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Advice for College Grads

Posted by Touchpoint May 29, 2015

College_Advice_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

It's that time of year again when millions of young men and women prepare to embark on an unknown and untested future as they graduate from college. To help them ease their transition from academia to the workforce, several small business owners share their sage and hard-earned advice.

1. Become a volunteer.

While college grads discover what they like and what they don't like, becoming a volunteer is a great way to explore a possible career path, says Fred Goff, CEO of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Jobcase, a platform that connects and empowers jobseekers.

"In addition, you can learn new skills that can be used in future jobs down the line," notes Goff. "Volunteering can also help you get a job."

To illustrate his point, Goff cites a study recently conducted by The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that promotes service. It found that individuals who volunteer have a 27 percent higher chance of being employed at the end of the year than do non-volunteers.

2. Don't be afraid of making mistakes.

“To err is human,” said the English poet Alexander Pope. In this vein, college grads need to know it’s okay to not be infallible; in fact, judging by their lack of experience, it's only natural that they will fumble.

Philip Rooke, CEO of Boston-based ecommerce platform Spreadshirt agrees, adding that college grads should not be fearful of making mistakes providing they learn from them as they grow professionally.

"Learn the lessons and move forward,” he urges. “They are as inevitable as growing pains. Strategic risk taking is tolerated and necessary."

3. Don’t turn down entry-level positions.

If you’re lucky enough to get a job offer after graduation, don’t automatically turn it down because you feel it’s beneath your level of education. "It is a starting point," says Stan Steinreich, president of Fort Lee, New Jersey-based PR firm Steinreich Communications.

Steinreich advises grads to seek out the larger corporations over the smaller or mid-sized companies.

"Typically, they provide better 'boot camp' training in industry basics than smaller organizations can provide," he says. "Dig in deep and put in the time. There are no 9 to 5’ers in business today. Come in early and go home late. Use your time not only to do the job you are tasked with, but to learn and observe. And most importantly, stick with that first job at least a year.”

College_Advice_PQ.jpg4. Do your homework before an interview.

Never wing it when meeting with a potential employer for a job. It's crucial that grads "know the ins and outs of the firm, including their successes and failures while suggesting how they can help on both counts," recommends Thomas J. Madden, chairman and CEO of Boca Raton, Florida-based TransMedia Group, a PR, publishing, and internet marketing firm

5. Consider everyone a potential contact.

Anita Mahaffey, CEO and founder of Cool-jams, a San Diego-based maker of specialty sleepwear, swears by this takeaway. “Potentially everyone you meet in life is important to your future," she says. "Never discount any person you meet as you maneuver through the maze of life."

And while you’re doing so, she notes, make sure your reputation is spotless. This sounds simplistic, but it bears repeating in our over-connected, social media-obsessed world. "Think about everything you post as something a prospective boss might see in the future," she says. If that thought makes you uncomfortable, don’t post it.

As college grads join the job ranks and begin to stake a claim on their future, many will be filled with uncertainty and a little bit of fear. That’s normal, say the experts. Just stay true to yourself, work hard, say yes, and before you know it you’ll be the one doling out the advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Why, anybody can have a brain. They are a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous animal that crawls on the Earth or slinks through the slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they’ve got one thing you haven’t got: A diploma.

- The Wizard, The Wizard of Oz

 

In this case, the Wizard was talking to the Scarecrow, but the same can be said about small business versus their big business cousins. As you well know, they’ve got things you haven’t got – bigger budgets, greater reach, and more manpower.

 

But, that said, you’ve got something they haven’t got, and maybe something far more important: The personal touch. This is especially true when it comes to customer relations.

 

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One of the things people appreciate most about shopping with their local small business is that it is generally more personal than a large retail experience.

 

This is certainly borne out in the results of the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR.) According to the Report,

 

“Establishing relationships with customers is a primary driver of repeat business. More than half (57%) of survey respondents feel they get repeat business because of relationships they have developed with their customer base. This sentiment is even stronger among Baby Boomer small business owners (71%) compared with 47% of Millennials and 53% of Gen-Xers.”

 

The SBOR comes out twice a year and one of the best things about it is that, because it is a survey of small business owners, it is a great way to pick up tips from successful entrepreneurs. This edition of the SBOR is no different. Indeed, when you look at how the survey respondents show their appreciation for their customers – how they market[DP1] the stuff that they’ve got that other businesses don’t – you can discover a lot of super ideas.

 

The two most common ways that small business owners said they showed their appreciation were:

 

Monetary (29%): There is nothing like a sale to both draw interest to your store and say thank you to your customers. In fact, if you really want to stand out, then have a sale, not for the general public, but for your best customers only. Similarly, offering discounts or coupons to your best customers is smart.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

Events and Celebrations (29%): Along the same lines, consider having a special invitation only customer appreciation event.

 

One thing that the SBOR makes clear is that making it personal is a hallmark of these successful small business owners. As such, the Report lists a few other ideas that you might want to consider:

 

Personalized gifts (25%): As we all know, receiving a thank you gift is good, but receiving a thank you gift that really fits and took some extra thought is great. Your customers will think the same thing if you take the time to personalize your gift.

 

Referral programs (25%): “Refer a friend and get 15% off your next purchase.” Referral programs are popular among customers because people love getting things for at a discount (or free!) For the small business, referrals are extra special because they create that most treasured of marketing bonanzas: Word of mouth advertising.

 

Loyalty programs(24%): You have seen them of course, and are probably a member of a few. Whether it is a stamp card for a free car wash or a free sandwich or whatever, customers love and appreciate loyalty rewards programs and points.

 

So take it from the small business owners who were part of this SBOR; showing appreciation is the way to reinforce the one thing you have that no one else does, namely, an already-solid relationship with your customers.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steven A. Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steven A. Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steven A. Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 


Are you a small business owner looking to hire but having a tough time finding the right person? If so, according to the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR), you are not alone. Almost half of the small business owners surveyed in the Spring 2015 SBOR are having similar issues.

 

The good news is that there are some smart and easy things you can do to rectify the situation.

 

First, we should note just how far the economy has come in the past few years. For starters, according to this latest SBOR, almost half of all small business owners surveyed planned on hiring additional employees over the next 12 months. Given that the “Not-So-Great-Recession” is not that far in our rearview mirror, the fact that so many small business owners are looking to increase staffing is both remarkable, and welcome.

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Indeed, according to the SBOR, small business owners’ confidence in the economy rose eight percent over last year, with more than half stating that they are confident that both their local economy, as well as the national economy, is going to continue to improve.

 

So yes, hooray, small business optimism is booming!

 

The bad news (as it were) is that, as indicated, 41% of those small business owners surveyed stated that they are struggling to find qualified job candidates. There were several reasons for this according to the SBOR results. The owners surveyed indicated that the job candidates either:

 

  1. Lacked the skill sets they are seeking (59%), or
  2. Had salary expectations that were too high (45%), or
  3. Preferred to work for a large or midsize brand (29%), or
  4. Wanted benefits that aren’t provided (26%)

 

If you are a small business owner, there really is not much you can do about Reason #3; if someone wants to work for a bigger company, so be it. But the other three reasons? There are definitely some savvy ways to work around those so that you can get the employee you want and need.

 

1. The employee lacks the skill set you are seeking: Back in law school, I had a friend named Eric. Eric was a smart guy for sure, but he was not our top student by any means. But, what he may have lacked in scholastic intelligence he more than made up for in emotional intelligence. People loved Eric. He was personable, funny, easy to work with, and took direction well.

 

“What people are looking for when they are looking to hire someone Steve, are two things,” he told me. “First, yes, they want someone who is smart and experienced and has the basic skills necessary to do the job. But I think, more than that, what they want is also someone with whom they will like working eight or ten hours a day.”

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

Eric’s offers after law school ended up proving him right. He had four interviews with major firms upon graduation and received three offers. Most of us were happy if we got one.

 

The point is this, skills can be taught. That is what training is for. Indeed, according to the SBOR, “Small business owners are increasingly opting to train and develop existing personnel. Among individuals who plan to apply for a loan, 38% plan to use the funding for employee training and development.”

 

That’s smart thinking.

 

So, look for someone like Eric; a candidate who is smart and personable and who is coachable. You can teach people like Eric the skills they need and then you really end up with a great employee – not only someone who can do the job right (because they were trained to do the job right) but also someone who can grow with your company (because that is part of their skill set.

 

2. Salary and benefit expectations are seemingly unreasonable: I am lumping numbers 2 and 4 together here because they are two sides of the same coin. In some ways, small businesses can never compete with big businesses. When it comes to pricing for instance, their larger volume and buying power usually means that a big corporation can offer lower prices than a small business.

 

Give them that. That’s their playing field.

 

But, by the same token, small business can do things that big business can’t, and that’s the secret. Play on your field. Use your strengths to your advantage when looking to hire.

 

For instance, the flexibility and personal touch you can offer are unique. Whether it’s flex time or a creative title or job sharing or tickets to the ballgame, a small business can often be very creative when it comes to benefits. And you know that once you find the job candidate that appreciates that, you are on the right track to hiring a person who can make a difference.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here


 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steven A. Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steven A. Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steven. Consult your competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

Time_Management_body.jpgby Erin O'Donnell.

 

At some point every small business owner has wished for more hours in the day to accomplish what needs to get done. In reality, the solution is not a longer day, but in how you prioritize and structure the time you have.


The U.S. Small Business Association offers a time management guide that encourages business owners to evaluate themselves: How many days end without a key task being completed? How often do you miss activities with family and friends to finish work? If this sounds like your workday, try these time management tips:


Plan and prioritize

Times of growth are when most entrepreneurs feel the time pinch, says Jennifer Martin, owner of Zest Business Consulting in San Francisco. They continue to micromanage the business even as sales accelerate, and productivity plummets. “That’s when it’s time to go back to strategic planning,” Martin said.


Write down specific goals for the business and break them into tasks. Do the same for each project. Keep a visual chart that tracks progress toward each goal. And figure out which tasks can be delegated.


Track your time

Martin recommends that her clients keep a diary of every minute of their time for two weeks. Then they can begin to attack the interruptions that pull their focus. “Always ask, is doing this going to get me traction toward my goals?” Martin says.


Once you see where your time goes, you can set a budget for how you spend those hours. Estimate the time needed for every task and plug that into a daily or weekly planner. But don’t fill every slot in the grid. The SBA guide recommends business owners reserve about 25 percent of their time to handle unexpected problems—and to take breaks.


Time_Management_PQ.jpgEliminate distraction

Much of time management is really information management. Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Work Week, advocates a “low-information diet” for productivity. One of the major tenets is to check and send email only two or three times a day.


Martin recommends using website blocking software. These apps let you identify distracting sites, then block you from visiting after you’ve exceeded your time limit. Other software can monitor everything you do on your computer or device, and then analyze your productivity.


When people interrupt you in person or by phone, be quick, firm, and polite. The SBA guide suggests either giving an immediate response or writing down the question with a promise to respond later. When people stop by at the wrong time, politely ask them to come back at a better time.


Finally, Martin says, save time and stress by letting go of perfectionism. As Facebook executive and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg is fond of saying: “Done is better than perfect.”


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

A few years ago, the California Chamber of Commerce surveyed some of the best, most successful small businesses in the state. What the Chamber wanted to figure out was what these successful small businesses had in common. So they asked several questions, including the following (and yes, please feel free to score yourself at home):

“The real key to business success is . . .

 

  1. Hard work and perseverance
  2. Having valuable products
  3. Offering real customer service
  4. Advertising and marketing
  5. Having great employees”

 

A case could be made for almost any one of these answers of course since all are important in their own way. But, that said, the most common answer among these successful entrepreneurs was . . .

 

“E. Having great employees.”

 

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

When you think about it, that makes sense, especially for a small business. Employees are the ones who make things happen and are the ones on the front lines.

 

The success cycle goes something like this:

 

The entrepreneur takes care of his or her employees. This makes the employees happy. The happy employees do their job better and take better care of customers. In turn, the customers are happy. Those happy customers become repeat customers and those repeat customers create a profitable business.

 

The thing to notice is that this whole system – from satisfied customers, to a happy culture, to making money – all stem from how well the owner cares for his or her staff members.

 

You can certainly follow the reverse logic too. It’s hard to imagine how unhappy, overworked, under-appreciated employees could represent a company well, and how customers would leave their interactions with those employees with any good vibes at all about the business.

 

It is no surprise that the latest edition of Bank of America’s Small Business Owner Report (SBOR) indicates that “when it comes to their employees, small business owners overwhelmingly find the need to reward them and show their appreciation in a variety of ways.” Indeed, a whopping 94% of the small business owners surveyed in the Report indicate that they have some sort of employee appreciation program.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

From the expected to the creative, what is surprising is how varied the different forms of appreciation can take. For starters, the owners surveyed offer the type of perks and benefits that employees clearly like:

 

  • Flexible hours (56%)
  • Paid vacation time (46%)
  • Regular salary bonuses (43%)

 

But, more than this, what we see in this edition of the Small Business Owner Report is that small business owners also understand that appreciation needs to be shown in many different ways, and so that is what they do. According to the SBOR, employee appreciation programs include things as varied as

 

  • Dinners and outings (46%)
  • Spot bonuses (44%)
  • Office recognition programs (35%)
  • Extra time off (34%)
  • Off-cycle raises or promotions (25%)

 

One of the interesting things to notice about these stats is that, first and foremost, the small business owners surveyed see that benefits must include many different forms of compensation, from salary to bonuses to paid time off. The reason this is important is two-fold:

 

  1. Of course, for starters, employees work to make money.
  2. But just as importantly maybe, is that employees work for reasons beyond just money. As the Harvard Business Review has stated, “compensation is more than just a paycheck. It is a signal to the individual about his or her value to the organization.”

 

  That is one of the real takeaways from this edition of the SBOR. Small business owners get just how important employees are to their overall success. These owners’ endeavors to show their appreciation by rewarding those whose hard work fosters



About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steven A. Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steven A. Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steven A. Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

TeamBuilding.jpgA highly functioning, collaborative team can be an effective asset for the growth and harmony of a small business. Instead of relying on the abilities and skills of an individual employee, well-run teams can leverage the strengths of many talented workers to create an engine that is more powerful than the sum of its parts. Teams where constructive conflict is allowed, diversity is encouraged, and members are empowered to shoulder responsibility can often lead to the best results. Before you put together your next team, consider these strategies for harnessing the creativity and energy of your employees.


Click here to download the pdf.

Think_Like_Entrepreneur_body.jpgBy Iris Dorbian.

Being an entrepreneur requires determination, stamina, the courage to take risks, and the fortitude to withstand failure. Yet what's the good of having a dream if you don’t think like an entrepreneur?

Recently, the Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on education and entrepreneurship, compiled incisive insights on this topic from top thought leaders, including a professor who teaches entrepreneurial thinking at the University of Virginia. Here are some key takeaways from the Kauffman Foundation article that can help any entrepreneur:

1. Ask questions

Curiosity is a great way to keep the entrepreneurial flame going while discovering new ways to achieve the next goal. When you stop asking questions, complacency and indifference can set in—both of which are the scourge of visionary thinking. Never stop asking questions, and remember that curiosity is the signature of a true entrepreneur.

2. Improvise

Being able to think and do things off-the-cuff is a quality that all resourceful entrepreneurs share. And because business success can often be arbitrary and relative to factors beyond the entrepreneur's control (i.e. economy, market trends, etc.), it's imperative to master the art of improvisation. Getting locked into a restrictive mindset squashes imagination and spontaneity, both of which are necessary attributes of the successful entrepreneur. 

3. Be open to risk

To launch a business, it's a given that you must be willing to take a risk. That tenet is Business 101. Without the willingness to take chances, an entrepreneur cannot push forward to pursue his or her dream. "Entrepreneurs are in constant motion, pushing forward despite the environment surrounding them," writes Kauffman Foundation author Alex Krause. "In an ongoing hectic environment, risk is part of the day-to-day, and thinking in such a way that expects risk and helps entrepreneurs respond better to risk."

Think_Like_Entrepreneur_PQ.jpg4. Be ready to fail

To paraphrase an old business adage, failure is the precursor to success. This might sound like counterintuitive thinking, but it isn’t. Without making mistakes, you will never learn from them and be able to take the next step with the new knowledge you’ve acquired.

5. Don’t go it alone

Successful entrepreneurs rarely operate in a vacuum. “Whether it’s business partners, investors, networking, or competition, successful entrepreneurs are never alone,” writes Krause. Similarly, if you’re an extrovert, it’s incumbent that you leverage your natural social skills to cultivate and seek out those who can help you with your ventures and vice versa. Conversely, if you’re an introvert, then you will need to overcome your innate shyness to forge partnerships with others leading to success.

6. Be self-driven

Having discipline and motivation are integral for thinking like an entrepreneur. Without these traits, you will not have the wherewithal to stick to a schedule, be your own boss, and assume accountability. Being an entrepreneur often means learning to forge your own path. There will be obstacles along the way—there always are—but learning to think more creatively and getting comfortable with risk will go a long way to helping you achieve the success you’re after. 


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your competent financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

SP_Sustainable_SMB_body.jpgJeff Basch, owner of Sierra Roofing and Solar in Dublin, Calif., was among the first roofing companies in his area to embrace the advent of solar panels in 2010. As an environmentalist himself, he saw not only the potential of solar to conserve energy, but also to help his business grow. Five years later, the solar portion of his business has indeed blossomed, as has the rest of his company. “Customers will call us because of our solar niche, but they’ll also have us do their new roof while we’re at it,” Basch says. “Offering a sustainable option with our traditional services has really propelled our business.”

As Basch has found, being a sustainable small business is not only good for the environment—it’s good for the bottom line.


Here are five benefits of building an eco-friendly small- or medium-sized business:

1. Lowers cost of operations—There are countless ways to root out energy and economic waste in a small business. Basch has swapped his salespeople’s F150 trucks for hybrid vehicles, which he estimates saves about 13 miles per gallon. Basics Fitness Center in South Portland, Maine, installed a solar hot water system, which essentially eliminates gas consumption typically needed to heat water six months out of the year.


Even something as simple as switching out your traditional incandescent bulbs can have an immediate impact on your energy bill. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use about one-fourth of the energy and lasts ten times longer; light emitting diodes (LEDs) use only 20 percent to 25 percent of the energy and last up to 25 times longer.


“It’s like free money when you drive out costs because that money you’re not spending goes directly to your bottom line,” says Martha Young, founder of Sustainability4SMEs.com.

SP_Sustainable_SMB_PQ.jpg2. Presents new market opportunities—Young says many small business owners find significant marketing opportunities when they start offering green services. She worked with a landscaping company in Omaha, Neb., that built a new client base by reducing their customers’ water use through xeric landscaping, which uses plants, such as lavender, iceplant and yucca that are well suited to drought-like conditions and drier soil types.

3. Meets customer needs—A 2013 study found that corporate social responsibility is now a reputational imperative, with more than 90 percent of shoppers worldwide likely to switch to brands that support a good cause, given similar price and quality. Additionally, more than 90 percent of the consumers surveyed are more likely to trust and be loyal to socially responsible businesses compared to companies that don't show these traits.

4. Ensures a steady supply chain—Relying on substances such as oil or other natural resources can put businesses at the mercy of fluctuating prices and potential disruption of their supply chain. Choosing a renewable source for raw materials, such as recycled plastics instead of polyester and fleece for clothing, or soybeans rather than plastic for containers, is a great option, Young says.

 

5. Promotes downstream business—Smaller businesses trying to sell their products to large companies are increasingly being asked to provide details on their eco-friendly practices. “If you’re trying to do business with companies like P&G or Walmart, they will require you to fill out a survey, and then will give preference to sustainable companies because their own supply chain management and Corporate Social Responsibility reporting requires it,” says Young.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

SP_Pay_On_Time_body.jpgby Erin O’Donnell.

 

The longer an invoice goes past its due date, the less likely your business will be able to collect on it. And for a small business, the loss of any income is tough to absorb.


Some 64 percent of small businesses surveyed in 2012 by the Wall Street Journal reported having invoices more than 60 days delinquent. And the U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that more than 25 percent of receivables that go 90 days past due are never collected. As time drags on, the number only climbs higher.


So how do you ensure that your invoices are paid on time? Here are some top tips from entrepreneurs and small business advisors:


1. Set payment expectations before any work is done

From the beginning, Mike Sprouse has included dates of payment in the initial contract with clients of his marketing strategy firm, The Sprouse Group. So whether he’s working with a high-end fashion brand or a professional services firm, the dates and terms of payment are clear.


“I just felt like it would be helpful to lay things out from the start, for both us and the client,” Sprouse says.


The strategy has worked well during the first three years of his business, he says. Sprouse also offers to send a calendar reminder about 10 days before the due date. “Sometimes clients just plain forget, and not out of any malice,” he says.


SP_Pay_On_Time_PQ.jpg2. Send smaller, more frequent invoices

There’s no rule that says you can bill only once a month. If you’re working hard to maintain your business’s cash flow, try sending invoices more frequently, says business consultant Shell Black.


It may be easier for your client to pay a smaller amount every two weeks, says Black, who helps businesses set up and run Salesforce cloud computing software. Sometimes larger invoices must be authorized by an executive, he says, which can only delay payment further.


Consider which of your clients would be better served by a shorter cycle. Sprouse says about three quarters of his clients are invoiced monthly, and the rest are on biweekly terms.


Black says it’s also helpful to ask for a deposit, which generates cash flow and also sets an expectation that the balance will be coming due. “If you have a project that’s going to take a long time, I tend to agree with pulling some money up front and then billing on milestones within that project,” Black says.


3. Save time with technology

Small business owners have several choices of software and online services that can streamline invoicing and help them track due dates from anywhere, including PayPal, QuickBooks Online, and Bill.com. This can be especially helpful for a sole proprietor or small business owner with no office staff. Businesses can also accept payment online through PayPal, Amazon Payments, and Intuit, among others.


Tools like these, along with clear communication, will help you avoid the anguish of delinquency and keep your client relationships on good terms—for the long term.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Kauffman_Foundation_body.jpgby Cathie Ericson.


A new research report from the Kauffman Foundation finds that women entrepreneurs have far lower levels of participation in growth-oriented companies than men do. This might be surprising, considering the attention paid to the “mompreneur” category, but that’s the key differentiator: women entrepreneurs are far less likely than men to own growth-oriented firms. Fewer than one million women-owned firms have any employees other than the owner herself.


Women-owned businesses account for only about 16 percent of the nation's employer firms and, among high-growth firms, fewer than 10 percent of the founders are women. Translated to dollars and cents, the difference sounds even more profound: only about two percent of women-owned firms generate more than $1 million a year.


The researchers view this as an unprecedented opportunity. “These are striking statistics that suggest women entrepreneurs represent a large and untapped resource for generating jobs and high-growth businesses,” according to the authors of the study.


Survey Findings: Two challenges to overcome

The qualifications are certainly there: women represent more than half of the educated U.S. population, and more than half of them are in the work force.


To help explain the low percentage of women running high-growth firms, the researchers surveyed nearly 350 female tech startup leaders to see if they could pinpoint the underlying reasons.


Kauffman_Foundation_PQ.jpg

The study found that while all entrepreneurs face many of the same obstacles in starting a business, there are two key challenges that, if addressed, could bolster the ranks of women entrepreneurs:


  • Lack of mentors: Surprisingly few women in the survey cited a role model as their motivation for starting a business—and a lack of available advisors is mentioned as one of their top challenges. More access to mentors is an important strategy for encouraging women to start and run successful high-growth companies.

 

  • A financing gap: A high fraction of these survey respondents cited financial capital as a critical challenge to launching their firms (72.1 percent), and the majority (nearly 80 percent) used personal savings as their top funding source. Men who start firms seem to be expecting more growth right off the bat – they typically have nearly twice the capital that women do.


Clear benefits to finding answers

Accelerating female entrepreneurship could have the same positive effect on the U.S. economy that the large-scale entry of women into the labor force had during the 20th century, according to the study. It went on further to challenge policymakers and relevant organizations to help women overcome these hurdles. “The untapped economic potential of female entrepreneurship, especially in high-growth fields, could be the catalyst for economic growth in America,” the study says.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

Touchpoint

Making Meetings Matter

Posted by Touchpoint Mar 20, 2015

Making_Meetings_Matter_body.jpgby Wendy Amundson.

 

What’s the biggest time-waster at work? Too many meetings, say many employees. For the second year in a row, that was the top answer in the annual “Wasting Time at Work” employee survey by Salary.com. 

 

There’s a cure for that, says Bruce Honig, chief executive facilitator at IdeaGuides, a San Francisco-based company specializing in meeting facilitation and training. “People don’t feel there are too many meetings if the meetings are useful and productive,” he says. Here are some tips he shared for making that happen:

 

Have an agenda with clear objectives: If the meeting leader doesn’t have a clear sense of what he or she wants the outcome of a meeting to be, it won’t be productive. Honig suggests using action verbs to signal the purpose of each agenda item—such as create, decide, or present—to make clear what needs to be accomplished at each stage of the meeting.

 

Invite the right people: Do you need information shared? Idea generation? Buy-in? Decision making? Look at what you’re trying to accomplish with the meeting and make sure to invite those who are integral to that outcome and prune those who aren’t.

 

Create a visual focus: Using a flip chart or the virtual equivalent creates a visual focal point for meeting participants. “It makes the meeting more active and creates a common understanding, because everyone is looking at the same thing,” Honig says.

 

Making_Meetings_Matter_pq.jpgLeave with a written plan of action: Before you adjourn the meeting, write down what was decided and who’s doing what and when. “When all the meeting participants can see the plan in writing, you’re once again creating common understanding and agreement of next steps,” he says.

 

Evaluate immediately: “This is the step most likely to be skipped, but it’s an important exercise if you want to make your meetings more effective,” says Honig. “It only takes five minutes to go around the table and ask for one thing that worked well in the meeting and one thing that could be done better next time.” Alternately, suggests Honig, draw two columns on a flip chart or whiteboard, heading one column with a plus sign and the other with a change symbol. Have people jot down their thoughts about what went right and what should be changed before they leave the room.

 

These suggestions can help improve both in-person and virtual meetings—and for the most part, even one-on-one discussions. “Of course, a one-on-one discussion will be less formal,” says Honing, “but it’s still important to come into any meeting knowing your objectives and to end the meeting with an agreement on what comes next and whether the meeting met both your expectations.”


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media LLC to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media LLC is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media LLC. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

Employees and Fraud.jpgEvery year, employee fraud costs businesses of all sizes billions of dollars. And the smaller your company is, the more vulnerable you may be. Learn how to avoid theft from within and protect your small business with our new guide.

 

Download the guide "Fraud Prevention: Employees and Fraud" today!


Whoever said “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing” might have easily been describing the joys, and potential sorrows, of working with family. The good news is that you know your family and can trust them with your beloved business. Working with loved ones can be fun. The bad news is that when things go wrong, they can really go haywire.

 

In fact, there are seven areas where mixing family and business can be particularly tricky. Be careful with these potential pitfalls:

 

1. Hiring: Especially with a new business, an entrepreneur may bring in a spouse, or sibling, or even an adult child, to help out and get the business off the ground. These sorts of arrangements are usually casual, and as such, important issues such as compensation, hours, duties, and so on may not be discussed as extensively as they would be with a regular employee. Needless to say, this can lead to misunderstandings.

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The solution is to treat the relative as an employee first and as a relative second. Be the boss, as uncomfortable as that may be initially.

 

2. Unequal treatment: The possible problem with hiring a loved one to work for you compared to your other employees is two-fold:

 

  • First, whether or not you treat the family member equally to everyone else, there will be a built-in perception that the family employee will receive special treatment. This is understandably bad for morale.
  • Second, family-member employees may think that they are deserving of special treatment; after all, they are related to the boss. If you don’t give them that special treatment, they may come to resent you – justified or not.

 

The solution here is frank communication with your loved one. Make sure they know that it is in everyone’s best interest that you treat them equally.

 

3. When world’s collide: Being someone’s husband or brother or dad is inherently different than being someone’s boss, or even business partner. Big problems can ensue when you mix the two worlds and roles get co-mingled.

 

Consider this: It’s late November and you two are having some issue at work. All of a sudden, not only do you have a work problem, but you have a family problem too as Thanksgiving is looming and you have to put the problem and work roles aside for the sake of family harmony around the Thanksgiving table. Easier said than done sometimes.

 

The challenge is that work relationships can stretch family ties, and family issues can interfere with work. 


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


4. Power struggles: Your employee may not like or expect you to assert the power and control you may need to in order to run your business effectively. The very nature of being a boss means that the relationship is unequal. Similarly, while you likely value your loved one’s judgment in many areas, that simply may not be as true in your work world.

 

5. Dispute resolution: Again, the way you resolve disputes with your family may not be how it happens at the office, and what works at work may not be what works at home. They are two different worlds with different rules and cultures.

 

6. Firing: As if all of this were not tricky enough, now it gets really tricky: What if things don’t work out with your family member? How do you let them go without causing a major family rift? You and your loved one need to have good communication. He or she needs to know that they will be treated like all other employees, for better or for worse.

 

7. Exiting the company: Is your loved one expecting a piece of the pie? Does he have a right of first refusal to buy your business in case you want to sell? Succession issues like these need to be worked out well in advance of retirement.

 

The upshot of all of this is that, of course, there are many benefits to working with family. Just be sure that everyone is on the same page so that work issues do not interfere with your familial bond.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here



Touchpoint

Finding the Right Fit

Posted by Touchpoint Feb 2, 2015

Temp_to_Hire_body.jpgby Rachel Keranen

 

Hiring is a challenge for many small businesses, especially for those without human resources departments or recruiting experience. Many companies are addressing that challenge by hiring workers on a temporary basis before making them full-fledged members of the team. In doing so, companies can evaluate prospective team members in action, hire faster, and mitigate some of the risks of growing their payroll in uncertain times.

 

“A lot of companies are not good at interviewing and screening,” says Jay Loewi, CEO of The QTI Group, an employment agency in Madison, Wisconsin. Regardless of recruiting skill, “sometimes the interview process and background checks dont give the whole picture,” he says.

 

Loewi recommends small businesses use what he calls a “try before you buy” approach by starting potential long-term employees on a temporary basis before hiring. Doing so, Loewi says, is “a great way to make sure its the right fit for all concerned.” During the temporary period, employers can see qualities in the employee—such as their compatibility with the team—that might not be evident during the interview phase. At the same time, employees can decide whether the company and their role is what they are looking for before committing to stay. If its not a good fit, its easier for either side to end the arrangement early.

 

Faster way to hire

Temp-to-hire can also be a way to hire faster. Paul Temple, an attorney who was previously involved with hiring at a tech startup, used temp-to-hire to quickly bring on and test out new employees.

 

“We really wanted to get people in the door and we were having trouble doing that ourselves,” Temple says. The startup at first turned to an agency to help vet candidates and then evaluated those employees during temporary periods, Temple explains. Once the firm felt more comfortable with recruiting, it continued to use temp-to-hire arrangements independent of the agency. Temple says the firm valued the ability to test out potential employeescapabilities before bringing them on permanently

 

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Temp-to-hire can also be a smart way to meet cyclical personnel demand. “It could be temporary blip, it could be long term,” Loewi says. Given the nature of temporary employment, its easier for a small business to tell someone on a temporary basis that the need for his or her service has disappeared. Other times, the uncertainty is less about fluctuating demand and more about whether a new position will work at a company in the first place.

 

Such was the case for Stephen Anderson, founder of Bendyworks, a software development company. In the early days of his firm, he wanted to hire its first graphic designer. Anderson wasn’t completely confident that demand would permanently justify the hire, and wanted to be transparent about that uncertainty. Bendyworks set an initial trial period for their new employee. It was a success, and the designer is one of the companys longest tenured employees. Today, Anderson prefers traditional hiring when possible, but he recommends temp-to-hire for positions that are experimental or risky.

 

Act fast

The nature of a temporary arrangement does come with potential drawbacks for employers. Because the company isnt completely committing to the employee, the employee may be less committed in return and may carry on a job search through the temp-to-hire relationship.

 

With that in mind, if the employee is a great fit, hiring experts say act fast. “Communicate early on if you like the person, or be ready to hire them quicker than you planned,” Loewi says. In the case that the temporary hire doesn’t fit well, deliver early constructive feedback, or be prepared to let the employee go.

 

Some small business owners find that working with an employment agency helps to identify the workers theyre looking to bring on board. Others, such as Anderson and Temple, were able to find potential employees on their own.

 

“If an employer knows what theyre supposed to do and not supposed to do on the recruiting end, I dont see the benefit of going through a recruiting agency,” says Nilesh Patel, a lawyer specializing in human resources and employment law compliance for businesses.

 

For business owners less experienced in the process, an agency is a good choice because it will be familiar with hiring rules. It might be more expensive, says Patel, but it can help a small business to do a more thorough job recruiting the right employees.

 

A final consideration in temp-to-hire arrangements is the length of the temporary period. Three months is common, Patel says, because typically after 90 days, employee benefit plans kick in. A three-month screening period should also be an adequate amount of time to determine if an employee is a good fit, Patel adds. “If you cant figure it out after ninety days,” he says “what more do you need to know?”

Family_Leave_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family events such as the birth of a child or looking after an ailing parent. Eligible employees must have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months for a business that employs a minimum of 50 workers within a 75-mile radius. A few states have more lenient qualifications, but the requirements of the federal law do not cover a significant part of the small business workforce. What are the ramifications of this and how can they be addressed? Is family leave an advantage for, or an unfair burden on, a small business? As owners and workers grapple with these issues every day across the country, here are some things to consider. 

 

Increases worker loyalty

Businesses that do offer paid family leave are the exception, as the United States is one of the few countries in the world that do not require it. Advocates for paid family leave argue that it actually works to the employer's advantage because employees tend to be more devoted to businesses that strongly support them.

 

"When workers come back, they tend to be more loyal and focused, feel greater happiness, and a resolve to do a good job," says Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership For Women & Families, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that was instrumental in getting the FMLA passed in 1993. "They're grateful for being able to take the time that they needed to get their kids off to the right start. Or, in the cases of those caring for seriously ill family members, to be able to spend that time and not have their attention divided when they're working."

 

Coming up with a sensible paid family leave plan that is fair to both the small business and the employee will naturally vary depending on the individual workplace, but Shabo says that policies should be gender neutral and cover at least a portion of the worker's wages. Businesses also come out ahead since returning employees don't have to be retrained and can get up to speed much faster than a new hire.

 

Although some managers might encourage employees to take time off when they need it, attitudes can be hard to change. For example, a recent study found that more than half of the fathers who worked at companies that offered paternity leave used only a few days of the time they were entitled to. This is a mistake, Shabo says, since paternity leave lets fathers cement a permanent bond with their child and, at the same time, help new moms recover faster and resume their careers.

 

"I think it's really important to dispel the myths that people might misuse the program, concerns that this is outrageously expensive, or that people might take more time than they need," Shabo says. "That's really not what the evidence shows at all."

 

Family_Leave_PQ.jpgDesign a plan

Since the definition of family leave has expanded to include caring for a sick parent and, in some cases, dealing with problems posed by the military deployment of a family member, small businesses that actively get their employees involved in developing policies are likely to be more successful and equitable.

 

"When employees have a voice in helping to design the plan, they are really helpful in taking into account the needs of their business and their own," says Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, a national network of coalitions that advocates for family-friendly workplace polices. "Obviously the policy you design is best done to apply to all family leave purposes," which can minimize the resentment that some employees without children may feel.

 

Bravo says that the plan should also cover how to handle the responsibilities of the employee about to go out on leave to make the transition more seamless. For example, before the employee leaves, have them put together a document with the work that they do, current projects that they're involved with, and their key contacts. Next, assign specific responsibilities to the team members remaining.

 

"Even though it might seem counter-intuitive, customers appreciate that employers are paying attention and have a plan," Bravo says. "So if you say to a customer: 'Jim, I'm going to be out on maternity leave and I'm so happy to introduce you to my colleague Don who's going to be taking over your account while I'm gone,' then you've made the connection. They know each other. They're prepared for it. And this person also understands the client's needs. That's a really good thing."

 

Be flexible

Some small business owners find that they have unique advantages over large companies when it comes to formulating a family leave policy.

 

"There's more likelihood for customization, whereas in large companies they have a much harder time looking at each case separately," says Kari Firestone, the president and co-founder of Aureus Asset Management, a Boston-based independent investment firm. "When you have standardized policies, they're often not very flexible."

 

Founded in 2005, Aureus has 12 employees and offers a mix of fixed and flexible family leave policies. Employees are eligible for up to six weeks of paid leave with the option of taking more time unpaid. Aureus is also open to discussing other scenarios with workers on leave, such as working part-time or some kind of at home/on-site combination arrangement. "We've been able to be both flexible and, I think, loyal to the employee in a way that creates more loyalty back to our company," Firestone explains.

 

When the wife of an Aureus employee had a baby about a year ago, Firestone strongly encouraged the father to take the several weeks of paid leave that he was entitled. Instead, he took about 10 days. There's still reluctance on the part of fathers to take time off "because they think they'll lose their place and they'll seem soft to management," Firestone says. "I consider it a virtue. And I think we all at this firm feel the same way—it's important that the fathers are there both to support their wives or partners and bond with their babies."

 

Firestone has tried different ways to cover for employees out on leave, including hiring temp help. She understands how other employers might not see the immediate benefit of offering some type of paid leave, "but I think that's short-sighted. It matters to me to be forward thinking and positive toward the concept of parental leave as we can be."

 

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