Some small business survival tips

27 Oct

While this column is normally aimed at consumers, many of you are also small business owners – like me. As the owner of a downtown storefront and an ecommerce web site, I receive all kinds of sales pitches from vendors – some of them legitimate, others not so much. So this week, I offer some tips for you small business operators, including a scam alert, a rip-off service fee and a great office rental alternative. I expect regular folk will be interested in this as well.

Scam alerts

Last week, I received a call from ABC Marketing Solutions, advising that advertising space was available in a new, glossy magazine to be distributed at four golf courses in the St. John’s area. The magazine would target “high income, upscale households that appreciate and are willing to pay for quality products and services.” And the rates were quite reasonable, at $300 for a quarter-page to $700 for full.

However, my gut told me something was wrong. A quick Internet search showed several complaints about the company, but this is not conclusive. I sent an email to the four golf clubs named in the letter – Admiral’s Green, Bally Haly, Clovelly and GlenDenning – to ask if they had agreed to distribute the magazine. Three of them replied. None had ever heard of ABC Marketing, let alone agreed to circulate the magazine. “I just did a quick Google on it and your gut is right,” said one of the golf course reps. “It appears to be a scam marketing company.”

If you get a call from this company, I advise you to hang up with extreme prejudice.

Also, a short note about another sketchy crowd. A while back, I signed up for online advertising with Yellow Pages, which feeds geographic information to Google searches (and is a legitimate, useful service). Several weeks later, I received a call from “Global Tech,” offering to elevate search results for my business to the top ranking in Google. It was not a random call – they were using my web site for background information and the wording sounded similar to conversations I had had with the Yellow Pages people. However, when they said that I “pre-qualified” for the service and would now be transferred to a sales rep to discuss “available packages” I realized they were scammers, and hung up abruptly. A search revealed that Global Tech is infamous across the web as a company that indulges in a variety of scams. If you receive a call from them, hang up immediately.

Freaky fee

Since launching my web site in 2007, I’ve been using the services of Moneris for online credit card processing. Last year, while developing a completely new site, I cast about for alternatives to Moneris (which is operated by Royal Bank of Canada). I discovered that Elavon, a service of Costco, charged substantially less than Moneris. I decided to make the switch.

This is when I discovered the bank fee to end all bank fees. At first, Moneris fought to keep my business – and fair enough – by offering more competitive rates. But when I formally advised them that I was moving on, I was told that a cancellation fee of $300 would be levied.

That’s right: three hundred dollars. To cancel an account that had been active for seven years. When I protested, the attendant advised me that Elavon’s cancellation fee was even higher, and I’d better ask about that before switching. A quick check, however, revealed that she was wrong – Elavon has no cancellation fee. None at all. But when advised of her error, the Moneris rep was unrepentant: the $300 would be charged.

By making it so expensive to cancel, Moneris is hoping that I will keep my business where it is. That, however, is a blatantly unfair tactic that frankly should be outlawed. It’s ridiculous and unacceptable. The best way to avoid this skulduggery, of course, is to give Moneris a pass because there are far more options out there now than there were in 2007.

Finding Common Ground

I used to joke that there are three challenges to working at home: the couch, the fridge and the TV. And while there are big advantages to a home-based business, most owners will eventually outgrow the basement and require a dedicated space of their own. Now there is an alternative that makes that transition both affordable and enjoyable. It’s Common Ground, a non-profit organization that offers comprehensive office services and more for small businesses and start-ups, for a nominal membership fee.

“Common Ground provides a fresh, community-based alternative to the way we ‘go to work’ in St. John’s,” said Executive Director, Jennifer Smith, in an email interview. “As a non-profit, social enterprise, Common Ground attracts a wide variety of people working independently on their projects and businesses in a shared, open-concept work environment. Common Ground is a hub for entrepreneurs, non-profits, freelancers, artists, remote workers and anyone looking for the freedom to work the way they want in a professional, fully-equipped space. For $250 per month members gain 24/7 access to desks, reliable wifi, meeting rooms, kitchen facilities, locker storage, unlimited coffee, a mailbox and the most exciting coworkers in the city!”

Smith added that Common Ground has done well in renting its private office space. “Our focus now is getting the word out there to people who are working from home, in coffee shops, traveling to St. John’s for business. We also have a $75 rate that’s great for those looking to work from a co-working space once a week.”

To find out more, visit



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