3 Things You Should Know About Small Business: Nov. 15

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- What's happening in small business today?

1. Heart-wrenching stories from struggling Sandy-affected business owners. While power has been mostly restored and cleanup has commenced, hundreds of small businesses are dealing with big challenges to get back to pre-Sandy conditions. More than 59,000 SBA disaster-loan applications have been issued to affected businesses in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal is tracking three business owners as they try to recover from Sandy, but more than two weeks later, these stories are heart-wrenching, to say the least. From laying off employees and condemned locations to lost or water-logged merchandise, these business owners are "grappling with dwindling funds, gas shortages, lengthy insurance-claim processes, and damaged facilities and inventory," the article says. The second installment of this month-long project is a must-read for anyone who doesn't understand the full scale of Sandy's wrath.

2. New York state is offering small-business loans for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Small businesses in disaster-designated areas including Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties, plus New York City, can apply for up to $25,000 in loans to help them through recovery, according to Newsday.

The loans will be interest-free and payment-free for the first six months. After that, the loans will have a 1% interest tacked on and must be repaid within two years.

Businesses that are independently owned and operated and have fewer than 100 employees are eligible for the $10 million loan emergency program, which was developed by the New York Bankers Association and the New York Business Development Corp., the article says. Businesses must also have filed a 2011 business tax return and have had "direct damage or economic hardship" from Hurricane Sandy.

3. Is your store ready for the holiday season? Small businesses plan to take market share this holiday season by avoiding Groupon ( GRPN) and selling more goods online, according to a Manta survey published late last month.

About 43% of small-business owners are more optimistic about holiday sales this year versus 2011. While a majority of those surveyed expect customers to buy from their bricks-and-mortar stores this holiday season, 41% expect the majority of their sales to come from online orders.

As a result, small businesses are being selective when it comes to the online tools and promotional methods they will adopt this holiday season. "For example, the 82% of small businesses have not, and will not, run promotions with Groupon or other 'daily deal' sites this year. In fact, only 3% of respondents said these types of promotion sites have brought them repeat business," Manta says.

On the other hand, many small businesses run online stores or promotions through sites like Etsy and Facebook ( FB). Yet 47% of small businesses perceive Etsy, the handmade marketplace that caters to hundreds of thousands of very small retailers, as the brand that is the most unsupportive of small businesses. Other brands that were listed include Groupon, eBay ( EBAY) and Amazon ( AMZN). According to Manta, about 40% of small-business owners perceive each of those companies as unsupportive to their business. Twenty-nine percent say Facebook is the brand that is the most supportive.

Separately, for brick-and-mortar retailers, "an eye-catching window display can draw in foot traffic and promote holiday specials," according to Fastsigns, a leading franchise that creates professional interior and exterior signage and displays.

If you haven't already, retail locations should be in full-swing preparation for the holiday season. Small independent shops can create distinctive and unique displays by adding holiday decorations and visual communications to highlight promotions and sales. There are many options including window graphics, wall and floor decals, banners, point of purchase signs and QR codes, Fastsigns says.

"If your store is located on a busy road, a banner may be more legible to drivers than smaller window signage," Fastsigns suggests. "Point-of-purchase signs can remind customers to check more items off their to-do lists with an additional purchase. Place small-ticket items near the register and point them out as fun stocking stuffers."

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

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