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2015
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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.

 

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

 

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.

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