Small Business Tips

March 2017 Archive
Mompreneurs: Balancing Work and Motherhood

We are society of hard-workers, and moms are no exception. Unfortunately, because of a woman’s innate longing to care for her family, the combination of motherhood and work often produces a ting of guilt. Though every situation requires different solutions, here are some tips for helping to balance your job and your family.

Explore Your Options
There are a number of possibilities when it comes to working when you have children that you may not have even considered. If applicable, take time to talk with your spouse and consider the following:

• Can you revamp your work schedule by changing the hours or how many hours you work?

• Can you do part or all of your work from home? Is there another job opportunity that will allow you to work from home, or could you start your own in-home business?

• Look at your family budget — is there any way you can cut back on work during the first couple of years of your child’s life?

Become Forever Organized
Once you’ve determined that you are going to work, in whatever way that may be, it is very important that you get organized and stay that way. If you work at home, organize your work environment. Working at home does not allow for time to search through stacks of paperwork to find a specific receipt or to fumble through a desk of debris to find a pen. You can use all the time you can spare.

Get organized, such as using a filing cabinet, so that everything is easy and sufficient. And always be sure to childproof your home work space if you have little ones. Consider designing a play area in your office so that you can spend time with your children without crayon marks ending up on your papers.

You should also organize your schedule. Your time with work and family must be balanced; otherwise one or the other will be left wanting. If you work from home, you must first realize that you will usually not be able to keep normal business hours. Map out your time with a pocket calendar or blackberry that has both your personal and work appointments on it.

Make a list of your goals, both for work and family, for each month. Then, break your list down by weeks and then by days. Be committed to getting the things on your list done, tackling them one day at a time. This will allow for daily accomplishments that will aid in keeping your moral up. Also, consider scheduling a day, weekly or bi-weekly, in which you only spend time with your family. Work will always be there tomorrow, but each stage of your child’s life is short. Take a little time away from work to enjoy those precious moments.

Cut Yourself Some Slack
Don’t expect too much of yourself when it comes to having a spotless house and a home-cooked meal on the table every night. Your priorities are your family and then your work. Though you want to avoid becoming a slob, housework can usually wait until tomorrow. Don’t wear yourself ragged trying to get everything done at once. In order to relieve a bit of stress, consider doing the little things in the evening before bed, such as getting out the kids clothes for the next day or getting the coffee pot ready. You’ll be glad your morning is a bit less chaotic when that alarm goes off.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help, because, as we all know, that’s what family is all about. Sit down with your spouse, and even your kids (providing they’re old enough), and figure out a logical way for everyone to share the load. Determine what household chores could be done by other members of the family to give you a bit of a break.

Take Care of You
Be sure not to forget about yourself and your personal needs. Taking care of yourself is crucial because, if you’re not happy and healthy, then that reflects negatively upon your family and your work. Guard your mental and physical health by using your calendar to schedule “me time.” You may have to get up before everyone else to get in a little work-out and a bubble bath, but if that’s what it takes, it’s completely worth it.

Consider having an evening out with the girls once a month while dad stays home with the kids. There are lots of possibilities, and you must implement something for the well-being of you and your family.

These four steps are only the beginning. Keep in mind that balance isn’t always something that you necessarily obtain, but it should always be something that you are striving toward. And you’ve found a good place to start.

So how do you make it work? Share you thoughts.

Sources:
• Entrepreneur.com: 10 Tips for Balancing Work and Motherhood
• FindArticles.com: The Working Mother’s Dilemma

Resources for Working Moms:
Working Mother Magazine
WorkingMom.com
Working Mom’s Refuge


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, March 31st, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Ownership |

Becoming a Government Contractor

A certain percentage of government contracts must go to small businesses as a means of providing aid for those businesses to build a stronger foundation. Any small business owner with the capabilities would willingly jump at this opportunity. After all, obtaining a government contract means an outrageous opportunity for your business to grow in exponential ways. But before you dive into the deep end of the ocean, it’s important to know what you’re in for.

Feel the Power
First and foremost, don’t underestimate the power that you are dealing with when working for the government. If you do something they don’t like, they are capable of exhausting all resources to get you to pay for it, most of which you will not be able to fend off. Your intentions should be of strict honesty and reliability — as a goverment contractor, you will likely be audited on a regular basis.

Know the Rules
The rules of government contracting are lined out in the 1,000 plus pages of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), which were created through decades of the government’s experience with contractors to counter every viable scandal or corruption that any business can throw at them. Intimidating? Well, that’s the idea.

You won’t be expected to memorize the FAR, but you should familiarize yourself with it. Specifically, you need to know Part 12, which relieves contractors and subcontractors who provide “commercial items,” or products rather than services, from many of the federal contract requirements (and paperwork). You need to know whether or not this section applies to you, and, if it does, you will probably need to occasionally remind the people you deal with once you’ve obtained a contract.

Register
In order to do anything with the government, you will first need to register with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR). There are also more opportunities available to your business if you are of the minority, such as woman owned. If that is the case, you should also consider becoming certified as part of organizations such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) or the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC).

Also be aware of the fact that, in order to apply for a contract with the government, you will need to supply your D-U-N-S number, which, if you do not have one, can be obtained at Duns & Bradstreet. Also, on your application for a contract you will have to classify the products/service you provide with a classification number. You can determine what that number is by accessing the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

Past Performance
The government relies on references, or past performance in the government industry, as a basis for narrowing down their contractor options. This makes it rather difficult to obtain a first time contract. You may want to consider starting as a subcontractor, working for another company that has already obtained the prime government contract. There are established Mentor Protégé programs that are worth looking into, in which a large business helps a small business get started in government contracting. Another option is partnering with another company to combine the services you provide, thus strengthening your resume.

Research
You will then need to find out what the government is looking for. There are many sources for this information, some of which have been listed below for your convenience. Also, consider state and local governments as an alternative to the federal government directly, especially if you are just getting started. Cities, counties, districts, etc. often contract more goods and services than the federal government, opening up more opportunities for your business.

Once you have determined what contracts you will bid on, research the industry. Look into your competitors so that you have a better idea of what you can offer the government that they can’t. Also, research the government agency that you are applying with. The more knowledgeable you are about the agency, the better your company will look to them.

Please be aware of the fact that this is only a simplification of the process ahead of you in pursuing a government contract. There is a lot of information out there, some of which I have supplied below, which you should look into before pressing on. It’s a highly complicated and long process, so the more you know beforehand, the better.

Sources:
• Entrepreneur.com: Think Big
• Entrepreneur.com: Become a Government Contractor
• CapturePlanning.com: How to Become a Government Contractor
• Washington Business Journal: So You Want to Be a Government Contractor

Government Contractor Resources:
• Small Business Administration: Government Contracting
• U.S. General Services Administration: How to Sell to the Government
Federal Business Opportunities


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, March 30th, 2017 @ 12:08 AM CDT

Startup |

It’s all in the Family: How to Setup a Family Business

An estimated 95% of all businesses in the US are family-owned, whether it be through stocks or directly running the company. However, the difficulties that come along with a family business account for the fact that few make it past the first generation, 33% survive through the second, approximately 10% make it to the third and only 3% see the fourth generation or farther.

There are three main factors that contribute to this failure: sibling rivalry, financial problems and the fact that there is no one qualified enough to take over when Dad retires. Unless you take these crucial steps in developing a strong family business, the odds will be stacked against you.

Can You Handle It?
If you want the business you create to remain in the family, you must first determine if you family can handle the pressure. It is important that you have a strong, close-knit relationship with your family members before-hand. If there is already tension within the family, a family owned business might not be the best idea for bringing you closer. However, if you have already come through some challenges and remained arm-in-arm, chances are you could handle it.

Set Criteria
It is important that you don’t just let anyone in the family become part of the business just because you want them involved. Not everyone is qualified to run a business. Let each of them know that you have criteria in place that they must meet before being considered for a spot in the ranks.

Consider stipulating in your company bylaws what the requirements are to have ownership in the business, such as experience in the trade or a degree in business management. Another option is to let your young children or grandchildren know that, should they ever want to get involved in the business down the road, they need to prepare themselves with a competent education and by taking time to learn the business early.

Clearly Define Goals and Roles
Determine the goals of the company, and get the input of each family member. If it is a company you’ve already started and you are considering bringing your family along for the ride, give them an opportunity to voice their opinion about where the business is headed. Keeping an open mind and taking everyone’s thoughts into consideration will allow for better communication down the road.

Define the roles of each family member, including your expectations for that person in the role they carry. This is one of the most important aspects of avoiding serious conflict within the business. Consider having a written job description for each family member on file as a reference point.

Also, define the chain of command. This includes determining wages, the evaluation process and who each member will report to. Wages should be based upon salaries in a comparable position outside your business or qualifications for their position. Defining the roles of your family members will help unrelated employees to feel as though they are valued too, as well as provide a more stable environment.

Work Time vs. Family Time
It is crucial to the structure and well-being of your family that you draw clear lines between work time and family time. Do not allow work time to take away from family, whether it be spending too much time at work with your children and not enough time outside the office, or in keeping your children away from their own spouses and children by requiring too much of them. Clearly define when the work day begins and ends. Obviously there will be times when someone needs to work a little overtime, but this should not be a regular practice, as it only adds to stress and tension among family members.

Also, learn how to determine whether an issue is personal or professional. Deal with the issues accordingly by setting aside a specific time and place to do so. Be sure to create an environment that allows for open and honest communication between you and your family members/employees. In other words, do not belittle each other’s feelings or opinions, but always fully hear each other out and determine a legitimate resolution. If everyone feels as though they can be honest with one another, it will allow for less conflict.

Plan for the Future
Only about 28% of all family-owned businesses have a succession plan in place. 68% of business owners wait until they are ready to step down before beginning a plan for who is to take over. The smarter route: start planning who gets the big man’s chair approximately ten years before handing it over.

Focus on the needs of the business, not emotions. Choose someone to take over that knows the business nearly as well as you do and has shown and interest in running the company. Understand that the best person for the job may not always be a family member. You may also consider dividing the role of successor up among, say, two of your children, who show equal potential and gumption.

You also need to have an estate plan in place. If you don’t the business can be taxed 37-55% of its total assets on the death of a founder or single business owner. For example, if, as the owner of the company, you pass away, and your company has revenue of $20 million a year and an additional $5 million in assets, the IRS can take upwards of $14 million in estate tax if you do not have an estate plan in place. Provide protection for your family and your company by having a will, a life insurance policy and/or a buy-sell agreement for the distribution of company stocks.

These steps are crucial to helping your family-business and your family survive. However, the most important thing to remember is that family comes first and you must do what is necessary to ensure that your relationship with your family stays strong and close.

Sources:
• Entrepreneur.com: Running a Family Franchise
• FindArticles.com: Keeping it in the Family

Family Business Resources:
• Business Link: Family Run Businesses
• Family Business Magazine: Current Issue
• Loyola University Chicago: Family Business Center
• Small Business Association: Challenges in Managing a Family Business
• Family Business Magazine: America’s 150 Largest Family Businesses


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, March 29th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Family Business, Startup |

Breakfast in a Whole New Way

There is a new hit at some of our nation’s university campuses that is quickly headed toward popularity as widespread as Starbucks and McDonald’s. In September of 2004, David Roth and Rick Bacher started an innovative new business called Cereality — a cereal café on the campus of the University of Philidelphia. Since that time they have opened three other locations.

Huh? What’s a cereal cafe? Well, Cereality’s pajama-clad employees serve 30 varieties of cold cereal, with the option of mixing together and topping with anything from fruit to M&Ms, and even ice cream, served in a Chinese food style container. This couch filled environment, with cartoons always playing on the TV, is reminiscent of those Saturday mornings when, as children, we didn’t have a care in the world.

The common reaction: Why didn’t I think of that? Many wishing they had and Cereality are now facing some competition. And why not? Cereality already took the risk for them. Bowls, located at North Carolina State, opened in 2005. The Cereal Bowl opened this year across the street from the University of Miami and their projected first-year sales are expected to reach upwards of $350,000. Not too shabby.

Cereality welcomes the competition, but has recently taken steps to protect the franchise they are in the process of building. Roth states that he is trying to act before the big guys, like Starbucks, try and take a piece of the market. Cereality has applied for trademarks for its name and around 50 slogans such as “It’s always Saturday morning,” or “What’s in your bowl?” They have also applied for patents covering business processes, such as storage methods and cereal combinations.

Cereality also sent warning letters to Bowls and The Cereal Bowl, making patent claims on everything from the containers they use to mixing brand-name candy toppings with the cereal. They also sued Ohio’s new business Cerealicious for trademark infringement. The Cereal Bowl followed suit by sending a letter to Bowls and responding defiantly to Cereality.

Roth states that they plan to continue franchising, including partnerships with hotels and retail chains, and providing online sales and catering. Cereality has received 6,000 plus applications for partnerships from all over the world. Roth hopes to have at least 30 new partnerships by 2008. With an estimated 95% of Americans eating cereal, these gentlemen have stumbled onto something “Grrrreat.” Makes one wonder what other business opportunities are staring us in the face, waiting to be presented to the world.

One question remains: When are you opening one in my town?

Sources/Related Readings:
• Entrepreneur.com: Bowled Over
• Time Magazine: In a Real Crunch
• PRNewsWire.com: 1500 Square Feet of Cereal
• USA Today: A Whole New Bowl Game
• FastCompany.com: Customer Service Local Hero – Cereality
• Catalyst Magazine: The Cereal Cafe


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 @ 12:05 AM CDT

Ventures |

Why Trump & Kiyosaki Want Us to Be Rich

We all know who “the Trump” is, so he needs little introduction. To summarize his expansive money-making career, he is a graduate of Wharton School of Finance and prosperous real estate tycoon. He’s the star and co-producer of the ever popular reality show Apprentice and author of seven bestsellers.

Robert Kiyosaki came from a small sugar plantation town in Hawaii, only to move to New York for education. He is an investor and a mining and real estate entrepreneur. He is best known for his book on financial philosophy called Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Published in 1997, and selling over 26 million copies worldwide since that time, this book has been translated into 46 different languages and is available in 97 countries.

These two financial gurus teamed up to write and publish “Why We Want You to Be Rich,” which hit bookstores on October 10th. To the disappointment of most, this is not a book of specific advice on how to make or invest money. It is a book of philosophy, with the intention of providing the middle class with means to change their attitude about money and obtain a financial education.

In a video available on Amazon.com, Trump claims that he is not afraid of failing. “What is there to be afraid of?” he says, further stating that, when one considers all the turmoil in the world, nothing else really matters. Kiyosaki follows with the fact that he and Trump are better people because they have both failed and made a comeback from that failure, which provided them with a sound education about money that the two wanted to share. Because, “financial education is more important than ever before.”

The central principal of this book is that Trump and Kiyosaki firmly believe that, within the next decade or so, our country will be a two-class system — rich and poor. They believe that the middle class is deteriorating rapidly due to the falling value of the dollar, rising national debt, lower wages, higher oil prices and baby-boom retirement. It is time for everyone to learn how to “think big” and “think rich,” otherwise your other option will be the poorhouse.

The introduction of the book states that “saving is obsolete and bad financial advice.” For example, Trump and Kiyosaki believe that the 401(k) savings plan will not be adequate for approximately 80% of all workers to provide for their future. They support investments such as real estate and starting your own business as the best means to building personal wealth.

Trump claims that this book will provide the reader with a “better life.” He contends that money isn’t everything but it “makes life easier.” It is about “attitude” and “creation of wealth.” He also advices that everyone needs to “know your subject.” Investing in real estate without understanding it can lead to your downfall.

Kiyosaki admits that their book is different from the traditional financial book that says to live below your means, save and invest. He and Trump’s advice is that one should learn how to expand his means, like they do. Also, watch long-term trends — see where the money is going so that you know what to invest in.

So what do you think? Have you read the book? What are your thoughts on Trump and Kiyosaki’s financial philosophy? Some believe it is just another way for Trump and Kiyosaki to make more money — do you contend? Or has their philosophy worked for you?

Sources:
• Amazon.com: Why We Want You to Be Rich
• Kiplinger.com: Book Review
• Kiplinger.com: Q&A With Trump and Kiyosaki
• Kansas City Star: Trump book contradicts standard advice

Trump/Kiyosaki Resources:
• WhyWeWantYouToBeRich.net: Book Website
• Trump.com: Donald Trump’s Website
• CashFlowTech.com: Rich Dad Website
• Wikipedia.org: Info on Robert Kiyosaki


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, March 27th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Money |

Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Each year, Inc. Magazine lists what they call the “Inc. 500,” which is a list of America’s fastest growing privately owned businesses. I highly recommend reading the stories of these entrepreneurs — they are very inspirational.

What stuck out to me about this year’s list is that at least 55 of the 500 business owners were not born in the US. Their companies employ more than 14,000 and contributed in excess of $1.36 billion to the economy last year.

Every census taken from 1880 to 1990 revealed that immigrants were self-employed significantly more than American-born natives. The number of immigrant entrepreneurs in 2005 was 350 out of 100,000, compared to 280 of 100,000 for those born on American soil. Clearly, there is something to be said about “the land of opportunity.”

There have been numerous studies into the dynamics of immigrant entrepreneurs, many reaching the conclusion that immigration has “strengthened the entrepreneurial drive” within our nation, contributing to the surge of small businesses over the last few decades.

The Driving Force Behind Immigrant Entrepreneurship

Why are immigrants more likely to start their own business? There are a number of reasons. Consider the risk it takes to pick up everything and move to a country where the majority of people don’t even speak your language. Immigrants deal with a high rate of uncertainty in that alone, so starting their own business would comparatively seem but a moderate risk.

There is also the factor that many immigrants face numerous struggles and frustrations in the large business work force, as they are often paid unfairly and required to work uncommon hours. This often leads immigrants to seek other options, which typically includes starting their own business, as they recognize that they can offer a variety of products and services that many other entrepreneurs cannot.

It is often stereotyped that immigrant businesses are usually small “mom-and-pop” restaurants or dry-cleaners, but the options for many immigrants has vastly expanded in the past few decades. Those who moved to the US to obtain a higher education, rather than flee oppression, account for a number of the successful immigrant entrepreneurs in our country. It is estimated that up to 25% of Silicon Valley firms were established by immigrants.

Immigrant communities also tend to provide a strong degree of support for each other. First generation immigrants, who made their living with the “mom-and-pop” businesses, tend to push their children to explore other professions, such as legal or medical professions. Others may take new immigrants in under their wing, providing apprenticeships so that the newcomers can either take over the business or start successfully on their own.

There have been numerous studies into the perceived benefits or disservices of immigrant entrepreneurs, but, with so many differing opinions, little definitive information has been established. Some find them to aid the economy, while others find them to be exclusive and harmful. Questions remain without answers.

So, what are your thoughts? What, if anything, do immigrant businesses contribute to our economy? Our society? How many jobs do they create? What sort of jobs? Do they aid in foreign trade?

Please share your opinions on these or any other issues regarding immigrant entrepreneurs.

Source / Related Readings:
• Carnegie Endowment: Immigrant Entrepreneurs
• Inc.com — Inc.500: The Immigration Debate
• Business Journal: Immigrant Entrepreneurs Reaching Higher
• Inc.com: Immigrant Entrepreneurs Outpace Native-Born Americans

The Negative Position:
• VDare.com: Less Benefit Than They’re Cracked Up to Be


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, March 26th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Ventures |

Stronger Business Through Honest Communication

Employers often expect honesty from their staff, but usually don’t provide the environment in which employees feel like they can be honest. It is more likely that an employee will simply tell you what they think you want to hear.

Unfortunately, this attitude does not provide a stable work environment and can often harm your business in the long run. You can’t be everywhere at once, so you depend on your employees to tell you when something is wrong. If they do not feel comfortable being completely honest with you, then there is a lot of information you could be missing.

One of the key elements to maintaining a successful and growing business is to create an honest workplace environment by implementing the following as a part of your business structure:

Define

Provide your employees with your definitions and expectations of honest communication in the workplace, such as:

• Always state the facts, without attempting to interpret “why.”
• Take a deep breath and don’t let emotions cloud your judgment.
• Don’t point fingers or place blame.
• Talk to the person you have a grievance with about the situation.
• Ask open-ended questions to stimulate productive conversation.
• Work together to determine possible solutions.

Clarify

Make the vision and goals of the business clear. Have monthly staff meetings to set those goals and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the business over the last month. Encourage your employees to participate in determining what those strengths and weaknesses are.

Clarify your expectations for your employees, providing a structured environment that they can depend on to be consistent and reliable.

Encourage and Motivate

Tell your employees that you value them. When someone does a great job, let them know that you appreciate their hard work. Don’t assume that they realize it on their own.

Show your employees that you value them. Compensate them for a job well done by providing a deserving salary. Also consider performance bonuses and annual or semi-annual raises when they have showed themselves loyal and productive.

Provide a comfortable working environment by developing relationships with your employees. Don’t treat them like your subordinates, make them feel as though they are part of the team.

Ask for both positive and negative feedback. Let them know that their thoughts matter to you.

Set an Example

Be reliable. Consider your employees’ best interests and provide a structured and consistent environment.

Be attentive. When your employees come to you and have something to say, give them your full attention (schedule a meeting if you have to) and hear them out. Don’t make any decisions before hearing everything they have to say.

Be authentic. Practice what your preach. If you expect honest communication from your employees, then you have to provide the same to them on a regular and consistent basis.

Be inspiring. Convey your passion and dreams for the business. Let them see that you enjoy your work. Show them that every aspect of your business is important to you, especially your staff.

Providing an environment in which your employees feel as though they can be honest with you will allow your business to develop a solid foundation. If the atmosphere behind the doors of your business is not positive, then it will be hard to develop that atmosphere outside them. Honest communication within plays a vital role in building a business that will obtain its goals and succeed.

Sources/Related Readings:
• Smart Business Network: Solid Leadership
• Entrepreneur.com: The Truth?
• NewsWise.com: Honesty in the Workplace Sorely Lacking


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, March 25th, 2017 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

Preventing Employee Theft

Employee theft is more prominent than most business owners realize. The average business loses approximately 6% of revenue to fraud each year, and typically employees are to blame. Nearly one-third of business bankruptcies are due to employee fraud. Chances are at least one of your employees is stealing from you right now.

The first step to preventing employee theft is to know the common avenues, keeping in mind that it is not limited to just these forms.

Forging Receipts — charging extra and pocketing the difference.
Pocketing Loose Change — Employee assumes that a dollar here or there won’t be missed from the petty cash box.
Stealing Supplies — taking a pen or paper clips on a regular basis because they don’t believe it will negatively affect the business.
Stealing Equipment — taking equipment to a job site and then taking it home, often claiming it was misplaced or stolen.
Reimbursement Fraud — claiming they provided items to the company, but never actually doing so. This also includes embellishing on expenses they incur while working, such as mileage.

There are a number of preventative measures you can take in order to sway your employees’ temptation to steal from the company.

Implement Easier Systems
Confusing and complicated accounting or bookkeeping systems, often those done by hand, make it easier for employees to cover their tracks when committing fraud. Small businesses are at greater risk because they typically rely on only one person to handle the accounting responsibilities since the system is so complex.

Avoid this temptation by implementing a simpler accounting system, such as accounting software. Also, consider cross-train people in your company on that system, including yourself, so that there are checks and balances. If more eyes are examining the books, the errors, whether intentional or not, will more easily be found.

Use a “Check-Out” Method
For businesses that have equipment that is used outside the work place, consider requiring you employees check it out. Have them write down the date, their name, the piece of equipment, the job site, etc. When they are through using it, have them check it back in. This will allow for you to hold a particular person responsible for the equipment, should it not be returned to the business.

This system may not work as well unless someone is in charge of it. If possible, you should have them come to you to check equipment out. If your busy schedule does not allow for you to keep track, put one or two people in charge of it that you can count on to be honest.

Eliminate Exit Options
Many businesses that have a night shift see a sharp increase in employee theft during that time. Often it is because the employee has too many unmonitored exiting options. Night shift employees should only have one or two exit locations. Those locations should be equipped with video surveillance or guards to be sure that no one leaves the building with unauthorized company belongings.

Get a History Before Hiring
Before hiring a new employee, obtain both their criminal and credit history. Surprisingly, the credit history is probably the more important of the two. If a potential employee is overwhelmed with debt, then the pressure to steal from your business increases dramatically, often convincing himself that he needs it more than you do.

Implement a Company Theft Policy
This is probably the most effective preventive measure you can take. In the policy, explain the company’s code of ethics. Specify the rules regarding office supplies, company equipment, etc. Be sure to indicate that employees who steal from the company will be prosecuted. Have each current employee, and all new employees upon hire, read and sign the policy to be effective immediately.

Have a Company Meeting
If an employee is discovered stealing from the company, it would be a good idea to call everyone together and let them know what’s going on. Outline how these actions negatively affect the company by providing them with the actual numbers. You’ll be surprised how many employees don’t realize that their unethical actions could destroy your business, and their job.

Implement an Anonymous Reveal Method
Provide a means for loyal employees to anonymously notify you of employee theft within the company. The pressure among co-workers to protect each other is strong, but anonymity will provide an employee with piece of mind on all levels. Employee Theft Anonymous is a great online source for allowing loyal employees to combat the fear of being a tattle-tail.

Don’t allow employee theft to get the best of you by hoping it will just go away without any effort on your part. The longer you let it go unchecked, the bigger the threat to the well-being of your business. And remember, more often then not, it is the veteran employee, who knows your business well enough to find the cracks, that takes advantage of an opportunity. Take action and smother the temptation before it has the chance to surface.

Sources:
• Inc.com: Are Your Staffers Stealing?
• Small Business Association: Common-Sense Measures for Preventing Employee Theft

Related Readings:
•CNN Money:Arresting Employee Theft
• About.com: Employee Theft – The Profit Killer
• Inc.com: Employee Theft Still Costing Business


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Expanding Your Business Overseas: Protecting Your Product
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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, March 24th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Human Resources |

Building New Business Contacts: Networking 101

Contacts are an important aspect of any business, but are essential to the survival of a small business. Without contacts you cannot expand your clientele and your business will not grow. Below are some pointers on how to continually expand your list of contacts.

1) Ask your current/ongoing network for new contacts.
Your current network includes:
• Previous employers, associates and co-workers
• Successful friends and family
• Long lost high school and college classmates
• Current clientele

2) Use your daily activities to your advantage.
Your everyday social activities can provide great connections. For example, when going to play golf with a friend, ask him to bring some of his colleagues along. Such activities afford an opportunity to market yourself and your business in a relaxed social environment.

Use this quality time to build trusting relationships. Be yourself and don’t bring up your business unless the conversation leads that direction. You don’t want to come on too strong and irritate a potential client. After all, the purpose of playing golf is to relax and not deal with work issues, despite the fact that everyone is continually thinking about them.

3) Join a professional organization.
Professional organizations provide an outstanding opportunity to network. However, before joining any organization, be sure research the organization and make sure it is the best option for you and your business. Some key questions to ask are:

• Are their membership fees and how often are they due?
• Is there a certain time commitment expected of members?
• Are their conferences (opportunities to meet people natiionwide)?
• How active are the members; will they participate as much as you?
• Is the organization industry focused?
• Are their opportunities for “cross-pollination” with your company?

4) Attend conferences in your industry.
Not only do industry conferences provide an opportunity to expand your network, but they also provide a plethora of information about the latest trends, developments, etc. in your industry. It is a venue with access to both competitors and potential clientele, which opens opportunities for you to better your business as well as expand it.

Key elements to successfully establishing new contacts:
• Commit your sales script to memory. Don’t recite the entire script with each introduction, but know it so that you can communicate the key elements to others throughout your conversation.
• Ask conference attendees you already know for introductions.
• Follow-up with the people you met by sending a letter within a week, requesting an official meeting.

5) Help others establish their network.
What goes around comes around. If you help others find potential clientele, they will likely help you as their own network expands.

Regardless of whether you use one or all of these recommendations, always remember that networking takes time. You may not see the fruits of your labor for months, and sometimes even years. But, make a positive impact, and most people are sure to think of you when they need the services you provide.

Today’s Source:
• BusinessWeek.com: Ties That Bind and Build a Business

Related Readings:
• Inc.com: Become a Master Networker
• The Boston Globe: Networking Tips
• Small Business Association: Networking
• Entrepreneur.com: Networking – Simply Your Company’s Story


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
How to Profit From Networking
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The Networking Boogie Man
Connections Trump Contacts
Stop Sitting on the Sidelines

By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Networking |

Debt Collection Strategies that Work (2 of 2)

PART 2 OF 2 – WHEN CLIENTS STILL WON’T PAY

We covered strategies to avoid “deadbeat” clients in part one, but inevitably someone is going to slip past your tactics and still be noncompliant with payment. What then?

It is best to take action when 30 days have passed with no payment or contact from a client. First, enclose a personal letter with their next invoice. Restate the written agreement regarding payments (consider enclosing a copy) and that they are in violation of that agreement.

If a client cannot afford the entire balance due, they may get overwhelmed and simply ignore the bill, hoping it will disappear on its own. Where the logic is in this, I’m not sure, but it is reality. Consider offering to make monthly payment arrangements with the client in your letter, especially if the balance due is rather large.

It is important, however, that you suggest the monthly payment amount, which should be approximately ten to twenty percent of the outstanding balance, and specify their first due date. Provide the client with the option to contact you if the suggested amount will not work on their budget. If they do so, be sure to negotiate an amount that is not too hard on them, but will serve to get the whole balance paid in a timely manner.

Once you have made payment arrangements with a client, continue charging interest on the outstanding balance for the first couple of months. If the client makes her payments consistently during that time period, consider waiving all future finance charges so that her bill will diminish more quickly. This will also give the client an incentive to continue making payments.

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Before venturing any further, this is a disclaimer that I am not an attorney, however, I have three years experience working for collections attorneys and I am very familiar with collection law. From this point on you must tread lightly when attempting to collect a debt from a client. I recommend that you examine the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is Federal law regarding what is required of any debt collector, even if you are not a collection agency or attorney.
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Many articles I’ve read on the topic of collections, including those listed below, recommend that you write and call the client a number of times and be persistent, increasing your directness and determination gradually. However, I DO NOT recommend writing and/or calling the client more than once. There are precise laws in place that protect a debtor from what can be deemed “harassing” contact. If you contact your client more than twice about an unpaid balance, you risk being sued for harassment, and no bill is worth that.

Give the client until the next statement cycle to respond to your letter. If they have not, call them, but only once. Even if you get a voicemail, I recommend that you leave a message but do not attempt to contact them by telephone again. If you get no response, then you must first determine whether the balance due is worth pursuing further. This is the point where you may begin to incur expenses to collect the debt owed.

If you decide that the unpaid balance is worth pursuing, you have a few options to proceed with:

1) Turn it over to a collection agency.
Keep in mind that collection agencies will keep 10-50% of anything collected on your behalf. Their primary means of collecting a debt are letters and telephone calls. Personally, I do not think a collection agency is your best option. More or less, they do what you could do on your own, except that they will report the debt to the credit bureau and are willing to risk a more threatening tone with the debtor if necessary.

2) Take the debtor to Small Claims Court.
Providing that the balance owed to you is within the limitations set by the court (you will need to check with your local clerk), small claims court will cost less than $100 to pursue and you can represent yourself. This saves the added expense of hiring an attorney. You will need to have a paper trail to validate the debt before the judge. Your strongest piece of evidence is the agreement you and the client initially signed. However, it is also helpful to have photographs or examples of the services you provided, copies of invoices, and notes from telephone conversations, etc.

Before you can pursue a case in Small Claims Court, you will have to send the client a demand letter. This is a requirement under the FDCPA and is different from the letter suggesting payment arrangements you may have sent to the client earlier. There are specific legal requirements for a demand letter. Please refer to Section 809 of the FDCPA, which lists those requirements in detail.

Typically, if you provide the necessary information to prove that the client owes you money, the Small Claims Court will find on your behalf and there will be a judgment entered against the client. However, it is still up to you to collect the debt. This can be time consuming and difficult, as your options for doing so are limited.

3) Hire a Collections Attorney.
It is important that you know upfront that a collections attorney will either take a percentage of what they collect (usually around 25%) or will charge you an hourly rate. However, unlike with a collections agency, some of your attorney fees can be offset, if you took the correct steps in your initial agreement with the client.

If your agreement stipulates that the client would be responsible for attorney fees should a lawsuit be necessary, then you will be able to collect reasonable attorney fees (usually 15% of the debt) as a part of your judgment. This an advantage to hiring an attorney yourself. Collection agencies will not pursue a judgment without hiring an attorney, and, if they do so, your fees would not be reimbursed.

Collections attorneys file a Petition in the Associate Circuit Court of the county where the debtor resides. The debtor is then served with a summons to appear in court. If they do not appear, the a judgment is entered against them automatically. If they do appear and admit to owing the debt, a judgment is still entered. Only if the debtor disputes the debt in court will the case go to trial, and it has been my experience that only 10-20% of the cases do so. Even if the case goes to trial, it is likely that you will still get a judgment against the debtor, especially if you have a contract and a paper trial to prove your case.

It is also much easier for an attorney to collect the debt once a judgment is entered. They have the means to file a garnishment on the debtor’s wages, bank account, even business. They can also file a lien against real estate the debtor owns or confiscate personal property, such as a vehicle, as payment for the debt. These options are not readily available to you if you have a judgment through small claims court.

An attorney will do everything legally possible to collect every last penny of what is owed to you, and then some, such as attorney fees and interest. They will do all the work, including the demand letter, and you will be free to continue business without the added burden of trying to collect an unpaid debt. It has been my experience that an attourney can provide the best results in the shortest amount of time.

Always consult with an attorney before pursuing any debt collection strategy. The opinions in this article are not to be taken as official guidance but rather as an informational supplement to your overall debt collection strategy.

PART 1: Avoiding Deadbeat Customers

Sources/Related Readings:
• SeniorMag.com: Bill Collections
• About.com: Collection Letter Secrets
• FindArticles.com: Collecting Payments Due
• BusinessKnowHow.com: Small Business Collection Strategies


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Debt Collection Strategies that Work (1 of 2)
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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Money |

Debt Collection Strategies that Work (1 of 2)

Part 1 of 2 — AVOIDING THE “DEADBEATS”

It’s inevitable that any business owner, big or small, is going to encounter clients that are just not willing to pay. This is especially prominent in the service industry, as services are an ongoing process and not a one-time product purchase.

It is no surprise that many small businesses do not survive the first two years, and the inabilities to collect from nonpaying clients are likely a large contributor business failure.

The first realization a small business owner must come to is, no matter how nice a client is or how much business they bring you, if they do not pay then they are not a good customer. It is never a good idea to continue doing business with a client who ignores an unpaid invoice.

Despite what you may think, a non-paying client is typically doing so on purpose, not because it slipped their mind. Yes, there may be strenuous circumstances in some instances that provide an exception to the rule, but until your client notifies you of such, and his reasons are legitimate, you can assume that he is avoiding payment.

When you first start your business, there are certain strategies you can implement that will help you to avoid the burden of non-paying clients.

Establish Payment Guidelines
Let clients know from the start what your guidelines are. Explain on your brochure, website, order form, etc. the available payment options for the services you provide. Once you’ve established these guidelines, it is imperative that you stick with them. If a client senses that you are lax in collecting the payment as set out, they may take advantage of it.

Consider Upfront Payment
When providing a service, business owners have a tendency to do the work first and bill later, which can result in collection problems. Your safest bet is to require full or partial payment upfront. If your business provides a short-term service, such as carpet cleaning, payment in full upfront is not too much to ask of your customer. If your business provides a long-term service, such as computer programming, then it is more than reasonable to obtain partial payment upfront.

In fact, you might consider requiring one-third of the payment upfront, another third at the halfway point of the project, and the remaining third within two weeks of completion. If you adopt this rule, or something similar, be determined to not continue or finish the project until the payment due is received. Inform the client of this payment plan in the beginning and, chances are, they will be sure to pay on time because they want the finished product.

Develop an Accounts Receivable Department
Some small business owners are tempted to allow the sales department to also deal with accounts receivable. If your business has the ability to hire the employees, establish a separate accounts receivable department or put someone in charge of collecting payments. This will insure that someone is always aware of what clients have paid and what clients are behind.

Put it in Writing
Make this your policy with every new client. Legitimate clients understand that you need the terms of your business relationship in writing in order to protect your business. Be sure your agreement covers what product/service you will provide, when you will provide it and how much and when the client is to pay, including any interest/finance charges applied to late payments. If a potential client refuses to sign the contract, then they likely won’t pay you and are not worth your time.

It is also important to state in the contract that, should the client not make payments as agreed, you reserve the right to pursue action through the court. Also state that, should court action be necessary, the client would be responsible for paying court costs and your attorney fees. Let the client know that this is simply a precaution and you have no reason to believe that court action will be necessary. However, if the unfortunate occurs and you have to pursue a lawsuit to collect what is owed to you, you cannot collect attorney fees to offset your expenses if it is not stated in your original agreement.

Have Clear and Concise Invoices
Your invoices will need to be systematic and dependable. Again, if you are lax in sending invoices consistently, then the client will get the impression that payment is not a high priority. Be sure that your invoices are numbered, that the billing terms and due date are visible and clear, and that they are sent to the correct person. I highly recommend using invoice software, such as Tabs3 or Billing Tracker. Google search “invoicing software” and find the program that best fits your needs.

Provide Incentives for Prompt Payment
Give your clients a reason to pay their invoices as soon as they receive them, whether positive or negative. Some options are:

Take credit card payments. Often this will give the client the ability to pay their entire invoice at once. Keep in mind, however, that, with each credit card transaction you accept, a percentage of that sale goes to the credit card company. Make sure it is an expense your business can handle.

Give a discount for payments made promptly. Consider offering, say, a ten percent discount if the client pays their invoice within 15 days.

Charge interest on overdue accounts. Consider charging your client interest on the unpaid balance if payment is not made within 30 days of invoice. A common interest rate is 18 percent per year, which equates to 1 ½ percent per month. Most invoicing software will calculate interest on an unpaid balance automatically.

What if they still won’t pay?

Working as a legal assistant to collection attorneys for three years, I have some helpful advice to share. Part two of Debt Collection Strategies that Work covers what steps you should take when a “deadbeat” client slips past your guard dog tactics.

Always consult with an attorney before pursuing any debt collection strategy. The opinions in this article are not to be taken as official guidance but rather as an informational supplement to your overall debt collection strategy.

PART 2: When Clients Still Won’t Pay

Sources/Related Readings:
• SeniorMag.com: Bill Collections
• About.com: Collection Letter Secrets
• FindArticles.com: Collecting Payments Due
• BusinessKnowHow.com: Small Business Collection Strategies


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Money |

Starting Your Own Business, Part 4 of 4

FINALIZING YOUR PRODUCT AND YOUR BUSINESS ACTION PLAN

FINALIZE YOUR PRODUCT
There are a number of items that need to be considered in the development and finalization of your product or service. The first thing to remember is that “finalizing” does not mean eternal. Your product should always grow and develop as the need presents itself.

Use Focus Groups
A focus group is simply a group of potential consumers that test your product and give you honest feedback. Your personal passion for your product can cloud your judgment and leave you “selling only to yourself.” A focus group will help provide fresh ideas on how to better your product and meet the needs and desires of the consumer.

It is important to keep an open-mind and not become defensive; remembering that the feedback you receive will generally be the same from any consumer. Write down every comment and rely on those that are most useful to perfect your product. It is also recommended that you use a focus group any time you make significant changes to your product.

Determine the Price of Your Product
The price of your product must entice the buyer, as well as cover overhead costs, production and distribution of the product, labor, marketing – everything it takes to run your business. The price needs to do more than make your business come out even. A successfully priced product should result in profit!

To determine a viable price for your product or service:

1) Define your financial goals.
Examine the income which is required to provide for you and your family, outside of supplying the business (living expenses, etc.). It is often best to observe your monthly spending trends, because the profits of your company will likely fluctuate on a monthly basis.

This will help you to determine the minimum profit you need to sustain your business and an acceptable income. Also, examine your long-term financial goals, such as savings. You want to determine how you can you realistically adjust the price of your product to provide for your financial needs and desires.

2) Research current market trends.
Supply and demand will always effect how well your product sells. If it is priced too high when the demand is low, it will not sell. If it is priced too low when the demand is high, you take the risk of not breaking even. It is important to determine a “safety range” for the price of your product based upon recent market trends.

3) Compare to the Competition.
Shop around via the internet and local stores or service providers and compare the prices of your competitors. Get in the head of the consumer and determine what price you would be willing to pay based upon the competition.

Your price will need to be competitive with other businesses producing the same product or service in order for it to sell. Your product should only be substantially more expensive if it has significant features that the competition does not offer.

4) Assess Business Expenses.
You need to determine how much it will cost to run your business and how much it will cost to product each product. Obtain price quotes from manufacturers. Determine how much your supplies will cost. If you have employees, how much will you pay them? What are the costs of marketing and distributing your product?

All of these are a part of what it takes to run a successful business and the price of your product should reflect that. Start with estimated costs in the beginning and use real costs as your business grows.

Determining the right price for your product or service is a system of trial and error. If your product is not selling, the price should be the first aspect of your product that you re-exam, simply because it is the easiest aspect to adjust.

Develop a Marketing Strategy
Your product will do nothing for you without a marketing strategy. It is imperative that you reveal your product to the public in a honest and attention-grabbing manner.

In order to target the correct audience for your products, you must:

• Define your customers.

• Research and discover the best medium (i.e. television, radio, billboard, magazine, etc.) with which you can reach your customers.

• Brainstorm ideas for your advertisements, enlisting help from others including focus groups, and asking them what would catch their attention.

• Implement your favorite idea, because, if you like it best, you will follow through with it.

• Finally, test the marketing strategy. If it doesn’t work, try a different one and try, try again.

FINALIZE YOUR BUSINESS ACTION PLAN
you will find that your business action plan has developed as you go through the startup process that we have covered the past few days. Your business plan is not only for today, but helps to coordinate the future of your business. I refer to it as a business “action” plan because, once you reach this point and have established the following items, you are ready to take action and become a successful entrepreneur:

Revamp and Redefine.
Make the final revisions to your sales script and clearly define your business.

Develop Process Sheets
Process sheets will eventually serve as your “operations manual.” Basically, process sheets detail the what, how, who and when for each aspect of your functioning business.

What: Determine each process of your business, such as order placement, packaging, etc.

How: List the steps to complete each process in a satisfactory manner.

Who: Determine who will be responsible for each process.

When: Decide on the appropriate amount of time for each process to be completed.

Operation and Administration
You will also need to determine all of the “departments” that will keep your business running smoothly, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, legal department, sales, marketing, etc. For each department, provide an explanation of its function, list the information you have collected during your business research regarding that department, determine what results you want from that department, and what is necessary to obtain those results.

I highly recommend that you visit the link to the Small Business Association’s website below. It has an outlined example of a business plan that should be very helpful. Always remember that your business plan, any many other aspects of your business that we have addressed this week, will continually change and develop as your business does.

Reevaluate and revise your business plan as often as necessary to provide a stable and sufficient structure for your business.

DISCUSSION
I have taken you through the basic principles for starting a successful business, so now I want to hear from you. Have I covered aspects of starting a business that you have tried? What were your results? How have sales scripts and focus groups (or anything else I covered) helped your business develop? If you are just starting, what about the topics I covered most interests you? Did I leave something out that you found crucial to starting your business?

Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Part 1: Focus and Brand Impact

Part 2: Research and Protecting Your Idea

Part 3: Developing Sales Scripts and Addressing Obsticles

This week’s source:
• Entrepreneur.com: Starting a Business

Today’s Related Sites/Readings:
• MarketingPrinciples.com: Small Business Market Strategy
• Bizhelp24.com: Unique Selling Points of Your Product
• SiteSell.com: Pricing Your Product
• Business Toolkit: Marketing Your Product
• Small Business Administration: Writing a Business Plan


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Starting Your Own Business, Part 1 of 4
Starting Your Own Business, Part 3 of 4
Starting Your Own Business, Part 2 of 4
Testing New Marketing Ideas
Starting a New Business

By Michelle Cramer
Monday, March 20th, 2017 @ 12:08 AM CDT

Startup |