What can a blog do to your business?

What can a blog do to your business?

Till recently, Influencer Marketing as a term was used in the context of movie and sports stars who endorsed various products and services in the mass media. Enterprises earmark a sizable portion of their marketing budget to engage these offline celebrities as a part of their Influencer Marketing strategy.

However, with Internet penetration growing exponentially and social media becoming ubiquitous, Influencer Marketing has touched the next generation of celebrities – bloggers, video bloggers and micro-bloggers.

Bloggers, who are a source of inspiration for hundreds and thousands of loyal followers, have become important influencers because they are seen as authentic and trustworthy people. In a recent report by McKinsey marketing-inspired word-of-mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising, and these customers have a 37 per cent higher retention rate.

Another key aspect going in the favour of bloggers as influencers is the big connect they have with the new age social and mobile first consumers. Brands, both big and small, are increasingly engaging in blogging as an Influencer Marketing tool for the following reasons:

1. COST-EFFECTIVENESS: In comparison to engaging movie and sport celebs, collaborating with bloggers as a part of Influencer Marketing is much more cost-effective.

2. HUMANISATION OF BUSINESS: Since blogging is a conversational style of writing where every blogger has his/her own tonality, it results in greater connect with audiences and in a native fashion.

3. ENHANCEMENT OF CREDIBILITY: When bloggers, being a third party, talk about a brand or a product, it creates an objective-based impression among readers and enhances the credibility of the brand.

4. EFFECTIVE CONNECT WITH TARGETED AUDIENCE: Every blogger has their own area of expertise for writing and hence a niche set of followers. Therefore, collaborating with bloggers with right set of followers helps brands hit the bull’s eye in terms of audiences.

5. DRIVING MORE TRAFFIC ON BRAND’S WEBSITE: Since bloggers generally integrate the images and links of the products and services they are writing on, it results in driving higher and relevant traffic back to the brands website.

6. ENHANCING SCALABILITY: The availability of Influencer Marketing platforms empowers brands to scale up the collaboration with bloggers from 10’s to 100’s based on budget and campaign requirements.

The key challenge a brand faces is to find and connect with right set of bloggers. Below are few points a marketer should consider while engaging with social influencers:

Relevance of the blog and blogger: Marketers must check what the blogger writes about and if the blog followers fall under the brand’s TG. Quality/tonality of the blog and background of the blogger are equally necessary to determine before engaging.

Audience engagement: A good blogger is the one who knows how to get audience hooked. One way to see the audience engagement is to check if a blog is receiving any comments from its visitors. Apart from that, social media connections to the blog can be a sound parameter to measure the audience engagement.

Reach of the blog: Reach is an essential metric to attain the popularity of a blog. One can ask for the monthly traffic analytics of the blog to get the insights into its reach. The higher the numbers, the better!

Influencer Marketing, powered by blogging, is the fastest growing channel for digital customer acquisition and integrating it as an integral part of marketing mix is the best way to turbo-charge your social sales.

How Far Can The Syria Conflict Spiral Out Of Control

syria

Business is business, so why not buy oil from ISIS. The Russians claim the Turks are doing it, and in all likelihood even Assad is buying it. No one can fight a war without oil, according to Robert Bensh, partner and managing director of Pelicourt LLC oil and gas company.

While the politically unhinged are coming out the woodwork, the more important aspects of this story remain elusive to the public. Is the dangerously unspoken theory that ISIS is a bulwark against Iran what’s keeping the West from tackling the Islamic State wholeheartedly on its territory? With no nation that can control it, the threat is now out of control and a war of ambiguous targets is emerging.

In an exclusive interview with James Stafford of Oilprice, Bensh discusses:

• How far the Russia-Turkey spat can go economically
• The fallout effects for countries caught in between
• What Russia wants
• What Turkey wants
• What other geopolitical purposes ISIS serves
• Why ISIS can’t be controlled
• How Shi’ite radical groups differ
• Why we’re looking at a possible remapping of a significant part of the energy arena
• Why we shouldn’t listen to billionaire buffoons

James Stafford: Just over a week after Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet targeting ISIS oil facilities in northern Syria and Moscow’s imposition of ‘special economic measures’ against Turkey, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Ankara that this “cowardly military crime” won’t be taken lightly with just a ban on imports of “tomatoes or some restrictions in the construction and other industries.” Putin also reverted to Allah, noting that ‘perhaps, Allah decided to punish the ruling clique of Turkey by depriving it of its mind and reason.” How much farther can this spat go from a geo-economic standpoint?

Robert Bensh: Russia and Turkey have a great deal of economic interdependence, and nowhere more than in the energy sector. There has been no talk of cutting Russian gas to Turkey, and I don’t see how Russia can afford this right now. Turkey is not only a significant customer for Russia, but it’s also a key gas-transit point.

James Stafford: So what does Turkey want?

Robert Bensh: The better question is: “What does Erdogan want?” You know, Putin’s probably not too far off in his statement referring to Erdogan’s loss of “mind and reason”. Erdogan has been going down this path little by little for some time and it’s no secret that he has some megalomaniacal tendencies that grow more and more out of control every year. It would seem that he has dreams of a return of the Ottoman Empire—and that ISIS could be a logical ally to that end. Of course, ISIS is not likely looking to be beholden to another Ottoman Empire controlling a greater Sunni-Arab dominion. Many, many Turks fail to share this dream with their leader, and his ambitions will also be his eventual downfall unfortunately.

For the Turkish regime, there is also the idea that ISIS will ostensibly give them more power against the rise of the Kurds, both in southeastern Turkey and in northern Syria. It will even raise the Turks’ status in the face of the Saudis whose oil wealth has make them more powerful than the Turks in many ways.

James Stafford: Ok, so what does Russia want?

Robert Bensh: The Russian stance on Syria has been less ambiguous: support Assad and strike ISIS. For Russia, there are a couple of ‘domestic’ angles to this as well. One—they have a radical Islamic problem always on the point of revival in the North Caucasus. The more ISIS is emboldened and empowered, the higher the threat to Russia from within its own borders. Two—the Levant Basin oil and gas prospects. Israel has already made geopolitically game-changing gas discoveries in its part of this basin. Lebanon—if it ever passes the necessary legislation—will also start exploring its part of this prolific basin. Syria has a part in this too, and the Russians already have the right to explore under Assad. They certainly won’t have it under an ISIS-created Sunni caliphate.

James Stafford: Russia claims to have evidence that Turkey was buying oil from ISIS. How much merit do you think there is to this claim?

Robert Bensh: I am not privy to this evidence, but I can tell you this. It certainly has merit in theory. In all likelihood ISIS is even selling oil to the Assad regime that it is fighting against in Syria. Assad needs oil; ISIS needs money. Business is business, even in war and even with your enemies.

James Stafford: What we want to know is why is the West holding back against ISIS? We hear conflicting reports about the targets of air strikes and we can’t get a clear picture.

Robert Bensh: Listen, this is all about Iran at the end of the day, and continually about the Sunni-Shi’ite balance of power. While the West shuffles back and forth uncertain whether to destroy Assad or to destroy the ISIS monster that they helped to create to destroy Assad, and which also in large part arose out of the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein and radically upset the Sunni-Shi’ite balance of power.

James Stafford: Can Western countries, or NATO, effectively defeat ISIS?

Robert Bensh: I suppose the more answerable question is whether the West is willing to truly fight ISIS—at least on ISIS’ territory.

James Stafford: Let me interrupt you here … That’s where many of our readers get lost in this chaos. Why does there seem to be no concerted military move against ISIS by Western nations, aside from the on-and-off airstrikes, the targets of which there is also a great deal of ambiguity?

Robert Bensh: First, let me just stress that I am not a military man, nor am I a politician or a diplomat. I’m a businessman; and businessmen look at things a bit differently because they need to be able to see where things are going and what that means for investments. What I see right now is a great deal of uncertainty as to who the real ‘enemy’ is—or, rather, who the worse enemy is.

There appears to have been for some time an overriding and unspoken conviction that ISIS was a convenient bulwark against an increase in Iranian power, in Shi’ite power. Either propping up ISIS or only half-heartedly pushing it back is a way to keep Iran subdued. This is a mistake that the West has made time again and refuses to learn from. When that bulwark comes back to launch terrorist attacks in your country—well, then it’s too late to rethink strategy effectively.

But here’s the part that I think everyone misses in this cynical way of looking at geopolitics and alliances that are forged along the lines of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”: Iran can control its Shi’ite radicals. No one can control the Sunni insurgents.

James Stafford: Why is that?

Robert Bensh: That’s easy—and this is where the historical lesson is continually ignored. The Sunni radical groups have been used over and over as a means of destabilizing regimes or the like, and then the modus operandi has always been to cut them loose. So they are armed, organized in a rather haphazard manner and on their own.

James Stafford: From a geopolitical standpoint, can you give us any prognosis for how the ISIS threat or the Russia-Turkey spat could extend with new alliances or other upsets to the balance of power?

Robert Bensh: We are now seeing a clearer re-mapping of geopolitical relationships. And more specifically, geopolitical agendas—some shrouded for some time; others simply incoherent—will surface in the light of day.

James Stafford: Well, we know that Russia-U.S. relations remain deadlocked over Assad and Ukraine, and we know that Russian-Turkish relations are at a dangerous tipping point—but are there some less obvious re-alignments?

Robert Bensh: Ok, let’s take Kazakhstan for instance—a country that is enormously important in the energy equation. Kazakhstan is a geopolitically complicated arena right now. On one hand, it belongs to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and boasts Russia as its largest trading partner. But Turkey is also a fairly significant trading partner for Kazakhstan and Turkish companies play a major role in Kazakhstan. These are highly strategic relationships, and one could argue that Turkey is the more strategically important for Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s response to Turkey’s downing of the Russian plane illustrates the difficult position in which Kazakhstan finds itself, with one official condemning the Turkish move and then the Foreign Ministry immediately toning that down. It’s trying desperately to maintain neutrality, but this will not be possible.

James Stafford: What does that mean for oil?

Robert Bensh: Again, to even attempt to determine the possible outcome, you have to follow the oil. Kazakhstan’s oil is largely exported through the Black Sea and then the Mediterranean. Turkey holds a major card here because it controls the Turkish Straits and could choose to block Russian tankers. Kazakhstan’s only real path right now is to pay lip service to Turkey to ensure no closing of the straits and to maintain a fair balance with Russia at the same time, but it’s the Turkish Straits that will be first and foremost on its mind.

James Stafford: Thank you for your time. I know that our audience—and most of the American public at least—is desperate to understand what’s really going on here; who ISIS actually is; and who everyone’s supposed to be scared of. This creates a huge amount of public insecurity, and that fear breeds all kinds of other dangers, not to mention support for ill-advised strategies.

Robert Bensh: Here’s the thing. This is when all the crazies come out of the woodwork—and I won’t even waste your time with certain attention-seeking billionaire buffoons here. There are very few analysts in the world who can paint a big picture for you here. No one can truly predict what will come next. ISIS is loosely comprised of too many different groups and alliances, and the emerging threat is becoming much more individual, which makes it much more unpredictable. And as far as geopolitics are concerned, agendas in this game are more often than not being made up as we go along. For the energy industry, it’s touch-and-go. The fate of key pipelines is in question and this conflict threatens to redraw some significant chunks of the energy map.

Reliance Infra Reportedly in Talks for Cement Business Sale, Shares Rise

Reliance Infra Reportedly in Talks for Cement Business Sale, Shares RiseReliance Infrastructure shares rallied as much as 7.86 per cent to hit intraday high of Rs 493.85 in an otherwise subdued market on reports that the company is planning to sell its cement unit.

Citing sources, Reuters reported that Reliance Infrastructure is in advanced talks to sell its cement business for Rs 2,600 crore and a deal could be announced as soon as this week.

The report added that under the terms of the deal, the buyer would also take over the cement unit’s outstanding debt of Rs 2,400 crore, giving the business an enterprise value of Rs 5,000 crore.

Reliance Infrastructure’s cement unit has three plants with total installed capacity of 5.8 million tonne per annum (MTPA). Another 5 MTPA cement manufacturing plant is being developed in Maharashtra, according to its website.

Analysts say that if the proposed move goes through then it will lower the debt on company’s balance sheets.

Shares of Reliance Infrastructure ended 7.7 per cent higher at Rs 493.

Business Responsibility Reports Must for Top 500 Listed Firms: Sebi

Business Responsibility Reports Must for Top 500 Listed Firms: SebiNew Delhi: To ensure better compliance with corporate governance norms, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has notified new rules making it mandatory for top 500 listed companies to prepare annual business responsibility reports, covering their activities related to environment and stakeholder relationships.

Currently, the business responsibility reports (BRs) are mandatory for top 100-listed entities based on market capitalisation at stock exchanges BSE and NSE.

The decision by market regulator Sebi is part of larger efforts to improve corporate governance practices and more transparency in terms of reporting of various socially responsible activities carried out by the listed entities.

The move comes after Sebi’s board approved the decision last month.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has now made it applicable for top 500 listed companies, based on their market capitalisation at the end of March every year, to submit business responsibility reports, it said in a notification.

The new regulation – Sebi (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) – would come into force from April, 2016.

In August 2012, Sebi made business responsibility reporting compulsory for top 100 listed entities based on market capitalisation in their annual reports.

The key areas required to be reported by the entities include environment, social, governance and stakeholder relationships.

Sold! Sales of Small Businesses Continue to Rise

The number of small businesses changing hands is on the rise, new research finds.

Overall, 66 percent of business brokers experienced an increase in the number of small businesses bought and sold in 2015, compared to just 14 percent who saw a decrease in such activity levels, found BizBuySell, an online marketplace for buying and selling small businesses.

Business brokers attribute the uptick in activity to a combination of reasons, including an increased number of interested buyers, a better small business environment highlighted by improved revenue and profit, and a surge in the number of owners looking to sell.

An increase in the number of baby boomers wanting to retire is also contributing to the increased number of small businesses being bought and sold, the research found. The study revealed that 77 percent of brokers attributed at least one-quarter of their closed transactions to baby boomers, while 46 percent said more than half of their sales came from retiring baby boomers.

“While the market has been strong for several years now, brokers have yet to experience any decline in number of quality listings,” Bob House, group general manager of BizBuySell.com and BizQuest.com, said in a statement. “With sellers growing more confident in their valuations, buyers gaining additional access to capital and the small business environment continuing to improve economically, the market is set up for strong transaction levels in 2016.”

In all, 73 percent of the business brokers surveyed said they expect transaction activity to increase even more next year.

“It’s promising to see that brokers are optimistic that the market will continue to improve in 2016,” House said.

Moving forward, continuing health care and minimum wage changes could also help spur on more transactions. This year, 20 percent of the brokers surveyed said they had clients sell their businesses due to higher health care costs, while 8 percent had clients sell their businesses largely due to a minimum wage increase or potential minimum wage increases.

“It will be important for small business owners to keep an eye on these issues and decide how upcoming changes could affect their exit strategy,” House said.

Currently, most brokers said they view the small business transaction landscape as a buyer’s market. Specifically, 52 percent of those surveyed said the market favors buyers, while 24 percent said it’s balanced. Just 19 percent said the market favors sellers.

The study was based on surveys of 240 business brokers from across the United States.

Behind the Business Plan: Indie Fresh

Behind the Business Plan: Indie FreshIndie Fresh wants to make your diet easy and enjoyable. Co-founder Shom Chowdhury told Business News Daily that the on-demand health food delivery and wholesale company was born out of a desire to help people eat healthy without sacrificing a great meal. After creating tons of variations of each product, Indie Fresh is hitting its stride, focusing on expansion opportunities and looking toward the future. Here’s what Chowdhury had to say about his experience building Indie Fresh from the ground up.

Business News Daily: In a nutshell, what service does your business provide?

Shom Chowdhury: Indie Fresh is an innovative healthy food concept delivering nutritionally balanced, chef-prepared meals on demand.

BND: How long have you been in business?

Chowdhury: We started the concept in November 2014, so officially, one year now!

BND: Did you start with a formal business plan? If not, how did you lay the groundwork for your business?

Chowdhury: Yes. Our priority was product quality, so we built the model around that. How do you design a world-class product? Then, how do you produce it, market it and distribute it? We started with five goals: develop a product line, operate retail-light with a delivery/wholesale focus, leverage technology, optimize distribution, and generate sales.

BND: How did you finance your endeavors, both initially and as your business grew?

Chowdhury: We were fortunate to have a lot of belief and support from investors and partners during our early stages and as momentum grew.

BND: How much did you invest personally?

Chowdhury: $100,000.

BND: Is your business today what you originally envisioned at the outset, or has it changed significantly over time?

Chowdhury: For the most part, yes.

BND: What are some lessons you’ve learned? Is there anything you would’ve done differently?

Chowdhury: Your team is critical to success. We have a great team that we’ve assembled over the course of a year, but it would have made sense to better anticipate our rapid growth and what it would take from a staffing perspective. Hiring on the fly will rarely achieve your ideal team mix. Experienced, hands-on project managers are critical. We’re still looking!

Also, if you’re consumer-product-focused, it’s very important to have a brand map. Who are your target customers? How will you reach them? What colors will you use? Where is your product “bible,” and what does it contain? What consistent message does your packaging convey? Who will represent your brand? The more attention given to this in the early stages, the smoother things will be as growth occurs. And this artifact needs to be constantly updated.

BND: What were the most important factors that contributed to your success?

Chowdhury: Our product. We spent a lot of time and effort designing our products. Some recipes have 45 different versions! Our documentation on recipes, purchasing, nutritional information, shelf life, etc. is meticulously maintained. It allows us to scale relatively painlessly and, equally as important, allows us to tune recipes and products to get the best product to the consumer at the best price and establish ourselves as a market leader.

BND: What are the next steps you want to take as a business owner? How do you see yourself achieving those goals?

Chowdhury: Now that we have a great product mix and consumer demand, I’d like to expand our team and execute on existing wholesale and expansion opportunities.

BND: What is your best advice to someone with a great business idea who is ready to give it a shot?

Chowdhury: When you’re building your team, define all the positions you need to get started and their roles and responsibilities, including your own. Then, hire “you” first. As your great idea grows, no one will ever be more adaptive than yourself, and that’s what you need.

Dell Inspiron 11 3000: Is It Good for Business?

Dell Inspiron 11 3000: Is It Good for Business?

With long battery life and a lightweight design, the Inspiron 11 3000 is a solid travel companion for workers. It also won’t break your budget, with a starting price of just $330. For that price you get a sturdy 11.6-inch notebook with a versatile hybrid design, long battery life and a comfortable keyboard.

Unlike hybrids with detachable displays, such as the Surface 3, the Inspiron 11 3000 has a special hinge that lets you fold the screen back a full 360 degrees so it can be used like a large tablet. Workers will probably get more mileage out of the intermediate modes, though, which grant you better access to the touch screen in cramped quarters — like on an airplane tray table, for example.

And the Inspiron 11 3000’s relatively light weight makes it a better pick for commuters and travelers compared to competing hybrid laptops. Weighing 3.07 lbs. and measuring 0.76 inches thick, the laptop is both lighter and thinner than the HP Pavilion x360 (3.2 lbs. and 0.89 inches) and Acer Aspire Switch 11 V (3.2 lbs. and 0.8 inches).

Plus, Dell’s notebook lasted longer on a charge than rival notebooks. It ran for 7 hours and 56 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That time beats the Pavilion x360 (6:26) and Switch 11 V (5:19).

Check back for a full review of the Inspiron 11 3000 very soon, or check out our picks for the best work laptops and tablets currently on the market.

Is Self-Insurance Right for Your Business?

Is Self-Insurance Right for Your Business?

Open enrollment for 2016 benefits is coming to an end, and many businesses and workers are finding themselves with higher insurance costs than ever before. Many small businesses that offer health insurance plans may think that purchasing an expensive plan from an insurance carrier is their only option. But depending on your circumstances, self-insurance could help you save a significant amount of money on your premiums.

According to Healthcare.gov, self-insurance is a “type of plan … where the employer itself collects premiums from enrollees and takes on the responsibility of paying employees’ and dependents’ medical claims.” Insurance services such as enrollment, claims processing and provider networks can be handled in-house, but are more frequently managed by a third-party administrator (TPA) or an insurance company.

With self-insurance, the employer takes on much of the risk that insurance carriers typically assume. In an article on ZaneBenefits.com, author Christina Merhar outlines the difference between fully insured and self-insured health plans:

  • Fully insured (traditional) plans involve a fixed monthly premium paid to an insurance carrier, based on the number of employees enrolled in the plan. The carrier pays for health care claims, while enrolled employees and dependents pay any deductible amounts or co-payments for those covered services.
  • Self-insured (self-funded) plans involve fixed monthly costs such as administrative fees based on plan enrollment. Health care claims are paid by the employer, and costs vary from month to month, based on the services used by enrolled employees and dependents.

Because of the increased liability associated with self-insurance, employers have a couple of options to reduce their risk and potential costs under this type of plan. You can set up a health care reimbursement plan (HRP), in which the employer reimburses employees for individual eligible health insurance premiums. You can also purchase a stop-loss insurance policy, in which an insurance carrier is responsible for “unpredictable” losses that exceed your deductible limits, according to HCC.com.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), self-funding employee benefits was considered too risky and complex for most small businesses, Carpel said. Although the concept has been around for years, self-insurance has traditionally been an option that only larger companies (those with 1,000 employees or more) and unions took advantage of. But the ACA’s “adjusted community rating” requirement has led to higher premiums across the board for traditional insurance, and small businesses are finding that self-insurance could save them money.

“Underwriters used to look at medical data and price premiums accordingly, [based on] the actual risk profile of a particular group of employees,” said Russ Carpel, CEO of Level Funded Health, a provider of self-insurance programs. “Now it’s an adjusted community-rating risk, spread out more broadly across hundreds of businesses in a certain community, [and] carriers are not allowed to look at medical data … [beyond] age, zip code and tobacco usage. That’s why small businesses are seeing 20 to 200 percent increases in premiums.”

But because of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, this rating methodology doesn’t apply if your insurance plan is self-funded. Your rates can be based on your specific group, rather than on multiple groups in your local area.

“Under ERISA, if a group is fairly healthy with no critical illnesses … you would save 10 to 40 percent just by letting underwriters get a deeper look at medical data,” Carpel told Business News Daily.

Self-insured plans are also exempt from the excise tax on health insurance premiums under the ACA.

Is self-insurance right for your business? Before you make the switch, it’s important to take the time to conduct thorough research on risk projections, potential discounts and cost comparisons.

“Before self-insuring, an employer needs a feasibility study using its claims experience and projections,” said insurance professional Michael Turpin in an interview with BenefitsPro. “An employer also needs to review provider network discounts to ascertain the subtle differences between each insurer-based network, as well as independent, third-party, administrator-based networks. Employers also need to understand the nuances of provider contracting.”

Turpin also noted that very small employers (those with fewer than 100 employees) may still be too small to accurately predict their risk. Therefore, one major unexpected claim could put a huge wrench in your budget. However, it still might be a smart, cost-cutting option if your workforce has been historically healthy.

“It’s [unfortunate] to see small businesses get penalized by the government and big business,” Carpel said. “Most companies are paying 50 percent of employees’ premiums, so [self-insurance savings] don’t just benefit the business, but also the average Joe.”

Weak Business Spending Plans Point to Slower Economic Growth

FILE - In this March 13, 2015 file photo, workers inspect the new aluminum-alloy body Ford F-150 trucks before they get painted at the company's Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Mo. The Commerce Department releases its September report on durable goods on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)WASHINGTON — A gauge of U.S. business investment plans fell for a second straight month in September, pointing to a sharp slowdown in economic growth and casting more doubts on whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year.

Other data released Tuesday showed consumer confidence slipped this month amid worries over a recent moderation in job growth and its potential impact on income. Housing, however, remains the bright spot, with home prices accelerating in August.

That should boost household wealth, supporting consumer spending and the broader economy, which has been buffeted by a strong dollar, weak global demand, spending cuts in the energy sector and efforts by businesses to reduce an inventory glut.

The drift of data suggests that the first time the Fed will raise rates will be in the spring.

The continued weakness in business spending, together with the slowdown in hiring, could make it difficult for the Fed to lift its short-term interest rate from near zero in December, as most economists expect. The U.S. central bank’s policy-setting committee started a two-day meeting Tuesday.

“The drift of data suggests that the first time the Fed will raise rates will be in the spring,” said Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG Investment Research in New York.

Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, slipped 0.3 percent last month after a downwardly revised 1.6 percent decline in August, the Commerce Department said.

These so-called core capital goods were previously reported to have dropped 0.8 percent in August. The data was the latest dour news for manufacturing, which has borne the brunt of dollar strength, energy sector investment cuts and the inventory correction.

Manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of the economy.

In a separate report, the Conference Board said its consumer sentiment index fell to 97.6 this month from a reading of 102.6 in September. Consumers were less optimistic about the labor market, with the share of those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead slipping.

There was a drop in the proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase and more expected a drop in their income. The downbeat assessment of the labor market follows a step down in job growth in August and September.

Softer Growth

Data ranging from trade to retail sales and industrial production have all suggested a significant loss of momentum in the third quarter.

Housing continues to outperform the economy. A third report Tuesday showed the S&P/Case Shiller composite index of home prices in 20 metropolitan areas increased 5.1 percent in August from a year ago after rising 4.9 percent in July.

U.S. stocks were trading lower, while the dollar was little changed. Prices for U.S. government debt rose.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, gross domestic product likely expanded at a 1.6 percent annual rate in the third quarter, slowing from a brisk 3.9 percent pace in the second quarter. The government will publish its advance third-quarter GDP estimate Thursday.

The dollar has gained 15.4 percent against the currencies of the United States’ main trading partners since June 2014, undermining the profits of multinational companies such as Procter & Gamble (PG) and 3M (MMM).

At the same time, a plunge in oil prices has squeezed revenues for oil field companies such as Schlumberger (SLM) and diversified manufacturer Caterpillar (CAT).

Schlumberger, the world’s No.1 oilfield services provider, said this month it didn’t expect a recovery in demand before 2017 and anticipated that exploration and production spending would fall for a second consecutive year in 2016.

“It is hard for firms to commit to expanding plants and upgrading equipment in a global economy that continues to deliver so many speed bumps,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow in Chicago.

Shipments of core capital goods, which are used to calculate equipment spending in the government’s GDP measurement, rose 0.5 percent last month after a downwardly revised 0.8 percent drop in August. Core capital goods shipments were previously reported to have dropped 0.4 percent in August.

A 2.9 percent decline in transportation equipment spending helped to weigh down overall orders for durable goods — items ranging from toasters to aircraft that are meant to last three years or more — which fell 1.2 percent last month.

Durable goods inventories fell 0.3 percent, the largest drop since May 2013, while unfilled orders declined 0.6 percent.

Caution Sign: Don’t Look to Small Business for Job Growth

Caucasian businessman working on patioNEW YORK — Don’t look for a small business boom anytime soon.

Many company owners aren’t interested in expanding, and many have no plans to hire.

They don’t trust the economy. In a survey released in September by Bank of the West, 80 percent of nearly 500 small business owners called the economy a barrier to growth.

There are indeed signs the U.S. economy may be slowing because of weakness in trading partners like China and Canada. Earnings are down at many big U.S. companies, and manufacturers are exporting fewer goods. These developments have an impact on small businesses and contribute to a vicious cycle — when small companies aren’t trying to grow or hire, it helps slow the economy further.

They’re saying, ‘2015 hasn’t been as great as we thought it was going to be. I’m not ready to invest or hire.’

Owners’ caution was clear in September hiring reports, including one from payroll company ADP (ADP) that counted 37,000 new jobs at its small business customers, down 63 percent from a monthly average of nearly 100,000 the first eight months of the year.

Owners were more optimistic in the spring when the economy was recovering from a tough winter, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, whose Small Business Optimism index was at a high for the year of 98.3 in May; in September it was at 96.1.

Gene Marks, owner of The Marks Group, a consulting firm based in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, says the owners he’s spoken too aren’t as confident as they were earlier this year.

“They’re saying, ‘2015 hasn’t been as great as we thought it was going to be. I’m not ready to invest or hire,’ ” Marks says.

Uncertainty about the economy piles onto concerns individual owners have about their businesses:

Once Burned, Twice Shy

Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell have always known a weak economy could threaten their business selling products like food, clothes and bedding made on farms.

They started the company, Beekman 1802, in 2009 after both lost jobs to the recession. They’ve built the business by reinvesting money they’ve made back into it, never taking on debt.

“We believed the reason the economy faltered was because people were playing around with money that wasn’t theirs,” says Ridge, whose company is located in Sharon Springs, New York.

They’ve added two or three people a year the past few years, bringing their staff to 11, after getting a deal to sell pasta sauce to 250 Target stores. Now, the discount store chain wants their products in all its nearly 1,800 stores.

Still, while Ridge says the company has been thriving, he and Kilmer-Purcell plan to hire only when they really need to.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when we throw caution to the wind,” Ridge says.

Learning From the Past

Orit and Robert Pennington learned taking on too many employees can jeopardize a company.

TPGTEX Label Solutions was successful after its 2002 start, and grew to a staff of about 15. But the Houston-based company, which makes software to print barcode and other labels, didn’t have the income to justify its expansion.

The Penningtons had to downsize, and by 2013 they and a freelancer were the only employees.

“We were doing things too fast and the business model was not perfect,” Orit Pennington says.

The company is growing again, adding four employees in the last year. But the Penningtons have turned down opportunities to significantly expand the business.

Uneasy Clients

Annie Pace Scranton has the money to pay another employee for her company, Pace Public Relations, but she’s hesitant to hire.

She can’t be sure her clients, many of them medical practices or other small businesses, won’t cut their marketing budgets and in turn, her revenue.

Scranton already has some saying they don’t have the money for marketing. Others hire her five-year-old New York-based firm for several months rather than a year or more.

She’s using more freelancers when there’s more work than her staff of three full-timers can handle.

“I don’t think it’s smart or fair to a prospective employee to hire them when I can’t commit to supporting another salary,” she says.