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Donate_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


The requests can seem endless: school auction items, charity golf tournaments, team uniforms, table sponsorships, gift certificates, gift baskets, door prizes, free classes...  


But you’re not made of money.


So, how can you communicate that to those flooding your small business with appeals for donations and other freebies, while not coming off as Ebenezer Scrooge or giving away the store?


We all want to be generous. Who doesn’t fantasize about all the people you would help with a winning mega-lottery ticket? And Americans are a giving bunch: Nearly $300 billion was donated to charities in the U.S. in 2011, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. A wobbly economy has left many nonprofit, school, and community groups strapped for cash, pushing many to turn to the local business community to help bridge the gap. 


For many small businesses, that’s the trickiest aspect: You’re part of a community, there are client relationships to consider, there’s your reputation and marketing to think about, not to mention feelings of guilt at turning down someone in need. But how much can you afford and how often should you give?


Sherry Thomas, founder and president of Palm Beach Etiquette, an etiquette instruction and business coaching service, says she contributes to numerous local Florida charities related to health, religious organizations, and other groups. But it’s a delicate line for her. “There’s no way I could stay afloat and fulfill the amount of donation and free services requests that I get. It adds up,” she says. So every year, she picks four or five charities and sets aside a certain amount of her time and resources for them, including the offer of a full suite of her classes. “I try to give as much as I can, so my conscience is clear,” Thomas says.


If you’re getting papered over with requests, try to focus on the relationships you have with the folks who are doing the asking, says Hilary Hamblin, a marketing consultant for small businesses in Saltillo, Miss. In a recent blog post, she wrote about the importance of keeping a good customer happy, particularly if it means a contribution to their children’s school-club fundraising effort. But what if the request to your company is made by a stranger? “I have this conversation all of the time with my clients,” Hamblin says. “This is not about advertising your business. It’s about supporting the people who are supporting you. It’s OK to say no.”


Here’s some more advice from other givers about how they manage their philanthropic efforts—and the art of saying no.


Set an annual budget

When you start looking ahead to next year, factor in what percentage of your revenue you can afford to use for donations. Later on, if the money allotted for a particular month is spent, relay that news to the requester. One great bonus for such generosity: Many contributions are tax-deductible, including some expenses incurred during volunteer work and donations of property and business inventory. The Internal Revenue Service has online tools to help locate tax-exempt charities and which properties, contributions, and scenarios do and don’t qualify at tax time.


Donate_PQ.jpgCreate a policy—and an application

Whom do you want to help: A cancer-research foundation? A local Little League team? A developing-world charity for women? Whatever you pick, make it something that is close to your heart or aligns with the mission of your company. Some businesses make their affiliations known, with in-store posters or marketing or social media postings. If new charitable groups approach you to make a donation, you can point to those that you have already elected to support.


Thomas says she often invokes her annual-selection policy when declining a request, and has had requesters ask to be considered for the following year. “And then I say ‘Of course you may,’” she says.


It’s also wise to be sure where your contributions are going. While there are few fans of more paperwork, a bit of documentation can be a smart line of defense. Assemble an application process to get details about each group, who your donation would help and how, and contact and tax-status information. That extra step might separate groups most in need from those seemingly just going through the motions with requests. And it’s OK to be wary: Sadly, numerous charity scams are out there—from phony police and fire telemarketers to fraudulent collections for the victims of tragedies in the news.  


Create a win-win

Instead of making one-way donations where the impact is never seen, some businesses are opting for sales events that benefit one specific charity. For example, owner Tim Holliday says he has hosted “shopping nights” for several groups at his Children’s World Uniform Supply in Sarasota, Fla. At those events, the charity invites their customer base to shop with Children’s World on a specific night, and the charity gets a portion of the evening’s sales. Or you could try something like what Stacey Alcorn has set up with her 14 RE/MAX Prestige real estate offices in New England: Proceeds from their referral program for buyers and sellers benefit a specific charity—for example, here’s one for her firm’s work with Habitat for Humanity.


Work with a coordinating service

Renee Zau is a veteran of both sides of the relationship. She’s the franchisee of a health club and has managed requests for a regional marketing cooperative, as well as been a charitable auction chair for nonprofits around San Diego. The frustrations with the inefficiencies of dealing with hundreds of requests led her to start up, which connects charities to business decision-makers online, speeding tax-exempt verifications and communication tracking, including personalizing your responses.


If you can’t help, just say no thanks

If you are unable, how do you politely decline? Thomas, the etiquette instructor, suggests the following: “Say ‘I’m so honored that you’ve asked me. I must respectfully decline due to budgetary constraints.’ And I think being honest is the best way to go.”

Are you prepared for the unexpected? If you are like most small business owners, the answer is “no,” or probably more appropriately, “well, maybe, a little.”


The spring Bank of America Small Business Owner Report found that half of small business owners say they have a plan in place to cope with a significant disruption, such as a natural disaster, medical emergency or major staffing change.


Even with a plan in place, the Report found that, on average, most small businesses could stay afloat for five months before needing outside financial help.


That’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of things that small business owners think about – getting customers, making payroll, figuring out how to get some time off – but it is probably safe to say that disaster preparedness and planning for the unexpected, is not near the top of the list.


Or, more appropriately, maybe not even on the list.


And that is too bad because a little preparation can go a long way. Let me give you an example:


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

A few years ago I was in Cleveland visiting a well-known local market that was famous for various reasons. Aside from the fact that it was just one of those places that people loved, it also happened to be seen of as sort of community “savior.”


You see, back in 2003, there was the “Great Blackout” along the East Coast. While most markets had food spoil, this particular market had planned ahead; it had set up a backup power system a few months before and boy were they Pull Quote June 25.pngglad they did. When the blackout hit, their system kicked in, and they were the only market for miles around to have any fresh food. They became a sort of command center during the crisis, and the goodwill they created lasts even to this day.


So yes, a little preparation goes a long way, especially in this era of Superstorms like Sandy.


Here are some easy preparations that you could make to be ready for the unexpected:


Capital: The Small Business Owner Report found one of the biggest impacts an unexpected disruption has on a business is revenue loss, with almost half of small business owners affected by a significant business disruption experiencing reduced revenue. Following an event, finding capital is important for some basic reasons:


  • You need money to rebuild, maybe over and above what insurance pays
  • You need money for operations
  • You need money for payroll, etc.


So let me suggest that you get a line of credit at your bank. You don’t have to use it, but if you ever need it, you will be happy it’s there.


Backup power: In a store, the need for it is obvious, but less so in an office. However, consider this bad scenario: Your power goes out unexpectedly in the middle of the day and you lose everything you all have been working on.


One solution is an Uninterrupted Power Supply, a giant battery connected to your system that gives you 10 minutes or so to properly save and power down.


Backups: Of course you know the drill – you need to regularly backup all your data. It is better and smarter if you do so remotely, regularly, with a cloud-based service, but even if you do it manually, do it.


Communications: Whether you’re experiencing a temporary business closure or in the midst of staffing changes, it’s imperative to have open dialogue with your employees, customers, vendors and others with whom you do business. While unexpected events can be stressful, as a small business owner it’s up to you to lead by example. Being honest and transparent is a crucial step in that direction.


Finally, videotaping, for insurance and police reasons, the premises and all property at your business is a very good idea.


Has your business been impacted by an unexpected interruption? Share your story below.


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.

QAmichaelchodos_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.


Since its inception in 1953, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has been an invaluable resource for entrepreneurs. Whether it’s providing loans through its many lending partners or offering counseling services via the nearly thousand small business development centers (SBDCs) nationwide, the SBA helps small businesses advance to the next level of their development. Recently, business writer Iris Dorbian spoke to Michael Chodos, associate administrator for the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development about a host of new initiatives spearheaded by the agency. A former Los Angeles-based lawyer who once ran his own firm, Chodos explains why it’s a good time to launch a small business, and which demographic group is taking the lead in start-ups.


ID: What are some new SBA developments or initiatives that small business owners should be aware of?

MC: The SBA just announced its new veterans’ pledge initiative where a number of SBA lending partners agree to expand their lending to vets by $475 million over the next five years. It’s a wonderful new opportunity for the SBA to help with its private sector lending partners to get more financing into the hands of our vets as they start to grow their businesses


We’re also putting in place the foundation for rolling out our veteran entrepreneurship-training program at bases all over the country as part of our transition program for returning vets. We have about 250,000 returning servicemen and women each year who are going to be coming back within the next five years. Vets start new businesses at a 40 percent higher rate than most anybody else.. They are great natural entrepreneurs and this gives them the tools they need to succeed.


We also have a partnership with AARP to support encore entrepreneurs. Over the next few years, 70 million folks are going to reach early retirement age (age 50 and over). What that basically means is that at age 50, many folks have been in business or in a particular career for 20 years to 25 years. In the past they were looking to retire at age 62 or 65. For more and more folks, having 20 or 30 years after that when you are not working is not feasible from a financial perspective—and it’s not necessarily how they want to spend those additional productive years in their lives. Entrepreneurship rates among those over age 50 are growing much faster than entrepreneurship rates among those between the ages of 20 and 30.


Many of those folks are particularly interested in making sure they have the tools to succeed if they decide to start a business. So they are very actively engaging with us to find out what courses and other resources we have for them. In April we completed our national encore entrepreneurship month where we had events at over 100 locations around the country to introduce encore entrepreneurs to our resource partners network, small business development centers, SCORE chapters, and women business centers.


ID: Given the still sluggish economy, is it a good time right now to be a small business owner or launch a small business?

MC: Absolutely. There’s a truth that every tough time represents a tough time for each individual business as well as a huge opportunity for the coming years. The recession over the last four years was difficult for America’s small businesses, but new business startup rates are now double what they were at the bottom of the recession.


ID: But are these digital, home-based businesses that have a sole proprietor?

MC: They are all over the map. We have construction businesses that are opening; consulting businesses for folks that are leaving large firms and opening their own shops. We have food-based businesses and all kinds of personal lifestyle businesses including everything from Main Street salons to hair care product businesses. We have importers and exporters. There’s an incredibly broad range of businesses starting right now. And, of course, we have lots of businesses that have been flourishing, while their competitors, who have not been planning as effectively, have not survived.


QAmichaelchodos_PQ.jpgID: What qualities should an entrepreneur possess to launch (and maintain) a successful small business?

MC: The first and most important quality for successfully launching a business is an openness to learn from others. You might think the first thing you need is money or a great product or service. But the most important element is the willingness to learn from others so you don’t waste time or money making mistakes that other people have made. A business owner who has problems is one who’s not willing to get advice.


ID: Based on your insight and knowledge, where do you see the small business space evolving in five years or 10 years?

MC: This is going to be an incredibly vibrant time for small businesses. Everything that small businesses thought they knew about how to be successful had to be reassessed. This is a time when our focus on startups, on how to improve the methodology for Main Street businesses, and on how to support growth, especially among our manufacturers, is going to be completely renewed and reinvigorated. You’re going to see a real golden era in the expansion and growth of small businesses and associated job creation in the next five years. What’s going to be most important about that is that our young entrepreneurs now believe in a way that they haven’t in years. They can create their own opportunities by starting and growing a business and they don’t have to wait for somebody else to employ them.


ID: Why is that?

MC: I think they look around and see the rates of business startups in underserved communities. With folks coming out of universities and the expansion of entrepreneurship education across the country, both supported by SBA and many of our partners, [there’s an increased] awareness of entrepreneurship as a legitimate career path.

People go into business for themselves for a variety of reasons. It may be that they have long wanted to be an entrepreneur and launching the venture is the culmination of a lifelong dream or perhaps it is a chance to make more money, or launch that big idea. Regardless of the reason entrepreneurs started their businesses, they are benefiting in more ways than you might think.Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png


Bank of America just released its latest Small Business Owner Report (SBOR), a semi-annual study that looks at the concerns and perspectives of small business owners across the country. The spring Report examined a variety of issues, including the state of small business wellness.


Health and wellness is certainly a hot topic these days and according to the Report, small business owners are pretty healthy: They are, mostly, getting enough sleep, many are exercising regularly, and just about a third are eating more healthily as a result of being in business for themselves. That said, and not surprisingly, a huge number of small business owners (72%) said that they work more than 40 hours a week.



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



And it’s not just the entrepreneurs themselves who are living a healthier lifestyle as a result of being part of a small business – wellness is being passed on to their employees as well:


  • Nearly 90 percent of the owners say that they have taken steps to contribute to the health and happiness of their employees
  • 45 percent say that they do so by giving staff flex and work-from-home hours
  • A third offer health and wellness benefits
  • And just about a quarter engage in “team building activities such as sports or excursions”


As we all know, “health” can take on many forms, which leads to the interesting question: How good is the financial health of small business right now?

The answer is – quite good.


According to the Report, nearly a third (31%) of small business owners plan to hire more employees in the next 12 months and 51 percent expect their revenue to increase during that period. Also, 41 percent say they are confident that the national economy will improve in the next year while 45 percent feel this June 18 Pull Quote.pngway about their local economy. These are both increases from last fall’s Report.



So what we see is that small business owners are feeling healthy and optimistic, with an eye on the future and the growth of their company.


Given that, here’s a question for you: Which generation do you think is more optimistic about the future of their business: The Baby Boomers (51-to-64-years-old) or the Millennials (18-to 34-years-old)? Believe it or not, Millennials are the ones who are more optimistic:


  • 70 percent of Millennial small business owners expect to see an increase in revenue, as opposed to only 46 percent of the Baby Boomer entrepreneurs feeling that way
  • 52 percent of Millennials feel that the health of their business is so strong that they would be hiring more. Only 24 percent of the Boomers felt that way


  • 70 percent of Millennials think that they handle stress well; only about half (55%) of Baby Boomers felt that way


The upshot of all of this data is that, for the most part, the Small Business Owner Report findings show that right now, small business owners are feeling like a pretty healthy lot, and that is good news for everyone.


How has owning a small business affected your personal health? Share your story below.



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.

QAjeffbernstein_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.

Chances are good that the mobile devices your employees use at work and while on the road are less secure than you think. To get some tips on how to make all those smart phones less vulnerable, business writer Susan Caminiti recently spoke with Jeffrey Bernstein, executive vice president of Critical Defence, a leading global provider of security assurance, response, intelligence, and training services based in Washington, D.C.


SC: Let’s start with the premise that most smart phones are built with “ease of use” and not security in mind. Where does that leave a small business owner whose employees use their phone for work?

JB: If you look at small businesses there really is no segment that is as vulnerable when it comes to mobile devices. Most small companies have a sort of unwritten policy for employees that let them bring their own mobile devices to work. The reason? Most small businesses lack the financial resources to issue company-owned mobile phones.


SC: If that’s the case, where does a small business owner begin when trying to increase mobile security?

JB: Everything in security comes down to three things: people, process, and technology. Let me explain the issues with each one. People are typically very promiscuous when it comes to their phones. That means the phones are on all the time and allowed to roam and connect anywhere there is an open Internet connection. The process part means that many company security policies were written and implemented prior to mobile phones being a big part of the equation. The technology piece is that if you look at the company itself, most have anti-virus solutions and firewalls in place for their computer systems. They can pretty much see what employees are doing. That’s not the case with mobile phones. There’s no easy way to issue software updates if everyone is using a different device.


SC: What can be done to address mobile security?

JB: The fundamental goal for a small business owner is to increase awareness about mobile security issues and encourage people to speak up. It has to be an ongoing topic. You have to bake security into the fabric of everything that the organization does.


SC: How does a small business owner do that?

JB: You need to talk about it, educate people. Adopt policies that are reasonable and make sense. For example, start by asking: Who has access to your data and where is your data going? Ask employees to routinely lock their devices. A phone should lock after 10 minutes or 15 minutes of inactivity. Encourage the use of a strong password and change it every 30 days. Use encryption and password-protect company documents in all instances. And probably the biggest one for me is to be selective about where you connect. Don’t leave your mobile device open to connect to any roaming network.


QAjeffbernstein_PQ.jpgSC: So try not to connect to open WiFi in a Starbucks or an airport?

JB: Correct. Be careful and selective. If you’re not familiar with the network and it’s open, that doesn’t make it okay to connect to. Also, encourage employees to segregate data on their phones. Try to keep sensitive data separate so that your son’s homework, for instance, isn’t sitting with your HR spreadsheets.


SC: What are some of the most effective ways a small business owner can educate employees about mobile security?

JB: It’s not really complicated. Encourage them to know who they’re communicating with. If they get an email that looks suspicious and they’re accessing it on their phone—don’t open it. And then get them in the habit of contacting whatever IT resource you might have for your company. Also, when something like that happens, you want people to speak up about it so others in the organization know it too. Maybe reward that person with a small gift card or something to encourage that behavior and action. Something that stimulates conversation and raises awareness among employees is what a small business owner should be aiming for.


SC: Should a business owner put restrictions on when and how an employee should use their mobile phone for work?

JB: There are tremendous advantages to using mobile devices for a small business. Your salespeople can attach a point of sale device that allows them to accept credit cards. You can respond to issues at any time if a customer needs you. So it’s a tremendous and convenient tool for a small business. But what goes along with that is the expectation that there are going to be security policies in place that include acceptable usage and data retention policies. Let’s say an employee leaves the company and has company data on their phone. It should be very clearly indicated what’s expected of the employee when he or she leaves. 


SC: How does a small business owner ensure that a former employee has removed sensitive company data from their mobile device or is not accessing it anymore?

JB: There really is no surefire way to ensure that you would know it’s happening. But in your company agreements you need to state clearly what is expected of employees. The problem is people don’t pay attention to this information, or if there’s an employee policy manual, they don’t read it. They sign it and they’re done. It really does fall back on the owner to communicate verbally with employees and not to do it just when they join the company. Have an ongoing dialogue with the entire company about mobile security issues.


This interview has been condensed and edited.

by Carrie Kerpen

Before Carrie Kerpen could excel at the helm of the social media firm she co-founded, she had to change some things about herself. Here she explains.


When my husband, Dave Kerpen, told me at the end of 2012 that he was ready to leave the CEO position at the social media company we co-founded my stomach immediately tied into 1,000 knots.


It wasn't because I wasn't capable. When we founded Likeable Media, I was the COO--which meant that I understood how the company operated and what we needed to do to get to the next level. Dave was now asking me to assume the title of CEO, and become the face of the organization. With over 50,000 Twitter followers and a New York Times-bestselling book, my husband and co-founder would be a tough act to follow. I started thinking about what I needed to do to fill his giant and awe-inspiring shoes.


My Initial Moves as CEO

There was so much to do! I needed to set my own vision for the company and adapt the strategic plan. I needed to make sure the management team was top notch. I needed to create a succession plan--and to start getting out there myself as a speaker and writer, too. But none of that was what I did first.


The first thing I did was, surprisingly, the most critical step for my success.


I got myself healthy.


Slowly but surely, the pressures of running a rapidly-growing business, parenting two kids, and caring for a dying father had really taken its toll on me. Like many women, I put myself last. My meals consisted of leftover mac and cheese from my five year old daughter's plate or client lunches that always included a giant dessert. 


And exercise? Well, if walking from your desk to the office fridge counted as a workout, I was a regular Jane Fonda. Let's not even mention taking time to breathe, and be present, and grateful. There simply was no time. By the time I realized that I was totally losing myself, I tipped the scales at 223 pounds.


It's funny, people say that you can't get healthy until you're really ready. Nothing motivated me. Not losing my dad to cancer. Not wearing plus-size clothing. Not feeling less attractive. What motivated me finally was stepping into the CEO role at Likeable Media.


To Be a Great Leader, I Had to Focus on Myself

You see, for me to be a better leader, I think I needed to be fit--both mentally and physically. Heck, I think to be a better anything--mom, wife, friend--I needed to put myself first.


The first thing I did was set goals. In my first quarter as CEO, the first three months of 2013, I wanted to lose 20 percent of my body weight (roughly 40 pounds). I also wanted to eliminate processed foods, cook dinner three nights a week for my family, and take a class in something--anything, really--that interested me.


I met with a nutritionist weekly--which was tough to do with my crazy calendar, but I made it a priority. I remember the looks from the staff as I would say that I couldn't make a meeting because I was meeting with Nikki. They thought I was nuts.


I started a gratitude journal. Every day, I wrote three things that I was grateful for. When something amazing happened in a meeting, I would stop and write it down. If I didn't have the journal on me, I would hop out of the meeting and grab it.


I gave up coffee and I started making juices. My staff did not understand how their once Dunkin Donuts-obsessed leader was now drinking kale smoothies. They made fun of my "vomit juice"--and I laughed along with them--but it didn't stop me.


I took up spinning and Zumba, and I even took an online course in business finance--something I've been passionate about and learned along the way but was never formally trained in.


And, most importantly, three days a week, I took the 4:47 train home (yes, even earlier than Sheryl Sandberg), and I cooked dinner for my family. 

My staff was a bit confused, but supportive. And that quarter, I lost 20 percent of my body weight, eliminated most processed foods, took a class or two--and built the life that I wanted.


I Saw Results at Work

And then, it became easier to meet my goals at work. In fact, I didn't just meet them. I crushed them. I became more focused, more present, and more confident. My employees, inspired by what I was doing, started to focus on their own personal goals. This makes them better at what they do, too. Perhaps, it can work for you and your team.


You don't have to be quite as drastic as I was--and taking care of yourself does not have to be about losing weight, either.


Here are four simple ways to take care of yourself first to become a better leader:


1. Set Personal Goals

The first step in taking care of yourself is knowing how you want to improve yourself. Set goals for yourself--and prioritize them above all else.


2. Take Time For Yourself

As a leader, you probably have a lot on your plate, and your worst enemy is time. Despite the challenges, make sure to take at least a half hour of me time each week--even if it's just to get your nails done, read a great article, or take a drive in the car.


3. Write It Down

Whether you blog, keep a journal, or make lists--it helps to chronicle how you're feeling and what is a priority to you. It also keeps you accountable for your goals.


4. Keep Moving

Moving keeps you thinking. You don't have to hit the gym to move. Take a walk around the block sometimes to just clear your head. Some of the best thinking takes place on the go.


It's a new quarter, so you can make new goals--both professionally and personally. Professionally, I'm charged up to keep up with Likeable's rapid growth. Personally, I'm still meeting with my nutritionist, and I'm focused less on weight loss and more on getting the right amount of sleep and exercise. Are you focusing enough on yourself this quarter, or are you caught up in a vicious cycle of go-go-go?


Article provided by  ©Inc.

Want to Be a Better Leader? Put Yourself First |

With Father’s Day upon us, it seems a good time for a family-oriented pop quiz. What do you think was the most popular cable television reality show last year? Was it:


  1. Swamp People (family members hunting alligators together)Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png
  2. Pawn Stars (a family-owned pawn shop)
  3. Storage Wars (families bidding on abandoned storage lockers)
  4. Deadliest Catch (fathers and sons working on the Bering Sea)


The answer is: B) Pawn Stars.


If you have ever watched the show, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. For starters, strange things come into the Las Vegas pawnshop, and then there is the mystery to figure out whether they are real and what they are worth.


Beyond that, the family dynamic between father and son, as well as other employees, is entertaining and intriguing.


I bet if you are part of a family-owned business, you would probably say yours is entertaining and interesting too. The fact is, running and working in a family-owned business carries with it both plusses and minuses, as discussed in a previous article of mine.


One of the best parts of bringing family members into the business is that you can teach them the ropes and in the process and prepare them for the day when they may take over. If you watch Pawn Stars, you certainly see this dynamic at play.


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


The question is whether the younger generation wants to go into the older generation’s business. My dad wanted to pass his carpet store on to me, but I always said that was his dream, not mine. So the first rule of family business is this: clear communication is critical.


Here are six other rules that make running a family owned business easier:


1. Have boundaries: These days it is hard for many of us to keep our business and personal lives separate, but it is vital to do this when you work in a family-run business. The more you can leave work at work, the better it is for family relationships.


2. Have defined roles: The role you play in your family is probably not the same role you play at work. You might be the computer nerd to the family, but the networking genius at the office. It is important for everyone involved to know their role when families work together. Clarify job titles and descriptions, and have clear chains of command and duties. That will hopefully leave less room for mistakes and problems.


3. Don’t play favorites: Easier said than done, but when family and non-family work in the same business, the possibilities are ripe for non-family members to feel slighted, whether it is real or imagined. The more you can keep things fair, the better.


4. Don’t discriminate against family: By the same token, you also want to avoid over-compensating and treating family members as lesser employees in an effort to show how fair you are. That won’t go over well at the Thanksgiving table.

June 11 quote.png

5. Have a conflict resolution process in place: Families bicker, that’s a fact. But family disagreements at the workplace are doubly dangerous, as they can be bad for relationships as well as for business. Families that negotiate tricky patches usually have good communication skills and a backup plan/arbiter when conflicts become too difficult to solve on their own.


6. Create a succession plan: How will the business be passed on, to whom, and when? What is expected of the next generation? Is there a buy-in? How will you avoid hurt feelings? All of this must be considered, in writing.


Family businesses can be great things, as long as there is a backbone of respect.


Do you have tips from working in a family-owned business? Share your story below.

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.

We are pleased to share the spring 2013 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study that uncovers the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners across the country. This study examines a variety of leading issues for small business owners, including the personal health and wellness, revenue and growth expectations, preparedness for the unexpected and access to capital.



Small business owners are not only focused on improving the financial health of their company, they are also focused on their own personal health and their employees’ wellness. Nearly nine in 10 of those surveyed report taking some steps to improve employee health and wellness. When thinking SBOR-Thumbnail.jpgabout the next 12 months, they are optimistic regarding their revenue and hiring expectations but remain concerned about the health of the overall economy. In addition, Millennial (18-to-34-years-old) small business owners are the most optimistic across all age groups regarding what the future holds for the economy and their business


At Bank of America, we know that small business owners are an essential element of our national and local economies. We are committed to offering the personal connection and local expertise of our bankers who are dedicated to the success of both small businesses and their communities.



Click Here to Download the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report.


Click Here to View the Informational Charts and Graphics.

Back when I was practicing law, a general contractor came into my office one day to tell me that his business partner had swindled him out of $100,000. He wanted to know if I could help him save his business. Because he did not have enough money to afford my fee, we


worked out an arrangement: he remodeled my house for the next 12 months, and I remodeled his business.



The moral of the story is that you have to be very careful when creating a partnership.  It is the business equivalent to getting married; you have to be very careful to pick out the right partner. If you do, the end result can be a very satisfying and successful venture, but if you don’t, you are likely in for some emotional, financial and legal turmoil, not unlike my contractor friend.



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Here then are five ground rules for successful business partnerships:


Rule #1: Know what you are getting into: There are both pros and cons of starting your business as a partnership. You must be cognizant of both:



  • An extra pair of hands: Owning a business is tough enough, but doing it all on your own is doubly difficult. Having a partner is a big benefit.
  • Another brain: As they say, “Two heads are better than one.” Having someone to bounce ideas off of is invaluable.
  • Deeper pockets: It is also great to have someone to share the financial aspect of running a business.



  • Less control: Your partner will have an equal say in how the business is run. You better trust their judgment and respect their values.
  • Potential liability: Business owners are liable for the decisions their  partner makes.


No one can say whether the pros outweigh the cons. It all depends on the circumstances. Nonetheless, it is important to go in with your eyes wide open.



Rule #2: Try before you buy: You may think that your new partner is great, but it would behoove you to test the relationship theory before committing to it. To go back to the marriage analogy, it is a good idea to live together before making a long-term, legal commitment.


How do you know if your styles mesh? Do you like working together? Can he or she take direction? Can you? Do you make decisions in a similar way and agree more June 4.pngthan you disagree? Is it fun to work together? Working on a project or two before committing to a full-blown partnership can answer important questions like these.


Rule #3. Establish the basics from the start: Even if you have previously worked together, partnerships can often get into trouble when the partners are not on the same page about who is responsible for what, who will pay for what and so on. It is vital that rules, duties, responsibilities, titles and other parameters are set from the very beginning.


By the same token, it is equally important that you agree on the purpose and direction of the partnership. How big do you want to get? What are your goals, visions, and desires for the business?



Rule #4. Get it in writing. All of the above must be documented in the form of a partnership agreement. Think of your partnership agreement as your own private set of laws for your business that includes:


  • Who is responsible for what?
  • How much money and other resources is each partner putting into the venture?
  • Who will get paid how much and how will compensation be decided going forward?
  • How will decisions be made?
  • How will disputes be resolved?
  • Can one partner buy out the other? If so, how?


Rule #5. Be flexible: This rule may seem to contradict the other four, but in reality it does not. The previous rules are meant to protect you and help you choose the right partner. This one is meant to be realistic. Businesses are living organisms. It may be that your partner is better at sales than you knew. Or maybe you will discover that you have a proclivity for promotions. Great partnerships establish rules, and yet are flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities.


If you follow these rules, your chances of creating a successful partnership are much higher. Good luck.



Have you recently worked with a partner? Share your story below.

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

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