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Retirement_Tips_body.jpgBy Erin O'Donnell.

 

A 2014 study by the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America showed that nearly half of small business owners surveyed don't feel well prepared for retirement. But it doesn't have to be that way. A number of tools and strategies are available for small business owners to maximize their savings and minimize their tax burden. Here are a few tips to get you started.

 

Know your numbers

It's no secret that the earlier you start saving, the more time your money has to grow. But even if you're closer to the end of your working years than the beginning, it's never too late to save.

 

How much do you need? The conventional wisdom is shifting. Traditionally, people were advised that they'd need 70 to 80 percent of their current income in retirement. But some believe it's wiser to plan around your current spending patterns instead. Run the numbers a few different ways.

 

Diversify your money

According to the Guardian survey, small business owners are overly reliant on the success of their business to fund their retirement, and that's a risky move. Don't keep all your eggs in one basket. Of more than 1,400 small business owners surveyed, 77 percent said they did have money set aside in their own savings or investments, and 54 percent have invested in real estate. (About three-fourths of respondents owned businesses with one to 10 employees.)

 

Several tax-deferred retirement plans are available to small business owners and sole proprietors. See www.irs.gov/retirement for contribution limits and other details. The U.S. Department of Labor also produces a guide to choosing a retirement solution for your small business.

 

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Max out your savings

By age 40, entrepreneur Jonathan B. Smith still didn't have any real retirement savings. So, Smith researched retirement plans and chose an individual 401(k) plus a Roth IRA, which offered the highest contribution amounts and the tax benefits he wanted. He used the funds from a recently exited investment to open his accounts.

 

"I thought, it makes more sense to put money away in single person 401(k) than to pay the current taxes," Smith says.

 

Take advantage of perks for business owners

Business owners are also allowed to contribute more to certain retirement plans than employees. For 2015 and 2016, the defined contribution limit from all sources is $53,000 for a 401(k). A business owner or solopreneur can contribute most of that him or herself, based on their income from the business. In contrast, company employees can contribute only $18,000 through elective deferrals, plus the company's matching contribution, if available (usually about 4 percent of salary).

 

Keep growing your company

A lot of small business owners expect to sell their business to fund their retirement. Unfortunately, many overestimate the value of their company, and a sale doesn't meet their retirement needs.

 

The key is to have a firm grasp of your company's value and keep it growing right up until the day you retire, says Bill Watson, who brokers business sales through his firm, Advanced Business Group. "If you know how to maximize that value, you will maximize the money you make as you go along and be able to put aside more for retirement," Watson says.

 

Don't fall into the trap of thinking your business can coast in your final working years. If you're not building value by continuing to seek new business, Watson says, your value will drop exponentially in a very short time."If you're transitioning to a sale, your business should be on an upward trend until you get the price you want," he 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

Whether you do it yourself or pay an outside professional, preparing your taxes eats up time, money, resources—and may result in having to write a substantial check to the IRS. So with all the built-in anguish the first time around, why would a small business pay for the privilege of having their return reviewed before submitting it? The most oft-cited reason: it could save you money. An independent tax professional who did not prepare your original return could find places where you have overpaid or not taken all the deductions you are entitled to. That’s just one of the tips that can help your small business save money. As tax time quickly approaches, consider these other recommendations and facts as you prepare your return.

 

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A TAX PREPARER
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Sources:
1. 5 Tips for Choosing a Tax Return Preparer. Taxpayer Advocate Service, January 13, 2015.
http://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/news/5-tips-for-choosing-a-tax-preparer?category=TaxNews&taxissue+1046

 

2. The 5 Biggest Tax Mistakes Small Business Owners Make. CPA Practice Advisor. December 23, 2015. http://www.cpapracticeadvisor.com/news/12151711/the-5-biggest-tax-mistakes-small-business-owners-make

 

3. 10 Questions to Ask When Working With an Accountant. Entrepreneur. April 8, 2014. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232841

 

4. U.S. Government Accounting Office Report on Small Businesses and the IRS. June 2015, page 6. http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/671084.pdf

 

5. Take Back the Cash: A Guide to 2014 Tax Deductions for Your Small Business. Behalf.com. April 8, 2014. http://blog.behalf.com/take-back-the-cash-a-guide-to-2014-tax-deductions-for-your-small-business

 

6. Findings of GAO reported from Congressional Record, Volume 151, Number 43, April 13, 2005.https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2005-04-13/html/CREC-2005-04-13-pt1-PgE645-3.htm

 

7. 7 Common Small Business Tax Misperceptions, by Robert Lipton, Engine Builder, March 4, 2014. http://www.enginebuildermag.com/2014/03/7-common-small-business-tax-misperceptions-2/

 

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

Data_Video_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

 

Programmatic advertising, which uses customers’ online behaviors, as well as factors such as their geographic location, the time of day, and even the weather, to serve them targeted ads they’ll likely find relevant, will play a prominent role in the coming year. In fact, Joshua Spanner, head of Google’s Media Labs, says programmatic advertising is a big focus for the search engine company in 2016 and beyond. Here are a few of the reasons why you should consider this form of marketing for your small business:

 

There is a huge hunger for video

Video is far and away the most popular type of content on both desktop and mobile devices. Cisco Systems recently reported that video content will account for 69 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2017. In fact, one in three mobile device users report watching video regularly, giving the clips they see on their small screens much more attention than anything they view on television. Creating video ads to appear in this highly focused environment for strategically targeted customers gives small business owners a unique opportunity to raise brand awareness and generate sales.

 

Video advertising opportunities abound on familiar platforms

The most robust data-driven video marketing opportunities for small business owners exist on the most familiar, well-established platforms: Google’s YouTube, as well as Facebook and Twitter. Each of these platforms offers an easy-to-use back-end, allowing business owners to target their ads upon very specific criteria.

 

Data_Video_PQ.jpgEA Sports, a video game company, recently ran a successful campaign targeting fans of particular NFL football teams. L’Oreal Cosmetics targeted women between the ages of 25 and 30 who had previously purchased luxury beauty products online, when attempting to relaunch its Shu Uemura cosmetic line to the U.S. marketplace. The campaign was a huge success, resulting in a 2,000-plus percent return on the advertising investment.

 

Be strategic about content type, timing, and distribution

Context targeting is the practice of matching your video ad with video content that makes sense. For example, if you’re promoting a jazz or music festival, it makes sense to have your video ads appear on popular videos in the same genre being watched by your target audience—say, young adults in your geographic region.

 

Timing of video ads is both an art and a science. Take advantage of the metrics provided by your advertising platform to determine what time of day results in the greatest levels of ad engagement. The number of views is important, but knowing how many ad viewers clicked through to your website, downloaded an informative guide, or otherwise responded to your call to action, is more vital. This requires testing ads at different times, but the investment can be well worth it. More than one business owner has been surprised to discover that they have avid customers who like to shop or do research in the middle of the night.

 

Finally, be strategic about which platform you’ll be advertising on. YouTube will probably continue to be the dominant player in the video marketplace, but Facebook and other social media sites have been taking aggressive steps to incorporate video marketing directly onto their platforms, ensuring that users stay on the site for an extended period of time. Test ads on different platforms to discover what works best for you.

 

 

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

This truly is an amazing time to be a small business owner, for many reasons, but two in particular:

 

First, small is the new big. Not long ago, big was big. We had two giant superpowers, the “Big Three” automakers, three television networks, and so on. Not today. Today, whether we are talking about entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg or how small businesses are proliferating around th

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e world, entrepreneurs and small businesses are being celebrated.

 

Second, technology has leveled the playing field. Today, any small business can act small but look big. We have access to some incredible tools that previously were only the domain of the big boys.


This is especially true when it comes to marketing; it used to be so much more challenging and expensive. For example, back in the day you might have put an ad in the newspaper and maybe people would see it, but maybe not. Or you might have bought some television time, hoping that folks would see it and not change stations or would take some desired action.

 

That’s a lot of maybes and hoping.

 

Today things are so much easier, better, and less expensive. Let me suggest five key e-marketing tools that you really should be using right now if you want to fully take advantage of this golden age of small business:

 

1. Your great website: You will notice I didn’t say “your website.” I said, “your great website.” There’s a difference, a big difference. The days when you could simply throw up a bland, boring – or worse, ugly – site are long gone.

 

Question: What is the first thing someone will do when they initially hear about you or your business and are thinking about working w

ith you? That’s right, they will look you up on the Internet. What will they find when they look you up? That’s the question.

Do you remember the old vocabulary building commercial, “People will judge you by the words you use”? Not only was that true then (and now) but what is even truer is that they will judge you based on your website.

 

Have a great one and you are in the game; don’t, and you are not.

 

2. Content: “Content Marketing” is all the rage for a reason – it works. By sharing content that puts your best foot forward, is interesting and engaging, links back to your site, and brands your business, you offer people a valuable way to engage with your brand.

 

Your content can be shared in a variety of different platforms, including:

 

  • Social media posts
  • E-newsletters
  • A blog
  • Articles on your site or others
  • Videos and podcasts

 

3. Mobile marketing: Check out this amazing stat: Half of all searches are now done on mobile devices. And, not only that, almost half of those searches have a local intent. That means that people are out there in your neighborhood right now, looking to buy what you have to sell, and many of them are searching for where to do so.

 

It is not a good idea to have a mobile marketing strategy. It is imperative that you have one.

 

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


4. Social media: You know the drill by now: Social media is the next great marketing frontier! It’s almost a cliché. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

 

Social media has become the giant marketing tool that it is because 1) it is where the eyeballs are, 2) it doesn’t cost money per se (although of course, time is a form of money), and 3) it’s a place where you can build your brand and customer base directly, without any filters between you and your audience.

 

5. Pay-per-click (PPC): PPC may be my personal favorite. Why? Because you can market your business so efficiently and affordably using those little Google or Bing or Facebook ads. If someone sees your ad and likes it, they will click on it and come to your site. Only then do you pay for that ad. If they don’t click on it, you pay nothing. As such, PPC allows you to create, and only pay for, qualified leads. Amazing. Different. Better.

 

So yes, it is definitely an amazing time to be in business, and it’s an even better time if you take advantage of some of the great e-tools available today.


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 Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. 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

 

Steve Strauss

Social Media 101

Posted by Steve Strauss Jan 27, 2016

You know the drill by now, you have heard the steady drumbeat:

 

  • “Social media has changed the game!”
  • “Social media is the future!”
  • “If you want to succeed in business today, you must fully engage in social media!”

 

However, let’s say that you’re like most small business owners. In which case, you most-likely have a personal Facebook page, you watch videos on YouTube (by the way, did you know that YouTube is the second most popular social media site after Facebook?), and maybe even check out Twitter now and then (even if it confuses you).

 

If these traits sound familiar, you likely don’t use social media much, or at all, for your business. According to the most recent Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, less than half of small business owners use social media to keep in contact with their customers.

 

This is understandable, because most entrepreneurs are so busy running their businesses that they don’t have the time, patience, or inclinations to learn something new like social media. However, it’s also regrettable because social media truly is a game-changing, powerful tool.

 

One of the huge benefits of social media is that it allows you to save time, and at no cost. Other key benefits it can help with are:

 

  • Building your brand
  • Finding new customers
  • Engaging with current customers
  • Sharing your message
  • Resolving issues
  • Marketing your business

 

The problem is not that you are unaware of these potential benefits, but rather, as indicated previously, that figuring out how to jump on the social media bandwagon might seem overwhelming and time-consuming.

 

If you want to jump on the social media bandwagon, it’s never too late.

 

Here’s how to get started in social media for your business, in four easy steps:

 

Step 1: Determine your purpose: What is it exactly that you want your business or brand to gain by beginning to engage in social media? Wanting to become known as a thought leader is much different than wanting to get more customers. Take a look at the list of benefits above; there are many different potential benefits to becoming engaged in social media. Pick one or two.

 

Step 2. Decide which site fits that goal: You will notice that I didn’t say to choose the site that is the best, easiest, or most fun for you. No, what you want is to choose the one site that will best help you accomplish your goals listed in Step 1.

 

Generally speaking (and this is very general), the top social media sites have different benefits:

 

Facebook: Because it is the most popular and the “friendliest,” Facebook lends itself well to businesses that run promotions, for example, press “like” to get clicks, and press “like” to interact with their audience. You can start creating a business Facebook page here.

 

Twitter: Because Twitter limits what you can say to about three sentences (140 characters at the most), it is better suited to short blasts of information. As such, it can be a great tool for professionals wanting to establish credibility.

 

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the granddaddy of B2B social media sites. If networking is your game, then LinkedIn is the name. If you don’t have a LinkedIn page, you can get one here.

 

YouTube: People love watching videos online. If your business is visual or otherwise lends itself to a video presence, creating a YouTube channel would behoove you.

 

Pinterest: Pinterest too is a visual medium, and one that is populated more by women than men. If that’s your audience, go for it. Learn more here.

 

Instagram: Favored by a younger demographic. Start here.

 

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You get the idea. The different sites cater to different interests and demographics. Pick the one that fits your business goals best.

 

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


Step 3: Jump into the deep end of that one site: If you are just getting started in social media for your small business, pick that one site that best fits your goals and learn it inside and out.

 

The next step is to set up your business profile on that site and begin to share some content; meet new people, those who you would not normally meet. Share your expertise. Have a contest. Dig in.

 

Step 4: Notice your results: Getting results from social media is not a quick process. It takes months to build up a presence and get fans and followers. Give yourself the time necessary. Don’t expect miracles, but do expect results. After three months, take stock. Alter course if necessary.

 

Once you have that one site down and the goals you listed in Step 1 are within reach, then venture into a second social media site. Repeat the

process.

 

Good luck!

 

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 Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. 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 Corporati

 

Keeping_Talent_body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.

Any small business owner knows that employees are the backbone of their business. Unfortunately, amid the day-to-day responsibilities of running a business, it can be all too easy to overlook their career development needs. Without the established career track typically offered by larger companies, your best employees could conclude there is no upside for them and leave to pursue other opportunities.

According to the Center for American Progress, the cost of replacing an employee is 20 percent of their salary. But as any small business owner knows, the repercussions of a valued employee leaving can be far more than financial; a great deal of institutional knowledge is literally walking out the door.

Here are five ways small business owners can keep their best employees energized:

1. Share your vision.

“Many times a small business owner will have a long-term vision for their company but fail to communicate it to their high-potential employees, which can leave them wondering ‘Is this all there is?’” says Donna Lubrano, a former small business owner and adjunct professor at Northeastern University. She advises starting the discussion during the on-boarding process, by determining their goals and discussing how their role contributes to the bigger picture.  


2. Work with them to define a career path.

Once employees reach six to 12 months of tenure, they often start wondering what their future job track looks like, says Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO of Uniquely HR. Even if a promotion isn’t possible, she recommends offering options for stretch assignments, cross-functional training, and lateral moves, which can often be more available in a small business. “The first step is to understand how your team members define growth, then map out how you can support them,” she says. “Think about career growth as something that's employee-led and company-supported.”


Keeping_Talent_PQ.jpg3. Support external learning.

Allowing your employees to stay up-to-date on best practices and skills won’t just develop their career, it will also benefit your company. Craig Bloem, CEO and founder of LogoMix, advocates paying for your employees to attend training, events, and webinars to build their knowledge base. And, think beyond their current job function. “If your employees are interested in learning about something that could help the company as a whole, even if it’s not directly related to their field, push them to explore that path,” he says. “It can break up the day-to-day monotony that can creep up on even the most dedicated employee.”


4. Talk to them.

Don’t be blindsided with a resignation because you just assumed everything was fine. Devote time to meeting with employees one-one-one, away from the office, for say a coffee or lunch, to find out what’s on their minds. And ask questions, says Lubrano. “Find out how things are going and what's working and what's not. Ask if they are getting burned out, and what they need to stay motivated.”


5. Don’t assume they have to move up.

Your star sales or IT employee may want to stay in that role, rather than move up to management, says Richard Hayman, former owner of a family tech firm, and now a CEO coach. “

 

Too many business owners have career tracks which require employees to become supervisors or managers, but often we end up losing a good tech or sales person and getting a not-so-great manager,” he says. Hayman says allowing employees to stick to their core competencies, can often benefit them—and the company—in the long run.


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

 

Radio_Ads_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Advertising on the radio might seem dated and old-fashioned in the age of social media, but radio is still a potent medium for selling products and services. Renée Black, an account executive at Nancy Marshall Communications, an Augusta, Maine-based communications agency, has these tips for creating radio messages that cut through the clutter.

 

1. Engage your audience right away.

Unlike television or the Internet, radio is typically in the background. Most radio listeners will be in their car or doing something else when your message comes on. On top of that, radio ads are short—usually 30 or 60 seconds. To make that time count, begin your ad with a hook or captivating statement that commands immediate attention.

 

2. Give your ads the human touch.

Your ad should feature people that listeners can connect with. One classic approach is to identify the problem that your product or service solves and then show the solution in human terms. For example: instead of telling that your paint store stocks hundreds of colors, show how you helped a customer choose a color that brought her room to life and made the experience easy.

 

Radio_Ads_PQ.jpg3. Your ad should reflect your listeners.

"Your listeners must be able to see themselves in your ad," Black says. "You may find it helpful to create real personas of your own customers." Otherwise, Black suggests using these categories to come up with realistic characters: methodical (swayed by statistics and facts), humanistic (driven strongly by emotions and feelings), spontaneous (spurred by quick decisions or impulsiveness), and competitive (the early adopters who want to be first in their peer group).

 

4. Have a memorable call to action.

Radio ads should ask the listener directly to take some kind of action. Black warns that a hard-to-remember 800 number can turn off an audience, but a catchy phone number or simple website address works much better. Rewarding listeners who act promptly—such as giving them an added benefit or discount—will frequently boost the response rate.

 

5. Maintain an up-to-date website.

Make sure that your website fulfills anything that is promised in your ad. "Your website is the best possible means of differentiating your company from your competitor," Black says. "A strong website is your best partner for a strong radio campaign."

 

6. Be consistent in your branding.

It's prudent to refresh your ads, but don't radically change things that the listener has come to associate with your business. For example, you can put new twists in ads during a campaign, but keep your company's spokesperson or tagline the same.

 

As many small businesses have discovered, advertising on radio can be a stealth way to win customers and separate yourself from the competition.

 

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

 

 

Productivity_Habits_body.jpgBy Robert Lerose.

 

Ask business owners across different industries and they'll probably all agree on one thing: there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. The search for the ultimate workplace strategy is never-ending. John Paulsen, a former small business leader who ran a San Francisco-based production company, recommends these habits for being more productive in your own business.

 

1. Revise and prioritize your project list daily

At the start or end of each day, rewrite your To Do list from scratch—don't just cross off completed tasks or add new ones. As you revise, put the tasks in priority, with the most important projects at the top. The completion of key jobs will energize you throughout the day to keep moving forward.

 

2. Tackle big projects one piece at a time

Projects that are large in scope can easily paralyze you. Instead of trying to wrap your arms around the whole assignment, divide the work into smaller, manageable parts that can be completed one at a time. The added benefits: you'll train yourself to assess the steps you need to take, you'll see your progress on a daily basis, and you'll stay motivated as you cross off each item.

 

3. Don't procrastinate

Taking the first step on a new project is usually the hardest—but take it right away. Then, dedicate time in your schedule for this project. Discipline yourself to avoid distractions, such as email, phone messages, in-house meetings, and the ever-present lure of the Internet. Keep this project time nonnegotiable.


Productivity_Habits_PQ.jpg4. Focus on one thing at a time

Studies have shown that multitasking—trying to handle multiple projects at the same time—is actually counterproductive. Not only that, but constantly shifting your attention to a new task every few minutes actually erodes your future ability to concentrate. Better to zero in on a high priority item for a specific amount of time without interruption.

 

5. Schedule some downtime

Working continuously hour after hour without break diminishes our creativity and productivity. We actually accomplish less the longer we work. "Studies find we are at our most productive when we focus intensely on one task for under an hour, then take a brief break," Paulsen says. "Take a nap, or get some active exercise—both are good for your focus, creativity, and productivity, and also good for physical health (and that improves long-term productivity)."

 

6. Share the work

Delegate tasks to your colleagues, including important items. They'll get to share in the success of your company (which can inspire their productivity in the future) and you'll get time to take a satellite view of your business to think, plan, and strategize.

 

Making even a few changes and following through on new habits can impact your productivity and sense of accomplishment.


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

 

 

Chip_Cards_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.


EMV chip-enabled credit cards were introduced in October. These cards—named for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, the companies that created the standard—feature an embedded computer chip which generates a single-use code for each transaction, making them more secure than the previous generation of swipe strip credit cards. EMV chips also support near-field communication, which is the technical name for what happens when customers pay using a digital wallet app on their smartphones, such as Apple Pay.


There was widespread concern among retailers regarding the timing of the introduction of the new technology, as the roll out came at the beginning of the busy holiday shopping season. One of the biggest worries:  adoption hurdles could be costly. However, perhaps motivated by the knowledge that they’d be held financially liable in the event of a customer data breach, some of the nation’s largest retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot moved forward and began accepting the EMV chip enabled cards.


Improving security

So how have the new EMV cards been received? Results have been mixed. A recent survey by the Mercator Advisory Group, a research firm that focuses on the payment industry, reveals that 34 percent of credit card users appreciate the increased security that comes with the new cards.


Chip_Cards_PQ.jpg

Harbortouch, another payment industry research firm, reports that one in five consumers consider transaction time to be their top concern. Retailers and customers alike are on the same learning curve when it comes to using the new card readers correctly, and this can slow the checkout process down. Assuming no human error, using a chip card takes seven to 10 seconds, compared with two to three seconds for swipe cards.


Understanding your liability

High-profile security breaches in recent years led directly to the adoption of the EMV chip card standard. There are industry critics who say that even this level of enhanced protection is not enough. Many are advocating for a chip + PIN standard, similar to what is already in place in Europe.


For the moment, however, the EMV chip card is considered the acceptable minimum standard for any retailer or financial institution that wants to minimize their liability in the event of a data breach. All retailers are expected to be EMV chip card compliant by 2017, at which point customers will be used to a slightly slower, but much safer, checkout process.


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

In the past, a small businessperson could simply be a small businessperson. What I mean by that is that he or she could concentrate on their business, knowing that, for the most part, it would stay the same, year after year.

 

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Today, that is not true. Just think about your business even five years ago. In all likelihood, while your website was important, it was not as vital as it is now and that is even truer when it comes to social media. Business is changing rapidly these days and you simply must stay abreast of latest trends so that you know where things are headed.

 

So let’s take a moment to look at the top trends in small business right now:

 

The changing nature of social media: Just when you thought you had Facebook marketing figured out, along comes this, a big change to Facebook. Last year, Facebook announced that “promotional posts” (especially by businesses) would get less airtime in newsfeeds. These include “(1) posts that push people to buy a product, (2) posts that push people to enter contests, and (3) posts that reuse content from their ads.”

 

What this means for small business owners is that Facebook is becoming a pay-to-play medium.

 

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


The changing demographic nature of small business itself: For the first time ever, Baby Boomers are not the dominant demographic; Millennials are, especially when it comes to small businesses. For example, this year almost four million Baby Boomer small business owners are set to retire.

Not only are there now more Millennial versus Boomer small business owners, but also according to the most recent Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, these Millennial entrepreneurs are more bullish about both their own businesses and the overall economy as a whole than any other generation.

 

What this means for us is that your colleagues will increasingly be Millennial small business owners; folks who do business differently and have different attitudes than their older counterparts.

 

The changing nature of work itself: Not only is small business changing insofar as ownership goes, but it is also equally changing vis-à-vis employees.

 

The new watchword is “flexibility.”

 

For starters, as you well know, the 40-hour, 9-to-5 workweek is a thing of the past. Not only do we average 47 hours of work a week (according to Forbes), but employees increasingly expect to work when, where, and how they want, using their own devices. In fact, according to the most recent Small Business Owner Report, almost half of all small businesses surveyed said that they now offer telecommuting as an option. Employees want to be mobile, on the go.

 

Mobile is the new standard: In 2015, mobile searches outnumbered desktop searches for the first time ever. Not only that, but Google updated its algorithm to promote sites that are mobile optimized and ding sites that are not.

 

In 2016, the small businessperson must have not only a mobile-optimized website, but a mobile marketing strategy because that is where the eyeballs are.

 

Cybersecurity is more important than ever: The Small Business Owner Report also found that 59% of small business owners are very concerned about being a cybersecurity attack, and, they should be. 60% of all cybercrime is now directed at small business.

 

Emergence of the gig economy: Uber has more than one million drivers worldwide. Airbnb is the new way to travel. Swifto is an Uber-type dog walking business. TaskRabbit lets freelancers do your to-do list for you.

 

Welcome to the gig economy. This new business model is quickly taking root and seems poised to change much of the way we do business, and life.

 

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 Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. 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

Staying_Fit_on_the_Road_body.jpgBy Erin O’Donnell.


Between jet lag, fast food, and disrupted schedules, travel can wreck havoc on your health and fitness. That’s why it’s important—especially during the busy holiday season—to make time to stay active and eat right while you’re on the road.


Laurie Haynes, the chief operating officer of Parris Communications in Kansas City, Mo., travels about once a month to meet with clients, and she maintains her daily workout regimen as much as possible. If anything, exercise is even more important on the road.


"It's a real stress reliever when I'm traveling," Haynes says. "Even if I have dinner with a client, I still have my evening and early morning to dedicate to my own health and fitness."


Experts recommend you put exercise on your calendar just like you would any business appointment, at home or away. Here are a few more tips on ways to eat healthy and stay active on your next business trip:


Check out the hotel gym in advance

If you're choosing your own hotel, look for one with a fitness center that meets your needs. During those times when you don't have a say in your accommodations, you may be able to find a gym that welcomes drop-ins. That's what Ron Jones does. The corporate training manager from Las Vegas travels for work four to six times a year. Before a trip, he visits TripAdvisor or Yelp to find nearby health clubs that offer guest or day passes. One gym gave Jones a free pass, asking only that he post a review.


"You'd be surprised how willing these places are to work with you," Jones says.


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Create your own workout

You can find stairs to climb or exercise in your room. Search for fitness videos online, or follow a routine that uses your own body weight. The New York Times' 7-Minute Scientific Workout is perfect for travel, and it even has its own app.


Motivational speaker and business consultant Barry Maher says making his fitness a priority is a business necessity. Otherwise he wouldn't be able to keep up his intense schedule. Wearable tech can also help you meet your goals for daily activity.


"I travel with a heart rate monitor, and in a pinch I have been known to run wind sprints up and down the hotel corridor—as quietly as possible," Maher says.


Pack for exercise

Depending on her destination, Haynes says she always travels with gym clothes and shoes, and a swimsuit and goggles. If she knows she'll have a safe place to run outdoors, she’ll also pack her running gear. “Resistance bands and a jump rope also travel well,” she adds.


Take control of your eating

Travelers don't have to accept fast food and overpriced airport fare as their only options, Jones says. He tries to book rooms with a kitchenette or refrigerator. When he travels by car, he preps meals at home and brings them in cooler bags. Or he'll shop for basics at a local grocery store so he can eat the way he wants to.


Haynes feels like she has less control over her diet than her exercise routine, because clients usually make the dining decisions. And those free hotel breakfasts? "That can be excruciating for people trying to watch what they eat," she says. So Haynes packs protein bars as a last resort for mornings.


In airports, Maher's strategy is to buy healthy food as soon as he sees it, because there may not be good choices later on. "That may mean buying lunch if I see something good while running from one flight to another at 9:30 a.m.," he says.


With a little planning and purpose on your next business trip, you won't have to leave your healthy habits at home.


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

Thumb2.pngAs a business owner, you may frequently face the challenge of balancing your business needs with your individual needs. And more often than not, the business needs likely get more attention. But did you know a business retirement plan can help meet both your business needs and your individual needs, as well as those of your employees?


Click here to download the Small Business Retirement Solutions Reference Guide (PDF).

Outlook-Thumb.gifSmall business owners are feeling good about 2016. In a survey by the National Small Business Association, more than 70 percent said they are confident about the year ahead and nearly half are projecting growth for their business. Fifty-two percent plan to raise wages and one-third say they'll be hiring in 2016.


Read on to discover what else small business owners are saying about the year ahead and the ways in which they plan to grow their companies.


Click here to view the infographic.

 

 

 

You can also download a PDF version for printing by clicking here.


Because I write a Question and Answer column at USA TODAY, I naturally hear from many entrepreneurs. They share their ideas and strategies with me, along with tales of success (and, yes, sometimes failure.) 

 

One thing I hear about a lot is not loneliness per se, but rather, that when you work for yourself it sometimes is like being in a vacuum, or a bubble. You know what works for you and how you like to do things, but getting that invaluable perspective from your peers can be difficult.

 

If that describes you, let me suggest that you take a look at the latest edition of the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR.) The SBOR is Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pnga semi-annual survey that looks at the concerns, aspirations, and perspectives of small business owners around the country. It is always a great way to get a pulse on what other entrepreneurs are doing and thinking, and the fall 2015 iteration is no exception.

 

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


It turns out that according to this latest SBOR, the traditional workplace is indeed evolving:

 

Virtual work and offices are becoming more popular. It was once a novel notion that employees would work on the go. This is no longer true. Today, telecommuting and offering employees a mobile work option is prevalent. According to the latest SBOR:

 

The traditional office environment appears to be changing, with small business owners reporting that workplace culture has become more open to change in the past five years. In particular, the virtual office model is rising in popularity with 47 percent of small business owners now offering telecommuting options for employees, compared with 35 percent five years ago.

 

There is no doubt that telecommuting benefits the employee, but does it work for the owner too? You bet. The majority (59 percent) of the small business owner respondents stated that their employees are happier as a result and we all know that happy employees help create a successful business.

 

New perks abound: Traditionally, a small business owner would reward an employee with money, for example, a raise, a bonus, or better benefits. But one of the things I am seeing a lot in the new office, and what is borne out by the latest SBOR, is that entrepreneurs are getting more creative with how they are rewarding staff members. Consider these perks that were highlighted in the report:

 

  • Flextime was offered by 52 percent of respondents. And that makes sense. Flextime doesn’t really cost a business much and yet is something much valued by today’s work staff, especially Millennials.

 

  • Twenty percent said that they offer “areas to unwind,” like nap pods.

 

  • Seventeen percent  offer “office happy hours.” Not only is this another affordable option, but it is a great way to foster teamwork.

 

  • And how about this? Eleven percent said that one of their main perks is to offer a “pet friendly environment.”

 

New ways to hire emerge: One other significant change that we are seeing in the workplace, as reported in the latest SBOR, is that small business owners have been changing their hiring methods over the past few years. According to the report:

“30 percent are using social media platforms such as LinkedIn to find potential candidates, 29 percent are using social media sites such

While it doesn’t really matter whether you are using these tools and perks in your place of business, it is beneficial to know how others are adopting, and adapting to, all of this new technology. as Facebook and Instagram to vet potential candidates, and 22 percent are using technology such as Skype to conduct interviews.”

And in any case, if how they are doing business gives you some new ideas, that makes it all the better.

 

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 Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. 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

 

Payroll_Best_Practices_body.jpgBy Cindy Waxer.


Most small businesses understand the value of smart payroll practices. But many fail to anticipate the negative impact of this business-critical activity if poorly executed. While a solid payroll system can keep employees happy and the government satisfied, poor payroll practices can create tax-related nightmares, send labor costs skyrocketing, and prompt an employee exodus.


Fortunately, small businesses need not invest millions in high-end software programs or high-priced consultants to make the most of payroll. Here, experts and entrepreneurs offer ways to put in place a world-class payroll practice on a small business budget.


The benefits of a do-it-yourself strategy

When it comes to payroll, using pen and paper or a simple Excel spreadsheet is still commonplace. That’s because a manual payroll system is easy to get off the ground and one of the most cost-efficient approaches to issuing checks and tracking payments. What’s more, a DIY-payroll system doesn’t have to bend to the constraints of an off-the-shelf software program, or cost small business owners thousands of dollars customizing a manual payroll system.


However, there is often an opportunity cost for entrepreneurs who take on the burden of handling their own payroll. After all, hours spent calculating overhead, figuring tax withholdings, and issuing payments translate into time not spent on things like refining your business’s current production capability, brainstorming new product ideas, or prospecting for new customers. These intangible losses won’t directly show up on a profit and loss statement, but after a few years of stagnant growth, an entrepreneur might discover that his or her time is too valuable to be devoted to back-office clerical work like payroll.


Deploy a software program that’s right for your business

These days, there’s no shortage of payroll software packages promising to simplify accounting, calculate and remit payroll taxes, print paychecks, ensure government compliance, and provide paystubs to employees.


Just ask Barbara Kittrell, owner of Kittrell/Riffkind Art Glass, anAddison, Texas-based art glass studio specializing in custom-stained glass. “When I used to do my taxes, it would take hours because I had no way of tracking it manually,” recalls Kittrell. “It used to take way longer and it all had to be done by hand and then verified.”


That is until Kittrell converted to a small business accounting and payroll software solution. Now, Kittrell says payroll activities that used to take an hour-and-a-half only require minutes to complete. Better yet, the system allows her to easily add and subtract new workers as they come and go, making it easy to adjust to seasonal workflows.


CrowdSPRING’s introduction to payroll software wasn’t quite as smooth as that of Kittrell’s but the adventure has since paid off. The Chicago-based online marketplace for buyers and sellers of creative services began with one payroll package that company co-founder Mike Samson, describes as nothing short of “awful.” Plagued by an unfriendly user interface and poor customer service, he eventually switched to a different software provider and now Samson says crowdSPRING’s employees couldn’t be happier.


“They have access to their accounts, they can print a copy of a check stub, or sign right in and have access to everything,” says Samson. “It saves us money and our employees love it because [with its direct deposit capabilities], nobody wants to have to deposit a paycheck nowadays.”

 

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Consider outsourcing

Sometimes running the most seamless payroll processes means not running them at all. At least, not in-house. Many small businesses turn to third-party providers to oversee their payroll practices.


“Because of its complexities and the changing rules and regulations, I’m a fan of outsourcing payroll,” says Tom Gegax, founder of Gegax Advisors and author of The Big Book of Small Business. “A small business doesn’t want to mess around with payroll. Plus, it’s so inexpensive to outsource payroll—for a tiny company, it’s worth it.”


It’s easy to do the math. Simply calculate the number of hours your employees spend on a weekly basis tending to payroll activities. Then compare these costs to the price of the packages being offered by third-party providers. Don’t forget to factor in additional in-house costs such as printing expenses, distribution fees, creating tax documents, and more. Chances are, you’ll save money by handing over payroll activities to an outsourcing company.


But not all small business owners are ready and willing to sing the praises of outsourcing. As far as Samson is concerned, payroll software offers “phenomenal access to information” while outsourcing arrangements can make business owners feel as if they’ve lost control over their finances and payroll processes, so choose accordingly.


Be true to your company

Doing it yourself, using a payroll software package, or paying for a third-party provider—these are a small business owner’s major choices when it comes to satisfying your employees and providing the best possible payroll practices. But remember: Just as no two companies are alike, no two small businesses are likely to have the same set of processes. So decide what’s right for your specific company and your employees.


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

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