Nominations sought for 2017 Small Business Awards

jcr-publications_high-resThe Small Business Administration issued a call for nominations on Nov. 15 for its 2017 Small Business Awards. Categories include Small Business Person of the Year, Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award, Women’s Business Center of Excellence Award, and more.

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Nominations sought for 2016 Small Business Awards

The U.S. Small Business Administration is accepting nominations for its 2016 National Small Business Week Awards, which recognize small business owners that have amazing stories to share. The deadline for nominations is Jan. 11, 2016. The awards recognize seven categories.

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Small businesses: SBA loans can be a viable option for business owners

Photo by: epSos .de

Small business owners and entrepreneurs seeking financing to help start a business or expand one should consider the many resources the Small Business Administration offers, including loans that are often more flexible and tied to a lower interest rate than conventional loans.

The SBA recognizes companies with fewer than 500 employees as small businesses and attributes them with generating more than half of the nation’s nonfarm private gross domestic product. In addition, the administration notes that small businesses account for nearly half of all jobs in the private sector.

According to the NCRA, freelance court reporters and captioners comprise approximately 70 percent of its membership. In addition, hundreds of court reporting firms throughout the United States provide an array of services including court reporting, broadcast captioning, assistance to people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, legal videography, business and corporate reporting, and more.

“When I was looking for a loan to buy a business, I knew that the typical standard loan was available, but I also knew I could get better interest rates and the potential for better terms if I used the SBA,” said NCRA member Cregg Seymour, president of CRC Salomon, Inc., a court reporting firm in Baltimore, Md.

Seymour said he interviewed three different banking representatives when searching for his loan and presented each one the terms and conditions he was looking for. He finally settled on working with an institution that has an internal SBA department.

“My pitch to the bank was that I wanted to establish a relationship because I want to do multiple deals over time. I was actually able to name my terms for the loan, something a lot of people don’t realize. Most people think terms need to be five, 10, or 15 years, but through the SBA you can construct them to have their own life,” Seymour said.

He advises those seeking SBA loans to find a banking institution that does a lot of SBA loans such as one that offers an in-house specialist. He also said borrowers should have patience because they might find more boxes to check to qualify since the SBA is a government-sponsored entity and tends to be more tenacious in regards to due diligence.

According to Melanie Samoska, a business banking relationship manager for a branch of SunTrust Bank in Baltimore, Md., the SBA loan process can be just as easy as qualifying for a conventional loan. She also noted that SBA loans can be a great option for business owners who might have had past bad credit issues since the program offers a lower credit score requirement for certain types of loans. However, she emphasizes, bad credit issues should not be the primary reason to apply for a SBA loan.

“There is a misconception that SBA loans take longer than conventional loans. An SBA non-real-estate loan can close within 60 days if all documentation has been presented in a timely manner. If the SBA loan involves real estate, the loan process from beginning to end will typically take on average 120 days,” Samoska said.

NCRA member Teresa Rider, RPR, CRR, president of Rider & Associates, Inc. in Vancouver, Wash., said that after speaking to several more traditional financial institutions and considering the state of the economy at the time and high interest rates on commercial property loans, she was pointed in the direction of SBA to secure a loan when she was looking to purchase a building.

“The paperwork seemed more tedious and extensive than purchasing residential property which I had gone through in the past. However, the SBA was willing to give me a second loan for improvements that were needed in the office building. This helped me tremendously,” Rider said.

Rider said she would recommend SBA loans to other small business owners but would caution them to understand all aspects of the loan first. While conventional loans require borrowers to have liquidity collateral to place against a loan, the SBA will accept the borrower’s house or even a life insurance policy.

“One of the issues that we encountered was that the lender put a lien on our personal residence. This became troublesome when we wanted to refinance our home,” said Rider.

“The company that held the SBA loan was not willing to lift the lien long enough for us to refinance. It also would have made it difficult to sell our home. In the end, we refinanced the SBA loan on the office instead,” she added.

Whether securing a loan from a conventional lender or SBA, borrowers should do their own due diligence and be sure to weigh the pros and cons of all terms of the loan, including what type of loan product fits their needs the best.

“I found the SBA pretty easy to work with. I have the experience of doing large loans so I went in with the proper expectations. Have your ducks in a row. It is relatively easy to obtain a loan through the SBA if you have good financials, good tax records, and profit and loss information in place to tell a good story,” Seymour said.

“This is a great time for folks to be seeking capital. Banks have private venture groups looking for ways to loan money to good people, and the SBA wants to work with good candidates,” he noted.

The Office of the National Ombudsman shares information for small business owners struggling with regulations

Following NCRA President Nancy Varallo’s testimony at the National Regulatory Fairness hearing before the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Office of the National Ombudsman has shared information on how small business owners can report “unfair or excessive federal regulatory compliance or enforcement.” Varallo’s testimony was specifically directed at the new HIPAA regulations on keeping personal information private, but the National Ombudsman can help small business owners with other regulatory issues as well.

The National Ombudsman: Protecting small businesses and promoting government accountability

Who is the National Ombudsman?

The Office of the National Ombudsman assists small businesses facing unfair or excessive federal regulatory compliance or enforcement issues such as repetitive audits or investigations, excessive fines, and retaliation.

As an impartial liaison, the Office of the National Ombudsman directs reported regulatory fairness matters to the appropriate federal agency for high-level fairness review and works across government to address those concerns, reduce regulatory burdens, and help small businesses succeed.

Congress established the Office of the National Ombudsman in 1996 as part of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA). The Act ensures that businesses, small government entities, and small nonprofit organizations have a means to comment if they experience unfair regulatory enforcement actions by federal agencies.

The National Ombudsman can help

  • If you’re a small business or represent one, a nonprofit organization, or a small government entity (population 50,000 or less), and
  • If your comment or complaint directly involves a federal agency and federal regulation

How to file a comment or complaint with the National Ombudsman’s office

Interested in filing a comment or complaint? Follow these three easy steps:

1. Visit sba.gov/ombudsman/comment

2. Complete the form as instructed. Here are a few tips:

  • Describe the enforcement, inspection, or compliance taken by the federal agency and the results.
  • Briefly state the specific action or outcome you are seeking.
  • Provide documentation of the action taken if available, such as correspondence, citations, or notices.

3. Submit the form directly online OR download the form and submit it by email, fax, or regular mail:

  • Email: ombudsman@sba.gov
  • Fax: 202-481-5719
  • Mail: U.S. Small Business Administration
    Office of the National Ombudsman
    409 3rd St, S.W.
    Washington, DC 20416

Keep in mind!

This process is not a substitute for any other action you may take regarding specific federal enforcement activity, so you should continue to pursue all legal and administrative remedies you believe are in your company’s best interest.

Need help?

There are two ways you can contact the Office of the National Ombudsman:

Read more or submit a comment.

 

Varallo urges action from the Small Business Administration’s National Ombudsman on HIPAA regulations

In June, NCRA President Nancy Varallo testified at the National Regulatory Fairness hearing before the National Ombudsmen at the U.S. Small Business Administration on the potential impact new compliance regulations regarding HIPAA, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, pose to court reporting professionals. These HIPAA regulations came into law specifically under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, commonly known as the HITECH Act. In addition to her testimony, Varallo has formally requested action from the SBA’s National Ombudsman on behalf of court reporters. She requested that “the Department of Health and Human Services exempt court reporters from provisions of HIPAA regulations, specifically the HITECH Act effective as of Sep. 23, 2013, when they are hired to provide verbatim court reporting services in the courtroom or in litigation-related forums, such as depositions, administrative hearings, arbitrations.”

Varallo’s letter to the National Ombudsman explains that court reporters have long been accustomed to keeping impartial confidentiality, and that protecting private information, including health information, is “a matter of routine business practice.” She further warns that since most court reporters are self-employed, and even most agencies which employ the services of court reporters are smaller than the SBA’s definition of a small business, “compliance with these regulations would be unduly burdensome” not just for court reporters, but also for subcontractors like proofreaders, production assistants, and scopists. The role of these subcontractors is also unclear under the current regulations. Varallo also expressed concern over a potential “abuse of intent” from lawyers or law firms who hire court reporters, who could each draft their own versions of a compliance document, “enabling the proliferation of a minefield of conflicting obligations.”

Varallo concluded her letter by saying, “With regard to court reporters, the HITECH Act will not ensure the sort of outcome envisioned by the law.” Compliance may be feasible for big business that “can undertake the cost and assign the manpower necessary,” but the nature of the court reporting field would make compliance a “significant burden.”

Court reporting in the spotlight during National Small Business Week

NCRA applauded the many court reporting firms and freelance court reporting professionals that contribute to the local, state, and national economy in recognition of National Small Business Week, which was June 17-21. The event was sponsored by the Small Business Administration to highlight the impact of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from all 50 states and U.S. territories.

The SBA recognizes companies with fewer than 500 employees as small businesses and attributes them with generating more than half of the nation’s nonfarm private Gross Domestic Product. In addition, the administration notes that small businesses account for nearly half of all jobs in the private sector. According to NCRA, approximately 70 percent of its membership is comprised of freelance court reporters and captioners. In addition, hundreds of court reporting firms throughout the United States provide an array of services including court reporting, broadcast captioning, assistance to the deaf and hard-of-hearing, legal videography, business and corporate reporting, and more.

“Success in small business is a huge part of the American Dream, and the SBA is a wonderful resource for small businesses such as court reporting firms, many of which might never have been able to open without the administration’s support,” says NCRA President Nancy Varallo, RDR, CRR, owner of The Varallo Group in Worcester, Mass., a nontraditional agency that offers court reporting, business development, and administrative support services to reporters and reporting firms.

“I was fortunate to leverage an SBA loan in 2012 to make a game-changing acquisition,” says Jan Ballman, RPR, CMRS, president and CEO of Paradigm Reporting and Captioning in Minneapolis, Minn. “The SBA loan program provided the opportunity that led to key funding for growing my business. Its favorable terms proved to be very small-business friendly.”

While the SBA provides valuable financial resources to small businesses, NCRA also works to provide resources of its own to help owners and senior management of court reporting firms succeed by improving their businesses’ bottom lines, says Varallo. Each February, the association hosts its Firm Owners Conference, which offers attendees networking opportunities, as well as educational and informative sessions led by leading business experts. In addition, NCRA’s annual Convention & Expo held each year in August provides court reporters from all segments of the profession with a variety of educational and instructional sessions, numerous networking opportunities, and access to vendors attending to showcase their latest products and services. In October, the association holds an annual Legal Video Conference that offers a two-day seminar and a legal video forum led by some of the best faculty in the profession.

“We are proud to recognize that court reporting firms and freelance court reporting and captioning professionals are part of the vital small business sector of our nation’s economy,” says Jim Cudahy, CEO and executive director of NCRA. “Starting, growing, and succeeding in small business can be very difficult, especially if the right resources are not available. The SBA has a strong history of making success achievable, and court reporting firms are fortunate to have access to its resources.”

Created in 1953 as an independent agency of the government, the SBA has long provided financial aid and council to help grow small businesses and has assisted in protecting the interests of this segment of the market. Today, the agency provides assistance through an extensive network of field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. The SBA has recognized the efforts and growth of small business in the United States with an annual Small Businesses Week since 1963.