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69 Posts authored by: Touchpoint

StudentDebt_Body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.

 

Health insurance. Vacation. A 401(k) program. Student loan debt repayment. Wait, what? Believe it or not, student debt repayment programs are increasingly a benefit offered by some larger companies.

 

When you consider that the class of 2015 graduated with an average of $35,000 in student debt, it’s clear that younger employees are increasingly bowing under the crushing weight of student loans. In fact, The Department of Education has reported that approximately $1 billion in loans has been collected in each of the past few years through wage garnishment, a 40 percent increase from 2006. Given that recent graduates often start their careers at smaller firms, the potential collection burden to small businesses is significant.

 

Here are some ways that small business owners can help them with their burden, while earning the continued loyalty of these valued younger employees.

 

Consider offering assistance as a benefit

Seem like something only a larger company can offer? Not if you swap it out for another benefit. Consider that a study from Student Loan Hero, a website that helps borrowers tackle their student loan debt, found that nearly half of the workers it surveyed would prefer student loan repayment assistance to a 401(k) retirement plan match. Student Loan Hero took the results to heart; it offers a three percent match of an employee’s salary and allows each to choose if they’d like it to go toward student loans or a retirement plan.

 

Another small business having success with a student loan repayment option is Little Newtons Early Childhood Education Centers in Minneapolis. Owner Alise McGregor finds it’s a way to build loyalty among her younger workers, which helps keep her clients happy, since these younger workers are caring for their children all day. “Children benefit from consistent caregivers, so it’s important to us to invest in our team," she says.

 

StudentDebt_PQ.jpgAdvance money to allow employees to pay off their student loans early

AJ Saleem, director of Houston-based Suprex Learning, a private tutoring and test prep company, employs this unusual tactic to help his employees minimize interest fees. As a recent graduate who was able to pay off his loan thanks to family assistance, he started the program to help those who lack similar support. About two-thirds of his workforce is comprised of college graduates with student loans to pay off. Loans for part-time workers average around $1,500 a year; full-time employee loans are around $3,500 per year. “I intend for this loan to be a long-term benefit, so I allow them to delay paying me back until either they resign or they finish paying off their loans,” he says. Of course, if they leave they have to pay him back immediately, a condition they agree to prior to taking the loan. “I find their hard work and subsequent loyalty more than make up for the interest-free loan I’ve provided,” he says.

 

Teach them money management skills

As the owner of boutique consulting firm CDJ & Associates in Southfield, Mich., and the mom of five millennials herself, Camille Jamerson understands the need to help this group with money skills. One of the programs she offers her employees is a series of workshops on personal finance to help them with basic money skills many have never learned. She also developed a “Biggest Loser” contest that had participants compete to see who could pay down the largest percentage of their debt, given specific parameters. “These programs have been cost effective and have helped tremendously in garnering millennial loyalty,” she says.

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation


ParentalLeave_Body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

If your small business has fewer than 50 employees you aren’t required to offer paid parental leave, or any leave at all. However, offering parental leave to new and growing families does wonders for employee morale, productivity, and loyalty. While six-plus weeks of paid leave may not be financially feasible for many small businesses, with careful planning, you can design a plan that accommodates parents and employers alike.

 

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that businesses with 50 or more employees are required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for newborn or adopted children. FMLA exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Yet, even unpaid leave costs small businesses money, considering contractor wages and the extra hours involved in spreading the work to other employees. However, experts say crafting a parental leave plan that helps new parents is worth the effort and expense.

 

“When employees return from leave, they have a higher engagement level, which means higher productivity,” says Carrie Ahmad, vice president of People for Turning the Corner LLC, a consulting firm for small businesses and job seekers based in Boulder, Colorado. “They also tend to stay with the organization longer because it stood by them.”

 

To design a plan that works for your business, consider one or some combination of the following benefits:

 

Telecommuting and flexible schedules

Employees appreciate flextime or the option to work from home, Ahmad says. “If the employee can work from home or work half days, he or she can continue to bond with their child and the employer can keep moving forward,” she says.

 

One Turning the Corner client offered eight weeks of partially paid leave followed by a period of telecommuting. The employee gradually eased back into full-time work over a 13-week period. Flextime and telecommuting provide a good compromise when the employer can’t afford to lose an employee for 12 weeks.

 

ParentalLeave_PQ.jpgDisability leave

Short-term disability insurance can cover a portion of an employee’s income during maternity or paternity leave at little cost. Employers can either pay for the coverage themselves or offer plans to employees as an optional benefit.

 

Project Frog, an architectural design startup based in San Francisco, offers a generous paternity leave program that combines company- and state-paid wages (up to 55 percent of weekly wages). When platform design manager Justin Mikecz took leave to bond with his first child, he received 75 percent of his salary for six weeks.

 

Under California’s Paid Family Leave program, Mikecz had up to one year to use those six weeks. “I often worked four-day weeks to take at least some of the burden off my wife,” he says.

 

Paid time off

Some companies allow employees to use their accrued Paid Time Off (PTO) to cover a portion of unpaid leave. Other companies require that an employee exhaust PTO before using any disability benefits or unpaid time. This option comes at a lesser cost to the employer, but leaves the new mom or dad with virtually no paid time off if either parent or child gets sick.

 

Giving employees the opportunity to stay home with their baby is a wonderful benefit that’s becoming more in demand. With financial ingenuity, you can design a family leave plan that both the employer and employee can afford.

 

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Performance_Reviews_body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

Here’s a trend that small business owners should take note of: According to the Institute of Corporate Productivity, 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies have done away with annual performance reviews for their employees in favor of more frequent conversations and guidance. 

 

“Sitting down once a year has never been a very valuable feedback tool,” says Kellie Conn, vice president of human resource services for Paradigm Group, an employee benefits, human resources, and retirement services consulting firm based in Nashville. “It’s difficult for managers to track performance and give accurate feedback for the entire year.”

 

And while employees of all ages appreciate acknowledgement and constructive criticism, the millennials are the demographic group that has pushed for more frequent reviews. “Younger workers place a high value on regular feedback,” says Conn. “Many of them are very comfortable asking for what they need. Finally, they are getting through to employers.”

 

As a result, the annual review has become out of step in today’s work environment. Because of this, many companies have shifted from this yearly event to quarterly or even weekly goal reviews or casual “check-ins.”

 

“These evaluations are still written-down, specific-performance indicators, but are done in smaller chunks,” says Conn. “The annual evaluation then becomes a summary of those meetings. That way, if the salary review is tied to the annual review, it will be a lot more accurate.”

 

Performance_Reviews_PQ.jpgJack Elliott, vice president of operations for Muir Medical Group IPA, Inc., in northern California, supports a quarterly review process coupled with consistent feedback. “Address an issue immediately as it comes up, and be very clear about your expectations,” he says. Elliott also recommends weekly roundtable discussions to maintain ongoing dialog. “Take time each week with the employee to go over what worked and what didn’t,” he says. “You’ll avoid any surprises that way.”

 

Goal review points of discussion

During these more frequent review meetings, employers often set three to five goals with the employee that align with the department and the company as a whole. This adds meaning to the employee’s daily responsibilities. “The small business owner is entrepreneurial in spirit,” says Elliott. “So it may be hard to accept that the employee is more invested in a short commute than your vision or product. As a small business owner, you have to sell that employee, too. She needs to see that she can have some effect on growing the business.”

 

No matter how often a performance review is conducted, managers must continue to document the conversation. “For legal reasons the supervisor still needs to document everything thoroughly,” says Conn. “That’s why the annual evaluation hasn’t died completely—companies would lose their performance documentation system.”

 

In general, performance reviews bring structure to the workplace. Whether you decide to review on a monthly, quarterly, or even on a good old-fashioned annual basis, find a system that keeps employees motivated through the year and highlights their accomplishments.

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

4_Day_Work_Week_body.jpgBy Erin O’Donnell.


As American workers place more of a premium on work-life balance, small business owners are discovering that flexible work schedules can help them recruit and retain top talent. In particular, the four-day work week is gaining in popularity among small businesses that promote a flexible workplace.


David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources outsourcing firm, often speaks to small business owners about the pros and cons of the four-day work week, and counsels companies on best practices for employee retention and workplace flexibility.


“A flexible work week is becoming more and more part of the norm,” he says. “So, business owners are thinking, what else can we do to be flexible and accommodating?”


Lewis says any business can be a good candidate for a four-day work week. Here are some of the top issues to consider before making the leap:


How will customers be affected? Do your clients expect 24-hour access to your employees or service? Would you still be able to offer the same turnaround time on orders in fewer days? Consider what will happen to customer service or vendors if you are closed one day a week. Or if key people are out on certain days.


Some firms stagger employee’s schedules so that not everyone has the same day off, and the business can maintain a five-day operating week.


4_Day_Work_Week_PQ.jpgWhat’s the tradeoff for employees? A typical compressed schedule is 10 hours a day, four days a week. But at some firms, a shorter week also means shorter hours for employees.


At OperationsInc, Lewis said most of his employees work part-time by choice, because they’re willing to trade off higher pay and benefits for more free time. Many are working parents. Some are commuters trying to save time and money. “I think retention is the biggest driver here,” Lewis says. “You’re trying to figure out ways to attract and retain a wider population of workers.”


If you reduce the number of full-time and/or exempt positions on your staff, remember that may also affect how you calculate holiday pay, sick time, and your obligations under the Affordable Care Act.


Will it improve productivity? Proponents of the four-day work week believe it improves productivity and efficiency by motivating workers to stay focused on the job at hand. Lewis says this may require a culture shift, especially among firms that have mostly hourly workers. “You have to get employees away from the mindset that they’re working to the clock, and instead they’re working to the task,” he says.


Lewis encourages all small business owners to at least investigate the four-day work week. “It becomes a competitive advantage if you have it,” he says. “If it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. But it shouldn’t be because you haven’t explored it.”

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

 

5_Essential_Interviews_Qs_body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

Each employee plays an integral role in a small business’s success. When the time comes to hire, it’s critical that the new recruit has the motivation and skill to help move the company forward. “Employees can either help you succeed or create internal roadblocks,” says Ernie McGray, hiring and human resources manager at San Francisco-based startup Meta Co. “At a small company everyone needs to contribute and understand that their work impacts the company.”

 

During the interview process, a few carefully chosen questions, like the ones below, will help you separate A-plus talent from the average job candidate.

 

Why are you looking for a change? Knowing why a candidate applied for the job will help you determine if her goals align with the position and with company values. It also helps determine whether the candidate is serious about accepting a new position. “I want people that are comfortable and confident in sharing those experiences and won’t just say what they think I want to hear,” says McGray.

 

Why are you interested in this company? With this question, a business owner can quickly determine whether a candidate has done his homework and is genuinely excited about the company. “I want someone who’s really done their research,” says McGray. “I’ve interviewed people that didn’t even look at our website.”

 

5_Essential_Interviews_Qs_PQ.jpgWhat goals did you achieve at your last company? Go beyond a list of tasks to find out what the candidate accomplished. Ask for details, such as: Did you lead the project? Did you design the goals? Were other decision makers involved? “Truly understand their participation in the goal and why they are proud of it,” he says.

 

Do you have any questions for us? Rather than save this for the end of the discussion, McGray leads the interview with this question. “I want an unfiltered, honest starting point,” he says. “When you ask this question as the interview process winds down, you have already given clues as to what is important to you.”

 

McGray also steers away from behavioral questions, such as, “Tell me about a situation in which you had to deal with a difficult coworker.” “There are so many variables that are different at your company,” says McGray. “Behavioral questions don’t give the business owner a sense of whether the candidate can do the job. Instead, discuss the company, the role, and what problems the candidate plans to solve by filling this role.”

 

How would you do the job? Give details about the position and what problems the company intends to solve by filling it. Ask the potential employee, “How would you tackle these problems?” Problem-solving questions allow the interviewer and interviewee to brainstorm about how the candidate can fulfill the role. “I don’t expect them to have all the answers, but we get a sense of their experience and they get to understand who we are as a company. It’s a true discussion about what the candidate thinks he can accomplish.”

 

After determining that the candidate has the experience, personality, and critical thinking skills of an A-plus employee, check in with your gut instinct. Says McGray: “You want to be as excited about hiring someone as they are about getting the job.”


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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

 

 

Counteroffers.jpgNo business owner wants to lose a valuable employee. But if that employee resigns to accept another company’s offer, evaluate the situation thoroughly before making a counteroffer. Some experts say that if an employee resigns, it’s best to look for a replacement. That’s because most of the time, money isn’t the sole reason an employee looks for another job. He or she could have a personality conflict with a direct supervisor, a draining commute, or a stalled career—problems that won’t go away with a raise. Other hiring experts say that counteroffers provide a way to retain employees and avoid the expense of hiring a replacement. Before deciding the best path for your small business, read on to hear what our experts have to say.


Click here to download PDF.

Retaining_Top_Performers_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

No business ever wants to lose its star performers. But with the overall economy improving and an uptick in hiring, your top employees have more options these days. Often an increase in pay from a competitor is the reason for someone leaving. But there are other factors that go into whether a valued team member stays or goes. Even if your small business isn’t in a position to offer a salary increase at this time, there are still things you can do to help retain your best workers—and keep them loyal and fulfilled. Read on for some tips from the experts:

Offer positive reinforcement
Whether it's through acknowledgements at a company meeting or via an informal ceremony, every employee likes to feel his or her efforts are being recognized and appreciated. For instance, if an employee has done an exemplary job on a particular project, such as meeting a sales goal before a deadline or even exceeding it, his or her work should be noted in a warm manner and always when the entire team is present. Another positive gesture is treating the star perfomer to lunch or dinner with colleagues. This allows you to acknowledge a job well done and reinforces the idea that good work is recognized at your firm.

Provide extra coaching and training
Even top performers can improve their skills. By offering extra training or coaching to valued team members, your company is in a better position to keep top workers who might otherwise be tempted to leave.

Retaining_Top_Performers_PQ.jpg“Perhaps there is a low or no cost way to improve your employees’ skills or teach them a new skill,” says Patricia Lenkov, a New York City-based executive recruiter who’s worked with small businesses for over 18 years. “Most people will appreciate an employer that provides opportunities for personal and professional growth."

Shanahan agrees. "You can offer a mentor program that will give top performers much more insight and exposure to the business than they would perhaps get at a larger firm," she says. "Make it clear this will help their career in the longer term, regardless if they stay with you or move on."

Articulate a worthwhile mission from the start
To retain top performers when you can’t offer them more money, it’s important to stress the mission and values that your company possesses. A good way to do this is to remind them of the sense of fulfillment they can derive from working at your organization, whether that means a family-friendly work schedule or rewarding programs, such as volunteerism.

Losing top employees is always a blow to a business. In a small company the impact can be even greater. But if a small firm can offer employees non-financial benefits that acknowledge both their personal and professional life, that bigger salary somewhere else just might not look as good.

 

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

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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