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2015

Staying_Fit_on_the_Road_body.jpgBy Erin O’Donnell.


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


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


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


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


Check out the hotel gym in advance

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


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


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Create your own workout

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


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


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


Pack for exercise

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


Take control of your eating

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


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


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


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


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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

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


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

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


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


Click here to view the infographic.

 

 

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

Payroll_Best_Practices_body.jpgBy Cindy Waxer.


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


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


The benefits of a do-it-yourself strategy

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


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


Deploy a software program that’s right for your business

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


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


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


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


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

 

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Consider outsourcing

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


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


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


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


Be true to your company

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


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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

Schedule_for_Paying_Employees_body.jpgBy Reed Richardson.

For many start-ups and even some established small businesses, just being able to pay the bills and generate a little extra profit is a big enough challenge. As a result, seemingly innocuous questions like when and how often to pay out that money in salary—to owners, partners, and employees—often doesn't get much thought. But it should, because a company with a poorly executed pay system can easily run into legal trouble as well as send frustrated workers heading for the exits.


Planning ahead
"Payroll is all about setting expectations," explains Bryan Dear, a former CPA who owns The Payroll Department, Inc., a payroll processing company located in Durango, Colorado. "So why not set it up in the right way from the start, so you won't have to go
through a painful transition to something else later on?" Dear recommends using a payroll system that is simple and routine, yet flexible enough to adapt and grow as your small business does. "We find that paying every two weeks seems to work well for most of our smaller business clients," notes Dear. And he's someone who follows his own advice: his company's payroll system is biweekly as well.


Putting some forethought into your small business's pay periods can become particularly important if you ever anticipate having a mix of exempt and non-exempt employees working at your company. That's because many states have different pay rules regarding salaried versus hourly workers, especially when it comes to tracking and paying overtime. Also, many states have specific rules dictating the maximum "holdback" period, or how long a business can wait to pay its employees after the pay period has ended.

 

Select a day or a number
Perhaps the most fundamental decision regarding your small business's pay periods involves whether or not to follow a weekly or monthly calendar. A weekly pay calendar means that your company's pay periods will always begin and end on the same days of the week and that payday will likewise always be on the same day of the week, usually five to seven days after the pay period ends. A typical biweekly pay schedule might begin on a Monday and end 14 days later on a Sunday, with the eventual payday for those two weeks of work falling on the Friday five days after that.

 

These workweek-based pay periods offer the benefit of making paydays very predictable for both the employees and the small business owner. More importantly, if your small business also includes hourly workers, a workweek-based pay calendar makes it much easier to track hours in easy, repeatable amounts because your company's pay period will always align with the traditional workweek, unlike semimonthly or monthly pay periods, which can begin and end on any day of the week.

Schedule_for_Paying_Employees_PQ.jpgMonthly or semimonthly pay periods work fine for a staff of all salaried employees, but if you have to account for overtime a pay period that ends mid-week can make life difficult. And precisely because a pay period will occasionally end on a Thursday or Friday, Dear says that businesses would be wise to stretch out their paydays a few extra days to account for federal holidays and the resulting three- or four-day weekends. "If you do choose semimonthly," he says, "consider a delay of seven days between the period end date and the check date to give your organization enough time to process your payroll."


When does it make sense to outsource payroll?
Entrepreneurs often find themselves wearing a lot of different hats while running their small businesses and for companies just starting out it's not uncommon for the owner to also play the roles of bookkeeper and paymaster as well. But as a company grows, it can be increasingly difficult to carve out time to handle administrative tasks like totaling up employee hours and cutting checks. And though employees of small businesses tend to pitch in wherever they're needed and be more forgiving about mistakes, it only takes a few missed paydays to burn through whatever sense of willing sacrifice those workers bring to work each day. So, a small business owner would be wise to recognize—ahead of time—signs that they might be ready to hand off payroll to an outside firm.

"Within its first two or three years, a small business will usually get some kind of tax notice," Dear points out. And even if that letter from the IRS isn't an audit notification, he explains “that's the point when many of my small business clients have decided ‘I'm just not going to do this anymore.'"

Another common tipping point indirectly involves recruiting and hiring. If you find your company is having an increasingly difficult time attracting new talent because it lacks many of the health and retirement benefits found at larger businesses, this might be a subtle signal that your in-house payroll system is out-of-date or overmatched. While it's true that many do-it-yourself payroll software programs can handle more complicated paycheck deductions like health care premiums, cafeteria plans, vacation time, and 401(k)s, adding a simple thing like direct deposit for your employees can still prove difficult without outside help. But if you think that outside help could be your tax preparer or accountant, you might think again.


"In my experience, most CPAs don't want to deal with payroll," explains Dear, adding that “even if they do, they aren't able to do direct deposit." Fortunately, there is now a plethora of outsourcing options—from large banks and business service conglomerates to small payroll processing firms—that can quickly and easily accommodate your payroll needs for a reasonable fee. And come tax time, these outside payroll processors can really pay dividends, as they're more up to speed with the latest changes in tax law and make far fewer filing mistakes than business owners who go it alone.

 

In the end, how and when you pay your employees is about more than just paychecks, Dear says. "It's also about eliminating one additional issue for you to worry about, so you can focus more on running your business."


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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

fraud.jpgSmall businesses that get hacked might not make the news like large business breaches, but the damages and losses may be more keenly felt. In fact, small businesses might be more vulnerable to attack because they usually have fewer resources to protect themselves. Owners whose bank accounts were hacked lost $19,948 on average, according to a 2014 report by the National Small Business Association. Read on to discover why being aware of the threats and taking pro-active steps to guard against them should be your first line of defense.


Click to download the PDF.

Year_end_Charities_body.jpgBy Erin O'Donnell.


Small businesses field a lot of requests for donations as the year draws to a close. Before the solicitations start rolling in, it's important for business owners to make a plan for giving, by setting a budget and choosing causes that align with their industry, their company's goals, and their values.


Susan Hyatt, author of Strategy for Good: Business Giving Strategies for the 21st Century, says corporate giving should be strategic. There's nothing wrong with seeking a benefit when making donations as a business. In fact, Hyatt says it's vital.


"It absolutely benefits a company if they combine their heart with a little bit of strategy, because small businesses often are more tightly grounded in the community," says Hyatt, who also runs the consulting firm Big Purpose Big Impact in Denver. And, according to Nielsen Global Research, 42 percent of North Americans surveyed last year said they would pay extra for products and services from "companies committed to positive social and environmental impact."


Here are some of Hyatt's tips for small businesses and their charitable giving:


Choose causes strategically

Rather than fielding requests on a case-by-case basis, Hyatt recommends that businesses decide in advance which types of issues or causes they want to support. That can lead to more in-depth relationships or networking opportunities down the road. Hyatt says charitable giving can be an especially effective form of marketing for some companies by increasing positive name recognition, especially if the firm donates goods, services, or volunteer time.


Small businesses also get the most mileage out of supporting local organizations. "Staying local makes a lot of sense for a small company, because their reputation is positively affected," she adds.


Year_end_Charities_PQ.jpgPublicize your focus

Once you've determined the types of nonprofits you'll support, make it public. It can be as simple as a page on your website that details the types of requests your firm will consider. Then it will be easier to decline requests that don't fall within those categories, Hyatt says.


"You can make more impact if you don't give to everyone," Hyatt says. "You can do more good that way, even with limited resources."


Do a background check

Before you sign a check, it's important to vet the organizations that you'd like to support. Start with websites such as GuideStar and Charity Navigator, which aggregate financials and reputation information for millions of tax-exempt nonprofits and other groups that aren't required to register with the IRS. Charity Navigator also maintains several "top 10" lists on topics such as most-followed charities, nonprofits that are routinely in the red, and inefficient fundraisers.


While it's important to know if a charity will manage your contributions wisely, Hyatt says other factors are just as important. Look at who is on the board, and who the nonprofit's top corporate sponsors are. Make sure they're a good fit for your company's values. And try to gauge whether the organization is effective or making an impact on the issues it supports.


Get your staff involved

Charitable giving is a good way to boost employee engagement. Kevin Layton, CEO of digital marketing firm Data-Dynamix, tasked his employees last year with recommending charities for the company's year-end giving. Layton says most of his 20 employees suggested giving to nonprofits with whom they already had a relationship.


"We divide it up so it's not me making all the decisions," Layton says. "We set a budget and take suggestions. It works well for us."

Because his employees felt a sense of ownership in the giving process, Layton says, they were careful about choosing reputable organizations that seem to be moving the needle on the issues they support. "I believe successful companies are just like successful people," he added. "They tend to give back more than their share."


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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

Seasonal_Business_body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.


Christmas in July might be a fun theme party, but it’s a hard sell when you’re a winter-holiday-themed business. Conversely, businesses that primarily serve a warm-weather clientele, from ice cream shops to roofing companies, often find their revenue streams frozen during the winter months.


Seasonally oriented businesses are literally the definition of feast or famine. When it’s their season to shine, they work nearly around the clock. But when the off-season hits, bank accounts can run low. 


The most successful seasonal businesses have figured out ways how to earn revenue year-round. Here’s how they do it:


Diversify your products

Georgia pecan farm Willson Farming Co. and its online retail complement, Sunnyland Farms, ring up almost 80 percent of their sales in September and October, but their goal is to achieve a more balanced revenue stream throughout the year, says Alex Willson, vice president for business operations. To that end, he says they are exploring new avenues this year: Among their options are securing wholesale customers that need product all year long, creating new products, such as granola and energy bars that would sell well during the summer months, and offering promotions to spur sales in the off season, such as a “product of the month” aligning with a holiday, like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.


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Offer complementary services

Small business owner Arnie Arsenault in Spencer, Mass., wanted to add an off-season component to his landscaping division and Weed Man lawn care franchise. He began offering Christmas Décor holiday lighting services, which now account for 33 percent of his business and also allows him to keep his crews busy during a traditionally slow period. “The best part is that the synergy between landscaping, Christmas lights, and outdoor lighting have led to referrals for all parts of my business,” he says. Similarly, landscape franchisee Ground Guys now offers snow and ice removal, making the winter anything but an off season.


Price your product right

“I've seen many businesses neglect to raise and lower prices consistent with demand,” says Jonathan Ceballas, who used this technique when he owned a surf shop in California, charging a premium for his surfboard rentals all summer. “If your business's seasonality is strictly tied to weather, you need to make sure your prices are as high as the market will bear when your product or service is in demand.”


Find other niches

Lee Farms in Tualatin, Ore., has always been known for its lush Pacific Northwest Christmas trees. But over the years, it has diversified into other activities to truly become a year-round farm with a more dependable stream of income. It now draws crowds for berry season in early summer, Strawberry Festival during Father’s Day weekend, Corn & Peach Festival during the last full weekend in August, a Fall Harvest Festival and Pumpkin Patch in October, and then its signature holiday festivities in November and December.


Decide if you’re going to be a “freezer” or a “roller”

Author John Vespasian believes companies have two main choices as they contemplate their seasonal business: the freezer and the roller. “First, you can freeze your assets during the low season by locking up your shop and employing your time and talents gainfully elsewhere,” he says. Or, he says, you can be a roller, which allows you to use your assets in a different way by changing your product mix from say, ice cream in warmer months, to lattes and grilled chicken in the colder months.

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

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