Merchant Capital Source –  Small Business Improvement Blog

You are your business’s most valuable asset. Small business improvement begins with you! Learn how to improve yourself and your small business by reading our blog.

  • 3 Ways to Use Social Media to Promote Your Small Business

    3 Ways to Use Social Media to Promote Your Small Business

    With so many social media platforms out there, it’s tough to know how to promote your small business. You may feel like a tiny raindrop in a hurricane of information. But with several practical steps, you can reach your target audience.

    There are literally millions of social media users. According to Statista, 81 percent of Americans have a social media profile. This is way up compared to the 24 percent back in 2008. It is even a 5 percent increase from last year’s 76 percent. All these users and companies make lots of noise. Don’t be part of the static. Stand out with a distinctly clear message using these tips.

    Tips for Facebook

    First and foremost, make a page for your small business. Use attractive graphics and concise content. It’s not enough to just post interesting content. You have to make sure people are seeing it. Make connections by joining several groups that relate to your small business. People are constantly looking for recommendations and advice on everything from plumbing to fashion. For example, an interior designer and mother joined a local moms Facebook group. Someone asked for a recommendation for an interior designer, and she responded back. Another time, a friend recommended her within the same Facebook group. She received business from the exact client she targets by being part of this Facebook group.

    Tips for Twitter

    Twitter can be intimidating with its character count and hashtags, but don’t miss out on this valuable tool. Using key hashtags helps create networks of individuals who share the same interests, including the product or service of your local business. Twitter users can find you based on a single hashtag, and you can have individual conversations with customers who have found you. You also can send personalized tweets to individual customers that cater directly to their needs instead of spewing generalized pleas into cyberspace.

    Tips for Instagram

    Don’t just aimlessly post a few pictures here and there and expect people to flood your business. Start with a beautiful profile pic and an interesting (not boring!) bio description. Make sure to link to your website as well.

    Next, create a photo campaign, and stick with it. Everyone loves to look at beautiful pictures and lots of them. Maybe your business is working toward a major event. Perhaps you have exciting new inventory arriving. Think of a major item to promote and then snap, filter, repeat.

    Make sure to hashtag all your photos — this creates valuable connections for you. For example, #reclaimedwood could send you clients looking for special furniture pieces. They will see your picture and potentially buy your piece. It’s a good idea to also hashtag your city or your city’s local business/tourism board’s hashtag (ie. #sharethelex for Lexington, KY) to boost local business.

    It is daunting to keep track of all your social media accounts. Use applications like Hootsuite that let you post on multiple social media platforms at once. You can also schedule your posts up to weeks in advance to reduce the workload of your small staff.

    With these tips, you are on your way to a practical and well-planned social media campaign. Remember to tell your story and keep it interesting. Be a helper. Clients will come to you with their business.

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  • 10 Tips to Keep Employees Healthy During the Holiday Months

    10 Tips to Keep Employees Healthy During the Holiday Months

    Holiday gatherings can create the perfect storm for employee illness. How can you ensure your company protects employees?

    Tip 1: Encourage Employees to Take Time Off

    Send employees home when they’re sick. If employees are caring for sick family members, they too should be encouraged to take PTO. The Department of Labor has advice on how to handle this when the flu season is active.

    Tip 2: Reduce Stress at Work

    Stress creates conditions for employees to get rundown. Create a work environment with outlets for stress, such as on-site massage therapy or an employee assistance program. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health offers tips for reducing stress.

    Tip 3: Watch Unhealthy Habits

    It’s easy to get into bad habits during the holiday season. Seasonal foods add inches to everyone’s waistlines. Alcoholic beverages flow freely at parties. Offer healthy snacks in the workplace, and talk to employees about making healthy lifestyle choices.

    Tip 4: Schedule Flu Shots

    Employers can do their part to prevent illness during the holiday season by scheduling in-house health clinics. An occupational health center can conduct health screenings and give out flu shots.

    Tip 5: Educate About Hand Washing

    Hand washing has been shown to prevent many illnesses. Add antibacterial products to work areas and restrooms to support this goal. The Society of Human Resource Management has provided guidelines about stopping the spread of germs at work.

    Tip 6: Encourage Traveling Safety

    According to the National Safety Council Injury Facts 2017 report, motor vehicle accidents were the No. 2 leading cause of death last year, just behind workplace accidents. Encourage employees to wear seatbelts and not take chances on the roads.

    Tip 7: Hire More People

    One way your business can improve the well-being of employees during the holiday season is to augment your current staff with new hires. Creative small business financing can support these goals and cover payroll during the holidays.

    Tip 8: Reward and Recognize Employees

    Offer rewarding experiences for employees that help them grow. Recognize and reward employees on a regular basis with cash incentives and performance-based bonuses.

    Tip 9: Cross-Train Employees

    During the holiday months, you can help alleviate stress and increase the happiness level of employees by cross-training workers. If an employee takes time off or needs help, there will be others to support them.

    Tip 10: Alleviate Financial Worries

    The holiday months can be pressure-filled for employees. Many are going into debt buying holiday gifts. Consider ways to help employees stretch their earnings further with financial education programs and corporate discounts.

    By using the above tips, your company can help keep employees healthy, engaged and productive during the busy holiday season.

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  • Pros and Cons: Assessing the Benefits and Risks of Background Checks

    Pros and Cons: Assessing the Benefits and Risks of Background Checks

    Background checks into applicants’ criminal and credit history increasingly are problematic, especially given recent state and federal legislation. Employers should weigh the possible benefits to running an applicant’s background check against the potential risks. This checklist guides employers who choose to continue the practice.

    Credit Check Considerations

    Given the questionable value of information obtained from a credit check, the unfairness of penalizing applicants for economic hardship and concerns about privacy, legislators in the states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington restrict the use of credit reports in making employment decisions. Additionally, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires applicants be given a clear description of their rights under the act as well as a copy of the credit report.

    Criminal History Questions

    At least 29 states and over 150 cities and counties passed laws that intend to provide persons with criminal records a fair chance. Known as “ban the box,” referring to the checkbox on many applications that asks whether the applicant has a criminal record, the legislation requires employers to wait to ask about an applicant’s criminal background until after finding that she meets the initial qualifications for the position. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suggests employers use caution when using criminal records to make employment decisions, since doing so might be considered discrimination.

    Consumer Report Protections

    Background checks run by employers are considered consumer reports, and as such are subject to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act and state privacy laws, which require the data be protected from unauthorized access. The data also must be properly stored or destroyed. Additionally, an applicant’s written permission is required before running the reports. If you base your hiring decision on any information found in the reports, then you must inform that job seeker.

    Compliance Checklist

    If you decide that credit or criminal history checks are relevant to the job and you choose to continue obtaining such reports, then first learn the state and local legal requirements related to background screening. Answering the following questions can help guide your policy:

    • Do you provide job seekers a written description of their rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
    • Do you provide all applicants a copy of their credit report?
    • Does your criminal background check criteria follow Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance that requests consideration of the nature of the offense and time passed?
    • Do you secure the data you collect during the hiring process and protect it from unauthorized use?
    • Do you properly dispose of information gathered about the job seekers you did not hire?
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  • What Retirement Plans Can a Small Business Offer?

    What Retirement Plans Can a Small Business Offer?

    Are you struggling with trying to keep top employees from fleeing for big corporate perks? Choosing the right retirement plan is one way you can match the giants with minimal extra costs. Here are your options.

    Small Business 401(k)

    A small business 401(k) is legally the same as a big corporate 401(k). The only distinction is that some 401(k) providers streamline the process to help make it easier for small businesses to set up a plan.

    Benefits:

    • Higher contribution limits.
    • Flexibility to offer different compensation packages to different employees. (Some restrictions apply that keep owners or highly compensated employees from getting all the benefits.)

    Disadvantages:

    • Typically higher management fees and setup costs.
    • Increased IRS reporting requirements.
    • May be less flexible if employees need to withdraw funds early.
    Contribution limits:
    • Employees can contribute up to $18,000.
    • Employers can contribute a fixed percentage and/or match employee contributions up to $54,000, in combined employer plus employee contributions.
    • Employees age 50 and older can contribute an additional $6,000 in catch up contributions.

    SIMPLE IRA

    SIMPLE stands for Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees. SIMPLE IRAs are available to businesses with 100 or fewer employees.

    Benefits:

    • Cookie-cutter setup that’s easier to manage.
    • Often has lower setup and management fees.
    • Works like a Traditional IRA for early withdrawals or rollovers.
    Disadvantages:
    • Lower contribution limits.
    • Rigid contribution rules.
    Contribution limits:
    • Employees can contribute up to $12,500 ($15,500 if 50 or older).
    • Employer Option 1: Match up to three percent of employee contributions with a $12,500 cap. The percentage can be reduced as low as one percent in any two out of five years.
    • Employer Option 2: Contribute two percent of each employee’s compensation regardless of their contributions with a $5,400 cap.

    SEP IRA

    SEP stands for Simplified Employee Pension plan. SEP IRAs are available to employers of any size.

    Benefits:

    • Fewer IRS reporting requirements than a 401(k).
    • Higher employer contribution limits.
    • Often has lower setup and management fees.
    • Works like a Traditional IRA for early withdrawals or rollovers.
    Disadvantages:
    • No additional employee contributions.
    • Most SEP plans require the same contribution percentage for all employees.

    Contribution limits:

    • Employer contributions of up to 25% of compensation. Maximum contribution of $54,000.
    • Some plan providers allow employees to put their personal IRA contributions into a combined account with their SEP IRA contributions for ease of management. If this is allowed, employee contributions are treated as regular Traditional IRA contributions with the usual $5,500 limit.

    Ask your advisor for more information about these options today. It’s a great way to boost employee morale and retention with minimal impact on your cash flow.

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  • Top DIY Web Builders for Your Small Business

    Top DIY Web Builders for Your Small Business

    A website is the modern-day equivalent of a calling card, and it is an effective way to attract customers and provide them with information about your products and services.

    A web presence for your small business is also an important part of creating credibility for your business. Now more than ever, consumers utilize the internet to research products and services, and a professional online business demeanor inspires confidence in potential customers.

    How to Pick the Best Website Builder

    A Do-It-Yourself website builder is an excellent option for small business owners who want to build a website but have no experience in coding or web design. Up until now, you had to be well-versed in HTML and CSS code if you were to construct an effective and professional web presence.

    Today, however, there are many DIY web design choices available to you. As a general rule of thumb, an optimal DIY website builder will cover the various technical aspects of design and development. This will enable you to focus on unique content so you can get your small business website up and running in a functional and timely manner.

    Many of the builders on the market offer a free basic plan, giving you a chance to test them out so you can determine which one best meets your needs. Here are our picks for the most reliable top website builders for small business owners.

    Weebly

    Like most DIY website builders, Weebly is user-friendly. It is a robust and reliable drag-and-drop builder, and its implementation requires no technical knowledge. Weebly features comprehensive web-building tools and an intuitive interface. Any small business owner can build a professional website on Weebly within a couple of hours.

    Weebly offers a wide variety of publishing and content tools that help small business owners create a highly customized website, including G Suite for Business, which helps to distribute branded emails. As an upgrade, Weebly can also provide an e-commerce solution to help business owners sell online.

    Wix

    Wix is an industry-leading, cloud-based development platform. It lets small business owners build a professional website with ease. Like Weebly, Wix provides an intuitive, drag-and-drop interface. With the purchase of an upgrade, Wix will also include a domain name for your business website as it provides free and secure hosting.

    This DIY web-building platform allows small business owners to easily create customized forms and provides a way for customers to book appointments online. Wix also enables small business owners to create mailing lists, receive customer subscriptions, send invoices and receive payments quickly.

    BigCommerce

    BigCommerce is rich in features that appeal to small business owners. It is a scalable, all-in-one e-commerce solution that helps business owners get the best possible return on investment.

    BigCommerce features leading built-in marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon. It also boasts secure hosting, unlimited bandwidth and no transaction fees. BigCommerce precipitates a small learning curve, but it does not require any technical knowledge to master. It is a unique e-commerce solution designed to grow with your business.

    For small businesses, engaging a professional design firm is often a financial stretch. Today’s technology has made it easier for business owners to put together a respectable website without having any coding skills.

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  • Small Business Financing: What Are My Options?

    Small Business Financing: What Are My Options?

    One of the biggest decisions that small business owners face is determining how they will finance their business. As only a very small percentage of business owners can afford to finance their business ventures outright, it is necessary to explore all of the options that are available. While a traditional loan may prove to be beneficial for some small business owners, other methods of financing may spare you the cost of high interest rates.

    Traditional Bank Loan

    Many find that they feel most comfortable with securing a loan through a traditional bank. If you are a member of a credit union or have a long-standing relationship with your local bank, this may be the case for you as well. Others, however, find that the interest rates are much higher through banks than through other avenues. This, of course, will largely be dependent upon your credit score.

    SBA Loan

    The Small Business Administration (SBA) is an organization that is committed to providing assistance to small business owners. Aside from providing valuable resources and information, the SBA also provides low-interest loans to small business owners. Many find that these interest rates are lower than that of a local or national bank, while the terms are also generally more flexible.

    Fundraising

    The word “fundraising” likely conjures up notions of elementary school bake sales for most; however, this concept is not limited to school children. Hosting a fundraiser can be an excellent way to raise money for your business while also spreading the word about your mission. This is especially popular when events are held on a local level, as many communities relish the opportunity to support a local business.

    Investors

    Securing an investor or two is a great way to get your business going. In some cases, these investors will own a portion of the company in exchange for the financial backing. In other situations, investors act as “angel investors” and hold no stake in the company but generally require a 20 percent return on their investment. To secure either type of investor, it is crucial to map out your business plan and develop a strong pitch.

    Crowdfunding

    Similar to fundraising and investors, crowdfunding relies on financial assistance from others in order to get your business off of the ground. Today, there are numerous crowdfunding platforms online where people from around the world can easily locate your business. With this avenue, several people will usually donate small amounts, which add up over time. To be most effective, incentives are usually offered based on the quantity of the donation. For instance, a small donation may receive a bumper sticker, while a large one may receive a free product after the business has launched.

    Bootstrapping

    Bootstrapping can take on many different meanings when it comes to small business financing. It may mean that you finance your business ventures with your own personal finances. In this case, you do not have to worry about interest rates, keeping investors appeased or paying off other loans. This method, however, does come with more risk to your personal finances. Other means of bootstrapping may involve renting equipment instead of buying it and trading products or services with other businesses.

    The type of financing that is best for your small business will likely depend on a variety of factors. These factors may include the amount of money that you require, along with your personal finances and credit score. In either case, there are a number of ways to raise money for your small business. Before committing to any of these options, be sure to read the fine print of the offer and consider what the final cost will be.

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  • AI and the Retail Store of the Future

    AI and the Retail Store of the Future

    It’s no secret that brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling. More consumers are shopping online and the trend is expected to increase. In fact, a 2017 study by Square and Mercury Analytics showed that 80 percent of Americans have made an online purchase within the past month. While the days of the physical store may seem numbered, AI has the power to reverse this trend and help bring retailers into the 21st century.

    Data

    One of the most immediate and far-reaching benefits of using AI involves extracting value from data. Retailers have access to an abundance of consumer and behavioral information. However, a study by McKinsey found that about two-thirds of this data isn’t utilized due to a lack of data-processing procedures, appropriate technology and analytic talent. Implementing AI would allow retailers to use the mountains of data available to them to predict what consumers might buy next and focus their resources accordingly.

    Understanding Clients

    AI can also give retailers better insight into the minds of their clients. Natural language processing (NLP) is already being used to make chatbots more personable and intelligent. With real-time access to customer inquiries and language, developers can train NLP algorithms to better understand human language and, in turn, meet the needs of their clients. Zendesk reports that 40 percent of customers switch to a competitor because of their reputation for great customer service.

    Pattern Identification

    NLP can also help make meaningful connections between data that might otherwise go undetected. Consumer buying trends would be easier to identify, recommendations would become more intuitive (backed by data) and overall customer satisfaction would also increase. It could even help retailers identify previously unknown customer segments.

    In-Store Assistance

    Several big-box retailers are currently testing AI-powered technology in their stores. Target has armed its sales associates with hand-held POS systems that can track inventory in real-time across the company, arrange for shipping and take customer payments, making the shopping experience more streamlined and efficient. Lowe’s is currently using its brand name LoweBots (AI robots) in the Bay Area. These robots can answer customer questions, help clients locate items throughout the store and track shopping patterns, which can be re-applied to AI algorithms to improve company business decisions.

    Surveillance

    AI-based facial recognition software is already being used in some stores to track specific user activity. While some customers may not be thrilled about this level of surveillance, there are also less intrusive methods of observing customer behavior like floor-level cameras, which can track how long customers spend in a specific area of a store. They can also estimate gender and age based on video of shoes. This technology could have significant implications for inventory management and marketing strategies.

    Customized Experience

    The ability to provide a truly customized shopping experience is arguably the most significant benefit of AI. With aggregated data from sources like social media and online profiles, retailers can create product recommendations that really reflect the personal interests and tastes of the customers. AI would also allow retailers to crowdsource customer orders to gauge the overall reaction of clients to specific items and the potential popularity of these items.

    If brick-and-mortar stores are to compete with big-box stores, successfully combining the physical with the digital is essential. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), retailers who implement AI see a 6 percent to 10 percent boost in sales, which is two to three times faster than average. In order to remain competitive in this new world of e-commerce, traditional stores must adapt and take advantage of the latest advances in AI to secure their place in the future of retail.

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  • 5 Best Practices for Terminating an Employee

    5 Best Practices for Terminating an Employee

    No matter the circumstances, firing an employee is always difficult. However, by keeping a few important best practices in mind, you can ensure that the situation is handled as fairly, legally and compassionately as possible. Here are some helpful tips for terminations that are as stress-free and smooth as possible.

    Give a Warning First

    Don’t fire an employee out of the blue. First, give them a warning, or let them know that they are on notice. If an employee is warned that they may be terminated first, they will be less blindsided, angry or taken aback if the termination ultimately does happen.

    Pick the Right Time and Place

    When choosing to terminate an employee, pick a place that allows the utmost privacy. You don’t want the employee to be embarrassed or to have immediate contact with coworkers. Try to have the meeting at the end of the day, when he or she can naturally pack up belongings and depart.

    Have Someone Accompany the Terminated Employee

    Once the employee is terminated, make sure that someone from the company escorts him or her to pack their belongings and leave. You want to ensure that the employee doesn’t access the company’s computer to send or destroy files — or to take or destroy physical files. Company supervision can help make the situation less tense and ensure that all company material is protected.

    Be Kind, But Honest

    In your termination meeting, don’t be cruel to the employee, and have compassion while delivering the news. However, it’s important not to sugarcoat the information. Be straightforward about their firing, as well as the reason they are being let go. This will help ensure that the firing comes across fairly and clearly — and also that an employee doesn’t become too angry or upset at the office.

    Don’t Forget to Prepare

    Before you have a termination meeting, prepare well first. Gather data that supports the termination, have a witness or several to be at the meeting and prepare yourself to have a difficult conversation. If you prepare for a termination meeting properly, the meeting may be difficult or uncomfortable, but ultimately, it will go as smoothly as possible.

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  • Why Recruiting Firms Make Sense for Small and Medium-Sized Business

    Why Recruiting Firms Make Sense for Small and Medium-Sized Business

    Small and medium-sized businesses compete with each other and large businesses for market share and building a strong customer base. They also compete with businesses of all sizes when looking for the most talented people to become their employees.

    Many small businesses don’t have an HR department, and recruiting is done by the owner or business manager. This means that time usually devoted to building the business and making sure it runs smoothly is spent instead on recruitment and hiring,

    Most entrepreneurs don’t have the experience, training and knowledge needed to recruit the best candidates. Using a recruiting firm can make all the difference.

    Benefits of Using Recruitment Firms for Small Businesses

    There are several ways recruitment firms help in the recruitment process:

    1. Keeping the recruitment process legal is one of the most important benefits small and medium-sized businesses gain when they use recruitment firms. A recruitment firm has the needed experience to avoid asking prohibited questions, and it makes sure the prospect signs off for background and credit checks.
    2. Recruitment firms advertise on your behalf if they don’t have enough qualified candidates on their roster.
    3. Recruitment firms save employees money. They advertise, interview, run background and credit checks, and free up your time to run the business.
    4. The prospects sent to you by a recruitment company are candidates, not applicants. The difference is you only interview and hire the most qualified person for your open position.
    5. Employees hired through a recruitment process tend to remain on the job because they are a good fit. When a company hires on its own, turnover is higher — and high turnover translates to higher costs.

    Tips to Get the Most From a Recruiting Firm

    Following are a few tips for getting the most from a recruiting firm:

    1. Look for companies that specialize in your industry. A recruiting firm that specializes in finding engineering prospects is probably not the best choice if you are looking for an accountant.
    2. Be explicit when explaining your needs to the recruitment company.
    3. Though most hires sourced from recruiting firms do work out, occasionally they don’t. The best recruiting firms know this and have processes in place to make things right.

    Businesses have many reasons for hiring a recruiting firm, including saving money, improving the hiring process and reducing turnover. When you are choosing a recruitment firm, use the same due diligence you would when seeking a small business loan.

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  • Three Things to Know About Independent Contractors Vs. Employees

    Three Things to Know About Independent Contractors Vs. Employees

    Growing companies are increasingly turning to independent contractors as a way to cut costs. These business owners may be seeking to save on benefits packages or trying to avoid a large permanent payroll. While independent contractors can provide flexibility, there are substantial penalties if you don’t use them properly.

    Why Independent Contractors Are Different

    When you hire an independent contractor, you’re considered to be hiring another business, not an individual employee. This means that you deal with an independent contractor in a similar manner as you would a corporation you signed a contract with or a service professional who you visited in their office.

    Because you’re dealing with a business, not an employee, typical labor laws, such as overtime, tax withholding, workers compensation and termination procedures, do not apply. As a general rule, you can do anything not prohibited by your contract.

    When You Can Use an Independent Contractor

    Independent contractors have typically been considered skilled professionals who provide services that aren’t part of your normal operations. Think lawyers, accountants and, in modern times, programmers. There are many other possible services that independent contractors can provide, but the key consideration is that they complete a task with limited training or oversight by you.

    If you find yourself providing extensive training or step-by-step directions to a person you’re calling an independent contractor, you may be misclassifying an employee.

    What Happens If You Misclassify an Employee as an Independent Contractor

    The IRS is one of the biggest enforcers of employee vs. independent contractor classifications, because misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor means you aren’t withholding payroll taxes and the IRS isn’t getting paid. If the IRS determines that an independent contractor should have been classified as an employee, the minimum penalties include paying the back taxes plus interest and penalties.

    In addition, business owners and other responsible officials may be personally liable for unpaid payroll taxes even if the business is a corporation or an LLC. For egregious violations, criminal penalties may also be imposed.

    Don’t think independent contractors are right for you but need to free up cash flow to hire employees? Discuss your options with Merchant Capital Source today.

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  • Financial Tips for Small Business Owners

    Financial Tips for Small Business Owners

    Coming up with a financial plan for a small business involves time, creativity and resourcefulness, especially when working with a small budget. Entrepreneurs often lack the financial business savvy that larger companies benefit from, so starting out with a stable budget and sticking to it is critical for long-term success. Here are a few tips to get you started on your journey.

    Emergency Funds

    The reasons for accessing emergency funds are numerous and can include personal disability, negative publicity, natural or man-made disasters, and loss of inventory. Short-term business loans a better option for handling these unexpected emergencies. They can be deposited far quicker than a large traditional loan and can offer multi-year repayment options.

    Keep your emergency savings account separate from your regular expense account. This will help you resist the temptation to dip into it for regular operating expenses. A good rule of thumb to follow is to have six to nine months of savings to tide you over in the event of emergencies.

    Cloud Computing Solutions

    Migration to cloud computing is becoming a serious trend for small business owners. An Intuit study has predicted that 80 percent of small businesses will have migrated to the cloud by 2020.

    Savings can be realized by a reduction in IT requirements for infrastructure, including servers, physical storage, maintenance and upgrades.

    Workplace collaboration is much more efficient. The ability to access and modify documents from a master copy for all employees saves time. In addition, the web-based software allows you and your employees to access data from anywhere and at any time.

    The ability to integrate with other specialized services such as cloud-based marketing and accounting packages is a great feature that will leave more time to focus your time where it matters, on running your business!

    Retirement Planning

    According to a recent BMO Wealth Management Survey of 400 small business owners, only a fraction are prepared for retirement. A financial advisor can help you determine what your retirement needs are and ensure you have investments in a diversified portfolio.

    Many 401(k) providers are now targeting small businesses and provide low-cost plans for businesses with fewer than 100 employees. It’s a great way to attract employees and help them plan for a successful retirement.

    Seek Out Discounts

    When paying an invoice, always take advantage of discounts offered if it’s paid early and be aware of late payment fees so you can avoid those at all times.

    Check with your vendors to see if discounts are offered. For example, they may be available if merchandise is bought in bulk or payment is made three to six months in advance.

    Just as bundling home services such as internet and cable with one company can result in savings, the same can be realized for a small business. Review your insurance plans and your telecommunications and internet providers to see if you can leverage savings through this option.

    Hire Professional Help

    Sometimes it’s necessary to consult with professionals to avoid unnecessary financial mistakes. An adviser with tax planning experience can help you realize tax savings and has knowledge of possible tax rebates. When you’re filling out an application for a small business loan, a financial adviser or accountant can provide assistance to ensure the right information is being communicated. This information can be critical to obtain approval of funds.

    Preparing a business plan can feel overwhelming, but enlisting a professional can provide accurate financial projections leading to a far greater chance of your business succeeding and thriving.

    Following these tips will help you stay organized and focused on operating your business. They are important elements in navigating your entrepreneurial journey and avoiding common mistakes that many small business owners make.

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  • HR Should Help Find Balance Between Entrepreneurial Spirit & Structure

    HR Should Help Find Balance Between Entrepreneurial Spirit & Structure

    Human resource administrators are tasked with a seemingly endless variety of responsibilities. From recruiting to training and everything in between, HR is the backbone to any successful organization, no matter its size, mission or industry. In a dynamic marketplace that is constantly pushing companies to streamline operations and make their businesses more efficient, HR is also responsible for creating a tone and structure within the workplace that fosters an entrepreneurial spirit while establishing a healthy, cooperative and team-oriented environment.

    While those two ideals can be difficult to balance, they are in no way mutually exclusive if a few key points are recognized and infused into the office environment. Once that balance is found and maintained, the entire organization benefits with the innovation and forward-thinking mentality provided by an entrepreneurial perspective. When coupled with the proper office structure, companies can maintain healthy, robust work environments.
    The Proper Mindset Starts at the Top
    As companies grow, adopting a more structured workplace occurs naturally as part of the typical corporate evolution process. While there are obvious benefits to such a process, creating a uniformity that lends itself to greater efficiency, it can also be tremendously stifling to innovative thinking.
    To combat a company-wide sense of malaise, executives should not only preach a dynamic mindset but put it to use with incentive programs and open lines of communication. Humans are naturally motivated by incentives such as recognition and monetary rewards and thrive within systems that promote desired outcomes. Executives need to establish programs that delineate clear lines of communication among departments and deter employees and supervisors from developing the foreboding sense of repudiation that is so common within growing companies.
    An incentive program that rewards employees for maintaining a perspective that doesn’t necessarily stay in lockstep with an overbearing corporate mindset can be crucial in creating a workforce that isn’t afraid to voice new ideas and never stops trying.
    An Open Office Atmosphere
    Likewise, the office environment itself can be pivotal in developing an entrepreneurial spirit throughout the organization. Giving employees work stations that are more interesting than an infinite row of cubicles can be extremely beneficial in creating a balance between productivity and imagination. Flexible schedules, telecommuting and similar benefits can also enhance innovation by allowing employees to maximize their individual creativity and efficiency.
    Of course, every company is different, and what might work well for one organization could be an unmitigated disaster for another. The most important notion to keep in mind is that the vitality and entrepreneurial spirit that exists in every workforce needs a certain degree of freedom to truly shine. When it does, the entire organization benefits.

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  • 5 Helpful Tips for Managing Remote Employees

    5 Helpful Tips for Managing Remote Employees

    There’s no doubt the workforce is changing today, with more companies allowing employees to work remotely or from out of the office. In fact, today, more than 23 percent of employees do at least some of their work remotely. Despite the benefits of allowing employees to work remotely (boosted productivity, greater employee happiness), managing them can be more challenging than managing employees in-office. However, there are some helpful tips you can keep in mind to ensure that your team is engaged, cohesive and productive.

    Use Video Technology

    Video conferencing technology like Skype and FaceTime has made it easier for remote teams to have meetings. Studies have shown that only 7 percent of human communication is verbal (the rest is nonverbal cues like gestures, glances and so on), so video meetings can help ensure everyone is on the same page. Try having weekly video meetings in order to make sure that everyone is communicating well and that the team stays connected.

    Have In-Person Meetups

    Even though remote workers aren’t required to be physically in the office, it helps bond teams together and make people feel like they’re a part of a company if they get to meet in person every so often. If your employees are scattered across the world, try having a meet up once or twice a year. If people all work in the same city or region, try having everyone meet once a month. In-person meetings strengthen the bond between team members, and they can help boost morale.

    Send Company Swag

    Remote employees can feel disconnected from the organization they work for. To build a sense of loyalty, send them company swag, like letterhead, pens, T-shirts and so on. Swag can help make them feel like they are part of the group, and it can also help them feel more professional.

    Don’t Always Talk Work

    Most likely, if you’re communicating with a remote employee, you’re talking about work-related topics. However, talking about things other than work can help build a good rapport between managers and employees. When communicating with your remote employees, ask them about how they’re doing and make a little small talk. Having a good relationship with your employee that extends beyond simply discussing work tasks will help build trust and loyalty and will make work a more pleasant experience for everyone involved.

    Let Them Know They’re Valued

    Every so often, make a gesture so that your remote employees know that they’ve done a good job. Send a small gift card or flowers if they’ve finished a big project, or send out a company-wide email acknowledging a job well done.

    Managing remote employees can be challenging, and it requires different skills than managing employees in the office. However, with a little time and effort, the arrangement can work well for both employees and their employers.

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  • Should You Stand Alone or Join the Masses? Where to Sell

    Should You Stand Alone or Join the Masses? Where to Sell

    E-commerce sellers face the choice between trying to take advantage of existing marketplaces like Amazon or building their own store. Which path is best for you depends on your business goals.

    Getting Eyeballs

    Amazon claims over 300 million active user accounts. As soon as your product launches, you’ll be shown in search results, category listings and recommended product pages.

    To get people to your own online store, you’ll need to invest in pay-per-click advertising, social media marketing or some other marketing strategy. Even if you have the cash to fund a large campaign, building up your own following will take time.

    Building Your Brand

    Online retail platforms aren’t geared towards allowing brands to stand out. Instead, their goal is to make customers think to come to their site first, and then customers pick out individual products based on reviews and pricing. Customers may or may not remember your brand when it’s time for their next purchase.

    When you have your own store, you have total freedom to build your own identity. Instead of saying “I got it on eBay,” customers say “I got it from [your company].” That sends referrals and repeat customers straight back to you.

    Avoiding Copycats

    Sellers on online platforms have been plagued by copycats. Successful products are often quickly duplicated with cheap imitations that are listed alongside the original. Even if you have full trademark or patent protection, the process of having the imitators taken down can be time-consuming and expensive.

    Having your own store doesn’t stop imitators, but when customers are already going to your own store, it isn’t as easy for the imitators to get their knockoffs in front of them. In addition, your brand identity and reputation for customer service can help put you ahead even when customers are aware of the cheaper options.

    Getting Started

    Using online retail platforms can make sense when you’re focused on mass-produced items and price competitions, but when you need to create your own identity, building your own online store is a wise investment. While it can be costly to get started, a small business loan can help you cover those costs while you grow your store into a source of sales that will return many times your original investment.

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  • Three Ways to Deal with Conflict in the Workplace

    Three Ways to Deal with Conflict in the Workplace

    Workplaces are diverse environments. They often have lots of employees, who come with different personalities, work tendencies and backgrounds. Conflict is bound to arise! Here are a few tips on how to deal with conflict in a healthy way:

    1. Peer Mediation

    This type of conflict resolution was first developed for teenagers, but it is also valuable in a work environment. Instead of a top-down supervisor approach, install a peer mediation system in your workplace. A trained, impartial third party in the human resources department can do wonders to solve conflict. Both parties are able to meet and discuss an issue without the fear of a supervisor’s judgment. Human Resources representatives can offer a private, safe place for employees to resolve their conflicts.

    2. Personal Responsibility

    Instill a culture of responsibility in your work environment. Let your staff know the issues that require a supervisor or a third-party mediator and the ones that can be dealt with by themselves. Instead of a battle of wills, encourage your employees to take ownership of their conflict. Have them listen in order to understand all sides, and ask the difficult questions: What can we do to help this situation? How can we make it better? By putting the responsibility in the hands of your employees, you allow them to solve conflict on their own. When employees deal with conflict themselves instead of running to a supervisor, they’re communication and personal responsibility skills improve. Which means that they will be less likely to have conflicts in general and will pick their battles in the future.

    3. Stop Conflict Before it Starts

    As a supervisor, you should be doing everything you can to foresee tense situations before they arise. Do you have a big personality who runs over everyone? Be up front with him or her, and communicate your expectations. Offer specific guidelines on how to help with a work project. When expectations are clear, there is less chance of miscommunication, meaning less conflict.

    Nip conflict in the bud! With these helpful tips, you can stop conflict before it starts and handle any that does crop up in a positive way. It’s up to you to create a happy and healthy environment in the workplace.

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  • The Cost Of Convenience

    The Cost Of Convenience

    We’re all willing to pay a little extra for the sake of convenience – whether that’s buying an Amazon Prime membership so that we can have our purchases delivered the day after we make them, or stocking up on ready meals to cut down on the time we spend in the kitchen. There are even a number of subscription services (Graze, Gousto and the like) for time-strapped individuals who don’t have a spare moment to sit down and plan out a healthy diet.

    But how much does convenience cost us – and is there a point where it really isn’t worth its while? Let’s take the example of pre-made sandwiches. If you’re short on time when it comes to lunch, spending three dollars on a sandwich might not seem like such a bad deal – especially when there are more expensive options available. However, break down that sandwich and cost out the constituent parts and you’ll likely find that making the same meal yourself would have cost slightly less than a dollar.

    In the example above, you pay approximately two dollars for the convenience of not having to make and transport your own lunch. Is it worth it? Maybe. It depends a lot on how much you value your time. Let’s say that making your own lunch each day adds an extra ten minutes to your morning routine. Those ten minutes save you two dollars, which makes the hourly rate of your savings twelve dollars. If you rate your time as worth twelve dollars or less, then you’re effectively making a saving by making your own sandwich. If you consider your time to be worth more than twelve dollars, by all means grab lunch on the road.

    Coffee is another fine example. Most people won’t hesitate to pay two dollars or more for a fresh cup of coffee in the morning, but by some estimates they could be paying anywhere from ninety cents, to one dollar ninety cents just for the convenience of getting their morning brew made for them at their local Starbucks. That may not seem like much in isolation, but assuming they drink just one cup every working day, the total savings they might make by brewing their coffee at home could be as much as five hundred dollars per year.

    Of course, this numeric approach isn’t perfect – convenience isn’t just about saving time, after all – but it’s a useful thought experiment to determine whether the little conveniences that you pay for on a daily basis are worth it after all. It’s surprising how much small expenses like this can mount up, and when you look at the figures you’ll likely be surprised by just how much you’re paying for convenience.

    The solution to a hefty convenience bill is not, however, to cut back on all of these luxuries. Few people have the time or patience to make their own orange juice, do their own dry cleaning, or patiently put together nutritionally-balanced meals each day. Instead, consider examining each convenience and consciously deciding whether it’s worth the money it costs. The internet abounds with convenience items that are obviously not worth the added expense – cut these from your daily life, while preserving those that genuinely save you time and energy and you could be on the road to significant savings.

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  • The Six Most Common ‘Bad Boss’ Habits

    The Six Most Common ‘Bad Boss’ Habits

    Most employees have at least one horror story about an awful boss they had to deal with at some point in their career. Indeed, a recent survey by Monster saw more than a third of respondents rate their boss as “horrible” or worse. With that stark statistic in mind, how can you tell if there’s a bad boss wreaking havoc in your company? Here are six warning signs that you shouldn’t ignore.

    1. They’re Never Wrong

    However good a manager is at their job, they cannot possibly be perfect. If they never seem to put a foot wrong forward, consider whether it’s due to their unrivalled talent, or simply because they’re offloading their failures and missteps onto the employees beneath them.

    2. They Manage Everything

    Even some of the better bosses fall into the trap of micromanagement. Apart from being an inefficient use of resources, micromanaging can make employees feel as though they have no control or responsibility, and it can negatively impact their performance.

    3. They Take All The Credit

    The polar opposite of the boss who blames their mistakes on their employees, the credit hog instead soaks up all the acclaim for any projects that go well. If the recognition for the achievements of a team is being lapped up solely by their manager, it might be time to intervene and make sure that everyone who contributed gets their fair share.

    4. They Have Favorites

    It’s important for a manager to be at least somewhat impartial. Although they’ll naturally have varying relationships with the people on their team, it’s crucial that they don’t discriminate or pick favorites. A good boss should be able to treat everyone who works for them equally, regardless of their personal feelings.

    5. They Don’t Help Their Employees Grow

    One of the things that great bosses do well is to cultivate their employees. Ineffective managers, on the other hand, will often be too lazy or disinterested to even think about helping their workers grow in their careers — and might even be afraid of allowing anyone to advance in case by doing so they make themselves obsolete!

    6. They’re Tetchy

    All of the above traits are bad, but by far the most destructive habit a boss can develop is a bad temper. Negativity, anger and unpredictable behavior not only make for an unpleasant atmosphere, but also a workplace that any sensible employee will want to flee as soon as they can.

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  • 8 Questions You Cannot Ask In A Job Interview

    8 Questions You Cannot Ask In A Job Interview

    The political climate in the U.S has become much more pervasive, and people are not afraid to sue when they are offended. This attitude has permeated much of society and has inspired a series of laws that make certain types of interview questions illegal. A well-prepared candidate knows what an interviewer can and cannot ask and utilizes that information to keep the interview focused on getting the job.

    Any Question Regarding Marital Status

    Companies have a lot of reasons for wanting to know a candidate’s marital status, but asking about it in an interview is illegal.

    Any Question Regarding Age

    Many tech companies are fixated on creating a young and dynamic staff, but they will have to do that without asking about age. There are several federal laws in place that make it illegal for companies to ask about or discriminate against workers based on age, religion and sexual orientation.

    Any Question About Finances

    Most companies get around asking about finances by pulling a credit report on candidates prior to the interview. In some instances, questions about finances are legitimate because the job may require the candidate to handle money. But in general, companies are not allowed to ask a candidate about their finances.

    Have You Ever Been Arrested?

    Candidates need to understand that employers can ask about past convictions, but they cannot request a full arrest record.

    Any Question Pertaining To Health

    The rising cost of health insurance makes companies conscious about bringing on new employees with health problems, but the truth is that a company cannot ask about your health in an interview.

    Your Social Habits

    Employers may look up a candidate’s social media handles, which is a widely accepted practice in the corporate world. But a company cannot ask you about your social habits such as where you vacation, your drinking habits and the friends you keep.

    Any Question About Political Preferences

    Politics has become a hot topic that polarizes people in many ways. As interesting as politics may be, an employer cannot ask about your political preferences in an interview.

    Any Question About Location

    If an interviewer asks a candidate where they live, the candidate does not have to answer that question. Some companies try to avoid hiring candidates from certain neighborhoods or districts, and that is why asking about location is illegal.

    A candidate wants to keep a job interview focused on the job and whether or not the interviewer feels the candidate is qualified. When the interviewer tries to get off-track with illegal questions, the candidate should stand up for their rights and keep the discussion focused on the available position.

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  • 5 Businesses That Can Benefit From Leaderboards

    5 Businesses That Can Benefit From Leaderboards

    A growing trend among small businesses and franchises is the sales leaderboard. This employee incentive mechanism brings a little gamification theory into the workplace. There are many examples of businesses that could benefit from employee leaderboards.

    Below are five such examples — some which might surprise you!

    1. Clothing Stores

    A clothing store can be a big success or fail, and it all comes down to who is on your team. Some employees will do the bare minimum, while others will work with potential customers to fulfill their needs. That extra initiative often goes unnoticed.

    If you own a clothing store, a sales leaderboard will help you become more aware of your top staff. There’s a big difference when sales suddenly go up 15 percent in the first week. Remember, clothing stores typically don’t pay commission — but employees can drastically influence sales.

    2. Grocery Stores

    A busy grocery store suffers when a cashier decides to work at a slower pace. After a handful of slow cashiers are on board, the company suddenly needs to hire more staff to keep up with the customer demand. It is unfortunate and unnecessary.

    An employee leaderboard can work well for a team of cashiers. You can shift the focus to be on the person’s average cashout time. Use whatever metrics you need, but focus on rewarding the specific good working behavior you want to see more.

    3. Call Centers

    Call centers already give out prizes to top-performing staff on a regular basis. Imagine having a scoreboard that tracks the sales performance of each employee in real time.

    You could have daily, weekly or monthly leaderboards. There could also be different teams, so you compete as a group and have coworkers there to egg you on.

    4. Oil Change Place

    Oil change companies see a mixture of motivated and unmotivated workers. Often, the turnover in this line of business is higher than you’d expect. The upsells are a big part of the shop’s bottom line, though.

    Why not utilize an employee sales leaderboard? These workers are typically on commission for any upsold products anyway. The graphical presentation will keep the team pushing through the week — instead of getting bent out of shape anytime a sale attempt fails.

    5. Hair Salon

    A salon’s profit margins are dependent on the average time per cut of each employee on the team. You can control workflows, such as by making rules on who takes the next walk-in client. But the only way to see improvement is to create incentive that’s based on better performance. You could award for average cut time, referrals, product upsells and more.

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  • Why You Shouldn’t Pay for ‘Debt Relief’

    Why You Shouldn’t Pay for ‘Debt Relief’

    By Steve O’Connor

    As a business owner, you’re well aware that even a solid business plan and a great product won’t protect you completely from unexpected downturns. Markets change, your costs can rise — and suddenly, you’re struggling to meet your obligations. This is when you may start noticing sales pitches from companies that offer a quick and easy solution to your stress. Here’s a closer look at how those dangerous scams work, and why they represent a threat to your financial health.

    How ‘Debt Relief’ Companies Work

    Hoping to lure business owners with phrases like “debt relief,” or “corporate credit counseling,” these companies advise you to break your agreement with your funding provider (like Merchant Capital Source), and stop all further payment. They promise that if you let them negotiate on your behalf (for a fee, of course), they’ll reduce your payments by 50 percent or more. These con artists even suggest that their special magic can reduce the overall amount you owe. Meanwhile, they have no stake in your financial success because they earn their income from the fees you pay them for their “services.”

    Why These Offers are Dangerous

    Once you get past the rosy sales language in the pitches, you’ll discover some alarming fine print. Debt relief companies are usually careful not to guarantee any actual results in exchange for the fees you pay them. We’ve even seen some of these so-called advocates convince business owners like you that they’re working on your behalf — and then never even contact us. That’s not a service at all — it’s just dishonest. Meanwhile, you’re left with the same obligations you had previously, and while you thought you were acting responsibly, your funders have heard nothing but crickets.

    Scam Debt Restructuring in the News

    We were saddened, but not surprised, to learn of a New York case in which several people were arrested for defrauding small business owners with promises of debt relief. In one instance, they told a business owner they could reduce the amount she owed by 75 percent in just two days. Using dozens of different company names, these scammers convinced over 100 entrepreneurs to provide access to their business bank accounts. Drawing out weekly payments (amounting to over $1 million total) from these accounts, the “debt relief” agents never contacted any creditors or acted on behalf of the business owners in any way. They merely pocketed the cash until their scheme was detected by the Department of Justice.

    Another recent example involves a fake legal services company that charged a merchant $100,000 to supposedly eliminate $400,000 worth of debt. However, when the retailer was sued by their funder for nonpayment and subsequently hired a real lawyer, they found that the so-called “legal services” weren’t even licensed in the region. Furthermore, the supposed “debt” was actually a negotiable merchant cash advance and the scammers had never even contacted the funder.

    We’re Always Here to Talk With You

    At Merchant Capital Source, we’re committed to supporting you. After all, we’ve already advanced funds because we believe in your business. We wouldn’t risk our money if we didn’t. If you encounter financial distress, just let us know. Our agreement with you allows you to ask us to adjust your daily remittance to us. But we simply will NOT negotiate YOUR agreement with a company who has not invested their money right along with yours, like we have — and who may be engaging in fraudulent activity.

    Here’s our promise to you — and it’s a promise you can bank on: If your business is experiencing hard times, we’ll work with you to find a solution. There’s no need to involve a fraudulent outsider who merely pockets huge fees and encourages you to break your word. If you’d like to talk with us about this, just give us a call anytime at (866) 969-7878.

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  • 5 Reasons Your Best Employees Will Quit

    5 reasons your best employees will quit

    5 Reasons Your Best Employees Will Quit

    Company turnover can be the kiss of death for an HR department. Make sure you keep your rising stars from orbiting to another company. Avoid these top five typical pitfalls to ensure your key players stay right where they are.

    Reason #1: The Manager

    Believe it or not, one of the most common reasons that employees leave companies has nothing to do with the company itself and everything to do with the manager of the company. A manager’s most important job is to keep their A-players happy, and if they fail to do that, they will lose said A-players.

    Reason #2: Undervalued, Overworked, Underpaid

    We understand that small businesses may not have the budget to pay their employees top dollar, but that doesn’t mean that you have to pay them less than they deserve. Likewise, if your top employees have talents that aren’t being utilized or they’re being made to do grunt work that’s beneath their station, you stand a good chance of losing them.

    Reason #3: Your Company Culture Isn’t Conducive

    Even if you’re a small business, there’s absolutely no reason to create a culture of disrespect. While weeding out your company’s worst employees sounds like you’re downsizing, it’s worth it if you’re keeping your A-level employees happy. A culture of disrespect will lead to many of your “good” employees quitting.

    Reason #4: They Got an Offer They Couldn’t Refuse

    Yes, there are plenty of employees who leave because of financial reasons. But there are just as many who leave because, in addition to the financial reasons, they got extrinsic offers as well — a better company culture, additional perks, a healthier office environment. All of these are just as important to many employees as a good salary, so be sure you’re keeping them happy in as many ways as is financially possible for your company.

    Reason #5: There’s No Proper Communication

    Career coach Tanya Ezekiel warns about the dangers of lack of proper communication and gives tips on how to solve the problem. “The key is to be self-aware. Delegate to empower, speak with (not to) your employees, listen to connect, acknowledge their concerns and ask questions to find out how to keep them happy,” she said.

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  • Recruiting in the 21st Century: Trends for 2017 And Beyond

    Recruiting in the 21st Century: Trends for 2017 And Beyond

    The recruiting process of the 21st century is worlds away from the recruiting process of the previous century. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest trends in recruiting and what professionals can expect of recruiting trends in 2017 and beyond.

    Technology Training

    Prior to the 21st century, when people weren’t as dependent on technology, recruiters didn’t have to worry about whether their potential candidates were proficient in the latest technology. Today, however, not only do recruiters have to make sure their candidates have a good grasp on technology, they have to train potential candidates in any area of technology where they may be lacking. In fact, many 21st-century recruiters hire experts in cloud computing to integrate cloud applications, mobile devices and social media.

    Globalization

    Further along the lines of increased technology, today’s recruiters have to be more globally minded than in years past. If a company, for example, has offices in other countries, it’s up to the recruiter to hire and train the staff abroad. What’s more, a stateside recruiter has to make sure that potential hires understand that if they go to work for an international company they may be recruited to work for another part of the company outside the United States.

    Diversity

    Over the past 20 years, the definition of diversity has changed tremendously. The so-called “changing face of America” has made it so that the default standard is no longer white, middle class and male. With that diversity, however, comes a change in recruiting approach. Race — and culture — play an important role in everyday life, and if recruiters wish to get the so-called “diversity” hires, they are going to have to change their approach tremendously.

    These are just a few of the many trends that have emerged amongst recruiters in the 21st century, and there’s no question that these trends will play an ever-increasing role in hiring new candidates beyond the 21st century. What have you, as a recruiter, noticed as an emerging trend? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • What Makes a Repeat Customer in the Service Industry?

    What Makes a Repeat Customer in the Service Industry?

    People go out to dine because they want all the elements of a memorable experience. And those working in the restaurant service industry know that repeat customers are those who feel happy and comfortable when they enter the restaurant.

    But just how does one keep those customers happy? Well, it’s one of the oldest secrets in the book: The customer is always king. And the ones serving them don’t ever forget that.

    Here are three ways to keep your customers coming back for more:

    Timely Table Service

    It’s all in the finest details. How do you treat your customers? The most renowned restaurant managers know that giving their clients the service they expect is a No. 1 priority. First impressions are also lasting ones. If the guests are seeking an intimate experience, the service doesn’t have to be fussy. But it does have to be on time, and immaculate. Menus should be offered immediately; drinks should be delivered at the soonest possible time.

    Restaurant Standards and Cleanliness

    If it’s all about the experience, then the level of your restaurant’s standard will be a huge factor in getting repeat customers. Make sure your level of cleanliness is on par with your clients’ expectations. Otherwise, chances are they won’t be setting foot in your establishment again.

    How to Handle Customer Complaints

    Addressing complaints is no fun, but it must be done promptly, and with finesse. As politely as you can, try to address the guest’s complaints and concerns. Whether or not the complaint is valid is not the point. How you handle it is.

    When customers go out of their way to complain, it’s not always a bad thing or a sign of failure. If handled correctly, not only will you get repeat customers, but they will likely tell their friends about their experience. And you could gain a few more patrons.

    The service industry is not an easy or straightforward one. You’ll be dealing with all kinds of customers and their wishes. But if you keep these three things in mind, you’re on the right road in this industry.

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  • Alternative Financing: What It Is and Why Banks Fear It

    Alternative Financing: What It Is and Why Banks Fear It

    As alternative financing continues to migrate from the fringes of the finance world to mainstream awareness, new opportunities emerge for those typically shunned by conventional institutions, as well as those seeking local and more progressive funding sources. Ever-growing in number, alternative financing models extend capital and cash to millions while inspiring fear among some in the traditional world of finance.

    Alternative vs. Traditional Finance

    The financial channels and instruments labeled “alternative finance” include investment, donation and reward crowdfunding, microlending, and marketplace peer-to-peer lending. These have emerged as alternatives to the traditional banking system, which includes regulated mainstream banks and capital markets. Examples of traditional financing include bank loans, payday loans, Small Business Administration loans, home equity loans, venture capital, credit cards, charitable grants and equipment leasing.
    Mainstream banks use depositors’ money to fund investments at their discretion, with individuals having no control over, or even knowledge of, the investments. In contrast, alternative finance investors usually invest in a specific, chosen project. Alternative finance allows greater transparency into where people’s money is and what it is being used for.

    Common Alternative Financing Examples

    • Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding, in which large numbers of people contribute small amounts of money toward a specific project, can be based on donations, equity or rewards. Reward-based crowdfunding, the second largest category of alternative financing, provides backers a nonfinancial reward in exchange for funds.
    • Peer-to-Peer Lending: Groups of individuals support a business venture by providing unsecured personal loans in exchange for a return on that investment over time. It’s the largest category of alternative financing.
    • Microfunding: Small amounts of money are loaned to small businesses or entrepreneurs, often in economically disadvantaged areas. These sums are significantly smaller than the minimum banks will fund.

    Scope of Alternative Financing

    As traditional banks increasingly favor established companies, customers with bigger bank accounts and loans of higher dollar amounts, alternative finance companies are filling the gaps. Though alternative finance isn’t exactly new – the first online peer-to-peer lender, Zopa, was founded in 2004 – its market volume has increased exponentially in the past few years, and this growth is expected to continue. According to research:
    • In 2015, the market volume in the Americas jumped from $11.4 billion to $36.49 billion, with $36.17 billion of that volume in the United States alone.
    • Use of alternative finance methods in North and South America increased from 2014 to 2015 by 212 percent.
    • In a two-year period, online alternative finance platforms provided more than $10.8 billion worth of capital to over 268,000 small businesses and startups in the United States.

    Factors Influencing the Rise of Alternative Finance

    Factors contributing to the rising use of alternative finance options include the economic crisis that occurred around 2008 and an ever-advancing level of technology. Specifically:

     

    • After the recession that followed the housing market meltdown, small business owners find obtaining credit or capital even more challenging, as banks apply more stringent criteria and favor large companies and large loans. Banks deny more than 80 percent of small business loan applications.
    • Technological advances extend to the finance world, too. Emerging technological innovations in the financial sector, dubbed “FinTech,” allow for online collection of information, near-instant analysis of lending criteria and extremely fast authorizations, credit checks and financing approval. FinTech also connects crowdfunding platforms to people across the world and expands the network of peer-to-peer financing sources, rapidly and easily connecting those in need of money with those wishing to invest.

    Alternative finance companies threaten the traditional banks’ business models, as well as their market volume. As world technologies and consumer expectations continue to evolve, so must the banking industry.

     

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  • 5 Reasons to Outsource Your Accounting and Bookkeeping

    outsourcing bookkeeping and accounting

    5 Reasons to Outsource Your Accounting and Bookkeeping

    Small-business owners are faced with lots of challenges when trying to accomplish big goals with minimal resources. One of those challenges is whether to outsource various services, including accounting and bookkeeping. Many small-business owners opt to hire an outside firm to manage their accounting and bookkeeping services. Here are five reasons why you should consider outsourcing them too.

    1. You’ll Save Money

    Saving money is the number one reason many small businesses outsource accounting and bookkeeping services. Until a business reaches a certain size, it makes sense to outsource these services. Why? An employee managing accounting might make $50,000 in salary, but when you tack on benefits and overhead, that number increases to upwards of $78,000. Outsourced accounting can cost a company less than half of that.

    Since every dollar you save helps prevent taking out another small-business loan — or allows you to apply funds from a current business loan to something that will generate a return on investment — outsourcing accounting can greatly impact the bottom line.

    2. You’ll Have Experts at the Wheel

    As a business owner, it can be hard enough for you to keep up on the trends in your own industry, let alone best practices in a whole other industry. Since the accounting and bookkeeping world changes rapidly, it takes a dedicated person to understand and navigate those changes — especially because mistakes in the accounting world can be detrimental to a small business. It’s best to have someone seasoned and in-touch with industry changes leading the charge.

    3. You’ll Have More Time to Spend on Things That Matter

    While some business owners see this task as simply tracking expenses or accounts receivable, quality bookkeeping underlines a company’s financial infrastructure, and it takes a lot of time. Leveraging experts and outsourcing these services to an outside team can free up your time to stay focused on things that matter, like growing your own business.

    4. Your Team Can Stay Focused

    In a small business, where every team member is taking on responsibilities outside of his or her job description, it can be easy to pass off or share the accounting and bookkeeping responsibilities. These tasks, however, serve as a distraction from the responsibilities that will help grow your business. It’s best to leverage your team members’ strengths and keep them focused on their roles, and let an outside firm handle accounting and bookkeeping.

    5. You’ll Have Access to the Latest Technology

    With how quickly technology changes, it can be both difficult to know what your accounting and bookkeeping tool options are and time-consuming to determine which is right for your business. An outside firm, however, has the infrastructure in place to manage your accounting and recommend the right tools for your team.

    Leverage the industry knowledge of a specialized accounting and bookkeeping firm to be sure you’re using the best tools for the job; that alone can save you time and money in addition to what you’re saving by outsourcing these services.

    If you think outsourcing your company’s accounting and bookkeeping needs might be right for you, contact three to four providers in your area who can give you quotes. Also consider selecting an accounting and bookkeeping firm that aligns with your company’s values and culture, as the outside firm will become part of your team.

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  • 5 Questions Every Retail Manager Needs Answers to During an Interview

    5 Questions Every Retail Manager Needs Answers to During an Interview

    Working in retail is unlike working in any other industry. It requires organization, a friendly manner, an ability to work under pressure and multi-tasking skills. As most retail managers have only a few minutes to interview job candidates, they must gather as much pertinent information as possible very quickly — by asking these five questions.

    1. What Does Our Brand Mean to You?

    It is usually very easy to find candidates for retail jobs, but finding candidates with a passion for retail is a different matter. If a candidate can demonstrate a passion for your retail business, the chances are this passion will rub off on other members of your team and, more importantly, on your customers.

    2. What Would You Do Differently in Our Store?

    Almost anyone can operate a till and take payments from customers, but not every candidate possesses sales acumen. Ask your candidates to walk around your store for a few minutes prior to the interview, and encourage them to make notes on areas that could be improved. A critical mind in retail is always very useful; and after all, a good idea is a good idea — wherever it comes from.

    3. Have You Ever Had to Resolve a Customer Service Issue Yourself?

    Customer service in retail is often about problem-solving, conflict resolution and proactive thinking. Every retail employee has to deal with irate customers from time to time, and they often need to resolve issues there and then. Ask the candidate to talk at length about a real issue he or she has dealt with in the past. What did they do to appease the customer? What was the outcome?

    4. Have You Ever Received Fantastic Customer Service?

    It is vital that retail employees know exactly what constitutes great customer service. Get the candidate to talk about a specific instance of fantastic customer service they’ve personally experienced. This should tell you everything you need to know about that person’s understanding of this essential area of retail.

    5. Are You Flexible With Regard to Your Working Hours?

    Things may go wrong and staff may go sick, but the retail show must always go on. In order to deal with contingencies, or to react to changing circumstances, you need flexibility in your workforce. A retail candidate who goes on the record to say they’d be willing to be flexible with regard to their working hours will make scheduling a lot easier for you.

    If your candidate scores well in all five questions, you’ve probably found the ideal recruit for your retail business.

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  • How Does the IRS Choose Who to Audit?

    How Does the IRS Choose Who to Audit?

    Each year, millions of people worry about getting audited by the IRS. While all of these people have a chance of being audited, some are more likely to be audited than others. The IRS uses four methods to determine which returns will be selected for additional examination.

    Return Matching

    Every tax return is run through a computer system that matches the return against other information such as W-2s and 1099s. If the information doesn’t match up, either because the filer left a form out of their tax return or entered different numbers, a human IRS employee will review the return.

    In most cases, the IRS will simply send a bill for any additional tax owed. In others, it may send a letter asking for more explanation about why the return doesn’t match the other information. If the error is large or unusual, the IRS may choose to audit the entire return.

    Averaging

    The IRS computers also compare each tax return against the returns of others in the same profession or income bracket. Taxpayers who report income well below the typical average or deductions that are well above the typical average may be flagged for further review.

    There is nothing wrong with having a correctly completed return that doesn’t match the averages. The IRS is simply playing the odds on which returns are most likely to have underreported taxes.

    Related Audits

    If a review of one taxpayer finds underreported taxes, the IRS will often audit related taxpayers. Related taxpayers include the following.

    • A business return and the owner’s personal return.
    • Partners in a business even if the audit relates only to personal returns.
    • Spouses filing separately.
    • Parents and dependent children.

    These types of audits typically focus on transactions between the related taxpayers but may expand to the entire returns if the examiner believes it is warranted.

    Random

    The IRS also selects tax returns for audit at random. Every tax return has at least some chance of being selected, but the odds increase with the complexity of the return and the amount of reported income. The exact selection process is secret because the IRS doesn’t want tax evaders to be able to game the system.

    Because you can never avoid an audit, you should always strive to pay as little in taxes as legally possible rather than taking steps like skipping deductions to try to avoid an audit. If you complete your taxes accurately and keep good records, you won’t have to worry about an audit even if you are selected.

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  • What Does the Ryan Healthcare Plan Mean for Small Business Owners?

    What Does the Ryan Healthcare Plan Mean for Small Business Owners?

    The Obamacare repeal and replacement bill proposed by Paul Ryan last year has been named the American Health Care Act and is working its way through Congress. Regardless of how you feel about the bill, it’s increasingly certain that it will pass so it’s time for small business owners to start planning for it. Here are the provisions that will have the biggest impact.

    Elimination of the Employer Mandate

    The bill entirely eliminates the employer mandate. Employers will no longer be penalized for failing to provide health insurance to employees regardless of the size of the business.

    Employers will be free to choose whether to offer health insurance as a benefit.

    Change From Income-Based Subsidies to Tax Credits

    Obamacare’s income-based subsidies will turn into fixed-dollar tax credits based on age. The credits will range from $2,000 for those under 30 to $4,000 to those over 50.

    This will impact the ability of sole proprietors to lower their health insurance costs. Under Obamacare, sole proprietors could offset their income using business losses or deductible retirement plan contributions to receive a higher subsidy. This option is no longer available with the flat-rate credits.

    Repeal of Cadillac Tax and Medicare Tax Increase

    The Cadillac tax on high-cost health insurance plans will be delayed until 2025, and Republicans intend to eliminate it entirely before that date.

    The 0.9 percent Medicare tax on high-income taxpayers is also set for elimination. This tax currently applies to both employment income and business profits from pass-through entities such as sole proprietorships and partnerships. The 2.9 percent base Medicare tax will remain in place.

    Repeal of Small Business Health Insurance Tax Credit

    The small business health insurance tax credit will be repealed. This credit is currently available to businesses with less than 25 full-time-equivalent employees making an average of less than $50,000 per year. The credit covers up to half of the employer’s health insurance premium contributions for its employees during its first two years of offering health coverage.

    Employer health insurance contributions will remain a deductible business expense.

    What to Do

    Business owners should immediately prepare a budget under the revised system to determine the financial impact of the changes. Business owners who plan to reduce or eliminate health insurance benefits once the mandate is repealed should begin working with their employees to ensure a smooth transition and negotiate appropriate adjustments to the total compensation package.

    While the law will likely change before the final vote, the general framework is in place and forecasting for the worst-case financial scenario will leave you in a secure position regardless of the final outcome.

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  • The Sunk Cost Fallacy and How to Avoid It

    The Sunk Cost Fallacy and How to Avoid It

    Imagine that you are a health-food fanatic and you own two juicers. The first is a top-of-the-line, brand-new model that many celebrities own. It cost you $1,000, and it looks fantastic in your kitchen. Your second juicer is a rickety, ugly, second-hand model that you picked up at a garage sale for $10.

    You use both juicers equally, and over time you notice that the cheap machine turns out better juice and is easy to clean up. The more expensive juicer gives everything a metallic taste, and takes ages to clean.

    Now imagine that, for some reason, you can only keep one of these machines. Which one do you choose?

    If you said the $1,000 model, then you’re not alone. Most people would end up deciding to stick with the option for which they paid the most money, and which brings them the most prestige, even if the results it produces are significantly worse. This is an example of the sunk-cost fallacy, and while it’s amusing when it’s applied to kitchen appliances, it can be devastating in the world of business.

    Real Example of the Sunk Cost Fallacy

    Concorde, the world’s first supersonic passenger jet, was no simple project. It lasted over 20 years and two governments invested multiple billions into its development. For a large portion of that time, all parties involved knew that there was little to no chance of recouping the massive investment, and that the finished plane would not only have a lower capacity, but would also be more expensive on a per-mile basis than other contemporary liners. The project, by all accounts, made no economic sense and yet the project leaders went ahead regardless. Why? The governmental prestige that had been heaped onto the project was clearly an element in that decision, but it also came down to fear: Having spent so much time and money on Concorde, nobody felt as though they could give up before reaping some reward, however meager that might be.

    That’s the heart of the sunk cost fallacy. Nobody wants to believe that they made a bad decision. And nobody wants to wave goodbye to money they’ve already invested.

    How to Avoid the Sunk Cost Fallacy

    So how do you prepare yourself to avoid this trap? As with many fallacies, nobody is completely immune, but in any project, there are a few simple steps you can take to dodge a sunk-cost nightmare. Here are three of them:

    1. Discuss Failure

    Even in the very early stages of a project, make sure to have failure on the table. Discuss it openly. Certainly avoid it if you can, but make sure that you and your team have considered what you might do if the project doesn’t come together. By considering this early on, you create for yourself a mental “emergency exit” that you can later use if things don’t work out.

    2. Weigh Up the Cost of Carrying On

    There is, of course, a cost to failure. Perhaps giving up on a project will make you and your team look bad. Perhaps it will cost the company money. Many people shy away from giving in because of these costs, but it’s important to weigh them up against the costs involved in carrying on as well. When you do so, you may find that giving up is a better and cheaper option than staying the course.

    3. Make Mistakes Acceptable

    Developing a culture in which it’s okay to make mistakes isn’t something that you can do overnight, but it’s a valuable step to take. When people in your organization don’t feel as though they’ll be punished for making mistakes, they are far less likely to try and cover up their errors with further ones.

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  • Managing Your Millennial Workforce: How to Avoid Common Mistakes

    Managing Your Millennial Workforce: How to Avoid Common Mistakes

    We toss the term “millennials” around regularly, but who exactly are these people? They are likely a large percentage of your current workforce.

    Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000. Millennials grew up surrounded by a diverse group and consider working in teams to be the most efficient. Their co-workers are also their friends.

    What Millennials Want

    Millennials like flexibility and want frequent feedback on their job performance. They expect challenges, and are confident in their abilities. They will seek leadership roles and may rebel if they become bored.

    Working with millennials can be interesting, but may require a few specific adaptations to accommodate their unique character traits. Effectively manage your millennials and you’ll have a competent, trained employee pool for your business.

    Keep It Structured

    Millennials are most satisfied in an organized environment. They want routine monthly reports on specific due dates and stable work hours. When planning a meeting, keep it structured with a printed agenda, and be certain to take minutes. Business goals, large and small, should be clearly defined. There needs to be a tool for assessing progress. Define assignments and delineate the benchmarks that indicate success.

    Put Their Attitude to Work for You

    “I can do this” is the mantra all millennials recite. They apply this attitude to everything they attempt. They feel ready to conquer the world and believe they have the skills to do it. Channel that enthusiasm into a positive outcome for your business.

    Let Them Multitask

    Millennials like to multitask; in fact, they thrive on it. If they engage in a phone conversation while writing email and responding to instant messages, don’t interrupt them. And don’t panic; this is a normal fact of life for them. Without a variety of different tasks and goals to pursue each week, your millennials may lapse into boredom.

    Go Heavy on the Technology

    Millennials grew up with smartphones and social media. Use that skill to the advantage of your business. Your millennials have an affinity for networking and group activities, and this can be a plus for your business. They routinely network electronically around the world, and are popular employees because of it.

    Give Them a Voice at the Table

    Millennials have formulated their own opinions and ideas, and they don’t like feeling ignored. They want you to hear them and to take them seriously. Don’t leave them out of important decisions and projects.

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  • Employee Engagement in the 21st Century

    Employee Engagement in the 21st Century

    One of the most important things that an employer needs to understand is that his/her workforce, in the 21st century, is one of the most diverse that it’s ever been in history. And, because of the range of ages that are prevalent in the workplace, it’s important to engage these employees effectively, and not with a “one size fits all” method of engagement. But how and why should you do this?

    The Importance of Employee Engagement

    According to a report by the Human Capital Institute, employee engagement is one of the most important factors in determining how prosperous (read: successful) a business will be. Without employees that feel as though they are a part of the greater good of the company, the company will not survive.

    “The workforce is no longer a ‘do-as-I-tell-you’ machine. Rather, it is a symbiotic collective that expects collaboration, candor, and courage. In return, organizations can reap the benefits of employee engagement and strengthen the relationships that impact their bottom line,” writes HCI.

    How to Engage Employees

    Regardless of the age of your employees, there are a number of ways to successfully engage them. For example:

    Connect With Them

    As a leader, it is your job to try to find not only the common ground that you share with your employees, but things that makes your employees “tick.” What motivates them to do well at their job? That is the question that you must get the answer to from every single person who works for you. Once you find out what motivates them, you can appeal to that motivation so that your employees can do a better job.

    Be Clear About Your Vision for Your Company

    “Success” is not defined in the same way by different leaders. If there’s something that you want for the company, make sure your employees know what it is. As they reach — and exceed — your goals, make sure you congratulate and thank them for a job well done.

    Provide a Safe Space for Collaboration

    Studies have proven that employees who are given a safe space to collaborate with others tend to work better than those who are not. In a team environment, employees can see who on their team has certain strengths to play upon, and maximize results.

    Why Should You Engage?

    Simply put, engagement is not only essential for your company’s success, but for your employee’s personal and professional success within the company as well.

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  • Social Media For Recruiting : Do’s and Don’ts

    Social Media for Recruiting : Do’s and Don’ts

    When used correctly in a business setting, social platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can be powerful tools in the recruiting process —and not just in terms of weeding out candidates whose social media presences paint a less than desirable picture of a candidate (more on that later).

    Despite the benefits that using social media for both recruiting and attracting top talent can have, just 17 percent of HR managers currently use social platforms (apart from LinkedIn) in any part of the hiring process. Set yourself apart by being one of the small amount of companies that are using these tools to their full potential, beyond just creating a well-crafted social presence.

    Do: Leverage Your Social Channels to Find Eager Applicants

    Unlike prospective employees who find your job posting on sites like Indeed.com, those who follow your social media channels are already aware of your brand, and likely already fans. Reaching out to your social media followers about a job opening first helps you pinpoint a group of people who are already aware of what your company is all about, and may already be eager to join your team. To find motivated people who are committed to your brand, look no further than your own follower list.
    Do: Reach Out To Potential Hires Via Social Media

    Encourage your followers who are interested in applying to reach out to you via Instagram or Twitter’s direct messaging systems (or include an HR email address on your post.) The benefit of the DM is that you can quickly look at the interested party’s own social media page, and get an instant snapshot of who they are, what other companies they follow and how they brand themselves.

    Don’t: Make Hiring Decisions Based Directly Off Candidates’ Social Media Accounts

    While this practice is rising in popularity, the legal and ethical boundaries of making hiring decisions off of someone’s personal social media accounts are murky. Seventy-four percent of companies that choose not to use this method cite the reason of dubious legality. The danger here is that it may subject you to unintentional discrimination by exposing you to a candidate’s “protected characteristics” — such as race, gender or age — which legally cannot influence your decision.

    Don’t: Forget to Maximize Your Social Presence First

    Lastly, it’s important to note that the method of using your social channels to attract promising talent is dependent on how well-crafted those channels are. Before you put out the call for talent on Instagram, for example, make sure you’re putting your best foot forward on your own account. A robust and curated presence will attract followers, and, with the right strategy, future employees.

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  • Do You Need an Accountant to Do Your Small Business Taxes? Maybe Not

    Do You Need an Accountant to Do Your Small Business Taxes? Maybe Not

    Tax season is here. Do you need help getting the paperwork filled out and filed to fulfill your obligations? While many Americans have simple finances, it’s a good idea to seek professional guidance if you’ve had any major changes to your financial life this year. For example, if you bought a home, took out a small business loan for a new venture or added to your family, your tax situation may be different.

    Many people assume a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the only choice for getting their taxes done right, but that’s not the case. There are several tax preparation professionals to choose from, each with different qualifications and areas of expertise. Knowing the differences will help you make an informed choice to get your taxes filed correctly.

    Annual Filing Season Program Participants

    Tax preparers who complete coursework and take an annual test of their tax preparation knowledge are registered with the IRS and can help you complete your tax returns. They are also allowed to represent you to certain IRS agents in the event of an audit, but only if they prepared your return in the first place.

    There are no minimum education requirements other than the IRS coursework, and for this reason a tax preparer of this caliber may be less expensive than fully credentialed ones. You may find them working for national chains or elsewhere in your community.

    Enrolled Agents (EAs)

    An Enrolled Agent is a tax preparer who has passed the IRS’s Special Enrollment Examination, which tests them on all aspects of tax planning, filing for individuals and business and representation (helping you through an audit). To maintain their license from the IRS, they also need to have completed continuing education courses every three years. A college degree is not required for EAs, though individuals may have a diploma.

    In many ways, an EA is the ideal choice when you need help preparing your taxes because it’s their main focus. If you need more comprehensive help with your business finances or your personal investment planning, an EA won’t necessarily be able to help you with those extra services.

    Certified Public Accountants (CPAs)

    Most people immediately think of accountants when tax season arrives. CPAs are licensed by the states they work in, and each state has a different exam and licensing requirements. To prepare for the CPA exam, accountants complete an accredited university program; they also complete continuing education credits to maintain their license.

    While some accountants specialize in tax preparation, others focus on a range of services, including payroll, bookkeeping, preparing financial statements for businesses and analyzing business finances. CPAs are a great choice if you own a business and are looking for a one-stop shop for financial services. If you only need tax preparation help, though, you may be overpaying if you hire an accountant.

    Tax Attorneys

    Lawyers may choose to specialize in many areas, and tax law is one of them. Attorneys are licensed by the bar association in the states where they practice; to be admitted to the bar, they need to have passed the bar exam. Lawyers are highly educated, having graduated from an undergraduate university program as well as an additional three years of law school.

    Tax attorneys well versed in legal matters can be particularly helpful in the event of an audit or more serious tax problem. Some may also deal in tax preparation and filing, but their fees are likely to be higher since you’re paying for a great deal of education.

    Finding a Tax Preparation Professional

    Once you’ve decided which tax professional is right for you, you can search for one in your neighborhood through the IRS database. It’s always a good idea to check references as well. When you choose the right professional, you can build a strong relationship for years to come.

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  • Top 5 Ways to Slash Your Small Business Tax Bill

    Top 5 Ways to Slash Your Small Business Tax Bill

    Few times of the year are as dreaded by small businesses as tax season. For many people, tax season is a process of going through a big shoe box of receipts to determine the possible damage. However, it also presents an opportunity to make important deductions and receive credits for your hard work. Here are the top five ways to slash your tax bill this tax season.

    1. Get Paid to Travel

    The majority of business-related travel is tax-deductible. Such expenses as airfare, hotel stays and car rentals can be deducted as business expenses if the reason for travel is for business operations, expansion or training. Conference fees are often deductible. Meals are deductible up to 50 percent. For mileage related to your business, you have the option of using the standard mileage rate or the actual expenses related to the use of your vehicle, including the actual gas expense, repairs and insurance. Keep up with receipts related to travel, and account for the purpose of the trip, the reason for the purchase and the amount of the purchase.

    2. Account for Interest

    As a business owner, you have likely accumulated some business debt through a small business loan or business line of credit. Business financing can help get your startup off the ground, and the interest you pay is generally tax-deductible. Keep up with the business loan documents that show the legitimate business purpose of the loan and the terms of the agreement.

    3. Deduct Expenses Related to Your Home

    Many small businesses are operated out of the owner’s home, entirely or in part. Take all deductions that apply to your specific business situation, such as:

    Ask your accountant or use tax preparation software to see if you qualify for other expenses related to the use of your home.

    4. Make Charitable Donations

    Many business owners are aware of their ability to get a deduction for charitable donations; however, there may be more practical ways to donate than simply writing a check to a charity. For example, if a stock is donated, the value of the stock at the time of the donation is factored in, not its original purchase cost. If you have stockpiles of unused inventory, consider donating it and claiming the charitable deduction. If you have a business asset you would otherwise dispose of, consider donating it instead.

    5. Prepare for Next Year

    It is never too early to start preparing for the next tax season. Remember, you do not need to be a tax expert to start masterfully preparing for the next season. A large part of tax filing involves organizing your documentation for the accountant or tax expert to review; implementing strategies into your daily, weekly and monthly routine can help you be prepared for the next filing season. Some quick tips for an efficient accounting system include:

    • Sort papers – Don’t leave papers around to pile up on your desk. On a daily basis, sort papers into different categories and place them in labeled folders, including receipts, invoices, product purchases, bills, receivables and other categories specific to your business.
    • Reconcile receipts with account statements – Pair up your statements and receipts for clarity.
    • Install accounting software and use it throughout the year.
    • Sort electronic bills into folders that are updated automatically, such as emailed receipts that are directed into a certain email folder.
    • Schedule time every month to run financial reports and review information for taxes.
    • Make automated tax payments for payroll, self-employment or anticipated taxes.

    These tips and tricks can help you minimize your tax bill and be better prepared for next year.

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  • Best Questions Recruiters Should Ask Candidates in 2017

    Best Questions Recruiters Should Ask Candidates in 2017

    As a recruiter, you’ve probably made a New Year’s resolution to start asking better interview questions. But they can be hard to get right.

    How is the future of work and business affecting the way we have our first conversation with a potential staff member?

    It’s not easy. Here are a few questions you should be asking in 2017 that will help you choose only the best candidates, and further your company growth.

    1. “What motivated you to apply for this post?”

    This is the age of being up front and honest with people. As social media both reveals and hides our real character, it’s vital for employers to know how to assess someone’s motivation for a particular job. When you get the candidate answering this question, you get a clearer picture of what value they bring to your team.

    2. “How do you think you can contribute to our organization’s mission?”

    Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local and author of “Likeable Social Media,” told Business Insider that this particular question shows the moral of a person, and how it can sync with a company’s vision. “This question can lead to a great discussion and a quick determination about whether there’s a mutual fit,” he says.

    3. “Tell me how you deal with change.”

    Now, more than ever, those on your team will need to learn how to adapt. From this question, and even from reading body language when you ask this question, you can get a better idea of how open or closed off your candidate will be to embracing change. It’s the only way to survive the future of the workplace.

    4. “What was your path to get here?”

    Although a journey to a particular career has as many different paths as the personalities who could land the job, knowing a person’s creative journey will give you insights on how they make decisions in crucial moments. It’s a question Hari Ravichandran, founder and CEO of Endurance International Group, says can go a long way in learning about someone.

    5. “Are there any personal opinions you used to have, but which you’ve changed your mind about completely?”

    Humility is key on any team. If someone can admit to thinking wrongly, and show that they are willing to change their stance, this reveals that they are open to learning, and can be trained easier than others.

    Remember: knowing how to profile a good candidate means you may have to do a bit of mind-reading, and decipher body language. But these questions can help provide deeper insights — which will lead to wiser decisions and better employees.

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  • Rethinking and Reimagining the Workweek

    Rethinking and Reimagining the Workweek

    The notion of the five-day, 40-hour work week appears ingrained as the American standard, from pop culture (such as the classic Dolly Parton song, “9 to 5”) to federal labor law and, of course, in companies across the country. This standard, however, has been followed for less than a century. Its application is far from universal, and its effectiveness is increasingly challenged as the workplace, workers and work itself changes.

    History of the 40-Hour Work Week

    In 1926 Ford Motor Company became one of the first American companies to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for its employees. Official explanation at the time was to grant lower-wage workers the luxury of more leisure time, though Henry Ford later admitted the shift intended to boost productivity, since workers were expected to increase their efforts during the shorter time on the job. Also, with more leisure time the employees were more likely to consume the products of their creation.

    The federal Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 set the 44-hour work week as standard across most industries, and amendments reduced this to 40 a few years later.

    Arguments Against the Conventional Work Schedule

    Requiring all employees to adhere to the same 9-to-5 schedule can negatively impact individual and company-wide productivity.

    • Individual efficiency: People naturally follow different biological rhythms, with some people at their most productive in the morning while others’ energy levels peak at night.
    • Distractions: The office environment where all employees are present on the same schedule provides many more distractions and interruptions.
    • Emphasis on hours worked instead of work accomplished: The 40-hour week puts the focus on the clock rather than the results.
    • Burnout: Following the same routine, day in and day out, leads to mental exhaustion and contributes to burnout. Burnout also results from working much more than 40 hours, which frequently happens in industries where 40 hours are viewed as a minimum.

    Alternative Work Schedules

    There is no one-size-fits-all schedule and companies seeking an alternative to the traditional work week must evaluate business needs and balance with staff preferences. Options to consider include:

    • Four-day workweek: Instead of five eight-hour days, employees work ten hours for four days.
    • Telecommuting: Technology allows for collaboration, communication and production from remote locations. Working from home has fewer distractions and reduces commuting costs, time and carbon emissions.
    • Flex scheduling: Employees can be permitted to schedule their own hours, working when it’s better for them, as long as the work is accomplished as required.

    Instead of holding onto the relic of the 40-hour week out of habit, companies should consider schedules that might make more sense for their employees and for their business.

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  • 5 Reasons Millennials Really Quit Their Jobs (& How to Prevent Them)

    5 Reasons Millennials Really Quit Their Jobs (& How to Prevent Them)

    As a small business, you know how imperative it is to attract the best talent. And if you’re savvy, you know that millennials — often reviled as entitled and lazy — are in fact creative, highly ambitious and committed to making the world a better place.

    The problem? They’re notorious job-hoppers: 42 percent change jobs every one to three years. Read on to find out why millennials are so hard to hang on to and what you can do to keep them on board.

    1. They’re Still Figuring Out What They Want to Do

    Partly due to a higher education system that’s not career focused, many millennials leave college unsure of what career to pursue. As a result, they job hop in search of a fulfilling career that makes use of their talents.

    To combat this, help them figure out what they want to do WITHIN your company, not elsewhere, by encouraging lateral movement. Maybe you have a millennial employee who’s an account manager, but you notice she’s an excellent writer. Let her shadow a copywriter and make the switch.

    2. They’re Unstimulated

    While millennials are often unfairly labeled as lazy, in reality, many are workaholics. A major reason millennials leave their jobs is because they don’t feel challenged by the work they’re given. One solution? Give them more work, not less. Millennials are driven by a desire to succeed, and you’ll get the best work out of them if you give them a chance to wow you with how much they can accomplish.

    3. They Don’t Feel Recognized

    Many complain that millennials need constant praise, when what they really want from employers is regular feedback. Assign them a mentor who can give them advice, criticism and positive reinforcement (when appropriate). Don’t forget: The chronically overworked and underpaid generation wants their work to be recognized with adequate pay.

    4. They Want to Make a Difference

    A whopping 85 percent of millennials value work that gives back to the community. If your company isn’t a nonprofit that helps the world in an overt way, find ways to help your activist generation employees feel that their work matters. Even better? Let them organize a company-wide volunteer effort.

    5. Your Ping-Pong Table Isn’t Cutting It

    When people think of what makes millennials happy in the workplace, they tend to think of kegs in the office, table tennis tournaments and unlimited free snacks. While these are fun, try implementing perks that truly add value to millennial’s lives: programs such as student loan forgiveness, company-financed higher education opportunities and quality health insurance.

    When you make millennials happy, you’ll find they’ll become loyal employees who work tirelessly to make your company the best it can be.

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  • Lead Generation Tips for Small Businesses

    Lead Generation Tips for Small Businesses

    Small businesses need to invest in lead generation in order to grow and maintain their customer bases. However, it can be difficult to know where to start. These lead generation tips can help you reach out to your target audience and turn them into paying customers.

    Connect on Social Media

    Social media is an incredibly valuable lead generation tool for small businesses. Even if you don’t have a big marketing budget, you can reach out to people who are likely to be interested in your brand. Twitter is particularly powerful, as it allows small-business owners to look out for and engage in relevant conversations that are already happening on the platform. Interested Twitter users become leads when they follow your brand or get in touch for more information.

    Optimize Your Site

    Is your small business website optimized to turn casual visitors into leads? Your site should include numerous calls to action, which invite readers to get in touch, ask questions, or join your mailing list. Use analytics to learn how visitors move through your site and consider adding calls to action to the pages where visitors typically bounce away. You should also have a contact form, which people can use to get in touch with questions or feedback. The form should be easily accessible from every page of your website. Optimizing your site in this way will help you to avoid losing vital opportunities to connect with your audience.

    Build Your Mailing List

    You need a way to stay in touch with your leads. A mailing list is ideal because it allows you to keep leads up to date with your latest offers, promotions and products. The challenge is finding ways to encourage users to sign up to receive your emails. One good option is to offer a free download, such as an e-book or free trial of your software, to users who enter their email. Once you have a mailing list of interested consumers, send carefully constructed emails to spark their interest and persuade them to return to your site. In this way, you can nurture your relationships with your leads and ultimately turn them into loyal customers of your brand.

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  • Top 5 Ways to Slash Your Tax Bill This Season

    Top 5 Ways to Slash Your Tax Bill This Season

    As the year comes to a close, business owners still have a few opportunities to slash their tax bill. Shrinking their profit margin will help businesses legally position themselves to have a lower tax burden. Some ways to accomplish this objective include when they:

    1. Decrease Revenue

    Small businesses are taxed on the profits they have actually earned, which represents the remaining funds after all expenses are paid. One simple way to lower the tax bill is to decrease revenue. Consider deferring payments received in December until the first part of January, and give vendors and customers a break by sending out invoices later in December, which also gives them less time to pay by the end of December. These methods work for businesses that use the cash-method accounting option. For accrual method-businesses, business owners may want to hold off on providing their goods or services until the New Year.

    2. Pay More Bills

    At the same time businesses decrease revenue, they should also look for ways to increase their expenses. Business owners should pay as many business-related bills as possible during December, including cell phone bills, rent, utilities, insurance costs, professional fees or others. These bills can often be prepaid, or more than one month of service can be supplied ahead of time. Businesses may also want to pay other expenses, such as advertising expenses or other expenses that will likely need to be paid in the first quarter, and the costs to train employees or purchase handbooks. The payment amounts can be used to deduct profits from this year rather than having them affect next year’s profits.

    Many business owners do not pay themselves a salary when they are starting out. However, IRS regulations allow business owners to pay themselves a reasonable salary that is taxed as ordinary earned income. Additionally, business owners can usually receive dividends, at a lower rate, from the profits of their business.

    3. Increase Capital Expenditures

    Businesses may also wish to purchase items that the business will need in the following year. Such purchases may include leasing a vehicle, buying an expensive piece of property, acquiring office equipment or making another capital expenditure. These items should be placed in service immediately to avoid any tax issues. Business owners may also want to stock up on office supplies that they will need, including ink cartridges, stationery, copy paper and pens.

    Businesses may also need to repair equipment and can generally include these expenses in the year the repair is made. Businesses may elect to make a partial disposition if part of an asset was replaced during the year, which allows the business to recognize a loss on that portion of the asset. Small businesses can take advantage of repairs, maintenance or improvements to buildings under safe harbor rules, if the cost is less than $10,000 or two percent of the building’s adjusted basis.

    4. Maximize Retirement

    Small business owners have a variety of retirement tools that they can use for themselves, including Simplified Employee Pension, SIMPLE IRAs and 401(k) accounts. Business owners can shelter more of their income through these mechanisms while allowing for a tax deduction for these contributions. Employers may also want to look into providing employees with a retirement savings opportunity.

    5. Contribute to Employee Benefit Plans

    Rather than offering employees raises or bonuses, employers may want to consider contributing to employee benefit plans, such as contributing more to employee health insurance costs. When an employer gives a raise, the employee only sees a portion of that raise due to the FICA tax, Medicare tax and income tax on those wages. At the same time, the employer pays its share of FICA, Medicare and other taxes. Contributing in this manner saves both parties from having to pay additional taxes, and it lowers the tax bill.

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  • Why LinkedIn Is the Best Online Recruiting Platform

    Why LinkedIn Is the Best Online Recruiting Platform

    LinkedIn is one of the most unique professional services in the vast digital landscape. Where else can people create a profile detailing their career-related experiences, write thought leadership articles, connect with their network, and search for the latest job opportunities using just one website?

    LinkedIn’s seamless integration of a social network, job board and career profile makes it the most powerful job recruiting tool on the web. This comprehensive combination allows recruiters to get a holistic view into the professional story of potential candidates.

    Social Network

    According to Social Times, 92 percent of recruiters use some form of social media to recruit candidates. Eighty-seven percent are using LinkedIn — that’s over 30 percent more than the number using the next highest utilized social network.

    The fact that LinkedIn is a social network dedicated to professional purposes makes it exponentially easier for candidates to tell their career story. And, for recruiters using LinkedIn’s sophisticated recruiting software, it is much easier to target, search for and sift through qualified candidates.

    For both job seekers and those who need to fill positions, the ability to explore the commonalities of others within their network allows for a deeper connection in the initial stages of outreach.

    Career Profile Beyond the Resume

    Resumes, within the confines of a strict format, only let candidates relay limited information. Building out a LinkedIn profile allows candidates to tell the entirety of their experience, including work history, education, side hustles, volunteering, passions and skills. It’s also the only platform where any published thought leadership content is synced up with professional history.

    Recruiters get a better sense of who a person is when exploring a candidate’s profile. Instead of simply looking for key phrases and titles that align with the job opening, recruiters can dig into tangential information that would typically be left off of a traditional resume. This can put a candidate who seemed unqualified at first glance back in the running for the job.

    Job Board Connected to a Social Network

    LinkedIn’s job board feature is different from the rest of the online job boards available. Aside from being integrated into a professional social network, users can receive notifications about a curated selection of jobs based on their past experience, skills and career interests. Recruiters get only submissions from candidates with aligned skills and experience — those that have no correlation to the job description are weeded out.

    LinkedIn also offers sponsored postings that can be targeted towards candidates with the experience and skills that a recruiter may be looking for. While other services have this option, LinkedIn is the only platform that can tap into the treasure trove of data from the aforementioned career profile.

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  • Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace

    Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace

    The winter season is full of holidays that ignite a sense of unity, yet many in the HR field find that holiday celebrations in the workplace leave a large number of employees feeling alienated. While office events and celebrations are conducive to bonding and team-building, planning a holiday celebration must be handled with care to ensure that all employees feel included. This is not always an easy task; however, it is a necessary step that must be taken to ensure corporate wellness.

    Consider Religious Connotations

    While events such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are American holidays, it’s important to remember that many winter holidays are religious holidays. Before planning a holiday celebration in the workplace, consider the meaning behind the holiday. Christmas, for instance, commemorates the birth of Christ, while Hanukkah honors the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Certainly, throwing an office bash that solely recognizes the birth of Christ or the lighting of a menorah could be seen as religious discrimination to those with different beliefs.

    Throw a Seasonal Bash

    Despite the fact that an office may have people who observe various religions, it is still possible to organize a holiday celebration that includes everyone. The simplest way to celebrate the holiday season is to organize an event that is not tied to any one particular religion. For instance, a celebration declared a “winter bash” is acceptable. Opt for decorations that symbolize nonreligious symbols of the season, such as snowflakes or snowmen. The food, beverage and activities should follow the same guideline; seasonal items that are nondenominational.

    Make Attendance Optional

    Workplace celebrations that do include religious symbolism associated with one religious holiday should also include symbolic mementos of others. This will ensure that individuals with varying beliefs will feel welcome and included in the celebration. Keep in mind that not all employees will observe religions that have holidays in the winter. These individuals may feel uncomfortable participating in celebrations associated with other beliefs. In this case, be sure that attendance is optional so that employees can determine for themselves if they feel comfortable attending. By following these tips, companies will eliminate the risk of religious discrimination while boosting morale.

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  • Having Trouble Finding Great Employees? Here’s Why

    hiring great employeesHaving Trouble Finding Great Employees? Here’s Why

    Recruiting is often one of the most challenging aspects of running a business. It’s not just about finding an employee with the right skill set; you want one that fits your work culture as well. If you’re having trouble finding qualified candidates, you may be committing one of these four recruiting mistakes.

    1.You’re Not Mobile First

    Millennials are mobile first. They spend almost a full day (22.4 hours) each week on their phones. If you’re looking for young employees and your recruiting efforts aren’t geared to reach them on their phones, then you’re missing out on a large talent pool. You need to tailor your recruiting efforts to reach millennials where they are, and right now, they are on their mobile devices.

    2. Your Methods are Outdated

    Classified ads, job boards and job fairs are great and should be a part of a comprehensive recruiting plan, but if that is all you’re doing, then you are leaving a lot of stones unturned. Get with the new century and add social media to your recruiting process. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, as well as other social media websites, can be an excellent way to prospect and meet potential employees. Social media also provides an opportunity to see the personality and values of a potential employee. It’s a good way to see if they are a good fit for your business before you attempt to recruit them.

    3. Your Net is Too Small

    It is easy to continue to visit the same well you’ve always visited when you look for new employees. Unfortunately, the well may have run dry, and it’s time to expand your search. Limiting yourself to certain schools, websites or job fairs means you’re eliminating a significant group of potential employees. Instead of focusing solely on the where, make your recruitment about the what, meaning the skills, experience and values you’re looking for in a new employee and then find places that fit your ideal employee profile even if they are outside your normal recruiting areas.

    4. You Want Too Much for Too Little

    Are you in a competitive industry that has a shortage of employees? If so does your compensation package align with the current recruiting environment? If you’re having difficulty finding qualified candidates, it may be because what you’re offering isn’t enough for your particular industry. Take a look at what your competition is offering for similar positions. If you find your compensation is severely out of line with your competitors, it’s time to rethink you’re offering or what you expect from the positions you’re looking to fill.

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  • How to Foster Trust in a Competitive Work Environment

    Competitive Work Environment How to Foster Trust in a Competitive Work Environment

    With employees clamoring over one another for promotions, credit and praise, the work environment can be a stressful place. But HR professionals can honor everyone’s goals while fostering trust and creating a healthy, productive work environment.

    Highlight Individual Strengths

    You hire employees because of the skills they bring to the business. If your business is suffering from lack of recognition, you hire a marketing expert. Weak sales figures demand expert salesmen and saleswomen. Get your employees together to discuss what they bring to the table.

    It’s better to focus efforts on improving an individual’s strengths rather than trying to improve on weaknesses, says Thomas Rath in his revolutionary book, Strengths Finder 2.0. By highlighting what each team member does well, you foster a sense of appreciation and cooperation within your team.

    Ask for Goal Lists

    Employers often make the mistake of being too self-centered. Employees who feel like their every effort only benefits the company are more likely to crave some sort of recognition in return, which leads to competition. Instead, turn the focus back on your employees.

    Ask your employees to make a list of the goals they want to achieve while working for you. What do they want to get better at doing or what numbers do they want to reach? While your employees’ goals and your business goals may overlap (such as “become more comfortable giving presentations”), showing your employees that you care about their life satisfaction will reduce interpersonal conflict and boost individual morale.

    Reduce Anxiety

    When employees are anxious, their productivity suffers. How can you focus on crafting a winning presentation when you’re stressed out about your coworker one-upping you on another project? Take steps to reduce anxiety and allow your employees the head space to flourish.

    Make sure employees know that they won’t be punished for making mistakes. Encourage your team members to voice their opinions and brainstorm different ideas. Set clear priorities for your team and stick to them. Put any rules, policies or job expectations in writing so there are no surprises. Give everyone plenty of notice when an audit or performance review is coming up. By making the workplace as stress-free as possible, you can foster trust with your employees and create a safe, productive work environment.

    A trusting workforce is a productive workforce. Building trust comes down to acknowledging each employee’s value to make them feel important and secure in their position, showing interest in your employees’ personal goals and creating a stress-free workplace. If you take care of your employees, they’ll power your business to success.

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  • Does Your Small Business Need ERP?

    ERP,enterprise resource planningDoes Your Small Business Need ERP?

    Managing IT is a challenge for small business owners whose primary focus should be building a profitable company. But over time, inefficient operational systems can impede growth, and the possibility of upgrading to an all-in-one software solution must be addressed.

    For most businesses, this means considering ERP, which can eliminate the inefficiencies of delayed reporting and duplication of work that results when business functions are tracked using separate systems.

    ERP solutions are no longer cost-prohibitive for small businesses, but upgrading is not without its drawbacks that entrepreneurs should carefully consider. If you do choose to transition to ERP, you should choose a solution that will meet your needs for the long term as you continue to grow and expand into new markets.

    What Is ERP?

    ERP, or enterprise resource planning, is a comprehensive software solution that combines all “back office” business functions. Those typically include human resources, accounting, manufacturing and inventory, which all draw reports and tracking tools from the same set of data. Some distinguish ERP from CRM, or customer resource management, which integrates all front office tasks, like client relations and social media.

    ERP saves staff time in data entry and report creation and provides in-depth insight into areas of growth or decline. For product-based businesses, it can be particularly valuable, because it shows all aspects of the product life cycle at a glance, acting as an effective tool for planning and new launch implementation.

    The full-service technology solution came of age in the mid-1990s, when it was primarily used by large businesses, typically manufacturers. At that time, ERP was expensive and was run on large mainframe computers. As technology has evolved, so have the options for businesses of all sizes to integrate their operations software, since ERP may be subscription-based and need not be installed on-site.

    Options for Small Business: ERP or Standalone Products

    It is typical for home-based businesses or one-person operations to start with basic accounting software, like QuickBooks, and other commercial products to meet their operational needs. Using separate programs to handle finance, inventory and IT can work effectively for small enterprises, who have a modest number of transactions. Shipping and manufacturing are manageable by one or a few people, who can easily collaborate to share information.

    As growth occurs, however, CEOs may find it harder to remain efficient using distinct reporting systems. According to an Inc. magazine report, expert Robert Israch says the transitional point is $5 million in annual revenue, after which it may be time to consider an upgrade to ERP.

    What Kind of ERP?

    ERP solutions of the past required a complicated installation and migration from legacy systems into the new program. IT staff, either in-house or contracted for the project, took a great number of hours to get the new ERP up and running. The process was expensive, and the new software often presented a significant learning curve for staff.

    Recently, however, more providers have offered subscription-based ERP solutions that bypass the costly and inefficient ERP installation. Systems offer security and accessibility through a cloud-based platform for a monthly fee. Instead of installing ERP on a company’s own hardware, it lives on the provider’s server. The integration of cloud and mobile functions in the past few years has made ERP a real possibility for small businesses who need an infrastructure to support their current and future needs.

    Should You Upgrade?

    Before deciding to transition to an ERP, or when choosing a service provider, it is important to consider not just whether you’ve hit $5 million in revenue but the trajectory of your growth over the next five to 10 years. ERP should adjust to your evolving needs with little difficulty. Analyze whether the product you choose may be customized and robust enough to support periods of high activity, so your systems won’t fail you when you need them most.

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  • Four Must-Have Accounting Tools for Your Small Business

    small business accounting appsFour Must-Have Accounting Tools for Your Small Business

    For the owner of a small business, every dollar matters. However, tracking your income, spending, payroll and invoicing can take up resources that are better spent growing your business. The following programs can help you sift through the numbers and paperwork and free you up to concentrate on building your company.

    Wave

    Wave’s accounting software is one of the most popular business tools for small to medium-sized companies around the world. The program was essentially designed for freelancers, entrepreneurs, consultants and businesses with fewer than nine employees, and the suite of software technology is free of charge for that reason.

    The Wave software has been vetted by accountants; it has real accounting features, with “lite” cloud accounting capabilities for the integrity of your information. Additionally, you don’t have to bother with manually entering your data. Wave connects securely with accounts such as PayPal and traditional banking accounts, and the data is organized instantly. The professional results include tax reports and balance sheets.

    NolaPro

    NolaPro is one of the best accounting and organization tools a company can have at its disposal — in lieu of an actual accountant. The program performs several accounting functions. One of these is the collection of contacts, including suppliers, employees and vendors.

    NolaPro also has a ledger feature that showcases double-entry accounting and produces documentation generated to the industry standard. The program manages your company’s customer orders as well as your vendor purchases, leaving you time to work on the other areas of your corporate agenda. NolaPro also handles billing details, such as quotes, receivables and recurring invoices, and it deals with payable activities like writing checks, organizing bills and issuing purchase orders.

    Xero

    The Xero software helps small businesses get things done while on the move and eliminates the need to invest in an accountant. The program lets you log into your accounting software remotely from your PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone. From there, you can see all of your current financials. This program is popular because it fits into the modern remote culture of most small firms and lets you stay continuously connected and ready to handle any issue.

    Xero includes Quick Banking, which lets you manage your business credit card, bank and PayPal accounts. You can also monitor your inventory to streamline purchasing records, invoicing and sales tracking. Additionally, it makes handling payroll a straightforward process, bypassing manual data entry and making sure all the information fits within the parameters of your payroll format.

    GnuCash

    The structure of the GnuCash software will be familiar to those who have experience with open-source technology — it is customization friendly and versatile. The GnuCash program is a small business financial accounting software solution that can be adapted to a variety of operating systems, including GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows.

    Even though this sophisticated program is ideal for coders, it is perhaps even more useful to novices and administratively minded business owners. It streamlines the handling of stocks, income, bank accounts and expenses in an efficient and robust way. The program is intuitive and fast, and using it is similar to using a checkbook register. What makes GnuCash so compelling is that it was designed with industry standard accounting principles in mind to ensure that its reports are not only accurate but also present a professional appearance.

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  • How to Use Facebook’s New Lead Generation Ads

    How to Use Facebook’s New Lead Generation Ads

    Generating and buying leads can be expensive and take time. With Facebook’s new lead generation ad option, you can set your budget, highly target key audiences (within and beyond Facebook), and collect leads as they roll in. This article assumes you already know a little about the Facebook paid ad interface.

    Getting Started

    • Go into your Facebook Ads Manager. Click “Create Ads” in the management section. Choose the ad objective “Collect leads for your business.”
    • Create a new target audience, or select an existing one. This is where Facebook really shines. Take advantage of the targeting options. When creating an audience, if you click “Narrow Audience,” you get a cross-reference option for targeting as well.
    • Choose your ad placement (where it will show up). You can select auto, or you can edit to choose where the ads will appear. The lead ad placement is a bit limited currently.
    • Set your budget by the day or by the campaign. The estimated reach on the right-hand side is helpful.
    • Create ad copy and imagery. You have many options — photos, videos, slideshows, etc.
    • Create your lead form. Customize it for your audience. Consider adding a question about how the potential client would like to be contacted, and then follow up with them that way (instead of forcing a call).
    • Add a custom disclaimer, specific to your business.
    • Review the order, and place it.
    • Await approval. The most common reason for ads getting denied is too much text (more than 20 percent) within the image.
    • Check your leads! Go to the reporting area of the ads manager, and click on your ad set. You will see the leads generated listed in the “Results” category. Click the “Lead (Form)” link to download the leads in a spreadsheet.

    Pro-Tips

    • Run two versions of the same ad using different images. With Facebook’s analytics tools, you can use what you learn from test ads elsewhere.
    • Try the ads with both the context card and without to see what might garner more clicks and viable leads. The context card shows the potential client information about your company — but also adds another layer to submitting the form.
    • When creating your lead form, name the columns the same as the columns in your CRM or email marketing system so you can import them easily.
    • Getting leads is only half the battle! If you don’t have a CRM in place or a similar system to track your customer interactions, then set up a process to ensure leads are followed up on according to an outreach schedule that makes sense for your business.
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  • Are These Everyday Tasks Killing Your Productivity?

    Are These Everyday Tasks Killing Your Productivity?

    You take on a lot when you start your own small business. Every task can contribute to the success of your company, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing everything yourself. However, you hamstring your growth rate when you take on too many productivity-killing everyday duties. Consider bringing on an administrative assistant or a virtual assistant to take some of these loads off your shoulders.

    Answering the Phone

    Every time you drop what you’re doing to answer the phone, you break your concentration and may set yourself back constantly throughout the day. Put together a few phone scripts and a frequently asked questions document so your assistant can screen calls and help customers out effectively. You still have the opportunity to reach out to people who want to hear from you, while committing your time to high-skill tasks.

    Checking Email

    You get notifications on your computer, phone and tablet every time a new email comes in. The typical person looks at their email 36 times an hour. Even if you don’t go quite that far, you may wonder why the day goes so fast but you only got half of your to-do list done. Delegating email management keeps you focused. You can create filters that send high priority messages to your inbox while filtering everything else to an assistant.

    Posting on Social Media

    Social media profiles give you a valuable way to hear directly from your customers and audience without an intermediary, but it comes at a productivity cost. You can get caught up in conversations with people or end up checking your personal accounts. An assistant can write and schedule your posts, monitor follower comments, and give you information about the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

    As a small business owner, delegating effectively is an essential leadership skill. While you can handle these three tasks yourself, think about all the other productive things you could do with this time. An assistant can take over these job duties, while you put all of your effort to managing your company and helping it thrive.

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  • Why Consumers Are Drawn to Monthly Billing

    Why Consumers Are Drawn to Monthly Billing

    When you buy a car, the dealer usually prefers to negotiate on monthly payments, and many software companies are switching to subscription models instead of one-time purchases. Even though the monthly approach often means consumers end up paying more, they usually prefer it. Here’s why.

    It’s Easier to Swallow

    When you quote a lump sum price, such as $1,000, consumers need to mentally justify making such a large purchase. When the price is only $100 per month and you can demonstrate value, consumers can quickly decide that the payment fits within their budget.

    Repeat Use Means Repeat Purchases

    Studies have found that the more often consumers use a product or service, the more likely they are to buy it again. Monthly billing periods often help drive use.

    On an annual cycle, the consumer might use your service less and less throughout the year. Because they’ve already paid in full, they might see additional uses as free and not using the service as not costing anything. When it comes time to renew, they may have stopped using the service or feel that they’re using it too infrequently to justify the lump sum cost to renew.

    With monthly billing, consumers are more likely to make sure they use your service each month to get their money’s worth for each individual charge. This in turn makes it more likely that they’ll experience value and keep their subscription going.

    Perception Is Reality

    When it comes to pricing, consumer perceptions are reality, and most don’t think logically. If you do the math, $50 per month for 12 months costs more than $500 per year. However, many consumers don’t do this mental math and view the $50 payments as less than $500 all at once.

    If you can help consumers feel they’re paying less while adding to your revenue, it’s an obvious move to make.

    Lowering Barriers

    One final reason monthly billing works is because even when consumers do the math, a large one-time payment might be out of reach. An individual on a tight budget or a growing small business may not have the ability to make a large purchase, but they might be able to make the monthly payment work.

    Offering a monthly billing option can put you within reach of more customers. And if you feel it might upset some of your existing customers, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can add a monthly billing option to your existing options to get the benefits of both pricing methods.

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  • How to Avoid the 5 Biggest Mistakes Small Business Owners Make

    Man holding open sign in bike shopHow to Avoid the 5 Biggest Mistakes Small Business Owners Make

    Your entrepreneurial spirit has done an excellent job at motivating you to open your own business. However, your company could run into major problems if you encounter any of the following five biggest mistakes small business owners often make.

    Lack of Delegation

    A jack-of-all-trades approach is useful for getting started, but it can hamstring your growth. If you spend your time answering customer service emails or troubleshooting your computers, rather than focusing on business strategy and the big picture view, you can’t scale up. Delegate tasks and dedicate your energy to the things that only you can do.

    No Investment in Technology

    You have limited resources in a small business, so getting the most out of them is critical. Technology helps you streamline many tasks and frees up your time, but 63 percent of small business owners have problems deciding on the right choices. If you aren’t sure what solutions fit your business goals, reach out to an IT consultant to guide your decisions.

    Focusing on a Broad Audience

    You might look at huge companies like Amazon or Walmart and decide you also need to appeal to a general audience. However, you should avoid spreading yourself too thin. Focus on a niche audience and channel your time, energy and money into being the best company in that particular market segment.

    Choosing the Wrong Business Entity

    You have several business entity options to choose from when establishing your company, such as LLC or Inc. You may be tempted to set yourself up as a corporation right away, but you have to deal with more complex filing and tax requirements, on top of greater costs. Spend time looking at the pros and cons of each entity before making your decision.

    No Work-Life Balance

    Your business is an important part of your life, but your entire existence shouldn’t revolve around it. Over 20 percent of small business owners make themselves sick due to overworking, and skip out on vacations, social plans and family time for their company. Track your work hours and ensure that you have a good life balance overall.

    Being a small business owner can be very rewarding just as long as you can sidestep these common pitfalls.

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  • Are You Part of the Sharing Economy? What You Need to Know About Taxes

    Sharing economy and smart consumption concept. Vector illustration in flat style. People save money, share resourcesAre You Part of the Sharing Economy? What You Need to Know About Taxes

    Have you moved into the sharing economy either part-time or in place of a traditional nine-to-five job? Here’s what you need to know to be ready for tax season.

    Reporting Your Income

    You must report all your income regardless of whether you receive a W-2, 1099 or other tax form. When you offer products or services in the sharing economy, it is generally considered self-employment income.

    The minimum filing threshold for self-employment income is net self-employment earnings (after expenses) of $400 or more. This is true even if you didn’t meet the $600 threshold to receive a 1099-MISC or the $20,000 plus 200 transactions threshold to receive a 1099-K.

    Filing Your Return

    When you file your tax return, you will need to complete Schedule C (Form 1040), Profit or Loss From Business. There are separate lines for your 1099 income and non-reported income. This is also where you enter your business expenses.

    If your adjusted gross income is $62,000 or less, you may be eligible for the IRS Free File program. Note that this is your income after your self-employment expenses and other adjustments are deducted, so it is possible to qualify for Free File even if you received more than $62,000 in payments.

    Some providers charge additional fees to complete Schedule Cs, state income tax returns or other forms, while others do not. Be sure to compare multiple providers to avoid unnecessary fees.

    Estimated Taxes

    Because there is no tax withholding on self-employment income, you must make quarterly estimated tax payments. To avoid a fine for failure to pay estimated taxes and interest charges, your estimated taxes should total at least:

    • 90 percent of your current year tax liability, or
    • 100 percent of your previous year tax liability (your total tax amount, not the amount of the check you wrote when you filed your return).
    Review Form 1040-ES for special rules that apply to farmers, fisherman and high-income individuals.

    Four equal payments are due as follows:

    • April 15 of the year you earned the money (i.e., the year before you file your return).
    • June 15.
    • September 15.
    • January 15 of the year your tax return is due — you can skip this payment if you file your return and pay your full balance by January 31.
    If you or your spouse have wage earnings, you can also elect to increase your withholding to cover your required estimated tax payments.

    Self-Employment Taxes

    In addition to income taxes, you also must pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes that are typically withheld from W-2 wages. This leads to an additional 15.3 percent tax on your net self-employment income.

    You compute this tax when you fill out your Schedule C. The employer’s portion, roughly half the tax, is deducted from your adjusted gross income and is not included when calculating your income tax.

    Deductions

    You can generally deduct all your business expenses in full. Unlike with employment-related expenses, you don’t need to itemize to deduct business expenses. Instead, business expense deductions are entered on Schedule C.

    Business expenses directly reduce your self-employment income, so you do not pay self-employment or income taxes on revenue that you used to pay expenses. If your business expenses exceeded your self-employment income, you may be eligible to claim a loss on your tax return.

    Common business expenses include the following:

    • Home office
    • Software
    • Tools
    • Raw materials
    • Travel expenses
    • Phone or internet service
    Carefully research any expense you intend to claim. The IRS more frequently audits returns with self-employment income due to high rates of claims for improper expenses. The most common mistakes are deducting personal expenses or claiming a full deduction for an expense that is part personal and part business (e.g., a phone bill).

    You can learn more by visiting the IRS’s new Sharing Economy Tax Center.

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  • 4 Hidden Business Credit Card Benefits You Should Be Taking Advantage Of

    4 Hidden Business Credit Card Benefits You Should Be Taking Advantage Of

    Credit card offers often consist of a rewards program, the APR and a bunch of fine print. But did you know that some of that fine print actually helps you? Check out these four hidden benefits that you should be taking advantage of.

    1. Rental Car Protection

    When you rent a car, you’ll usually be met with a heavy sales push to buy the rental car company’s damage waiver. Most major credit cards cover theft and accident damage when you pay for the rental with that card, so you don’t need to pay extra for protection.

    Most cards offer secondary coverage which means you make a claim with your regular auto insurance company first, and the credit card company covers your deductible. Higher-end cards, often with an annual fee, offer primary coverage, so you don’t even need to make an insurance claim.

    2. Return Protection

    Is a store refusing to honor their return policy, or did you miss the return deadline? You may be able to get a refund by calling the number on the back of your credit card. This coverage is separate from the dispute process, so you may be able to receive a refund even if the store technically had the right to deny your return.

    3. Price Protection

    If you bought an item, only to watch the price go down or find a better price somewhere else, you aren’t out of luck. Price protection lets you get the better price without going through the hassle of returning the product and buying a new one.

    To get the lower price, simply send in your receipt and the ad with the lower price. Once the credit card issuer verifies it, you’ll receive a statement credit for the difference.

    On many cards, this even works with deals like Black Friday sales. Shop ahead of time to avoid the crowds, then send in your price protection claims once the specials are announced.

    4. Travel Delay Assistance

    When massive computer outages hit Delta and Southwest this summer, many travelers were stranded for days. Some travel cards will cover your hotel, meal and alternate transportation expenses if this happens to you.

    This is typically a premium benefit only available with annual-fee cards, but if you’re a frequent traveler, you may want to add one of these cards to your wallet.

    How to Find More Benefits

    If you haven’t reviewed your full list of benefits, you could be missing out on hundreds of dollars per year. To find more benefits, first talk to the issuing bank. Mastercard and Visa also provide additional benefits to all cards with their logo, regardless of the bank.

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  • 4 Ways You Are Letting Repeat Business Get Away

    4 Ways You Are Letting Repeat Business Get Away

    A company that can’t retain customers is a company that won’t be in business for very long. Too many companies finalize a sale and then think the process is over. Successful companies know that a sale is just the beginning of a customer relationship, and these companies work hard to avoid the four common ways that other businesses let repeat customers get away.

    Not Providing Timely Service

    Customers are reasonable when it comes to getting service, but making a customer wait too long will cause that customer to take his or her business elsewhere. Whether you assign a sales team to existing customers or develop a robust customer service department, you need to constantly service your existing clients to keep them. You should set deadlines of no more than one working day to return client messages, and there should be a way of escalating client issues that don’t get solved immediately.

    Not Updating Customers on New Products and Services

    Selling products to existing customers is much more cost-effective than having to replace customers when they leave. As you get new product releases and updates that you feel your customers would find useful, you should be offering some kind of information your customers will appreciate. Be careful not to overwhelm your existing clients with information, but be sure to keep everyone updated on your latest developments.

    Not Getting Feedback From Clients

    Your existing customers will develop more of an emotional tie to your company if you ask for feedback. By making your most loyal customers part of a new product testing group, you get the practical feedback you need and your customers feel like they are a part of your product development process.

    Not Appreciating Clients

    A client who spends money with your company wants to feel like her business is appreciated. Reach out to clients and ask them what types of products and services they would like to see, and let your clients know that their needs help to drive your business. Keep detailed client contact notes for every client, and encourage your customer service and sales staff to stay in touch with clients and make your clients feel appreciated.

    It’s difficult to find new clients, but it’s even more difficult to replace repeat business. Repeat business is the financial foundation on which your company is built, and you cannot have growth until you have that foundation in place. You need to make client retention a critical part of your sales and service process if you want to develop a successful business.

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  • Simplify Your Menu to Increase Your Profits

    Simplify Your Menu to Increase Your Profits

    A simplified menu that showcases your signature dishes can help you strengthen your brand and increase sales. Customers typically head right for the lowest-priced items, veering away from more expensive and difficult-to-understand dishes. You can target customers who want the most popular items by offering a single, higher-price dish with your current add-ons advertised as free options. For example, instead of offering a $6 burger with a $2 side salad or small order of fries, think of offering an $8 burger with a free side salad or small order of fries. The “free” makes the customers feel like they’re getting something extra. In addition, you’ve increased the cost of your most popular item. Another benefit is that you have allowed the customers to design their entree.

    Keep Options Available

    Simplifying your menu does not mean you have to cut other premium add-ons. You can continue to advertise more expensive add-ons for an additional price: “$1.50 extra for sweet potato fries or avocado.”

    Before you think of cutting any options from your simplified menu, research which add-ons are the most profitable. Alcohol, coffee and tea, and soup are low-cost, high-yield items for cafes. Combo meals of several different items, such as chicken nuggets, fries, a junior bacon cheeseburger and a drink, or a sandwich, chips, piece of fruit, and bottle of water are generating big profits for fast food restaurants and Starbucks.

    Boost Sales of Your Most Popular Dish

    There are a number of tricks to designing your menu to boost sales of your most popular item. First, put that item at the top of the list on the menu or in its category. Next, limit the amount of items in each category to 10 dishes. This helps customers make a decision and reduce ordering time.

    Make sure to put the price in the description of the food, near the end of the text. This will encourage customers to focus on the food rather than the price. In addition, offer foods in small and large sizes. This will help customers avoid food and spending waste, and save you money on labor and raw materials.

    Tweak Your Menu as You Go

    After trying these ideas, see which ones worked best for you. Think of modifying the strategy further to change how your customers see you and your menu. For example, if offering a single premium item at a higher price worked, think of pairing that item with your most popular alcoholic beverage or soft drink, and add-ons for it.

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  • 5 Great Ways to Build Your Customer Base

    5 Great Ways to Build Your Customer Base

    Getting your own business up and running is no small feat. Even after your doors are opened, your website is up or your product is launched, you will find there’s still work to be done. Gaining and maintaining a solid customer base is your key to ongoing success. Bearing such importance in mind, here are five great marketing tips that we hope will help you expand your business.

    1. The Follow Through

    When networking, don’t just meet and greet. Use those business cards you’ve collected, and email the people you’ve met. Let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them, ask if you can help them, and offer to share resources. Frequent, friendly contact will help bring you to mind when people need a product you can provide.

    2. Social Media Overlap

    You never know who’s going to find your business, but the more visible you are, the more attention you stand to attract. Don’t limit yourself to one platform; instead, consider Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn,YouTube and more. Utilize the strengths of each platform by considering how it can serve you best: as an ad, a resume, a sample? Be sure to link your accounts — not just to one another, but back to your website, email or blog, as well.

    3. Consumer Reviews

    Nothing beats a referral for convincing potential buyers. This comprehensive consumer survey by Ogilvy, Google and TNS found that 74 percent of consumers relied on word-of-mouth recommendations when considering a purchase. Have your customers tell their friends! The same survey also found that buying decisions are heavily influenced by YouTube videos, which give people a chance not only to examine the product but also to hear and read consumer responses before they buy.

    4. Personalization

    One of the most recent trends in business and marketing, as noted in this Deloitte consumer review, is the rise of personalization. This trend can take many forms, from products geared toward a customer’s location or age range, to those which allow almost full customization of the finished product. Consider the ways in which your own product can offer a unique personal touch to your customers.

    5. Creative Networking Sites

    Think outside the conference room. You can meet interested clients anywhere, any time, so try out some unconventional locations that appeal to you: your favorite pub, a craft fair, your martial arts dojo or even your local poetry readings — anywhere you’d like to become a regular face. Sponsoring a local sports team is a great way to get to know — and become known in — the community.

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  • Top 5 Breakfast Choices of Successful Business Owners

    Top 5 Breakfast Choices of Successful Business Owners

    An entrepreneur must have many essential leadership skills in order to succeed, but did you know that eating a good breakfast is also important?

    Be honest. How many of you simply gulp down a cup of coffee, some bland toast and a multivitamin before heading out the door? Sure, you’re saving time by avoiding a time-consuming, bigger breakfast. Still, you’re also doing your mind and body a huge disservice, and you’ll definitely be feeling it by midday.

    Opt for at least one or a combination of these healthy top five breakfast choices listed below, and you’ll be able to stay sharp, focused, energized and motivated throughout the day.

    1. Bananas

    Who doesn’t have a minute or two to eat a banana? The essential vitamins contained in this healthy snack give you lasting energy and relieve stress so that you can start your workday with a calm, clear head. Small Business Trends reported that bananas do all this and more with potassium, vitamin C and healthy carbohydrates to give you energy. Boost your mind power by adding bananas to cereal, which brings us to the next breakfast option for entrepreneurial success:

    2. Cereal

    Obviously, the sugary cereals aren’t the answer here. Choose a healthy cereal option such a whole grain cereals or those containing almonds. These are the ones packed with fiber, protein, Omega 3s and other healthy vitamins that help to improve your energy and focus like other successful entrepreneurs.

    3. Eggs

    Eating a couple of eggs in the morning ensures you start your day with protein for energy, and they also improve your mood, according to Mother Nature Network! If you think you might not have time to scramble some eggs in the morning, boil them the night before and then eat them on the go!

    4. Berry Smoothies

    Smoothies containing blueberries will be the best, but raspberries and strawberries will serve you well too. According to the Syndicate Room, blueberries give you brain power, and their low-fat nature will help to keep you from feeling sluggish. You can have plenty of frozen berries on hand to quickly make a refreshing smoothie in the morning or the night before. Add some yogurt or a banana for extra protein and energy.

    5. Nuts and Seeds

    While a few nuts and seeds won’t necessarily be a complete breakfast, adding them to smoothies or your cereal can really serve to improve your mood, give you lasting energy and increase your brain power throughout the day. Specifically, Forbes contributor Jody Greene recommends cashews and pumpkin seeds.

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  • How the New Overtime Rules Will Affect Your HR Policies

    How the New Overtime Rules Will Affect Your HR Policies

    With new overtime rules coming into effect on Dec. 1, 2016, now is the time to review your human resources policies. Millions of additional employees could become eligible for overtime, and your company will need to take immediate action to remain in compliance with Department of Labor regulations.

    Three Options for Pay Changes

    The new salary threshold for exempt employees is $47,476. Any employees who make less must receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. You have three options for adjusting your pay structure:

    • Raise salaries for employees in potentially exempt functions above the threshold to avoid paying overtime.
    • Prohibit employees from working more than 40 hours in a week.
    • Pay time-and-a-half for hours in excess of 40 per week.

    Time Tracking Requirements

    To comply with the new rules, you must keep records of the number of hours each employee worked per week. There is no requirement to use a punch-card or clock-in time tracking system.

    Establishing a standard schedule and having employees either certify that they worked it or report changes is sufficient under the regulations. However, this should not be taken as an excuse for requiring employees to report a standard 40-hour schedule regardless of how long they actually worked.

    If an employee reports to the Department of Labor or local authorities that they are being required to work overtime without compensation, your company may face heavy fines and potential litigation. As a best practice, ask employees to report their actual arrival and departure times each day.

    Redefining Job Responsibilities

    There is no change to the standard duties test. Currently exempt positions remain exempt, and nonexempt positions remain nonexempt subject to the new salary thresholds.

    However, with the need to pay managers overtime or raise their salaries above the threshold, you should reevaluate whether managers are performing nonexempt duties and potentially delegate those tasks to overtime-eligible employees at lower levels of base pay.

    Adjusting Staffing Needs

    In line with your chosen overtime policy and restructured job responsibilities, you will need to adjust your staffing needs. This may include adding staff to ensure all tasks can be completed without overtime or to keep managers from performing nonexempt duties.

    When making these adjustments, you will need to consider the cost of wages, potential overtime and fringe benefits. To ensure compliance with the new regulations and avoid fines, consider discussing your proposed new policies with your tax and legal professionals.

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  • Top 10 B2B Digital Marketing Trends

    Top 10 B2B Digital Marketing Trends

    One of the most important things you, as a business owner, can do in this increasingly digital age is invest in digital marketing services. If you also rely on B2B marketing, you would be well-served to keep abreast of the latest B2B digital marketing trends. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 B2B digital marketing trends for 2016 and beyond.

    Trend #1: Are we moving to a post-digital era?

    According to some experts, the success of digital marketing efforts will soon rely on our ability to integrate digital marketing with more traditional forms of marketing. This is leading many people to call this a “post-digital” era.

    Trend #2: The user experience matters

    It’s not enough to just have good content — your website must be readily accessible, and readable, by everyone who sees it.

    Trend #3: Digital marketing, as a term, is redundant

    Nearly everyone in the developed world is online, so “digital marketing” has become redundant. Any marketing plan worth anything is going to include digital marketing, so the term is just “marketing” now.

    Trend #4: Social media matters

    No matter which platform you use — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or a combination of all of the above — you have to use social media to stay in touch with your customers and to generate more customer leads.

    Trend #5: Keyword phrases are more important than keywords

    This is pretty self-explanatory: it’s all about a string of words together, not one word by itself.

    Trend #6: Advocate marketing will get you repeat customers

    Eighty-four percent of B2B buyers rely on word-of-mouth marketing. Take that into account when preparing your marketing plan for 2016 and beyond.

    Trend #7: Don’t forget email marketing

    Believe it or not, email marketing still works in this new digital age. You just have to make sure to make your emails communicative, rather than salesy.

    Trend #8: Don’t forget mobile marketing

    As we move toward a more mobile way of living, the importance of marketing that’s specifically tailored for phones and tablets cannot be understated.

    Trend #9: Calls to action are essential

    You need to incentivize your customer base to get in touch with you. The only way they will is if they have a call to action inviting them to do so.

    Trend #10: Strategy is most important

    Above all else, make sure you have a proper digital marketing strategy in place. Even the best-made efforts will fall apart without a proper strategy.

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  • 5 Tips on Keeping Your Small Business Running in a Tough Economy

    5 Tips on Keeping Your Small Business Running in a Tough Economy

    Running a small business can be exciting, fun and very profitable if it’s done right. Even in a tough economy, your small business can remain viable, but you can’t leave anything up to chance. Here are five tips to help you succeed when the going gets tough.

    1. Be the Best at What You Do

    Whether you sell homemade jams, cater weddings or build websites, your business has to be the best in its niche. You can stand out from your competitors by delivering a high-quality product or service every time. Quality will speak for itself and provide you with repeat customers and referrals.

    2. Spend Time on Strategic Planning

    When business is slow, it can be difficult to look past your day-to-day activities because you’re worrying about generating revenues. But now is the best time to think about strategic planning and marketing. How can your business succeed next week, next month, next year and beyond?

    3. Focus on Providing Value Instead of Lowering Prices

    When times are tough, customers may shop around for the lowest price. It’s easy to see why small businesses feel the need to reduce their prices to compete, but this is a downward spiral that will only end in bankruptcy. To keep your company solvent, we recommend you avoid the temptation to lower prices and provide additional value to your customers instead.

    4. Find Creative Ways to Increase Revenues from Your Customers

    It’s easier to sell to existing customers than to find new ones. Your customers already trust your business to provide a great product or service. That’s why it’s so important to reward loyal customers. And when they buy from you, you can use that opportunity to find out what else you can do for them and increase your revenues at the same time.

    5. Don’t Stop Spending on Essentials

    You may be tempted to reduce your expenses in order to still make a profit with reduced revenues. And for some expenses, that may be a good idea. But you should never stop spending on the essentials. And essential expenses include marketing and advertising expenses, because that’s what brings in new business.

    There’s a fine line between trying to save money to remain afloat and going out of business because you stopped investing in the company. Slashing prices and cutting expenses can often backfire. Fortunately, you can use our tips to keep your business profitable even when times are tough for your competition.

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  • 3 Ways to Dominate Local Search Results

    3 Ways to Dominate Local Search Results

    For small businesses with a local audience, getting to the top of local search results can make a huge difference in revenue. Recent changes at Google have forced marketers and business owners to follow new rules to dominate the first page of search results or have their businesses show up on maps.

    Let’s take a look at how your business can rise through the Google rankings and start getting found.

    NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number)

    For Google, consistency is key — and the three main things that need to stay the same are your business’s name, address and phone number.

    One way to improve your local search rankings is to have your business listed in a variety of authoritative website directories around the web. These sites include:

    • Google My Business
    • Bing
    • Yahoo Local
    • Yelp

    Claiming your Google My Business page should be a priority, as it is the listing that will show up on Google Maps and any local results. Make sure your profile is complete and accurate and that it features pictures and relevant information about your business.

    Google will scan these listings to identify how your business information appears. If there is consistency, you will receive a boost in rankings.

    Get Reviewed

    When determining which business to feature on its maps, Google prioritizes businesses that have positive and multiple reviews. The search giant hopes to deliver the most relevant search results to its user base, and if your business has reviews for the searcher to read, it will affect your rankings. There are a few things to remember when approaching reviews, however.

    1. Do not try to spam your page or anyone else’s with fake reviews. Google is good at detecting false information, and your listing could be penalized.
    2. Do not offer customers goods or gift cards for reviews; this violates Google’s policy.
    3. Detailed reviews are beneficial. Reviews that mention specific information about your product or service will be deemed “more useful.”

    Mobile Matters

    In a recent update, Google gave ranking benefits to websites that were fully optimized for mobile search. With more people using mobile devices to get information than ever before, it’s crucial that your business website meets industry standards.

    Aside from the benefits to local rankings, this will also allow you to connect with customers on the go and not lose out on important business.

    In Conclusion

    Local search can be a great way to get your business noticed. With search algorithms changing constantly, it’s important to make sure you’ve perfected your local SEO so your business can continue to be successful.

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  • Four Steps Your Business Can Take to Capitalize on the ‘Pokemon Go’ Craze

    Man holding cellphone playing Pokemon Go.Four Steps Your Business Can Take to Capitalize on the ‘Pokemon Go’ Craze

    The “Pokemon Go” craze has captured the attention of millions. At a time when viral marketing is king, why not capitalize on one of the biggest viral events in recent times? Here are four steps your business can take.

    1. Offer Free Phone Charging

    “Pokemon Go” drains players’ phones rapidly because it makes heavy use of all the big energy users — the screen, camera, GPS and data.

    Offering free phone charging can draw players into your establishment for a 15- to 30-minute break. The electricity will cost you pennies, and all you need to do is make sure a few outlets are readily accessible.

    Even if not everyone who charges their phone buys something, it’s still a much cheaper way to expose new people to your business than traditional advertising. You can also use the opportunity to introduce yourself and your store to newcomers and tell them more about what you have to offer.

    2. Buy Lures

    You’ve probably heard at least one story of “Pokemon Go” driving waves of customers to a business near you. If you want to become the next Pokemon hot spot, you need to understand how the game works.

    Players use their phones to hunt digital creatures who are most likely to be found near Pokestops. Pokestops are predetermined public locations, such as landmarks and major attractions.

    You can increase the number of Pokemon at a Pokestop by buying lure modules. This is a form of virtual bait that draws in the digital monsters and in turn draws in more human players who are trying to catch them.

    If you weren’t lucky enough to be made a Pokestop, you can still increase foot traffic to your business by placing lures at two or more Pokestops on opposite sides of your business.

    3. Publish Your Pokemon Policy

    “Pokemon Go” players have unfortunately drawn negative headlines over a lack of discretion in playing at places such as cemeteries and war memorials. You may want to publish your own Pokemon policy on your website and by your front door.

    This lets players know it’s OK to come in and lets non-players know what kind of noise and activity they can expect. Making your expectations clear can prevent a bad experience and subsequent negative online review.

    4. Hook Customers for the Future

    Of course, all good things come to an end. If you want your new customers to last beyond the “Pokemon Go” craze, engage them now. Promote your discount or loyalty program, and build your social media following by offering updates about what Pokemon can be found at your shop.

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  • 3 Ways Tax Software Solutions Help You Avoid Audits

    small business tax software 3 Ways Tax Software Solutions Help You Avoid Audits

    The thought of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service is enough to stop people cold in their tracks. While fewer than one percent of people go through this process every year, you deal with a lot of stress and possible penalties if it happens to you. Tax software solutions help you send your tax return through without any unwanted attention from the IRS.

    1. They Minimize Human Errors

    The paper tax forms are a mess, even if you know what you’re doing. You reference information from multiple documents and run the risk of copying the wrong number or miscalculating the math. Tax software streamlines this process and handles the manual work for you. You don’t have to go back and forth to find the right figure or read through pages of instructions to learn how to calculate a deduction. You simply fill out the information once, and the application does the rest. By working from a single data set, you don’t run into situations where an error at the beginning of the form causes major problems with your tax payment at the end.

    2. They Update to the Latest Tax Code

    The U.S. tax code changes every year, so you have to read through the forms and instructions annually to see whether anything is new for your financial situation. You might miss a new law that would increase your rate or take an old deduction that’s no longer valid for your filing status.

    No one wants to decipher complicated terminology or sort through a long list of conditions to figure out whether you should alter the way you’re filling out your return. Tax software that’s hosted online, often called cloud-based software, gets updated by the company selling it. The new additions to the tax code get added into the program. You really never need to know the specifics because the application checks that behind the scenes.

    Did you download tax software on your computer and install it? Some programs automatically update themselves so that you’re always up-to-date. If you turned that feature off or your app doesn’t offer it, go to the developer’s website. They may release a new version annually or have a manual update file available.

    3. They Flag Potential Audit Issues

    The IRS looks for certain characteristics on the tax returns it chooses to review. Its main focus is on people with more than $10 million in income, but there are a few other red flags that can cause a review if you aren’t a multi-millionaire. Deductions that seem out of line with your tax history or the average for a category are common problems. For example, if you work at home and claim a portion of your rent and utilities as business expenses, you may need to document the exact percentages that go to business use. Small business owners who always report losses are another common target, since a lack of revenue can lead the IRS to suspect tax evasion.

    You don’t have to track every potential audit red flag with tax software. If your return falls into risky territory, it gives you a notification so you can confirm the accuracy of the entry. Some software companies also offer audit protection and help you defend yourself against an audit.

    You shouldn’t live in fear of getting your taxes audited. Reduce your chances of errors, red flags, and misunderstood rules by utilizing tax software to prepare your return.

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  • Top 5 Ways to Increase Small Business Profitability

    small business profitability Top 5 Ways to Increase Small Business Profitability

    Small business owners put a lot on the line to make their businesses a success. With overhead, payroll, manufacturing and marketing costs, it’s no surprise that many small businesses struggle to make a profit. Regardless if they offer manufactured products or a service, there are numerous ways to increase profitability. Many of the best strategies are simple, yet the savings and increase in sales can quickly turn a small business from struggling to profitable.

    1. Network

    Networking is vital to the success of a small business. It allows business owners to spread the word about their company’s services or products, while also meeting fellow small business owners. Through networking with other owners, individuals are often able to learn tips about running a successful business while also connecting with potential vendors or customers. The relationships developed through networking can lead to referrals, which may drive new customers to the business. While networking may seem like a lot of work, it can be as easy as attending local meetings or handing out business cards. Likewise, networking can be done through social media to further simplify the process. The results of simply introducing the face behind a small business can lead to shocking improvements in a business’s profits.

    2. Upgrade Business Websites

    One of the first steps that small business owners should take when starting a business in this day and age is to create a business website. A website is a smart business investment. However, many create websites and then fail to update them as the business grows. It is crucial to keep valid and up-to-date information listed so potential customers have access to questions that they may have without doing a lot of searching. Additionally, the website should look modern in design and provide a way for visitors to learn about and connect with the business. Adding an interactive aspect, such as a blog, is one of many effective ways to engage with both existing and prospective customers.

    3. Reduce Marketing and Advertising Costs

    Marketing and advertising is often a huge expense for small businesses. Depending on the method of marketing, the costs may not add up. Small businesses should focus on building strong social media pages, which are generally free to create. A business social media page allows the business to keep in contact with current customers while also giving them the ability to draw in new ones. Social media pages are especially effective when coupons or special offers are offered to those who connect with the page.

    4. Go Green

    “Going green” is a term that refers to using eco-friendly products and methods. Not only is it an excellent way to reduce a business’s carbon footprint, it is also an efficient way to reduce costs. Eco-friendly light bulbs in the office can cut down on the cost of monthly electricity bills, while going paperless can save on paper and ink costs. The cost of paper and ink may seem insignificant, but studies have shown that one typical worker in an office setting uses around 10,000 sheets of paper each year. If there are numerous employees, the total amount of money spent on paper each year can truly become an astonishing figure, and that is without factoring in the cost of ink. Customers are generally very supportive of eco-friendly businesses. However, traditional papers may be requested on occasion.

    5. Offer Referral Incentives

    Satisfied customers are much more likely to refer their friends, family or co-workers to a small business when a referral incentive is offered. Successful referral programs reward customers for spreading the word about a company. Generally, offering coupons or discounts to those who refer others is an effective way to encourage both referrals and repeat purchases. This way, companies are able to gain new customers and offer incentives to existing ones without increasing advertising costs.

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  • How to Use ‘Pokémon Go’ to Boost Your Recruiting

    California, United States -23 July 2016 : Man holding a cellphone while playing Pokemon Go and try to catch a monster. Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company as part of the Pokémon franchise.

    How to Use ‘Pokémon Go’ to Boost Your Recruiting

    Whether you like “Pokémon Go” or not, the reality is a lot of people do. This includes many talented young workers with bright futures and even people who are more advanced in their careers. If you’re not using “Pokémon Go” in your recruiting, you could be missing out on top talent. Here’s how to capitalize on the craze.

    Build Buzz

    You may be receiving hundreds of applications from your job listings, but what makes you stand out to top candidates who already have job offers being sent to them? College football recruiters have built buzz by creating videos of the game being played within their stadiums.

    The results were easy to see. One college coach’s tweeted video got 2,200 likes, 1,200 retweets and more than 50 replies. This type of viral buzz gets you in front of people who aren’t actively browsing job listings and lets people know you’re a popular place to work.

    Go Where Recruits Are

    “Pokémon Go” centers around Pokéstops and gyms. These are real locations where players have a greater chance of catching Pokémon and can challenge other players.

    They often pop up on college campuses, around convention centers or in plazas near business districts. These are prime places to set up a recruiting table and meet new talent while they take a break from the game.

    If you want to bring people to you, you can use lures to increase the chances that desirable Pokémon will appear in your lobby, courtyard or off-site recruiting area. Human players will follow closely behind.

    Highlight Your Benefits

    Shortly after the game’s release, the U.S. Navy launched an advertising campaign offering players the chance to catch Pokémon around the world. It was met with mixed reviews, but it successfully made its point.

    If your company requires heavy travel and wants to attract candidates who view that as a positive, similar messaging might work for you. You could also use the game as a viral way of touting your office gym, cafeteria, summer Fridays, flexible hours or virtually any other situation where happy employees might find themselves playing “Pokémon Go.”

    Personalize Your Efforts

    The second phase of the college football recruiting efforts included personalized videos of top recruits being “caught” by the school that was recruiting them. While some people might be offended by the idea of being “caught,” one Pokémon-playing recruit called it “awesome,” “really cool” and “another great thing about Oklahoma State.”

    If you’ve used “Pokémon Go” to start the recruiting cycle, this might be the perfect way to close the deal.

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  • Fill Your Sales Funnel: 5 Tips for Engaging Lead Generation

    Lead Generation Business Funnel ConceptFill Your Sales Funnel: 5 Tips for Engaging Lead Generation

    All companies want the same thing: a streamlined sales funnel that engages customers at all points. But how do you create this? Luckily, the process is easier than it may seem.

    By following these five tips, it’s easy to create a functional, effective sales funnel that supports your company goals and encourages customer engagement — from introduction to sale.

    1. Ensure All Sales Content Is Diverse

    When customers enter your sales funnel, they want to find unique content. What’s more, they want to continue finding unique content as they move through the funnel. Nothing is more damaging to your engagement rates that content that regurgitates the same message over and over again.

    Avoid this by being careful to craft unique and compelling content aimed at engaging customers at every stage of the buyer’s journey. This helps you meet customers’ unique needs and separate yourself from the competition.

    2. Produce Plenty of Educational Content

    Today’s consumers are primarily driven by value. Because of this, it’s critical to create high-quality, engaging content that helps readers solve problems and learn new things. When you populate your site with this material, your sales funnel virtually fills itself.

    3. Don’t Forget to Follow-Up

    After you’ve connected with a lead, following up is an effective way to solidify the relationship and keep the lead engaged. For best results, schedule follow-up emails or use a service like SocialOomph to send automated direct messages on Twitter. As long as you keep these messages highly personalized (by including the lead’s name, for example), this tactic can have a significant positive impact on your engagement rates.

    4. Define (and Redefine) Your Target Personas

    If you’ve noticed that your sales funnel engagement is lacking, it may be time to revisit your target personas. If they’re not as spot-on as they once were, now is a good time to overhaul them. By making sure that your target personas are detailed, relevant and current, it’s easy to craft relevant sales content for all of your various audiences.

    5. Streamline Your Funnel’s Options

    A funnel should be simple and direct. Too many options confuse consumers, and trimming the fat can help move customers through. With this in mind, keep your funnel easy to navigate and populated with only the most critical options.

    More Engaging Sales Content at Your Fingertips

    While creating a dynamic sales experience can feel difficult, these five tips will simplify the process and make it more valuable and enjoyable for both you and your consumers.

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  • 5 Crowdfunding Sites to Bootstrap Your Business

    5 Crowdfunding Sites to Bootstrap Your Business

    Allocating funds for your business is hard when you’re in the startup phase. Sometimes bank loans may not be easy to obtain if you lack the minimum credit and bank history even to consider the application process, and may not have built up a network of the right connections to get you to an investor yet. However, you don’t have to face it alone when you can consider crowdfunding as an alternative financing option. Discover five crowdfunding sites to raise startup capital, including SeedInvest, Crowdfunder, Peerbackers, Fundable and MicroVentures.

    1. SeedInvest

    SeedInvest simplifies the funding process with its vast network of thousands of accredited investors. You can use SeedInvest’s Virtual Boardroom to conduct meetings with potential investors, and promote your company through SeedInvest’s integrated advertising and social tools. This is an ideal crowdfunding platform to use if you are in the bridge, seed or Series A early stage of funding with a business that has a high growth technological component and at least two full-time members.

    2. Crowdfunder

    Crowdfunder allows you to pick what stage of the funding process your company is in, and that means you can enter whether you receive seed funding or even if you already have a Series A fund in place. You also have the option to bootstrap your business based on the type of deal you want so that you’re not limited to cash-only deals. You have the choice to get equity, convertible note, debt and revenue share deals.

    3. Peerbackers

    Peerbackers provides a crowdfunding platform that works on a reward system where startups present their story and provide a reward as a form of compensation or a “thank you” to investors. After receiving pledges that cover at least 80 percent of the requested funds, startups can receive capital for their projects. Innovators, startups and entrepreneurs from around the world can look to this crowdfunding site to raise money for their projects and businesses. With its consulting services, Peerbackers takes it a step further by providing an educational platform for those seeking startup funding. The crowdfunding platform also uses its CrowdCast network to promote crowdfunding stories across different media outlets.

    4. Fundable

    Investors from all walks of life can fund your business through the reward-based crowdfunding platform Fundable. The platform also allows equity crowdfunding with a readily available investor database with more than 23,000 investors, as of 2016. That means a neighbor, friend and angel investor can all provide a way to raise capital for your business. The site takes a hands-on approach to help entrepreneurs through the funding process by aiding with various tasks, including marketing and creating profiles.

    5. MicroVentures

    MicroVentures allows startups to raise capital from investors that have accreditation and even from non-accredited investors. This crowdfunding platform focuses on businesses primarily in technology, such as mobile and software companies, but it also has funding options for startups in other industries, including entertainment, media and gaming companies. Your startup must go through an application process and get approved before investors can cfund your projects.

    Rather than trying to raise a significant amount of capital from a handful of investors, you can explore crowdfunding to simultaneously reach out to several investors that can offer you investment options of all different sizes. It lowers the risk for the investors when they can put up a small amount and makes them more willing to invest in new startups and projects. Crowdfunding platforms give startups the opportunities they need to raise capital via equity, debt or rewards.

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  • Why Performance Reviews are Obsolete and What Should Take their Place

    Why Performance Reviews are Obsolete and What Should Take their Place

    Performance reviews have been staples in most companies for decades. Many organizations, however, have begun to question how productive and relevant these types of reviews actually are. According to Tiny News, there are several reasons why performance reviews should be abandoned–or at least retooled. One of those reasons is that performance reviews are time consuming and actually deliver little value to an organization.

    Many organizations are now looking for and experimenting with viable alternatives to the standard performance review. The following are four alternatives that can be used either independently or in combination with more traditional types of appraisal.

    1. Weekly or Monthly Check-ins

    This is a more casual option that can easily replace an official performance review. It occurs more frequently than a yearly or semi-annual review and will normally deal with fewer issues. Business moves too quickly today to attempt to work out issues or concerns that took place several months earlier. Check-ins can be brief since they are conducted much more frequently than regular performance reviews.

    2. One to One Coaching

    Coaching goes beyond basic evaluations and can include everything from guidance and support to developing new challenges for the employee. Someone in management can be chosen as a coach or someone from outside of the organization can be brought in to add a fresh perspective. Coaching is a much better option than a performance review because it is ongoing and encompasses much more than the evaluation process.

    3. Peer Reviews

    Peer reviews involve several employees who have been chosen by management to assist with the evaluation of other employees. Even though peer reviews can be invaluable in evaluating an employee from a variety of viewpoints, it’s important that management closely monitor these types of appraisals. One pitfall to avoid is making sure the evaluations are based on objective criteria and not turned into a popularity contest.

    4. SMART System

    The SMART System is based on Management by Objectives (MBO), which was established almost 40 years ago. The SMART System is divided into five distinct sections. It starts with Specific, Measurable and Attainable goals. The system also includes Relevant and Time-based objectives. Creating and categorizing goals that are tangible and actionable will help employees understand specifically what they need to do to improve overall job performance.

    You’ll need to consider the size, culture and management style of your organization to determine which review system is best. Some companies may also want to integrate a combination of assessment techniques to achieve the best results.

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  • Top 5 Apps for Small Business

    small business appsTop 5 Apps for Small Business

    As the owner or manager of a small business, you are undoubtedly busy, and most likely consistently on the go. While you probably use numerous apps for your daily personal life, like Twitter, Venmo and Expedia, you may not be taking advantage of all the apps out there that can get your business clicking on all cylinders. After all, between handling customer issues, scheduling projects and tracking expenses, you have a lot on your plate, and running as efficiently as possible is a necessity. Have a look at the top five apps for your small business.

    1. Slack

    Slack is an excellent app for communication within teams and across departments within your organization. Essentially, it’s a messaging app, but exchanging files, pictures and other documents is a breeze with this software. The app also allows for group calls, which means meetings can be held anywhere. Best of all, Slack allows for unlimited app integration, giving you the opportunity to put all your tools in one searchable central archive.

    2. Gusto

    Any small business must carefully manage payroll, benefits and taxes, and Gusto is just the app to help with that. Payroll taxes are automated with Gusto and new hires are automatically reported to the government. Deductions for workers’ compensation and benefits are automated as well. Even pay stubs are delivered to employees automatically. All this equals a lot of time saved for you.

    3. Dropbox

    In today’s interconnected world, work files need to be accessible from anywhere. Dropbox is in a league of its own when it comes to handling this task for small companies. It offers your employees a seamless way to store and share small and large files on the cloud, making it a great option if you work with remote employees.

    4. Toggl

    Don’t waste time — at least that’s what you’re telling yourself. But how can you make yourself as productive as possible? There’s an app for that, and it’s called Toggl. This app tracks where every second of your workday goes, and that makes it an excellent option if you need to work smarter and faster or require a more clear way to calculate billable hours. Work for different projects and track clients simultaneously in all sorts of formats, including colorful graphs and detailed time sheets.

    5. Nimble

    Have you ever heard the saying to go to where your customers are? Well, a lot of them are on social media. Nimble is a CRM app with a focus on communicating with customers across social media platforms. This sales and marketing app tracks and gathers data from every single place you communicate with your customers. It also automatically suggests potential key contacts based on your interactions and connections.

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  • Watch Out – You Might Be the One Hampering Your Business!

    bad business ownerWatch Out – You Might Be the One Hampering Your Business!

    X is a happy, outgoing person, ready to help others and unconcerned about competitors. Y is secretive and suspicious, and interacts with employees only if needed. Z is a mixture of both: open with his employees but constantly worried about competition. Who do you think is most likely to succeed?

    To answer that, you should realize that although your small business can succeed or fail due to many factors, the most important among them is you. Your personality can make or break your business, regardless of how highly qualified and experienced you are.

    Establishing Connections

    Many people view entrepreneurship as a team effort. Even if your business is now very small and you are the sole employee, you need to arrange for raw materials, obtain loans and find markets.

    It is a given that you will be interacting with others — hiring, organizing and motivating your employees; negotiating for funds from investors; buying things from vendors; and selling your products or services to customers. You also need to connect with most of them via social media.

    Being Pleasant

    Studies indicate that if you are open, sociable and energetic, you are likelier to have thriving, profitable and financially secure businesses. This does not mean you can afford to be careless, disorganized and easily distracted. You should stick to plans and be efficient all the time.

    Mistakes will be made — by you and by others. Make allowances and learn from them. Similarly, never worry about competition; the only way to be the best is to up your own game.

    Accepting Changes

    If you are resourceful and innovative, your business is likely to have greater sales, better employees and considerable profits. To succeed, try out new technologies and welcome changes; for example, create a website or a dedicated account on social media to showcase your products or services, or adopt new modes of payment. However, if you worry, are rigid in your views and are distrustful of others, you will delegate less and cannot take advantage of opportunities for change and growth.

    If you feel you cannot change easily, do an honest self-appraisal and choose a team that magnifies your strengths and offsets your weaknesses.

    To answer my question, X will certainly succeed. So will Y and Z, but only if they are ready for self-analysis and remedial measures.

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  • How to Get a Small Business Loan

    How to Get a Small Business Loan

    Going into debt can be an integral part of running a small business. Sometimes debt is necessary, yet taking out a loan cannot always be done based on common sense. A proper guide can make the necessary steps clear and simple.

    1. Evaluate necessary information

    The federal government’s Small Business Administration suggests that before you attempt to take out a loan, you ensure the loan is for “a sound business purpose” and that you and any partners have “good character.” Lenders will, naturally, check to make sure you will be able to pay back the loan. These points are what banks and other institution require, but what information should you look for before proceeding? Make sure you have ready any personal and business credit history, previous financial statements, a business plan, cashflow projections and “personal guaranties” from all principal owners of your intended business.

    2. Be thorough

    Evaluate all available financial institutions carefully to get the best deal, and be aware you will typically have more difficulty obtaining small loans from larger institutions. Check out local institutions, credit unions and especially institutions you have done business with in the past, and be thorough with the information you present to a potential lender. Aside from the information already listed, pay close attention to anything additional requested for a meeting. Finally, shop carefully! Search for the best APR for your needs so that you do not end up paying back more than is necessary.

    3. Determine the type of loan you need

    As hinted in the previous step, various types of loans are available, and online resources can give you more specifics. You will most likely want to approach a traditional bank, a microlender or an online lender. Head to a traditional bank if you have good credit and collateral, and do not need cash immediately. Note that traditional banks typically offer the lowest APR; however, they are not always best for small businesses that lack much cash flow or good credit. If you are unable to make a bank’s loan feasible, you should look to a microlender. Microlenders are nonprofits that usually lend small loans below $35,000. Alternatively, you can look for an online lender. According to NerdWallet, the APR there can range from 7 percent to 113 percent, depending on your situation.

    Remember to shop around for the best “price” and most fitting choice, just as you would for any purchase. Following these steps and sources will yield the best results and help you succeed with your business.

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  • Avoid These Five Expensive Small Business Human Resources Mistakes

    small business hiring Avoid These Five Expensive Small Business Human Resources Mistakes

    Making a human resources mistake can be expensive. Hiring the wrong employee, inadvertently overlooking labor laws and other problems can cost your small business thousands of dollars and hundreds of lost man hours. Below are five common human resources mistakes that you might commit.

    Mistake #1: Misclassifying Employees

    Federal law decides whether a worker meets the definition of an independent contractor or an employee, exempt or non-exempt. If you misclassify workers to save on benefits or because you don’t understand the law, you could be looking at thousands of dollars in penalties. The Internal Revenue Service shares information with the U.S. Department of Labor to catch businesses that skirt the law, and your workers can also report you.

    The Solution: To avoid having to pay back wages and penalties, read the Fair Labor Standards Act and classify your employees accordingly.

    Mistake #2: A Poor Hiring Process

    When you rush the hiring process, you can hire a poor employee. A recent survey found that 42 percent of business had a worker that cost them at least $25,000 that year. While some bad hires are inevitable, many businesses admitted that they were to rushed during the hiring process and didn’t adequately screen candidates.

    The Solution: Commit to a slow hiring process with multiple interviews, be sure to check all references thoroughly and invest in a complete background check for employees.

    Mistake #3: Not Documenting Performance Issues

    You may give feedback to your problem employee, but you may not be putting your verbal reprimands in writing. Then, when you finally decide to fire your employee after multiple issues, he decides to apply for unemployment. You may win the case, but you’ll have to spend valuable hours explaining your decision without documentation.

    The Solution: Put any performance issues in writing, and issue an action plan for the problem employee.

    Mistake #4: Not Securely Storing Confidential Employee Documentation

    Your I-9 forms should always be within reach, so you keep them in a binder at your desk along with all other personnel files. However, storing employees’ personal and medical information without security could leave you open to lawsuits if that information is misused.

    The Solution: Lock up paper documents, and restrict who can view them. Password protect electronic employment documents.

    Mistake #5: Not Keeping Up With Changes in State Laws

    Federal employment law changes often make the local news, but it’s easy to overlook changes in state wage, licensing and labor laws. You probably won’t even know that you’ve violated one until you’re fined for it.

    The Solution: Visit your state’s department of labor website regularly, and ask for clarification if you don’t understand any new laws.

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  • 3 Ways to Make Software and Technology Work for Your Small Business

    small business technology 3 Ways to Make Software and Technology Work for Your Small Business

    According to a National Federation of Independent Businesses article, small businesses are “relatively slow to adopt new and existing technologies.” Most don’t use the cloud and only nine percent accept Paypal payments. This may make it seem like small businesses owners are stuck in the Stone Age, but that couldn’t be further from the truth: they are cautious and savvy when it comes to investing in new software and technology. Before you invest in new tech, follow these three tips to make sure it works for you.

    1. Evaluate What You Have and What You Need

    Small businesses have passionate owners but limited financial resources, which is why it is important to evaluate what resources you do have. At least once a year, spend time collecting information about your prior systems. Perhaps your bookkeeper has an expensive check scanner, but they don’t use it because it constantly jams. Knowing what issues your business has with software and technology helps you to make wiser decisions in the future and troubleshoot the present problems. After evaluating, you might find critical holes in your software and technology supply. Make a list and follow the steps below on weighing the costs versus the reward. You can sell or trade unused or underused equipment to purchases technology that will better suit your business.

    2. Weigh the Cost Versus the Reward

    It’s easy to get snookered into buying sleek software or purchasing loads of popular gadgets only to realize that you don’t use any of it enough to make the investment worth it. Set an annual software and technology budget. This should include your computer system, cyber security system and new and upgraded software. You should also try to estimate technology costs and repairs. Computers break, systems fail. Make sure to budget a contingency fund so you are not caught by surprise.

    After setting a budget, develop an evaluation system for your software and technology purchases. You can rate each standard on a scale of one to five (one being a complete waste of purchase to five being an absolute necessity). This helps particularly when working with a small budget where you can only buy a few valuable items, not your whole wish list. Look at how much the software costs and how much you will use it. Will your staff use it daily? Once a week? Divide that cost up into a daily or weekly total. For example, a small business purchases a $2,500 computer for their full-time receptionist. He uses it every day for hours a day, making it a worthy investment, spending a little over $10 a day annually.

    Does the software or technology help with difficult time-consuming tasks? If you do your own packaging and shipping, invest in mail and shipping software instead of wasting valuable time and energy standing in line at the post office. Consideration of what technology to use for certain tasks is imperative. For example, if you own a bakery and want to take pictures of your cakes and culinary creations, you might not need the most expensive state-of-the-art camera. Technology has advanced to the point that excellent photos can be taken with the use of a smartphone and a filter app. You just saved your small business money by not buying an expensive camera that you would probably only cover in flour and frosting anyway.

    3. Let Technology Work for You

    As a small business, your staff needs to work as efficiently as possible toward the vision of the company, not spend lots of time on menial tasks that could be done by valuable software programs. Use software programs that save you lots of time and maybe even the cost of having to hire someone. You can automate lots of tasks such as bill pay. There is even outsourcing technology available that runs payroll and direct deposits wages into your staff’s accounts.

    Consider all or some of these tips when you think about buying new software or technology. By having a firm knowledge of your own business and staying abreast of developing trends, you can make a smart investment that saves you time and money.

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  • How Do You Sponsor a Foreign Worker?

    work sponsorship How Do You Sponsor a Foreign Worker?

    With all of the talk about abuse of the visa process, you may think your business doesn’t stand a chance if you need to bring in someone from abroad who has special skills. Here’s an overview of the visa sponsorship process to get you started.

    Determine Your Need

    Whether you’re sponsoring a temporary or permanent worker, you generally need to show that they have special education, skills or experience. In many cases, you’ll also need to show that no American was qualified or available to take the job.

    Part of doing this is carefully reviewing the job description. What specific training or skill set are you looking for? If you posted the job on local job boards, would you be able to find qualified domestic candidates?

    Select the Appropriate Visa Type

    Once you’ve determined what you need, you’ll need to select the appropriate visa type. Different categories of workers receive different priorities.

    • First preference goes to immigrants with extraordinary abilities.
    • Second preference goes to immigrants with advanced degrees or skills.
    • Third preference goes to immigrants with other professional skills or in fields with a low supply of American workers.

    File an Immigration Petition

    “Sponsorship” is not just an empty term. As the employer, you are responsible for filing the appropriate immigration petition on behalf of your potential employee.

    You will need to provide information supporting your need to hire a foreign worker and also pay a filing fee. Not all petitions are approved. Some may be denied for lack of supporting information or because your request does not meet the requirements for requested visa type.

    For certain categories of visas, there is an annual limit on the total number of immigrants who can enter the country under each visa type. In categories where the limit is regularly met, a lottery may be used to determine which petitions are granted.

    Monitor Employee Eligibility

    If your petition is approved, you must continually ensure that your workers are presently authorized to work in the United States. If you applied for a temporary visa, you will need to help the worker apply for a renewal or for permanent status before their visa expires.

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  • Why You Can’t Run a PPC Campaign Without Great Content

    SEO - search engine optimization mindmapWhy You Can’t Run a PPC Campaign Without Great Content

    Too many marketers think they have to make a choice between pay-per-click ad campaigns and organic content marketing. The reality is that if your content doesn’t support your paid advertising, your paid advertising will fail. If you have strong content, you’ll slash your costs and boost your return on investment. Here’s how.

    Relevancy Matters

    Pay-per-click ads are not sold to the highest bidder. You can beat a competitor’s bid by double or even more and still potentially not have your ad shown.

    The reason is Google wants even paid ads to be useful to searchers. If a searcher keeps finding unhelpful information at paid links, they’ll be less likely to click paid links in the future and may even stop using Google altogether.

    To determine how useful your ad is, Google assigns it a Quality Score. The Quality Score compares the text of your ad to your landing page content to determine how relevant your landing page is to what the searcher is looking for.

    If you’re using platforms other than Google, similar algorithms are often in place.

    Your Real Goal Is Conversions

    Getting people to click on your ad is an important first step, and it can be exciting when your first clicks start coming in. However, those clicks are worthless if they don’t turn into buyers.

    Once visitors arrive on your website, you need to give them a reason to stay and to complete the sales process. Both your sales copy and visual content need to answer the traditional marketing questions of why does the customer need this and why should they buy it from you.

    You Still Want Organic Clicks

    If your SEO efforts get you to the top of the search rankings, it’s not a bad thing if searchers click your organic link instead of your paid ad. You’re still getting the potential customer without paying for their visit.

    The other reason you want your organic link appearing even if you have a paid ad is it keeps a competitor’s link from showing. In a typical search results page, there are about 10 organic links and three paid ads.

    If you only have the paid ad, that’s 12 chances for searchers to click on a competitor instead. If you have a paid ad and an organic spot, there are only 11 competing links. Remember also that visitors are more likely to click on the top search results, and some ignore the paid ads altogether.

    In short, PPC campaigns can help accelerate your marketing, but you can’t ignore your content.

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  • How to Create a Fair Vacation Policy

    How to Create a Fair Vacation Policy

    A fair vacation policy gives employees a chance to relax, and benefits the company when employees come back recharged and ready to work. Small- and medium-sized businesses don’t have the employee redundancy of larger companies, which means that these companies must be careful when creating a workable vacation policy. Management must also prudently administer existing policies to allow all employees an equal chance at time off.

    3 Common Types of Time-Off Policies

    While companies can structure their vacation benefits in any way that doesn’t violate state or federal law, most businesses choose one out of the following three options.

    • Traditional paid vacation and sick leave: Each employee receives a certain number of paid vacation days and a certain number of days for sick leave. Paid vacation and sick leave may roll over to the next year or expire if state law allows it. Some employers give the same amount of paid leave to each employee, while other companies offer increasingly generous benefits to long-time workers.
    • Paid time off: Each employee receives a certain amount of paid time off that he can use however he wishes. The employer expects the employee to appropriately budget his leave between sick leave and vacation time.
    • Unlimited time off: Some companies allow employees to take as much time off as they would like, as long as they are meeting their work obligations. The employee must notify his manager before taking time off, but there are no limits to the number of days he can take.

    Putting Time-Off Policies to Work

    Once a business has decided what time-off policy works best for them, they should decide how to best administer it. For instance, seasonal businesses may want to consider not allowing vacation days during their busiest time of the year. Some businesses may also want to have employees earn a set amount of vacation time per paycheck, so they have a smaller obligation if an employee leaves in the middle of the year.

    Small businesses may want to require that their employees submit their vacation requests for approval several months in advance. This way, an impartial administrator can decide how best to approve leave for high priority times, such as holidays and school breaks. The business can then choose to issue approvals based on seniority, a lottery system, a rotating priority system or any other fairly applied method. It can also offer bonuses to employees willing to work during desirable vacation times.

    A survey from SurePayroll found that 46 percent of small businesses offered fewer than 10 vacation days off per year. However, as more employees prioritize a healthy work-life balance, small businesses should work to make sure their vacation policies are fair in order to retain desirable and productive employees.

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  • Why You Should Take Risks in Hiring

    Why You Should Take Risks in Hiring

    Obviously, you want to hire the “best” candidate for a position. So much money, time and effort is invested in each employee that making an error in hiring can be costly. But what does “the best” mean? How do you know someone will be the best fit? The short answer: you don’t.

    An applicant’s past performance is often the starting point for evaluation. Interviews, references, work samples, tests — all are designed to help you figure out if the person is worth a chance. The best candidates, as recognized by most hiring managers, are usually the safest choices. When’s the last time you took a chance on a risky candidate?

    We’re not talking about someone far out in left field, but rather someone who is outside your normal hiring practices. Maybe he seemed a little odd or didn’t wear the pinstripe suit all the other candidates did. Whatever your usual pattern of hiring, mixing things up can yield great results.

    Why Should You Consider a Risky Hire?

    Research old and new supports the hiring of those who are a somewhat risky. The idea that madness and creativity are two sides of the same coin has been around for thousands of years. In fact, several recent Swedish studies are supporting the connection — and that there are benefits to hiring those with mental disorders. For example, researchers found a link between bipolar disorder and a natural ability to lead. Problems abound in every workplace, and creative thinkers are the ones who come up with solutions — and who keep pushing to move things forward.

    Loads of research has shown that the unconscious desire to hire people who look like us is strong, even when you are aware of it. Considering a different kind of candidate may be a way out of that.

    How Do You Look for a Smart but Risky Choice?

    Recognize that the hiring process is, necessarily, very judgmental and, when reviewing candidates, your frame of mind follows those judgment lines. Open up and look past the usual narrow scope to see what benefits the potential hire brings. Was a candidate somewhat shy during the interview? Perhaps that’s a strength in an office of talkers. Does her record show that she arrives late in the morning? Consider whether those 10 minutes outweigh her creative contributions and new ideas.

    While you do have something to lose — mostly time and money — what you might gain can be worth the gamble.

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  • 5 Ways to Keep Your Employees Motivated

    5 Ways to Keep Your Employees Motivated

    Every organization wants the secret to keeping employees motivated. But it’s no real secret — just a lot of hard work. Here are five practical tips to create a consistent and positive work environment that cultivates motivated employees.

    1. Drive Home Your Vision and Values

    There is a reason organizations spend months and years crafting their vision and value statements: They are the backbone and sole purpose of the company. Motivated employees live and breathe their workplace’s vision; if they don’t, there is nothing keeping them there. One hospital is the same as another; one company is interchangeable with the next.

    To motivate your employees, emphasize your company’s vision and values everywhere — in memos, emails, meetings and all other forms of communication. Employees who know their company’s vision and values work with purpose and are motivated to see that vision into fruition.

    2. Create a Generous Work Environment

    The managers of Baptist Hospital in Lexington, KY, wrote thank you notes to all of their employees and enclosed a $100 bill. It wasn’t Christmas or bonus time. They did it because they care about their employees. This may seem difficult to do with tight budgets, but the pay-off of motivated and appreciated employees is far greater. For example, instead of a T-shirt, umbrella or other promotional item your business buys, wouldn’t it be nicer to give your employees a note of gratitude with a crisp $20 bill inside?

    3. Take Your Employees’ Ideas Seriously

    One way to create disgruntled, lazy employees is to shoot down every single one of their ideas. Create space to listen to your subordinates. In every meeting, make time for people to share their ideas. Rebounding ideas off one another builds energy and teamwork. You might not accept every idea shared, but acknowledging your employees’ thoughts signifies a level of respect that keeps them motivated.

    4. Give Freedom With Responsibility

    Take a parenting example: An 18-year-old has much more freedom than a 2-year-old, but the 18-year-old also has much more responsibility. Some organizations are holding their employees back, micromanaging them like 2-year-olds. Gradually give your employees more freedom and responsibility, and let those who succeed run with the next project. Your employees will break free from micromanaging and will be self-motivated to do their job well.

    5. Be Personal

    Your employees are not robots. They are living, emotive human beings, so give them a personal touch. For example, H&M gives their employees (even part-time staff) their birthdays as a paid holiday. Instead of just signing your name to a generic card, showing that you actually care keeps employees motivated.

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  • Keep ’em Coming Back for More: Building a Loyal Customer Base

    Customer Loyalty Service Support Care Trust Business Concept

    Keep ’em Coming Back for More: Building a Loyal Customer Base

    In the digital market, customers are just a click away from cheating on you with your competitors. Here are five strategies small business owners can use to build a loyal client base.

    1. Reliable Service

    Of course, everyone wants to give their customers quality. The trick here is to outperform your competitors to such a degree that your clients are disgusted with the idea of switching brands, as well as making sure that your brand is synonymous with quality and reliability. A Customer Experience Impact report proves that 90 percent of Americans are willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.

    2. Personal Communication

    A little personalized attention goes a long way to get your customers back in the door. So, become friends with your customers. According to the Journal of Applied Psychology, a small, unexpected act of kindness will increase a customer’s willingness to spend out of a sense of fairness and reciprocity. Avoid massive email campaigns in favor of more individualized advertising. Send them communications influenced by their purchase history and personal character. You customers want to know you’re listening. They will respond to your attention.

    3. Community Impact

    Customers are complicated, well-rounded people. They have more than just needs to be met; they also have dreams to be fulfilled. What does your target customer care about? The environment? World hunger? Align the values of your company with the values of your customers. According to the Harvard Business Review, shared values are the most important aspect of brand loyalty.

    4. Good Conversation

    Nothing is more draining than a one-sided conversation. Give your customers a place to interact with your company and their fellow buyers. Encourage customer reviews and testimonials. When someone is dissatisfied, address their concerns in a public and sensitive way. This serves a double purpose. It builds the trust of new customers and it makes repeat customers feel valued and important.

    5. A Common Enemy

    This is the most subtle strategy on our list. As such, it requires the most skill. Align your company with the lifestyle of your customer base. Whatever they love, your company loves. Whatever they hate, your company hates. It’s important to do this without spewing negativity. Cruelty is not very lucrative. However, a healthy feud keeps interest levels high and customers loyal. Some famous examples: Apple versus Microsoft or McDonald’s versus Burger King. Create an us-versus-them mentality where you and your customers are on one side and the “big bad wolf” is on the other.

    A client–company relationship is no different from any other, as it takes work and dedication to keep your customers satisfied. Use these five tips to have a long-lasting and happy relationship with your clients.

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  • 5 Accounting Mistakes That Put Small Businesses at Risk

    5 Accounting Mistakes That Put Small Businesses at Risk

    Accounting mistakes can have a negative impact on the growth of your business. The reality, unfortunately, is that these types of financial mistakes are all too common. Minimizing these accounting errors can go a long way in ensuring your business can succeed without significant financial problems. The following is a list of the common accounting mistakes made by small businesses and how you can combat them.

    1. Poorly Managing Cash Flow

    If your business has a cash flow problem, you may not be in business for long. Even a profitable business can go bankrupt if there isn’t sufficient cash to cover bills and expenses. You need to keep up with your receivables to ensure you’re being paid promptly and that you don’t constantly have invoices that are severely delinquent. Poorly managed cash flow means you may not be able to grow your business in a sustainable way. Conduct a monthly review of your financial statements so you have a clear idea of what you’re selling and what you’re billing. Having a solid understanding of payables vs. receivables means you can stay on top of any cash flow issues before they arise.

    2. Mixing Business and Personal Finances

    Commingling personal and business accounts is a surefire way to derail your company’s finances. You may be using personal finances to fund business expenses; however, properly recording these transactions is a must. You should only run business transactions through a dedicated business account. Bank statements allow you to track your company’s finances accurately, stay on top of spending and even manage cash flow. Not accounting for business expenses can lead to not being able to take deductions you qualify for and, ultimately, a higher tax bill.

    3. Not Keeping Meticulous Records

    Do you have a system in place to track all your business-related purchases? Are you saving and keeping track of your receipts? What about expenses paid in cash; are you keeping track of them? If the answer is no to any of these questions, you can find yourself in a world of hurt come tax time. Without proper records of your business-related spending, filing your taxes is a nightmare. If you don’t have a record of it, it didn’t happen, and you can’t deduct it. Once you establish a separate business account, how you’re going to manage your financial records is the next big decision. Saving receipts and consistently logging expenses are essential to maintaining a complete picture of your finances and ensuring you won’t have any problems come tax time.

    4. Not Using Accounting Software

    Using accounting software solves most of your record-keeping issues. The right software can make business processes such as bookkeeping and payroll automatic, as well as eliminate many accounting mistakes. Using software also cuts down on the time you have to spend managing your finances and allows you to focus on growing your business.

    There are many accounting software options. Make sure you choose the best fit for your business based on your needs and not by the many services these software solutions offer. Remember, small businesses rarely require enterprise solutions, so find an accounting software that fits your needs and your budget.

    5. Not Outsourcing Tax Preparation

    As a small business owner, it’s often tempting to do everything yourself in an attempt to save money. However, your taxes, more often than not, should be outsourced to a professional. Small business taxes can be tedious, time-consuming and complicated. If you’re not a professional tax preparer, it’s likely you don’t understand all the rules, regulations and deductions that apply when filing your taxes. Improper tax filing can lead to missed deductions, a higher tax bill and even a tax penalty. Forgo the potential headache, and find a tax professional you can trust.

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  • 3 Essential SEO Tips for Small Businesses

    Businessman Sketching About SEO Concept

    3 Essential SEO Tips for Small Businesses

    A recent survey revealed that 85 percent of consumers use online search to find small businesses in their area. Half of these searchers visit one of the businesses they find online within a day, demonstrating that visibility in search results can pay off in terms of traffic and sales. If your small business is struggling to be seen in the search results pages, here are some tips that may help.

    1. Use Long-Tail Keywords

    As a small business, you’re never going to be able to compete with the big brands for the most popular keywords in your industry. Instead, focus on long-tail keywords, which usually have lower traffic volumes but face much less competition. Highly specific keywords, such as “white Fender Telecaster deluxe” also have much higher conversion rates than general keywords, such as “guitar”, as they attract customers who are at a much more advanced stage of the buying process. Customers who are searching for long-tail keywords have often already researched the kind of product they want and are now ready to buy, which makes them the ideal targets for your small-business SEO campaign.

    2. List Your Business on Listing Sites

    Including your business on listing sites boosts your visibility online and improves the chance of customers finding you. These listing sites also provide backlinks to your business website, which can improve its position in the search rankings. Backlinks from reputable websites are a key part of any small-business SEO strategy.

    3. Build a Community on Social Media

    A thriving social media presence can contribute to search engine optimization for your website. Remember to fill out your social media profiles with your business name, contact information and a link to your website. Post regular updates, such as links to blog posts, details of any new and exciting products that you offer, and upcoming promotions to generate excitement among your readers and encourage them to engage with your brand.

    Conclusion

    Search engine optimization is the key to small-business success. Use these small-business SEO tips to improve your brand’s online visibility and drive visitors to your site.

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  • Small Business Bookkeeping & Accounting 101

    Small Business Bookkeeping & Accounting 101

    As a small business owner, you don’t have a set job description. You do whatever needs to be done to maintain and grow your business. Accounting and keeping track of your finances is big part of running a successful and profitable business. The following four tips will help you master your business’s finances, even if accounting and bookkeeping aren’t yourfavorite business activities.

    1. Keep Your Finances Separate

    Having separate books and accounts for your personal and business finances is must for your small business. When you’re just starting your business, it can be very easy to be lax about keeping your business and personal spending separate. However, as your business grows, this can easily turn into a disaster when you’re trying to establish a budget and track expenses, especially during tax time. So make it a priority right from the beginning to manage and track all of your business and personal accounting separately.

    2. Keep Track of Everything

    You need to keep track of everything related to your business. All receipts, statements, invoices and any other paperwork related to your company needs to be saved and organized. As a small business owner, it is very easy to fall behind on keeping your records up to date and tracking all of your financial transactions. However, you have to make organizing your finances a regular habit.

    Keeping well-organized financial records is important to understanding how well your business is doing and making filing your taxes as smooth and painless as possible. Whether you’re doing your taxes yourself or using an accountant, dedicate time to consistently check your books to see where your business stands and ensure there are no mistakes that could turn into major problems down the road.

    3. Find the Right Software Solution

    If you’re going to personally handle your finances, then finding the right accounting software is a must. There is a plethora of services available to handle all aspects of a small business’s finances, from taxes to payroll management. To help guide your decision, start off by deciding which tools you absolutely to run your business. Once you know what you need, find the software package that aligns with those needs at the best price.

    Don’t come down with bells and whistles syndrome when making a decision about which software solution will be best for your business. Yes, the expensive software package with every service you could dream of is tempting to buy, but it will ultimately end of being a waste of money. Small businesses don’t typically need enterprise-level software to handle their accounting needs, and you won’t use most of those services, anyway. Stick to purchasing the software solution that covers your needs, at a price you can afford.

    4. Don’t Be Afraid to Outsource

    As a small business owner, you already wear many hats and likely spend much of your time doing things that aren’t directly related to growing your business. Particularly in the early days of a business, it can be tempting to try to do as many tasks as you can to save money. As time goes on, however, that can become more of a burden and actually loses you company money, because you don’t have time to focus on growing your business. Hiring an accountant or bookkeeper will allow you to free up time to do the tasks in your business that you are best suited to accomplish. As mentioned above, meet with them regularly to keep track of how your business is doing financially and to make sure no mistakes are being made.

    Being a small business owner can be tough, thanks to all the tasks that need to be done and the often limited budget with which to do them. Staying on top of your finances will go a long way in keeping your business solvent and successful now and into the future.

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  • 3 Important Things to Know Before Starting Your Etsy Shop

    iStock_000048946334_Small3 Important Things to Know Before Starting Your Etsy Shop

    If you have a knack for crafts, you’ve probably considered opening an Etsy shop. But while this online marketplace caters to all things original and handmade, your creativity and talent alone won’t make you stand out. Some tricks of the trade will help you turn your passion into a thriving business. Remember to be patient, give it time, and learn as you go.

    Think Like a Customer

    Creating product is one thing, but selling is another. You may love that scarf you’ve knit, or that custom jewelry you’ve crafted, but maybe it’s not appropriate for an online marketplace. If you have sold successfully at craft fairs or farmers markets, ask yourself if your customers would be as enthusiastic if they could not see your item up close and, perhaps, touch it or try a sample. It’s important you sell what you love to create — because your labor is the backbone of the business — but select a product that will sell well online and can ship to customers without damage.

    Post Amazing Photos

    On some Etsy stores, you’d swear the real artisans are the photographers. They use extraordinary angles, lighting and staging to create a beautiful image of each product. This is essential for a successful Etsy store. Shoppers rely on the photos, and the text that lives below them, to decide whether or not to buy.

    Center your item, light it well, and display it from multiple angles if necessary. Although creating a “scene” can be helpful, always make sure what you are selling is front and center, and additional items don’t create unnecessary distraction.

    Keep Expanding Inventory

    If you do your job right — attracting people to your store and satisfying buyers with great customer service — you’ll get repeat business. Since you want people to come back time and again to browse your page, you need to frequently give them something new. Have an ever-changing roster of items for sale.

    In addition, remember to tag your items with keywords your customers will use; if they haven’t yet put your shop on their favorite list, they’ll find you by product type and keyword. For example, think like a customer and use the word “bracelet,” in your tags, even if you prefer to call it a “bangle.”

    Etsy selling can be a creative, exciting and profitable endeavor. Small things can make a big difference as to whether you make sales. When you do, you’ll be motivated to drive up the transactions even more.

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  • What You Need to Know About the New Overtime Rules

    What You Need to Know About the New Overtime Rules

    One of the last major acts of the Obama Administration may be to greatly expand the number of workers who are eligible for overtime. The Department of Labor is currently reviewing major changes to overtime regulations that would include many currently exempt employees.

    Exempt Employees Must Make $50,440

    There will be no overtime exemptions for employees who earn less than the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time workers. That threshold is currently $50,440 per year and will rise as overall salaries rise.

    Currently, employees who earn at least $23,600 per year for administrative, executive or professional job functions are exempt from overtime. With the threshold rising, an estimated five million additional employees will be eligible for overtime pay.

    You Will Need to Track Employee Hours

    One of the key benefits of overtime exemption enjoyed by both employers and employees alike is not having to keep strict track of the hours worked as long as the job gets done. Employers will need to require employees who are newly eligible for overtime to submit detailed time sheets.

    Employers who don’t accurately track employee hours may be subject to employee lawsuits for overtime pay or regulatory action by the Department of Labor.

    The Highly Compensated Employee Exemption Will Rise to $122,148

    Currently, employees who earn greater than $110,000 are not legally entitled to overtime pay regardless of whether they are in an exempt job function. This number will also be indexed to weekly earnings for full-time workers.

    The expected threshold is the 90th percentile, which would be an annual salary of $122,148 in 2016.

    Changes Will Likely Come This Summer

    The changes are being enacted by the Department of Labor at the direction of President Obama. The Department of Labor has the authority to issue overtime regulations in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. The final regulations are expected to be announced in the summer of 2016.

    To prepare for these changes, you should carefully review the job duties for each of your employees and begin tracking hours for currently exempt employees who may become eligible for overtime. While you will not be required to pay overtime for hours worked before the changes come into effect, you will want to predict whether you will need to pay additional overtime or adjust your staffing.

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  • How Will the $15/hour Minimum Wage Affect You?

    How Will the $15/hour Minimum Wage Affect You?

    While it’s still uncertain whether Congress will raise the federal minimum wage, state and local governments around the country are already raising their own minimum wages. Some have met the calls for a $15/hour minimum wage, while others have made more moderate increases.

    Even if you’re outside of these markets, there are three key questions you should consider to see if your business is prepared for a minimum wage increase.

    Will Shoppers Drive Farther to Save?

    When minimum wages are enacted at the city or county levels, the major concern is whether shoppers will look for lower prices in the neighboring city or county. Most business will be protected by travel costs and convenience.

    If shoppers have to choose between stopping at a store on their way home or going out of their way (and using more gas) to save just a few dollars, they’ll typically choose convenience. These results are already being seen in Seattle where a $15/hour minimum wage is being phased in.

    Just 11 percent of businesses have left the city or are considering leaving the city. The remaining 89 percent feel that they can remain competitive even when businesses outside of the city limits are subject to a lower minimum wage.

    If you’re not next to the city or county line with nearby competitors across the line, you should see little impact.

    Will Employees Jump to Easier Jobs?

    Another concern has been that employees making just above the minimum wage will jump to easier minimum wage jobs. While above-minimum wage jobs might be pushed to slightly higher wages, they often already have other benefits that help retain employees.

    These benefits may include health insurance, paid time off, predictable scheduling, flex time and full-time hours. Most minimum wage jobs are in food service and retail where these benefits are rarely offered. If you don’t already offer these benefits, they may be a more affordable alternative to raising your wages.

    Will Customers Be Able to Afford Higher Prices?

    The final consideration is whether customers will need to reduce their discretionary spending. While you may lose some customers with tight budgets, others should replace them.

    Businesses who advertise above-average treatment of their employees are often favored by consumers who feel a sense of social justice. If you pay a living wage, you also reduce employee turnover costs and attract better talent that provides better customer service.

    While you might need to make some adjustments to your business model, looking at the minimum wage increase as an opportunity to team up with your employees may end up improving your overall profitability.

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  • The 5 Keys to Digital Marketing Success

    Notebook with Tools and Notes about Digital MarketingThe 5 Keys to Digital Marketing Success

    Digital marketing has grown in importance in recent years. As more people spend more time on the internet, companies seeking to market their products have been forced to find new, creative solutions for customer engagement. Businesses that expand their marketing efforts into the digital sphere can indeed find great success, but only if the right methods are employed.

    A Diverse Marketing Team

    Marketing teams should represent the diversity of experience that you can expect from your customer base. Your product can interact with your customers in an infinite number of ways, but you increase your opportunity for success by reaching many kinds of people in the process. Teams composed of employees from multiple backgrounds may create broadly targeted and emphatic messages that help you get your point across more efficiently.

    Quality Before Quantity

    “Seeing what sticks” just isn’t a viable strategy in marketing. Your customers already know what they want, and they’re looking for products that offer specific value. Differentiate yourself through relevance and reliability. Invest your resources and time into a particular class of good or service rather than spreading yourself too thin trying to cover too much. Value is more than a dollar sign; customers want their problems solved, and they’ll remember who helped solve them.

    Provide Tangible Value

    In the great wilderness of digital marketing, some incline toward the oft-traveled road affectionately termed “clickbait.” Marketing that promises too much may indeed invite a “click,” but that doesn’t equate to a purchase. Reputable brands live and die on the trust of their audience. Being realistic and practical in marketing is its own virtue, and loyal customers prefer integrity to shock-value.

    Build a Community

    Improving interaction from end-to-end is one of the most effective forms of digital marketing. Take advantage of all available digital channels to get your message across and ease the user experience. If a customer has a question, how many avenues do they have to reach you? If you want to communicate an important update, how quickly can you deliver that message? You should take advantage of the powerful correlation between effectively coordinating your customer contacts and growing your revenue.

    Know Your Audience

    This is ancient advice for all businesses, but it’s particularly relevant in the digital era. With modern technology, you can coordinate online search terms to gather an unprecedented amount of information about how your audience interacts with your product. People love to provide feedback, but they might not give it to you directly. Online forums, reviews, social media and more can be excellent ways to see what people are saying in real-time, allowing you to respond accordingly.

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  • The 3 C’s of Successful Placement: Candidate, Culture and Community

    The 3 C’s of Successful Placement: Candidate, Culture and Community

    When you work as a human resources professional, one key element of your job is recruiting. Several decades ago, it may have been acceptable to place a bare-bones newspaper ad that gave nary a thought to ensuring a good match between the candidate and the culture and community of the business. Of course, the process these days is highly focused on ensuring compatibility. Here are some considerations as you go about recruiting for candidate, culture and community.

    Candidate

    Successful placement of a candidate means finding someone who has the necessary soft and hard skills (or who can be trained on the hard skills). All too often, human resources professionals fall in love with a candidate on paper, but then feel like something is off during the interview process. Listening to your intuition is important. At the same time, you should rethink dismissing candidates based on considerations such as their appearance, which can play into subconscious gender or cultural bias. For example, researchers at the University of the West of Scotland have found that job-related judgments for women are heavily skewed toward their looks, while for men, decisions are based on content.

    Culture

    The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that incompatible cultural fit has the potential to cost a business as much as 60 percent of an employee’s yearly salary. However, before you can recruit for cultural fit, you need to identify the culture of your business. What are the prevalent attitudes in the business? For example, is there a huge emphasis on teamwork, or are employees encouraged to work independently? Perhaps the business favors a middle ground between these two extremes. Examine attitudes and philosophies, both official and unofficial. For example, the official line may be that the business does not care what hours employees keep as long as their work gets done. Unofficially, though, the business might look down on folks who come in after 10 a.m., even if they stay after everyone else has left. It’s fairly common for there to be discrepancies between stated culture and actual culture.

    Community

    The community aspect of the recruiting process takes many forms. For example, it could be the reputation of your business in the community at large and if it gives to the community. Likewise, it could be how your business presents itself online and on social media. It could also be how your business fosters a community of continued learning, an aspect that is especially important to millennials. Job candidates these days value transparency; to recruit effectively, you must clearly and honestly describe your business, its culture and the requirements of the job up front.

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  • A Business Plan: The Ultimate Weapon for Small Business Success

    A Business Plan: The Ultimate Weapon for Small Business Success

    Launching or growing your small business without a plan is akin to building a house without a blueprint. In other words, winging it is not the best path to success. Regardless of the size of your business, the most important document you can have is a business plan.

    Some may think a business plan is unnecessary — especially when success is realized early in the game. But early success does not guarantee longevity. Things can go off course quickly, leading to chaotic business operations, lost revenue and business closure.

    Even more than helping you gain financial backing for your small business should you need it, a business plan helps you beat the ‘going out of business’ blues by providing focused direction in building your business structure with clearly defined means to achieving goals.

    Planning for Business Success

    Only half of new businesses survive five years or more, according to the Small Business Administration. Plus, only 1 in 3 makes it to a 10-year anniversary. One reason is likely the poor foundation in which many businesses are built. A business plan can put you on solid footing when done right.

    How is this possible? A well-developed plan helps you get specific about your business niche, the competition, the suitability of your product or service and how you can stand out from the crowd. Clarity on these factors is a must for figuring out the strength and profitability potential of your business.

    Key Plan Segments for Your Small Business

    A written business plan can be as short or as long as you need it to be in order to cover the necessary details that make sense for your business. In addition to providing a good business description, you will want to define these key aspects:

    • A description of planned business operations, including the day-to-day processes
    • Marketing plans that address how you plan to reach your customers and get them to buy
    • A financial plan that addresses funding and your break even point
    • Defined business strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and how these play into meeting your business goals
    • Growth initiatives for long-term success

    A Living Document

    Just like any blueprint, a business plan is adaptable to changing circumstances. It is a living document requiring regular reviews and updates to address new strategies, markets, cash flow and other business fundamentals, according to Citibank’s guide to creating a business plan.

    It does take time to write a good business plan. But, with a bonafide rendering, you can join the ranks of small business owners who celebrate 10-year anniversaries and beyond.

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  • 4 Ways to Improve Workplace Fun Without Damaging Productivity

    4 Ways to Improve Workplace Fun Without Damaging Productivity

    As a manager or business owner, you may have struggled with getting the balance right between a place that is fun to work at as well as a place that fosters productivity. Too much fun and work can suffer, while not enough and motivation and morale can decrease.

    So how can you create an environment that your employees actually enjoy working in, but without any lapses in productivity? The following are four ways to improve workplace fun without having to make major changes to the way your company normally does business.

    1. Add Excitement to the Break Area

    Who enjoys eating their lunch in a drab, windowless room containing a table and a few chairs? Break time isn’t just about getting a quick bite to eat — it’s about recharging one’s energy so that they can continue to be productive throughout the rest of the day. The best way to help your employees do that is to provide some sort of stimulus that makes break time more fun.

    Here are some ways you can improve the break room and break time in general:

    • Redecorate the break room with brighter colors and more comfortable furniture, as well as some nice art and inspiring posters.
    • Add a pool table
    • Add a ping-pong or Foosball table
    • Add a video game system like an X-Box or a Playstation
    • Add a small gym or fitness area
    • Add a small bar for a light happy hour on Fridays

    2. Schedule Fun Activities

    Activities for the workplace can range anywhere from a weekly pizza party to a DJ or karaoke machine once a month. You can have different themes or get everyone involved with planning holiday or other festive events, such as a lunch out at a local park or a trip to a motivational seminar. You can also have someone come in to teach important team-building exercises.

    3. Celebrate Achievements

    Celebrate workplace milestones such as 5, 10 or 15 years at the office. You should also recognize employee achievements, such as finishing a project ahead of schedule or increasing sales above the quota. Whatever the achievement, ensure that employees are recognized for their good performance, either with a celebration or some sort of reward, such as a gift card.

    4. Create a Workplace Newsletter

    You can distribute a company newsletter in-house on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly schedule. Funny employees can contribute jokes, others can contribute recipes and so on.

    You might have your own ideas for making the workplace more fun. There’s no better time like the present to put them into action, and you’ll soon see productivity and motivation improve.

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  • Why Digital Payment Is The Best New Thing For Small Businesses

    Why Digital Payment Is the Best Thing for Small Business

    Every contractor, freelancer and vendor has heard these five dreaded words at least once: “The check’s in the mail.”The unpredictability of payment has historically been a plague for service providers. However, long payment windows — whether due to a mix-up at the post office, a piece of mail that doesn’t get sent, a tangle with accounts payable, or plain old human error — aren’t just difficult for those waiting for compensation. Outstanding checks can wreak havoc on small business bookkeeping, too. Fortunately, recent advancements in billing make it possible to process payments that directly and automatically transfer funds to workers — a boon for both payer and payee.

    Digital Payment Is Fast

    Updates to existing payment platforms, such as PayPal, and new digital payment options like Square Cash and Venmo, make it easy to transfer small amounts of money for goods and services with relatively low (or sometimes no) fees. But, it’s the speed of the transaction that makes these services truly beneficial.

    In an economy with people performing tasks for each other from all over the globe, sending money orders or checks long distances forces everyone in a transaction to wait long periods of time to satisfy a contract. This doesn’t work well in today’s fast-paced business climate. When you pay vendors or other workers through a venue such as Square Cash, the money goes straight from your account to theirs — ensuring you don’t have to wait and neither do they.

    Digital Payment Is Transparent

    Cutting checks can quickly result in a quagmire of spreadsheets and other paperwork, and even the most careful of bookkeepers can get overwhelmed by the volume of payments coming in and going out. With digital payments, both parties receive receipts immediately and can search through email, text messages or personal accounts to ensure payments have been sent and received. You never again have to guess how much is in your business account. With digital payments, you know immediately.

    Digital Payment Handles the Heavy Lifting

    Digital payment platforms can also meet other e-commerce needs, including credit card processing and point-of-sale solutions. By moving your business finances to one easy-to-use platform, you can consolidate your billing and receiving into just one or two dashboards, leaving you more time to focus on running your business.

    Mailing checks to pay for services is archaic, and it doesn’t mesh with the way businesses operate now. For the new generation of business owners and workers, digital payment just makes sense.

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  • How to Make Your Small Business Look Bigger

    How to Make Your Small Business Look Bigger

    It doesn’t always pay off to tell people that you’re running a one-man (or woman) show. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to make your business look bigger.

    List Multiple Addresses and Phone Numbers

    Potential clients will look you up before contacting you. If your website lists your personal address and phone number, then they know they’re dealing with a tiny company. It’s easy to list multiple addresses and phone numbers, even if you don’t have a lot of business locations. All you have to do is set up virtual offices, preferably in different states. You should also list multiple email addresses, such as support@yourcompany.com, billing@yourcompany.com and firstname.lastname@yourcompany.com.

    Get a 1-800 Number

    While people don’t need toll-free numbers with unlimited cell phone plans, having a 1-800 number makes your company look bigger. It’s even better if your customers talk to your virtual secretary or get routed through a system before they are connected with you. And three-digit extensions are better than single-digit extensions because they make you look bigger.

    Create a Professional Website

    Even if you’re not in the business of doing web development, having a professional website is an absolute must. It’s probably not enough to ask your nerdy friend to put up something quick. To create a professional site that looks good on mobile devices, you should expect to spend thousands of dollars.

    Incorporate Your Business

    While there’s nothing wrong with using a DBA, it makes your company look like small potatoes, especially if you’re called “Smith’s Lawn Service.” A name change may be in order. Better yet, you can incorporate your business or set up a limited liability company. Before you do either, you should talk to your accountant or lawyer to make sure you choose the best entity for your business.

    Design Your Business Cards Carefully

    One of the biggest challenges of being the boss of a small company is that you don’t always want to let people know that you are in charge. Sometimes, it’s good not to be perceived as the decision maker. Other times, you just want to be the salesperson for your company. So it’s a good idea to design your business cards accordingly. Either leave off the title altogether or create different cards for different occasions.

    Making your small business look bigger can make a tremendous difference in attracting new customers. And now that you know what steps you need to take, it’s time to kick things up a notch.

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  • How the Google PageSpeed Test Tool Can Increase Your Conversions

    How the Google PageSpeed Test Tool Can Increase Your Conversions

    Right now, 40 percent of consumers will leave a website that doesn’t load within 3 seconds: An e-commerce site that generates $100,000 in revenue each day can lose $2.5 million in sales each year due to a 1-second loading delay. To avoid these detrimental issues, companies must pay close attention to their websites’ load time; one of the best ways to do this is with the Google PageSpeed Insight Tool.

    What Is the Google PageSpeed Insight Tool?

    The PageSpeed Insight Tool is a simple tool developed by Google to give marketers an idea of how quickly their pages load. Simply enter a URL into the tool’s search bar, let Google analyze the URL, and you’ll receive an instant analysis of how quickly your page loads on mobile and desktop platforms. The tool gives a score out of 100 and provides suggestions for how to decrease your page’s load times, through things like optimizing images or minifying Javascript.

    5 Ways to Reduce Page Load Time

    Even though the weak points of every website will vary, the PageSpeed tool does pick up a few consistent errors. By fixing these five things, you can receive a higher PageSpeed score and provide a better user experience for your site’s viewers.

    1. Optimize your images

    Be sure you’re scaling or compressing your images correctly. Make the corrections before uploading them to your site.

    2. Enable browser caching

    According to HubSpot, enabling the caching on your browser prevents the visitor’s computer from having to load the same information every time they visit your site, which quickens load times.

    3. Implement compression

    When you compress your website, you decrease the size of your pages, thereby improving your load times between 50-70 percent.

    4. Alter your Javascript

    Javascript is one of the biggest culprits in slow load times. This is especially true when the script is placed above the content. To quicken load times, move your Javascript to the bottom of your pages so it will load after the main content.

    5. Improve your CSS

    An optimized CSS will download faster, which allows visitors quicker access your pages, thereby improving user experience and decreasing page load times.

    The Case for Load Time

    Page load times are a major factor in creating a positive user experience for visitors. By using the Google PageSpeed Insight Tool and fixing the five things mentioned above, you can improve your load times and impress your visitors.

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  • Converting Facebook Likes to Leads

    Converting Facebook Likes to Leads

    In December 2015, more than one billion people were using Facebook every day. That’s more than triple the entire U.S. population. If you’re a business and you’re not on Facebook, you’re missing out. If you’re a business on Facebook failing to convert likes into viable sales leads, you’re wasting your time.

    It’s not enough to have exposure. Businesses need to interact and compel; to become a point of thought for customers that resonates beyond the initial “like” they give your post or page. Here are a few ways how to do that:

    Active posts

    Before we consider the content of a post, keep in mind that it needs to be a funnel – a call to action and a means to complete that action. It needs to work customers towards your end goal, which should be a purchase of whatever product or service you’re offering. A call to action can be anything from a compelling picture or marketing piece to a pointed post asking customers to check out your site. The means should be a link directly to wherever you want them to go.

    Make your products and services a reality

    When a person is considering a purchase, they may be visualizing how it’s going to affect their lives. Don’t depend solely on their imagination. Construct posts that tell a story with what you’re selling as its centerpiece. Maybe you’re a cleaning service so you write a story about a particularly momentous job (before-and-after picture included), or you sell sleds and you have a great story about a family gifting it to their snow-obsessed daughter. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the post takes the intangible idea of something and adds reality to it.

    Advertise

    If you’re not a company that’s getting 1,000 likes (or even 50) for every post, don’t get discouraged – but also don’t get complacent. Facebook advertising (whether it be actual ads or boosting a post) aren’t absurdly expensive or complicated. They don’t require your constant attention, but they can extend the reach of your content and recognition of your brand. And with additional tracking and targeting options, you can both better define and connect with your audience (a win-win in the business world).

    Make friends (well, connections)

    Social media – and particularly Facebook – has completely revolutionized the company-customer relationship because it’s built a simple portal for connecting. Through comments and chat, businesses can interact with customers one-on-one and establish the sort of friendly transparency that turns one-time shoppers into long-term regulars.

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  • Small Businesses Funding- How and Where to Get It

    Small Businesses Funding- How and Where to Get It

    The latest fad in reality TV is shows about small business owners seeking money and advice from billionaire business moguls to start or grow their business. What happens to the majority of small businesses that can’t get on these shows? Is it possible to pursue your dreams without winning the lottery? While it takes work, anyone can obtain small business funding. Here are five of the most common solutions.

    Crowdfunding

    Crowdfunding raises money with small contributions from friends, potential customers and anyone else who is interested in a business idea. Instead of receiving equity or interest payments on their contributions, contributors receive some sort of reward once the funding goal is reached.

    In many cases, the reward is the new product. This essentially allows companies to sell their product before it leaves the idea stage and greatly reduces the risk of manufacturing a product only to find that it doesn’t sell.

    With an estimated $34 billion raised in 2015, crowdfunding now accounts for more small business investments than venture capital.

    Government Grants

    Government grant money is extremely limited. As a general rule, government grants are only provided to non-profit organizations involved in charity, healthcare, education, science and other fields that serve the public interest. However, if you’re more interested in making the world a better place than getting rich, grants may be available from federal and state agencies, as well as publicly funded organizations, related to your cause.

    Government Loans

    Government loans are more freely available than grants, and for-profit businesses are able to take advantage of these programs. The important thing to understand is that the federal government does not loan money directly. Instead, it backs loans issued by banks and other lenders to reduce their risk and encourage them to make more loans. If approved, this backing may lead to lower interest rates.

    As with other federal programs, there is a catch. Despite the reduced risk to lenders, federal regulations require much more oversight on these loans. Lenders will often require a detailed application, with financial and credit information for both the business owner and the business itself. Bank statements and past profit and loss statements can play a huge role in the decision. Because of this, newer businesses, especially those engaged in e-commerce or service industries, may find it difficult to meet the strict requirements.

    Private Small Business Loans

    Private small business loans are often easier to obtain than government-backed loans. There is simply less red tape involved. While interest rates, loan amounts and repayment terms will vary, private loans are available with only a minimal credit score, length of time in business and average bank account balance.

    Many consumers avoid these types of loans because of traditional thinking about credit card debt being bad. In a business context, if you’re losing orders because you can’t meet the volume requested, or if a new piece of equipment would greatly improve your margins, taking on debt can be a wise move that will make you a lot more money than the interest you’ll pay.

    Merchant Cash Advance

    A merchant cash advance is an even easier source of funding for small businesses with a moderate sales volume. It’s a loan that’s based almost solely on your monthly credit card sales. You can receive cash for additional inventory or equipment, and the loan is repaid by sending a fixed percentage of sales directly to the lender.

    To learn more about your private small business loan and merchant cash advance options, contact Merchant Capital Source today.

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  • How to Get Exposure for Your Small Business

    How to Get Exposure for Your Small Business

    Exposure is critical for startups and small businesses. And even if your venture is primarily online, it benefits from in-person strategies such as networking events and contacting people for one-on-one networking. Online approaches such as crowdfunding and content marketing tools are also advantageous.

    Networking Events

    Common networking events include opening night for your business, trade shows and conferences. One big key to success at these events is to prepare properly and to maximize your return on investment. For example, identify who you want to meet with, and develop marketing materials such as photos or interactive exhibits. Create short elevator pitches for potential investors and clients.

    Having a launch party or an opening-night type party is a great way to set up a networking event on your terms. You should publicize it on social media, record it and offer incentives for folks to attend. For instance, maybe you are inviting only a selective group of people or having a local celebrity appear.

    One-on-One Networking

    Networking opportunities are everywhere; try to see any event or situation as a potential way to network. For example, join professional associations related to the industry your business is in, and make connections at meetings. Reach out to folks such as former teachers, professors and colleagues to gather their input and insight into your venture and/or to offer them a benefit such as 40 percent off a first purchase.

    You should also research successful companies and individuals in your industry, and reach out to relevant people. Set up lunch or dinner meetings on your tab, and mine these minds for input. They will appreciate the good food and good company.

    Crowdfunding

    Crowdfunding can be an excellent tactic for gaining exposure (and financing) for your business. Approach it strategically to give your endeavor the best chances for success. For instance, a rookie mistake that many new campaigns make is not engaging their immediate network of family, friends and supporters enough. Develop timelines for a campaign, and ensure a healthy network of potential donors is in place before you launch.

    Content Marketing Tools

    Tools like Google Analytics help your business track factors such as website visitors, how they reached your website and where they come from. You should use this information to fine-tune your exposure and marketing strategies. For instance, if you see that a particular blog post has been really popular, you can do follow-ups or posts on that topic from different angles. Content marketing is definitely a smart way to gain exposure; you are putting out educational and useful content for folks actively searching for it. You need a way to harness and analyze your results.

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  • Five Common Social Media Mistakes Small Businesses Make

    Five Common Social Media Mistakes Small Businesses Make

    Years ago, small business owners felt pressure to have a web presence. Today, those with any degree of marketing savvy have secured addresses on the information superhighway, but their current challenge is mastering the nuances of social media marketing. Consumers are enamored with Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms, and small businesses wishing to win their patronage often try to woo them via these platforms. Some succeed. Others fail. Learn from the latter by avoiding these common mistakes.

    McPosting

    Serving the same menu items in Los Angeles, Topeka and Miami may be a sound business strategy for McDonald’s. However, posting the same messages across different social media platforms isn’t a sound social media strategy for any business. Each platform has a unique demographic, so tailor your posts accordingly.

    Disorganized Posting

    There’s little point in having a stagnant website and posting on social media simply to post. Posting without a purpose is a waste of time and can annoy current and potential customers. Before posting, identify your goal, create a strategy to achieve it, then make sure each post is engaging, on-message and valuable.

    Fan and Follower Obsession

    Everyone enjoys being liked, but some business owners become consumed with social media popularity rather than effectiveness. If your business approaches its social media plan strategically and creates insightful, informative, educational and/or humorous posts while posting consistently yet not excessively, the likes, followers and fans will follow. Resist the temptation to pay for fans and likes — they won’t help your business. Real people who become genuine fans of your posts are most likely to become customers.

    Forgetting the Social Aspect of Social Media

    Have you ever attended a dinner or cocktail party and became trapped in a conversation with an egomaniac interested in talking only about himself? You probably couldn’t wait to excuse yourself. If all of your social media postings are about you, you’re probably boring and perhaps alienating those reading them. Infuse your posts with content that’s appealing, but not always you-focused.

    Having a Knee-Jerk Reaction to Criticism

    Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get. Forrest Gump was no marketing savant, but his words ring true when it comes to online marketing. If you put your business out there, inevitably you’ll get a negative comment or review. Don’t delete or ignore them, and definitely don’t become defensive. This is your opportunity to shine and win potential respect with your stellar customer service.

    When used thoughtfully and strategically, social media is a valuable, cheap marketing tool. Avoid these common pitfalls and make social media marketing effective marketing.

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  • 5 Commonly Overlooked Small Business Tax Deductions

    5 Commonly Overlooked Small Business Tax Deductions

    Small business owners have access to many more tax deductions than the average person. Because there are so many possible deductions to keep in mind, it’s easy to overlook some of them. Make sure you’re taking advantage of every deduction you can at tax time, and don’t miss these five major ones.

    1. Home Office

    If you run your business from your home, home office tax deductions are useful because they allow you to deduct a percentage of your overall home’s square footage from your rent or mortgage. You must prove the space is used only for work and not for pleasure; for example, your child cannot be allowed to use your work computer.

    The IRS also offers a simplified version that enables homeowners to deduct $5 per square foot, up to a maximum of 300 square feet. Rather than tracking every expense associated with a home office, the flat $5 rate makes it easier for business owners to calculate their deductions more easily. Take note that this method does not allow you to recapture the cost of depreciation should you sell your home, though. You may want to speak to a tax professional to weigh your options.

    2. Office Supplies

    Make sure to save all of your receipts from those trips to Office Max. Purchases from computers and printers to small items like pens and paper can be deducted from your taxes as an office supply expense, provided you actually use them for your office.

    3. Software Subscriptions

    Many people do not feel the need to shell out several hundred dollars for Adobe Photoshop purchases when the new Creative Cloud subscription works just as well. That $10 monthly expense is tax deductible, provided the software is used for your business. Any other subscriptions, such as professional memberships, can also be deducted.

    4. Travel

    If you travel for business to a conference or networking event, you should enjoy yourself and stay in a nice hotel — the entire expense is deductible. You can even deduct up to 50 percent of your food expenses while on the road (minus alcohol), so keep that in mind. Even smaller expenses, such as dry cleaning your clothing or tipping the bellboy, can be deducted.

    5. Telephone Charges

    In today’s world of smartphones, the cost of communication is negligible. That said, there are times when you may need to hold a conference call or speak with someone in another country, which can result in high fees. Keep track of all of these fees and make a month-by-month tally of your expenses to add to your business deductions at tax time.

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  • Five Must-Ask Interview Questions

    Five Must-Ask Interview Questions

    When you’re asked for a job interview, the first thing you’ll probably do is begin preparing your answers. The recruiter will want to learn about you: your education, skills and experience. But what if you could express your sincere interest in the position through asking rather than answering? Here are five must-ask interview questions that will make you stand out.

    1. What challenges do you expect the person in this position to face?

    All jobs come with challenges, but not all potential employees are equipped to handle them. This question gets to the root of what the interviewer is looking for and allows you to expand upon your skills. For example: Will the person need to juggle several tasks at once? Follow up with an example of a time you had to multitask.

    2. What qualities do you look for in your employees?

    Again, a question like this gives you the chance to show how you’re a great fit for the organization. If the hiring staff prefers employees who are team players, speak about a job you did well within a group. If the staff is looking for more of a self-starter, give examples of instances when you exercised independence in the workplace.

    3. How do you see this position growing in the coming years?

    If you want to show that you’re looking for a long-term commitment within the organization, ask about a career path. This shows that you are not just filling a gap but hoping to stay and grow within a single company. What organization wouldn’t want that?

    4. What professional development opportunities does your organization offer?

    This question shows that you’re interested not only in doing the job but also in doing it to the best of your ability. Asking about professional development shows that you are ambitious and will take the steps necessary to excel in the position, going above and beyond what is expected of you.

    5. What do you love about working here?

    Finally, leave the recruiter with a positive feeling. Asking the interviewer what he loves about working at the company allows him to get a bit more personal while reminding him of why he chose the company. It’s rare that an employer who is asked this question won’t end the interview with a positive final impression of the candidate: you.

    An interview is a great time to learn more about an organization and demonstrate how you’re the best candidate for the job. Use thoughtful and deliberate questions to get to the root of why you’re a good fit, and you’ll show the employer that you’re genuinely interested in the position.

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  • Small Business Records: What to Keep and What to Toss

    Small Business Records: What to Keep and What to Toss

    You know it’s important to keep records for your business in a safe place, and to back them up in case fire or other tragedy strikes. You need your records for tax purposes, to track your financial transactions and standing, for employee dealings, and to show that you’ve satisfied legal requirements. So which types of records should you keep, and for how long?

    Tax records

    First, there are your tax returns and the documents that you or your accountant used to complete those returns. The IRS only requires that you keep your tax returns and the documents that support them for three years (four years for payroll tax returns). Still, it may be advisable to store them for up to seven years. Here’s why.

    The three-year requirement covers the time period when you can be audited, file an amended return, and when further taxes can be assessed. If you had any unreported income, though, the IRS has six years to seek more money. If you claimed a deduction for a bad debt or worthless securities, then it’s seven years.

    It’s possible your company could be audited. If this happens, keep the signed examination report on file permanently.

    Financial records

    There are several types of financial records you should keep.

    Hold on to bank deposit slips and bank statements for three and seven years, respectively. Keep your accounts payable and receivable books, credit card statements, inventories, and contracts between your firm and other parties for seven years as well. Invoices to and from your business, along with receipts and sales reports, should be held according to the guidelines above for supporting documents.

    End-of-the-year financial statements, if you have them, and property records always need to be accessible and should be kept for the duration (and beyond) of your business. Property records include deeds, mortgages, and records of everything the company owns. Keep evidence of payments for purchases and methods of payment, including dates. Property depreciation logs are also kept in perpetuity.

    Employee and payroll records

    If you hire employees, keep a file on each one. Include identifying personal information, applications, resumes, and hiring documents such as income tax allowances, agreements to follow company policy, and verification of right to work in the U.S. Also keep on file: annual reviews and pay adjustments, insurance coverage papers, incident and injury reports, sick leave, and termination papers. Be sure you have legible dates of employment for each worker. An employee’s file should be maintained for the duration of employment and then for seven more years, in most cases. If an employee collected worker’s compensation for a job-related injury, seven extra years are advisable.

    Payroll records are usually kept separately. In this category, keep good records of all wages and salaries paid, time cards/sheets, benefit payments, retirement contributions, and bonuses paid to your employees. If your employees are paid on commission, keep records of your calculations and payments of those, too. Seven years of storage is also recommended for these documents.

    Business structure and legal records

    Maintain permanent files of all documents concerning the creation and structure of your company. This means your EIN (Employer Identification Number), a partnership agreement, articles of incorporation, permits and licenses, and corporate bylaws, if applicable.

    If your business is involved in any legal disputes, keep copies of all related correspondence. When the matter is concluded, keep the settlement agreement in a permanent file, too.

    Be diligent about maintaining the types of records that apply to your business. Having the information that you need at your fingertips, when you need it, is invaluable.

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  • How to Make the Best Employee Handbooks

    How to Make the Best Employee Handbooks

    The purpose of an employee handbook is to explain your company’s vision, mission and policies. The appearance of the handbook, how often it is updated, how thorough it is, how it’s written, whether it is online and much more is up to you. However, keep in mind that the best employee handbooks are those that people actually enjoy reading — and many people aren’t. A 2014 study by GuideSpark indicates that 43 percent of Millennials don’t read their handbooks, and the figure for everyone else is a still dismal 30 percent. Here’s how to make a handbook that folks will read.

    1. Call It Something Other Than a Handbook

    The phrase “employee handbook” carries certain connotations. In the worst cases, “tedious,” “boring” and “drudgery” may come to mind. In better cases, the connotations might be along the lines of, “Eh, I guess it won’t be so bad.”

    Make the best employee handbooks by not calling them handbooks (or employee manuals or what have you). Examples include “Join Us for an Adventure,” “How to Get Things Done at ABC Company” and “ABC Company Team Guide.” Not only does a name shift make them sound more appealing, but it is also likely to put you and other handbook creators in a more creative frame of mind. Another approach is to stick with “Employee Handbook” while adding a creative subhead.

    2. Present Information in a Lighthearted and Engaging Manner

    Zappos presents its handbook in comic book — yes, comic book — format. While you do not need to follow this exact approach for your business, it is important to break down what is often dense material into readable text.

    • Use plenty of white space, which is friendly for readers’ eyes. Step-by-step guides are great.
    • Avoid jargon!
    • Tell stories, use lots of pictures and graphics and be generous with humor. For example, the handbook for Zingerman’s deli mixes text, anecdotes, graphics and games.

    Be sure to check out Valve’s handbook right here. It combines an engaging subheader (“A fearless adventure…”) and a table of contents that sets the tone with approachable phrases, such as, “What if I screw up?”

    3. Organize the Best Stuff Up Front

    Most of your employees care more about how to take vacation leave and other job perks than they do about specific expectations the company has for them (such as appropriate computer and technology use). Build their trust by putting the information they want early on in the handbook. When they see that the handbook is enjoyable, relevant and clear to read, they’ll be hooked and more likely to read to the end.

    Employee handbooks convey important information. Make them engaging and relevant, and you’ve gone a long way toward making your employees smile.

     

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  • Why a Small Business Needs Employee Benefits

    Benefits docsWhy a Small Business Needs Employee Benefits

    Providing employees with benefits they feel are must-haves is crucial for the long-term growth of a company. When employees feel their needs are taken care of, they’ll have a higher commitment to a company’s goals, as well as increased loyalty. Benefits that appear to be the most important to employees are medical insurance, retirement plans and disability insurance. Let’s have a closer look at how these benefits make a difference.

    Medical Insurance

    Considering that 77 percent of individuals looking for work say they would only accept a position if medical insurance were available, this should be an integral part of any benefits package. Medical insurance helps to protect the health of valued employees and encourage a healthier lifestyle, resulting in a lower rate of absenteeism and less impact on a company’s bottom line. Special tax incentives are now available to small businesses to encourage their offering of this type of benefit.

    Retirement Plans

    Eighty-seven percent of potential employees consider a 401(k) plan a must-have. This benefit signals to an employee that the company cares for their financial well-being and their future retirement plans. Additionally, when a plan is based on profits, it increases employee motivation and productivity. Contributions made to an employee plan are also deductible for the company, allowing for the sheltering of income.

    Another valuable benefit to the employee is that taxes on the growth of the investments in a plan don’t kick in until withdrawals start, which makes this more valuable than an increase in pay. Employees may find higher job and personal satisfaction knowing they have a plan in place for their future.

    Disability Insurance

    Disability insurance is essential and highly valued by three out of four job seekers, and it counts heavily when making a decision to join a company. Female job seekers are more likely to join a company if it offers short term disability insurance, as it will cover up to eight weeks of maternity leave, while long term disability is attractive to both male and female employees. This particular benefit also makes a company stand out from competitors, since many companies don’t offer it at all.

    Offering a well-rounded benefits package is critical to helping attract and retain potential employees and keep a company at pace with or ahead of their competitors. With a diverse workforce, including baby boomers and millennials, it’s also imperative to consider choice, flexibility and customization to attract a wide range of job seekers.

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  • Entrepreneurship: Staying Small or Going Big?

    Successful business woman working at the officeEntrepreneurship: Staying Small or Going Big?

    The small business you own has been doing well, and you have many customers who you keep happy. This gives you a sense of accomplishment, and now you’re wondering whether to expand the business or remain small. Before you make this decision, consider the advantages and disadvantages of both carefully.

    Keeping Your Business Small

    Advantages

    • You can earn a living by doing what you love, live wherever you want, pursue other interests, and participate in family activities.
    • You have full control over your business. You can concentrate on what you do well, excel in your chosen field or industry, and attract many customers.
    • You maintain a great working environment, and nurture good culture and product quality by hiring hardworking people who share your vision. You also limit overheads by doing this.
    • You have lower operating costs and, thus, larger margins. You also keep all of the equity.

    Disadvantages

    • You’ve achieved your initial goals and wish to go for something bigger. However, you don’t have adequate resources.
    • Although you have ample inquiries from potential partners, you’re unable to respond positively. Since you aren’t a big brand, you can’t compete with bigger firms, or price even your popular products higher.
    • Your cash flow suffers when payments are late. Banks hesitate to grant loans and suppliers, to give better deals.
    • You’re less prepared and suffer more during difficult times.

    Expanding Your Business

    Advantages

    • By expanding, you can capitalize on your success, hire better employees, and branch out. You get funding/loans easily. You can bid for larger projects and complete them successfully.
    • Your client base, reach and brand value increase. Your production costs go down. You can order in bulk and cut costs.
    • You can budget for research and development, new technology, training and charitable activities. You’re also able to save money.

    Disadvantages

    • During the early stages of expansion, you may lack working capital and have to borrow heavily or use your savings. If you accept funding, you may have to agree to investors’ terms. You may also have to abandon your original goals and current clients.
    • A larger business means newer horizons, stricter regulations and higher standards. To cope, you may have to work longer hours, which may cause lifestyle problems.
    • You’ll need more qualified employees, which implies more expenses. You may also need to delegate responsibility and authority, which means you have to disengage from many business functions.
    • Finally, if your product/service fails, you may suffer a bigger loss than if you’re small.

    The decision to stay small or go big is not easy. Your choice should be based on the nature of your business and your circumstances, which may be certainly different, if not unique.

     

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