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Co-WorkingSpaces_Body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.

 

At some point, many small business owners grow out of their home office, or they just become bored, lonely, and uninspired working alone. One option that is sizzling right now is co-working spaces. In fact, a recent global co-working survey shows that demand for shared office space has risen more than 36 percent over the past year.

We spoke to some small business owners to find out how they’re benefitting from co-working spaces—and how you can determine if they’re right for you:

Camaraderie: If you find yourself craving a visit from UPS or are spending more time than you should on Facebook, that could be an indication it’s time to rethink your home office. “Interacting with smart and creative people every day is inspiring and always boosts my mood,” says Lisa McAlister, founder of With Good Cause, a boutique agency specializing in corporate and sports philanthropy. She joined The Studio in Boulder, Colo., in January after working out of her home for 13 years. Besides day-to-day interaction, many co-working spaces are known for activities and after work gatherings to encourage camaraderie.

 

Immediate feedback: A co-working space can offer a ready-made focus group with a valuable outside perspective, says Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal, which provides on-call lawn care services. “Changes to our product or design can now be immediately vetted by other entrepreneurs instead of relying on our internal team to make assumptions,” he says, of moving the four-person team to the Missioner in Nashville after working out of a home office for the first two years of operation.

 

Co-WorkingSpaces_PQ.jpgProfessional atmosphere: Bringing clients to your home can feel unprofessional and meeting in a coffee shop can be crowded and noisy. Resources, such as meeting rooms, a reception area, and security are a vital part of the co-working space, says Sam Meek of Sandboxx, an app that connects military members, who is now working out of the Eastern Foundry co-working space in Arlington, Va.

 

Separation of work and home: Home can become home again when work isn’t constantly beckoning from another room. “I found myself working less late at night, if at all,” says Brandon Fuhrmann, CEO of Cooler Kitchen kitchenware, who found his productivity soared when he began using the co-working space at WeWork in Chelsea, N.Y., last November.

 

Professional confidence: “There is something about having a designated office that gives you more credibility when talking about your business,” says McAlister. “Even though it’s more common to work from home these days, it still can be hard to shake the ‘lucky you, sitting on the couch in your PJs’ vibe you get from others.”

Of course, with any shared working space there are some potential drawbacks to consider. Chief among them are distractions and the lack of privacy. Alex Pierson, founder of social media app springpop, who moved to the WeWork location in San Francisco last summer, says the environment itself can lead to distraction with many of the desks lined up facing each other.

 

McAlister adds that while everyone is cognizant of being respectful of those around them, it can still be hard to take a phone call. “If a call goes on too long, I start to feel like I should cut it short so as not to disturb those around me.”

 

Despite these minor inconveniences, the benefits of a co-working space are many and may offer just the kind of connection and stimulation you need to take your small business to the next level.

 

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

There are many traits that go into being a successful small business owner. For starters, they are positive, committed, enthusiastic, and creative. They are also hard working and typically fearless. Finally, you could also say that, generally speaking, they like to be in control.

 

That last factor especially makes a lot of sense.

 

If you are going to leave the comfort and security of a job with its attendant paychecks and benefits for the far more risky life of an entrepreneur, it is logical that you will want to be in charge of as many aspects of the new engagement as possible. According to a recent article in Entrepreneur, “the truth is Steve Jobs was known for the same thing. So were Bill Gates and Larry Ellison. So are Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg...That’s who they are. That’s how they roll.”Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

So yes, entrepreneurs like predictability and want to be able to control as many variables in the business equation as they can. It should then follow that the one thing that can really make a small business owner sweat is a lack of control.

 

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

 

As such, it probably comes as no surprise that this unprecedented 2016 election finds small business owners nervous.

 

These are just part of the fascinating findings in the spring 2016 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (SBOR.) For small business owners, “anxiety is high regarding the impact of the fall elections, the effectiveness of U.S. government leaders and health care costs, possibly explaining why small businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach before making plans for hiring and growth.”

 

The report goes on to note, “nearly four out of five (79 percent) of small business owners express concern over the effectiveness of U.S. government leaders. In addition, 67 percent say the presidential election will affect their business “a lot” or “somewhat.” Think about that for a moment. Politicians talk about a lot of different policies, many of which actually have little bearing on the day-to-day lives of a particular set of voters. Yet, it’s remarkable that 2/3 of small business owners surveyed saw a correlation between the upcoming elections and their own local business.

 

 

This uncertainty is having some very real world consequences, having an effect small business owners’ plans for growth:

 

  • Last year, 63% of small business owners surveyed in the SBOR said that they expected to grow their business over the course of the 12 months. This year, that number dropped by 12 percentage-points, down to about only half (51%).
  • Similarly, last spring, 40% of small business owners said that at least they expected their revenues to remain constant. This year that number is down almost 10%.

 

That being said, these numbers were also on the lower end when surveyed in previous election years in 2012 and 2014.

 

Small business owners can control a lot of things in their world. They can control who works for them and how much they are paid. They can control how customers are treated, what prices customers will pay, and what products and services they will sell.

 

But it turns out that it could be those things they cannot control which causes them the most stress, especially in this election year.

 

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

I don’t want to name drop, but here is a fun story worth sharing:

 

A few years ago I was sitting in the green room for an MSNBC show called Your Business. I was waiting to go on and sitting next to me was a woman also getting ready to appear. As we chatted she shared that she had turned a $1,000 investment into a New York real estate empire.

 

As you may be able to guess, the woman was Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank fame. I loved her story so much that I asked her if she had any tips on how she had made her small business so big (as I am always looking for tips.)

 

“Especially in the beginning, I always strived to make my business look bigger than it was,” she told me. Barbara gave the example of press releases her business would put out, for example, “The Top 5 Celebrity Apartments in New York.” The press would pick up her releases and before long she had created a reputation as a celebrity real estate broker.

 

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

 

And while that was of course very important to the growth of her brand and business, she said that it was her two-step planning process that made an even bigger difference.

 

Barbara said that every year, she would ask herself and her team two simple questions:

 

1. “Where do we want to be in one year?”

 

Most small business people fall into one of two categories when it comes to business planning:

 

  • Either they are true believers and they have a hefty business plan that they spent a lot of time creating, or
  • They have no business plan and don’t want to be bothered to take the time necessary to create one

 

The beauty of Barbara’s strategy is that it is a bridge between the two camps. Instead of devoting a lot of time creating an exhaustive business plan, what Barbara suggests is that you distill your business vision down to its core.

 

Where do you want to be at this time next year?

 

Say for example that you own a blow-dry bar. You likely spend most of your time serving customers and getting the word out. You don’t have a lot of time for business planning. Fair enough. And that is why this first question is so important.

 

For example, if your vision is to open a second location within the year, then there’s your goal. Now let’s answer Barbara’s second question:

 

2. “What resources do we need to get there?”

 

Again, this cuts to the chase. Once you answer the first question, then really, it is just a matter of figuring out how to get there, and that’s the purpose of the second question. Figuring out what you need to accomplish your goal is the key.

 

What resources would the small business owner of the blow-dry bar need in order to accomplish her goal of opening up a second location within twelve months? For starters, she would need access to capital. She would also need to find the right location and would need to put together a team who could help her implement this vision. All of a sudden, the owner knows both where she wants to go and what she needs to do to get there.

 

Of course, your answers will be unique to your business, but the point is the same. Ask yourself and your team these two questions:

 

1. Where do we want to be in a year?

 

2. What resources do we need to get there?

 

This plan is deceptive in its simplicity. That is why you should do it. It is easy, it makes sense, and it worked for one of the best-known and most successful entrepreneurs.

 

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

One time I decided that I needed to take my own advice, so I launched a paid search campaign targeting (what I thought were) meeting planners looking to hire small business speakers like myself. 

 

Instead, I lost money just to find out who I was targeting were actually looking for a different type of small business speaker.

 

There is definitely a learning curve with a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, so I am here to make sure you learn the easy way and not the hard way. The steps to paid search success are as follows:

 

1. Consider your keywords: The point of your ad campaign is to send highly targeted, qualified traffic to a landing page or pages on your website. Therefore, your first job is to figure out what keywords will work best to drive people to your website. Accordingly, you want to micro-target those words and phrases, avoiding broader terms. For instance, if you sell gardening supplies in Denver, you will want a webpage and ad that focuses on, say, “Roses” and “Denver” and not “Gardening” and “Colorado.”

 

Google has a keyword analyzer tool that can help you.

 

2. Pick your network: Generally speaking, you can display ads on Google, Bing/Yahoo, or Facebook. There are of course many other options (Yelp, etc.), depending upon your goals. So you need to do some research and figure out which best fits your needs.

 

There are also networks that will evenly distribute your ads for you and automatically re-calculate and re-post them, depending upon the results you are getting in.

 

Example: YP.com, and Dex.com.

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

 

3. Create your ad: You don’t have a lot of room, and basically only three or four lines with a paid search ad, so you better use it effectively. You will need:

 

  • A bold heading that grabs their attention!! (See?)
  • A line explaining the benefit
  • A call to action

 

For example, your ad might say

 

The best gardening gloves in the world!

Never buy another pair of gardening gloves again

On sale, this week only, 15% off”

 

4. Consider ad extensions: Sitelink extensions are extra pieces of information that you can include in your ad that people may also want to click on, for example, store hours, and popular products.

You can learn more here.

 

5. Consider what constitutes success: Trying to buy ads that always show up first or buying highly popular words is very expensive. Less expensive words and placement can sometimes do the trick just as well.

 

6. Set a budget: Set aside enough time and money to really see if this will pay off for you, and make sure your budget includes the ability to test more than one ad, more than one headline, more than one call to action, more than one landing page, and so on.

 

Which brings me to…

 

7. Test, test, test: Testing is key. You want to come up with the right combination of advertisement, call to action, price, and landing page. Once you figure that out, then the ad should be a money maker for years to come; money while you sleep. But that will only happen if you test and test some more.

 

8. Monitor your results: One mistake I made when I had my speaker ad debacle was that I didn’t monitor my results quickly enough. One of the beautiful things about a PPC campaign is that you can monitor in real time and will know very quickly if what you are doing is working.

 

You need to monitor key words and phrases, headlines, times of day for clicks, better and worse days for clicks, and so on. A good test often lasts at least a month.

 

Google Adwords makes this easy with its conversion tracking.

 

9. Review with Google Analytics: Analytics is a great tool to help you understand the actions of people on your site – where they came from, how long they stayed, what they did, to name a few.

 

Learn more here.

 

A great search ad can become one of the best friend’s that your small business can have and it would behoove you to take the time to find the combination that works best for you.

 

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

Justin Bassett was interviewing for a new job when the interviewer tried to pull up Justin’s Facebook page. The interviewer was thwarted because Justin had made his page “private.” The interviewer then insisted that Justin give him his private login information. Justin refused, withdrew his application for the position, and left.

 

Cautionary tale, sign of the times, or both?

 

Employers increasing use of social media sites to find and screen applicants is not exactly breaking news; it has been going on for some time now. However, the idea that a potential employer can ask for private information or login information on sites like Facebook and Gmail is a new trend, and potentially an illegal one. It’s also the type of thing that may turn an ideal candidate into an angry one.

 

All of which is to say that small businesses that wish to use social media sites to find and screen appliSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngcants must do so cautiously.

 

With that caveat in place, it is perfectly understandable why you as an employer would use social media in this process. After all, public posts are just that, public. What a job applicant says on his or her Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook page can be useful in understanding the applicant.

 

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

 

If you want to use social media in your next job search, here are the 5 steps to doing it right:

 

1.  Start with LinkedIn: There are many reasons to begin (and possibly end) your recruitment with LinkedIn. First of all, as opposed to the informality of Facebook, LinkedIn is designed to be a B2B portal. LinkedIn is about business, period.

 

It is smart and easy to use the LinkedIn search and advanced search tools to locate potential job candidates. By inputting the factors and experience you deem important, you can very quickly get a list of potential candidates.

 

Once you have that, then…

 

2. Dive deeper – using LinkedIn again. Once you find some folks who may fit the bill, check out their LinkedIn profile. There you can find out…

 

  • Their career path and their timeline
  • What they have done relevant to what you need
  • Who has recommended them and what was said

 

3. Contact the best options: I am recommending LinkedIn as the basis of your social media search because that is really what that platform is designed to do – help professionals find the right professionals. LinkedIn is for networking, and that is what you are trying to do.

 

Once you have made your list, LinkedIn is again beneficial because you can use mutual contacts to reach out to a candidate.

 

4. Use Facebook and Twitter to research the interviewees: It is only after finding the right people that the other more informal social media sites might come in handy (and only if you think it is necessary to dig that deep).

 

A candidate’s Facebook page will tell you a lot about the person; things their resume does not. Similarly what they tweet or post on Instagram may also yield some valuable information.

 

Use this info to learn more and ask follow-up questions, but as you do…

 

5. Be careful of legalities: Caution is necessary. Diving too deep into people’s private affairs is not only questionable legally, but also would likely turn them off. When you are trying to fill a position with the best person available, you will be far less likely to get that person if you start the relationship out angering them and invading their privacy.

 

Additionally, as you likely know, it is illegal to base a hiring decision on discriminatory reasons. That is, you cannot not hire someone because he or she is black, or a female, or Jewish, for example. You cannot discriminate your hiring, period.

 

So you must use extreme caution when researching a candidate’s social media profiles because you will likely learn of their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, family situation, etc. – all things you previously would and should not know and ask about. And if a candidate gets the idea that you did not hire her because you read on her Facebook timeline that she is gay, you can get into a big mess.

 

It is understandable that you would check out what someone says online, but as you do, be careful to use it and not abuse it. If you do that, then they will stay your “friend.”

 

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

Studies show that when consumers spend money at a small business, their purchases have a ripple effect that spreads through the local economy. Big box or national chain stores might appear to make a bigger impact, but downtown merchants anchored in the community often provide more benefits overall. From keeping more money in the community to providing competitive deals, local economies thrive when neighborhood businesses are supported.

 

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Sources:
1: Small Business is Good for Local Economies; Big Business is Not, Researchers Say. Business News Daily, August 4, 2011.
http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/1298-small-business-good-for-economy.html

 

2: The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, Chicago, Illinois. Civic Economics, February 2005. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~opdc/planner/wp-content/andersonvillesummary.pdf

 

3: The Benefits of Locally Owned Businesses. Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.
https://bealocalist.org/economic-development/planet-protection/benefits-of-locally-owned-businesses

 

4: Small Business, Big impact! Small Business Trends, U.S. Small Business Administration.
https://www.sba.gov/managing-business/running-business/energy-efficiency/sustainable-business-practices/small-business-trends

 

5: Why “Local”? Seattle Good Business Network. http://www.seattlenetwork.org/why-buy-local

 

6: What Info Do Consumers Value Most on Local Business Websites? MarketingProfs, 2/14/14.
http://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2014/24402/what-info-do-consumers-value-most-on-local-biz-websites

 

7: Consumers Favor Small Businesses Because of Their Customer Focus. eMarketer, 4/21/14.
http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Consumers-Favor-Small-Businesses-of-Their-Customer-Focus/1010771

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Publicis Hawkeye to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only.
Publicis Hawkeye is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Publicis Hawkeye.
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

 

 

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Placeholder for Spring 2016 Small Business Owner Report

May is Small Business Month at Bank of America, highlighted by the release of our spring Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study that explores the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners throughout the U.S.

 

Citing their anxiety over government leaders and the upcoming election, small business owners’ confidence in the national economy has been tempered, according to Bank of America’s spring 2016 Small Business Owner Report (PDF). Bank of America conducts this survey of small business owners twice a year, releasing its spring report to coincide with National Small Business Week, which began this past Sunday.

 

This year’s spring report found that small business owners’ confidence in the national economy has fallen 19 percentage points over the last year, from 48% in spring 2015 to 29% now, while confidence in their local economies is down 11 percentage points, from 49% in spring 2015 to 38% in spring 2016.

 

Despite some concerns, anxiety over economy trends down

 

The biggest factors leading to this downturn in optimism are the concerns small business owners harbor about the effectiveness of U.S. government leaders, health care costs and the stock market. Nearly four-fifths of small business owners expressed concern that the effectiveness of U.S. government leaders will impact their business, a 10 percentage-point increase from spring 2015.

 

In fact, small business owners expect the presidential and congressional elections to impact them, and are taking their business into account when voting:

 

  • 67% report that this year’s presidential election will affect their business “a lot” or “somewhat”
  • 53% report that the upcoming congressional elections will affect their business “a lot” or “somewhat”

 

Health care costs are also a big concern with almost three of every four small business owners concerned about the impact on their business. Small business owners are also watching the U.S. and global stock markets, with more than half fearing an impact on their business.

 

However, the news isn’t entirely pessimistic as small business owner anxiety about other economic factors declined since spring 2015. For example, their concerns dropped by double digits on consumer spending, interest rates and credit availability. There was also a downward shift in concern over commodities prices, corporate tax rates and strength of the U.S. dollar.

 

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“Small business owners are taking a wait-and-see approach before making plans for expansion and growth,” said Robb Hilson, Small Business executive. “Interestingly, while anxiety over the U.S. and global stock market has increased since last year, concern over the other economic factors we surveyed has declined.”

 

Small business owners revise hiring, growth plans

 

As Robb indicated, small business owners are not aggressively planning for growth, but they also don’t anticipate downsizing. This wait-and-see approach most likely stems from the pending outcome of the presidential election and policy questions that hang in the balance.

 

Small business owners are less bullish on revenue growth and expansion plans, with only half expecting a revenue increase over the next 12 months, while 40% say they expect their revenue to remain flat over that same time period. While 55% of small business owners still plan to grow their business over the next five years, the number of those who anticipate doing so is down from previous years.

 

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“The small business owners we surveyed indicated their revised revenue and growth projections also affect the plans they had to add more employees,” Robb said. “In fact, the majority of small business owners we surveyed this spring plan to keep the same number of employees over the next 12 months, perhaps suggesting they are waiting until after the election to reassess hiring plans.”

 

Small business owners prefer to hire Gen-Xers

 

When they are hiring, small business owners indicated a strong preference for Generation X candidates. Nearly half report that skill level is the single most important factor in hiring, followed by a candidate’s fit with company culture. Small business owners reported that other factors, such as previous work experience and education, were less critical in hiring decisions.

 

Generations2.gifIn general, small business owners favor candidates who are trustworthy, hardworking and experienced. They are less concerned with sales ability and tech savviness — or even a college degree — when evaluating prospective hires.

 

They are finding those qualifications most in job candidates who are between 35 and 50 years old. Nearly half (47%) say they would choose to hire Gen-Xers, while 26% prefer Millennials, and 8% gravitate toward Baby Boomer candidates.

 

Learn more in the report

For a complete, in-depth look at the perspectives of the nation’s small business owners, read the spring 2016 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (PDF), and for additional information view the Small Business Owner Report national infographic.

Business_Debt_body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

Small business growth requires a certain amount of debt. That additional funding can help a small business expand its operations, spend more money on product development and marketing, or survive a slump. But how much is too much? If the business doesn’t generate the sales to cover loan payments, it may find itself hustling to cut costs or, at worst, in bankruptcy.

 

Dileep Rao, clinical professor at Florida International University, and a former VC and venture financier and business consultant, offers one golden rule of business debt: “Only borrow what you can pay back with certainty.”

 

Here are some other points to consider when determining whether your business has too much debt:

 

Determine your debt-to-equity ratio

The amount you owe creditors compared to how much equity you have in the business determines debt-to-equity ratio. Industry norms for debt-to-equity ratio vary, so it’s best to identify a debt-to-equity ratio that suits your business. This data can help you determine whether you should pay down debt or move forward and finance that second location.

 

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Understand your finances

Even businesses that just emerged from bankruptcy may receive loan offers from lenders. Don’t be swayed. “They often want to take over collateral,” says Rao.

 

Instead, use your balance sheet and cash flow statements to help you make borrowing decisions. If you don’t understand these statements—learn. “If you’re not finance smart, you’re not going to get to the next level,” says Rao. “Know how to use financial statements to develop a stronger business. Your accountant shouldn’t be the only one that knows.”

 

Analyze cash flow

If you have high profits but not much cash on hand, you may have too much debt. Making principal payments on loans is essentially a transfer between accounts, so paying back principal isn’t reflected in profits figures.

 

To reverse sluggish cash flow, it may make more sense to pay off the debt slowly to free up available cash. On the other hand, you may need to borrow to bolster cash flow if you don’t have much debt to begin with.

 

Know your industry risk

When you need to boost cash flow or finance an expansion, borrowing makes sense—but only within the limits of your business. Analyze the amount of risk involved in your business and industry. “If you’re a startup, the uncertainty is very high,” says Rao. “What certainties do you face?” Businesses in a volatile industry, such as technology or energy, should maintain less debt than more stabile industries, such as consumer goods, which can handle more debt.

 

Borrowing can make good financial sense for a growing small business, “but only when money is used productively,” says Rao. “All debt has cost. The business owner should consider the return on the money they borrow and how certain that return is.”

 

If you want to finance that expansion or hire a few new salespeople (both wise reasons to borrow), remember Rao’s rule and “only borrow if you’re sure you can pay it back.”

 

 

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

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Our country is built on businesses like yours

 

That’s why we’d like to thank you for everything you do, and we look forward to helping your business grow even stronger. Check out our infographic to learn how small businesses across the country are making a difference every day.

 

Click here to view the infographic.

 

 

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Small Business: The Backbone of the Economy (infographic) Big corporations may make headlines, but small businesses make the economy hum. Of the nearly 23 million new jobs created between 1993 and 2013, 63 percent came from small businesses, and more than half of those companies are planning to hire additional workers this year.

 

View our infographic to discover the many other ways that small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy.

 

Click here to view the infographic. 

 

 

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

Franchising_body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

If you want to see your brand become a household name, franchise your small business. “Franchising is one of the quickest ways to grow a company,” says Michael Ciccarelli, senior vice president for Franchise Group LLC, a consulting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. “As a franchise, you have other people with a vested interest in your business and your brand being successful.”

 

A report from the International Franchise Association reports that sales from franchised businesses rose 5.4 percent in 2015, up from 4.8 the previous year. The study also predicted an increase in jobs at franchises for 2016.

 

Although franchising sounds like a win-win situation, there are many things to consider before heading down this road. Ask yourself these five important questions before you make the move.

 

1. Do you have the right business model?

Franchises span dozens of industries, from restaurant chains to real estate companies. Small businesses with the most franchise potential have the following qualities:

  • Familiarity with originality. Massage is nothing new, but Massage Envy’s extended hours, easy appointment scheduling, and affordable prices make it a nationwide hit. 
  • Adaptability. Is there a demand for your product or service in other regions of the United States?
  • Easily replicated. Do you have to have systems and processes in place that franchisees can use to run their business?

 

2. Are you financially ready?

“It’s critical that a business is proven and has two to three years of operational history,” says Ciccarelli. “Ask yourself, would franchisees get at least 20 percent return on their investment in two to four years?”

 

Franchising_PQ.jpg3. Do you already have more than one location?

If your pasta shop successfully opened two additional locations in your region, you are on your way to franchise success. Five Guys Burgers and Fries grew from one burger joint to five before it franchised. It now has more than 1,000 locations nationwide.

 

“A franchisee is making a big investment,” says Ciccarelli. “They have to know that they can replicate that business and that you have proven systems, processes, and infrastructure in place to support franchisees.”

 

4. Are you willing to take on new responsibilities?

Small business owners wear many hats. As a franchisor, you will likely take on new tasks designed to help franchisees run their businesses successfully.

 

The franchisor will have to continually refine and improve systems, processes, infrastructure, and resources to support their franchisees,” Ciccarelli says. “This will help create strong-unit economics and positive franchisee and franchisor relationships, which are two critical components of a healthy franchise system.” For specialized roles, he recommends considering outside resources, such as franchise consulting and development firms, to help develop sales and marketing strategies, provide territorial planning, and navigate legal and regulatory requirements.

 

5. Are you prepared to take the financial risk?

It could cost $250,000 or more to franchise a business according to the Small Business Administration. Initial costs include legal, consulting, and accounting fees, marketing materials, franchisee training manuals and systems, and more. 

 

While franchising isn’t a guaranteed path to riches, with the right concept and strategic planning, a small business has the potential for mainstream appeal. As Ciccarelli says, “If you have the right business model, a franchise operation can perform as well as, or better than, company operated businesses.”

 

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

In many ways, marketing today is vastly superior to even a generation ago. Back then, marketing was an endeavor that relied more on hope than it did on skill, for example:

 

  • You could put an ad in the paper, but would hope that it showed up on page A3 and not buried somewhere in the back.
  • You could pass out 25 business cards at the chamber mixer, but would hope someone might look at it later and decide to call.
  • You could buy an expensive internet banner ad, and would definitely hope someone would click-through on it.

 

The good news is that if you do it right, marketing in today’s digital age relies far more on knowledge and skill than it does on hope. This begs the question: Just what does “do it right” mean?

 

Here are 5 tips:

 

1. Cast a wide net: Consider all of the different ways you can market your business in the e-age. You can

 

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  • Have a website
  • Create a video
  • Start a blog
  • Blast out an e-newsletter
  • Engage in social media
  • Have a podcast

  • Check out pay-per-click
  • Try mobile marketing

 

And that list is just for starters; each one of these offers even more choices (e.g., SEO for your website, drilling down into the different social media sites, etc.)

 

Maybe the best news is that trying these different methods does not cost much at all. Marketing today is vastly less expensive than when small businesses had little option but to rely on mass media like television and radio. Yes, things like SEO and podcasting take time, but it’s relatively inexpensive.

 

So my first tip for marketing in the e-age is to cast a wide net and try out as many of these affordable ideas as you can.

 

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

 

2. Test, test, test: Again, a comparison with an earlier era is illustrative. If you ran a television ad back in the day and it didn’t work, you wouldn’t know until you had spent a lot of money and it was too late. That was the nature of the beast. Marketing in the e-age is more effective, far easier and more affordable to test and see what works.

 

Take pay-per-click for example. You can create some small PPC ads that show up on a Google result or a Facebook page and know instantly whether they are working or not. If not, you can tweak the headline, or the call to action, or you can try different keywords.

 

3. Be different: Some people call this the “Age of Distraction” and it is not hard to see why. Whether it is checking that darned phone all day long, the constant onslaught of media we’re surrounded by, or the never-ending rash of advertising coming in from all quarters, people are distracted.

 

Your job is not an easy one. You must be heard above the din. And the best way to do that is to be different. Zig when everyone else zags. Go black and white when everyone else is in color (or vice versa.) Be different.

 

4. Remain customer-centric: Not only do you have many more choices in this brave, new digital world, but so do your customers. At the click of a mouse, your customers have the ability to promote or destroy your business. Get some good Yelp reviews and you will be thrilled, but get some bad ones and you will see why it’s called Yelp.

 

The answer is to double-down on customer service, and that means branching out digitally. Engage with customers on social media and reach out to them on your blog and e-newsletter. If you get a bad review, respond to it immediately. Encourage people to email you and respond to what they say.

 

Customers these days like interacting with brands and expect to be able to do so.

 

5. Remember, content is king: Content is not prince or duke, it is called “king” for a reason. As you know, there is no shortage of content available today and most of it is free. This offers you both an opportunity and a challenge.

 

The challenge is to create content that people like, and when I say content, I am speaking broadly. Whether it is a clever pay-per-click ad, social media post, or a valuable e-newsletter, the key is to offer people something of value.

 

The opportunity is if you market your business with these e-tips in mind, you won’t need to hope that you will be will be rewarded for your efforts. You will be.

 

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

Most new business people start their venture by creating a business that is an extension of themselves.

 

Not only is the enterprise a manifestation of the entrepreneur’s vision, but it is also, a physical expression of their financial life because they oftentimes use their own assets and credit to get the business up and running. If the business is not started as a corporation (and most are not), then the business’ assets and liabilities become even more inextricably linked with that of the owner.

 

There are many things that can go wrong with this type of financial blend:

 

First, a new business is a risk. By having your personal credit tied in with the business, you risk personal financial ruin if something we

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re to go wrong. By the same token, if you get sued personally, your business would be an asset that your creditors can go after.

 

Second, you limit the growth potential of the business. Lenders and investors want to see that the business is a separate entity, separate and apart from the entrepreneur.

 

The smart move therefore is to separate your business and personal credit as soon as possible after starting the enterprise. The problem is that most people, while knowing how to create and improve their own personal credit, have little understanding as to how to do this for a business.

 

Here’s how:

 

1. Incorporate: As indicated above, for a variety of reasons, it is beneficial for your business to be a separate legal entity, and this can only be done by incorporating. Corporations are stand-alone entities, legally. A partnership is not a corporation and a sole proprietorship is not a corporation. Only S corps, C corps, and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) are corporations.By incorporating, you begin to separate your personal credit from that of the business.

 

2. Get Employer Identification number: If it is true that your personal credit is tied to your social security number, then it should follow that you need a different sort of number for your business. That number is obtained from the IRS and is called an “Employer Identification number” or EIN.

 

You can apply for one here.

 

3. Open a bank account in the name of the business. Once you have a corporation with it’s own EIN, then the next step is to go to a bank and open a checking and savings account in the name of the business using the business’ tax ID number. (It is critical that you do not use your own social security number here as that would once again tie your personal credit to that of the business, and that is precisely what we are trying to avoid.)

 

In my experience, our friends here at Bank of America are the most small business friendly bank around. You can find their offerings here.

 

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

 

4. Register your business with a business credit bureau: The main company that tracks business credit is Dun & Bradstreet and you will want to establish a credit reporting relationship with them by getting what is known as a DUNS number.

 

5. Establish commercial credit: Next, put your business credit accounts in the name of the business, using your EIN and DUNS number – telephone and internet, shipping, bottled water, whatever. Additionally, see if any of your vendors will extend you business credit.

 

6. Get a loan: You may want to take out a small loan in the name of the business, simply for the purpose of establishing a good repayment history.

 

7. Pay on time: As we all know, paying in full and on time is how you reinforce a positive credit profile.

 

The good news is that before long, you will have two separate credit profiles, one for your business and one personally, and that is as it should be.

 

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

Pro_Network_body.jpgBy Robert Lerose.

 

It's so easy for small business owners to get caught up in the daily running of their operation that they forget to devote time to an essential activity—building and maintaining their professional network. Along with servicing their existing customers, refining their products and services, and staying ahead of the competition, cultivating relationships with people in different fields can lead to new business opportunities.

 

Jonathan Long, the founder and CEO of Market Domination Media, a Miami Beach, Florida-based online marketing agency, recommends these steps for growing and nurturing a productive professional network:

 

1. Announce yourself to the community

Tell your existing network what your business is doing now and what's coming up down the road. A straightforward message sent by email, on social media, or in person at meetings will keep your network informed about and involved in your business—and cause them to think of you first when they need your services.

 

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2. Participate in networking events

Attending trade shows and conferences within your industry is a great way to find people to add to your network under one roof. Also, don't overlook local events and get-togethers. Meeting with businesspeople in your own neighborhood or region may even give you an edge over national competitors. Look for online networking opportunities. LinkedIn and Twitter both have groups where people with similar interests or needs congregate.

 

3. Meet them on their own turf

"Frequent the places that the people you want to connect with can be found at,” says Long. “This could be a particular lunch spot. Be friendly and social and you will make new connections."

 

4. Give of yourself

Be willing to share what you know to help others out, whether offering your expertise or connecting people together—without expecting or asking for a return favor. Demonstrating that you genuinely want to do good for others will motivate them to reciprocate on their own.

 

5. Be diligent about following up

Whenever you make a new connection, follow up promptly. Send an email to express your satisfaction at meeting them and invite them to get in touch with you if they ever need your help—and fulfill any promise that you make.

 

Maintaining a presence among the people who need your products, services, or expertise—whether in offline get-togethers or through online communications—can be an inexpensive but effective way to amass a strategic professional network.

 

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

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