MicroOffice helps businesses start small

MicroOffice helps businesses start small from Jesse D. Leon on Vimeo.

Some small businesses are content to stay based in home-offices or garages, but many are ready to take the next step into professionalism.

“There’s a certain level of financial dedication that it takes, and a certain level of mental dedication, of ‘I’m doing this,’ and when you’re at that point, you’re ready for office space,” said David Rotbard, founder of MicroOffice.

MicroOffice gives its clients a range of options from virtual offices to corner suites with windows, helping many small business grow and put on a more professional appearance. MicroOffice has nine floors in four buildings around Manhattan, including a building blocks away from Pennsylvania Station in Midtown and one overlooking Union Square Park.

With a fancy Manhattan address, a receptionist, kitchen, lobby and conference rooms included in their rent, MicroOffice’s tenants find that their vendors, customers and contractors all take them more seriously.

“It gives us the impression of being a much larger company than we are, which is very, very helpful in today’s market, while allowing a reasonable rent for a small business to survive and compete,” said Jeremy Green, of Futura Power Inc., an energy consulting company, who has a cubicle by the window.

Rotbard said that when he started MicroOffices, he expected it to be a launchpad for small businesses to get their start. He said he was pleasantly surprised to find that some customers stuck with him, like Sokol Brahn, an immigration lawyer who has been renting a cubicle with MicroOffice for six years.

“It’s a good place, it’s in the middle of Manhattan,” Brahn said. “It’s good for me, I’m a solo practitioner, I don’t need a big space, a big office.”

Pay Cut Survey Results

After hearing a Florida firefighter admit to an NPR host that he would take half his salary to keep his job, I decided to conduct a survey to test how others saw pay cuts.

The results were surprising. In my very unscientific poll, 32 respondents overwhelmingly said that they would take a pay cut to keep a job. Eighty percent of the sample said that they would take a pay cut to keep their jobs, but many hedged their answer based on job satisfaction and the size of the cut. With a tough economy, though, many respondents felt that it wouldn’t make sense to opt for unemployment. This is an emotional issue for many people, and some of the words that captured their answers make up the word cloud above.

“In these tough economic times, finding a job is really difficult,” one respondent answered. “If I reject the pay cut, I am taking a risk of not being able to find a new job, which in the end, would make my salary lower than any pay cut would.”

Respondents were asked what the largest percent of their salary they were willing to part with was, and the bulk said that they wouldn’t accept a cut of more than ten percent. However, in the ‘Other’ category one respondent said that she would give up 75 percent of her salary, while many opted not to give a set number for fear of tempting fate. What became clear is that almost all of the respondents considered these cuts to be temporary, and expected a full return to their regular salary when their companies began growing again.

For some, it was a matter of keeping an income while they searched for a better paying job.

“I would rather take a pay cut and, if I need the money, be able to work while looking for another job, rather than be out of a job while not having guaranteed work.”

What was most surprising though is that people are more stubborn about giving up their benefits. The pie charts below show the contrast.

Although 2 out of 3 respondents would take a cut to their benefits, there is a wide gulf between that number and the 80 percent willing to take a cut in pay.

Survey Diary

I thought my idea for a survey was a great one, and one that everyone, regardless of whether or not they had a job, could relate to. I hoped that this broad appeal would make people more likely to take my survey.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. I think what I learned from this assignment is that web surveys are extremely easy to ignore. I was the first person to post my survey onto the J-School group, and got maybe three or four responses for an assignment that all 90 of us had. What’s worse, I realized that I did the same thing, taking just a few of the dozens of surveys posted onto the group.

In the end, I got 32 responses, and that was after convincing my own mother that she had to take the survey. I had posted the survey on facebook multiple times, and twitter one or two times, with limited response. At some point, it was 2 a.m. and I was bored, and figured that any of my Facebook friends that were still awake couldn’t have anything much more valuable to do than fill out a quick survey, and started digitally bum-rushing my friends with survey links.

That strategy worked well, in one night I doubled my respondents. I tried posting my survey to other people’s walls, to help spread it to a wider audience, but not bites. I think that surveys need to be very actively pitched to people, or else they won’t bother spending the time to do it. I think this week I’m going to try spamming a few LinkedIn groups, because I think that the type of people who are more active on LinkedIn might be more likely to fill out this survey.

I know from my own survey habits though, I won’t do it unless it’s literally right in front of my face, or there’s something in it for me. Phone calls sometimes work on me, and people in the street with clipboards nearly always do. I bet I would have a lot more responses if I went out and beat the pavement for this thing.

Barber on Bad Economy

People have been tightening their belts because of the times, hoping that cutting their spending will help them through a tough economy. But according to Daniel Yagudayev, a barber from West Hempstead, New York, people don’t realize that their penny pinching trickles up.

Everyone needs haircuts, but to save money they figure they don’t need them nearly as often. Because his customers aren’t coming as often, Yagudayev said he’s losing at least $2,000 a year as compared to his business before 2008.

Customers are going longer without a trim:

Yagudayev outlines why people are coming for a cut less frequently, and how long they’re waiting.


20-30 percent drop

Yagudayev breaks down how his business has slowed down by the numbers, saying that he serves 20-30 percent fewer clients per week, on average.


What’s a business to do?

Yagudayev explains his strategy for surviving the tougher times.


Ambient Sound

Five minutes of what Yagudayev’s barbershop sounds like with a customer in the chair.

A B-Boy Mecca in Forest Hills

bboys 005

Three nights a week the basketball courts at the Queens Community House ring with the sound of heavy bass instead of bouncing balls and sneaker screech. On Monday, Tuesday and Friday, breakdancers flock from all over New York City to practice their moves in the only free spot in town.

The program started 15 years ago when Mike Zevon, assistant director for youth services at Queens Community House, walked past some teenagers dancing in Flushing Meadows Park. Zevon opened the space to them, and the crowd grew from a handful to over a hundred.

“When I started coming here, there was maybe ten of us,” said Ramon “Jiggz” Silverio, one of the original b-boys. “Little by little more people started hearing about it.”

Rickey Perez and Nigel Roberts, who were both inspired to breakdance a few years ago after watching “America’s Best Dance Crew,” on MTV, take the two-hour trip from the Bronx to practice their flips, handstands and windmills.

“I don’t mind the trip, it’s well worth it every time,” Roberts said.

Photo Essay Fail

Unfortunately, I was not able to complete my photo essay on the installation of solar panels.
When I pitched the essay, I had been in contact with an installer from Queens, who had given me the number of an installer who had an active site in Harlem within the time frame to shoot this assignment. I pitched the story based on the belief that I’d have access to that site.
However, when I spoke to the second installer, he told me he was going upstate for an installation, and was leaving relatively inexperienced workers to take care of the site in Harlem. Since he would have to double-check their work, he didn’t want me to take pictures of anything that might have been installed incorrectly, and so last Thursday, he closed off my access to his site.
I spent the next morning canvassing the New York City area for a new installer to shoot, and found the New York Solar Energy Industries Association’s list of members. I called every installer that fell geographically between the Hudson River and about Exit 64 on the Long Island Expressway (pretty far east). I was met with three reactions: 1) Installers had no active sites, having things in the permit stage, but not yet ready to be installed for a few weeks. 2) No interest in dealing with me, or the liability of worrying about me falling off a roof (one installer actually bluntly asked me, “and what happens if you fall off the roof?”), and 3) the belief that I was a corporate spy who was trying to learn their methods to start my own, competing firm.
Friday’s search bore little fruit, but one installer who was dubious about my intentions agreed that if I could prove to him that I was in fact a journalist, and not trying to freeload his methods, he would let me see his sites. I emailed him from my .edu account with links to two recent stories I had written, and he told me on Friday afternoon that someone from his office would call me on Monday.
On Monday, I called them, and they hadn’t heard from their boss about allowing me access. I tried calling his cell phone, but he never picked up and it didn’t have a voicemail attached. I called back again Tuesday, and still no word.
So here I am on Wednesday, with a holiday starting tonight at 6:02, and no pictures.

Photo Essay Pitch: Solar Panel Installation

I would like to do my photoessay on the installation process of solar panels. This story is interesting because of a convergence of news coverage on increased investment in green jobs, the Solyndra scandal, and general public interest in solar energy.
In terms of access, I’ve already spoken to Mark Chandarpal, who runs Go Solar/Go Green NY. Chandarpal was open to the idea of a photo essay, but he doesn’t have any projects. However, he has a friend doing an installation in Harlem, and is connecting me to him. Ideally, this means that I can get out there tomorrow for the shoot, but Sunday and Monday will work just as well. I think that since I’ll be shooting an ongoing installation, it would be more structured as more a day in the life of one of the installers, which will show more intimately the process of putting up solar panels than they typical shots of solar panels already completed.
I think this is a good visual story because of how alien solar panels still look on top of buildings and homes, and it’s a very physical story. There is something being done, and I think that translates well to a series of images. In terms of the targeted audience, I would say that If this slideshow is good enough, a magazine like Scientific American or Popular Mechanics might be interested in it.

Keep a job or start your own business?

Musician Brett Dennen summed up many people’s internal debate with a probing tweet:

Would you rather be self employed and work tirelessly non stop, or work for someone else and work leisurely and less… http://t.co/jWhjxeeFThu Sep 15 21:00:34 via Formspring.me

In a tough economy quitting a safe job doesn’t sound like a smart idea. However, many Americans have a burning entrepreneurial spirit and think their ideas can make them rich.

There are benefits to weigh when considering starting your own business. Being your own boss can be a powerful draw, but when you’re self employed, all of the tedious aspects of running a business fall on your shoulders.

Entrepreneurship isn’t in the cards for everyone though. Startup Daddy, a blog on startups, advises that starting a business can be a lot more than most can handle, and not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.

A steady job, on the other hand, offers structure and security. Self-employment might be a good option for someone who was laid off and hasn’t found work in months, but is the freedom of being your own boss worth the risks?

There’s really no right answer, it depends on a person’s constitution and dedication to doing a lot of work to start a business up and keep it running. I’d love to own my own business, but I’m not sure if I could handle the day-to-day issues that I, and only I, would be responsible for. Maybe the security of being an employee would be better for me.

Weigh in on this issue either in the comments or on Twitter. Use hashtag #jobsquest to join the conversation, and answer the question that Dennan posed: would you rather slave for your own business or work a nine-to-five for someone else?

The basics of self-employment

High unemployment and high self-employment go hand in hand. Freshly laid off workers are trying to deal with the recession by the power of their own entrepreneurial spirit, a risk that can be a great opportunity for nearly anyone.

Most people aren’t used to being their own bosses, though, and need a little guidance around the legal and practical issues they will face with their own business. While the government and society in general are rooting for clever startups, it can be tough to wade through all of the regulations and tax laws that self-employment brings.

To simplify, here’s a list of links that can clear up any self-employment issues, as well as give you some good pointers on getting your business moving towards the black.

  1. Business Week’s Guide to Self-Employment
  2. The National Association for the Self-Employed
  3. The Self Employment Assistance Program
  4. Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center
  5. Self-Employment Resources from USA.gov