it, we seem on the cusp of slipping back into recession.
As a year, 2011 has been one of the worst on record for weather-related claims. There were fierce ice storms starting the year, followed by some of the worst tornadoes and hurricanes we’ve ever seen. This October, records have been broken with a major snowstorm hitting the northeastern states. In some areas, power has been out for more than two weeks as overstretched power companies struggle to repair utility wires brought down by trees and ice. Of all the states, Connecticut is the hardest hit with more than 835,000 outages.