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Finding Your North Star.jpgBefore GPS there were the stars. That’s how people navigated their way by land and by sea. Specifically, they’d look for Polaris, aka the North Star, the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor (Little Bear), more commonly known as the Little Dipper.


Polaris essentially aligns above the North Pole. The star appears motionless in the sky, with other stars seemingly rotating around it—making it a crucial “fixed point” to use for navigation.


Business owners should be as dependent upon North Stars as explorers once were. “In business, the North Star represents a company’s unwavering definition of its purpose, its products, its customers and potential acquirers,” according to Chief Executive.


The concept of following your North Star “emerged from Silicon Valley companies with breakout growth,” according to Growth Hackers. This evolved into a measurement—the North Star Metric (NSM), which is the “specific metric that best captures the core value your product delivers to customers.”


Where’s your North Star, Evan Goldberg?


All this suggests small business owners need to find their own North Stars. I recently talked to Evan Goldberg, founder and EVP of NetSuite, about how he found his.


Rieva Lesonsky: How do you define a North Star?


Evan Goldberg: A North Star is an analogy referring to the guiding principles behind a [business]. It’s [your] purpose, ambition and vision. Put more simply, it’s the reason [you] go into business in the first place. It’s a necessity for every business.


As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important when there are so many distractions. You’re getting advice from everybody, adversity is challenging your thinking and assumptions, new opportunities are always presenting themselves, and the world around you is constantly changing.


These distractions make it hard to focus and that’s exactly why a North Star is so important. It guides your decision-making, brings your team, partners, investors, and other constituents together around a common set of goals, and keeps you on track as you navigate the twists and turns and side roads and forks that will define your organization’s journey.


Lesonsky: How did you know when you found your North Star?


Goldberg: It came out of my experience running a startup. I had multiple incompatible systems—one for finance, one for sales, one for support, one for web store—you get the gist. It was impossible to get an accurate picture of my business. My company didn’t succeed, but I learned a lot out of that failure.


I was on the phone with Larry Ellison, who helped me with the first company, about what I wanted to do next. We talked about the need for one system that organizations could use to simplify the management of their businesses and help them grow.

That 5-minute conversation became my North Star. Fast forward 20+ years and it’s still our North Star.


Lesonsky: Any advice for entrepreneurs and small business owners about how to find theirs?


Goldberg: Start by asking yourself three questions about your business: Who are you targeting, what problem are you solving, and how can you do it uniquely?

Usually, you start by knowing who you are targeting—for us, it was entrepreneurs and making their lives and the lives of their employees easier by helping them build a great business.


But to truly understand your target audience and their challenges, empathize—really listen and try to put yourself in their shoes. What are the problems they encounter every day that are keeping them from achieving their goals? And how do existing products or services fail to solve these problems?


Finally, you must ideate and determine how you will uniquely solve them. This is the core of your North Star. What is your differentiating approach? How can you do this in a way that will be hard for others to copy? As you start to answer those questions you will get a clearer view into what will set you apart from the competition.


When I started NetSuite in 1998, we provided accounting software on the internet and if I had said our North Star is to make accounting on the web, we would have had a very different journey.

Instead, thanks to the experience with my first startup we realized this was a common challenge—too many systems and no clear view of the business. So, we knew we needed to automate all of a company’s core operations in one system to give entrepreneurs everything they need to grow. This gave us a much broader purpose as well as a more meaningful reason to exist.


Lesonsky: Any advice on how you keep going?


Goldberg: The best advice I can give is "take it one step at a time." As the famous adage says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and this is particularly true when you’re running a business.


There will be good times, there will be tough times and there will be everything in between. You will question your North Star, heck you will question everything, but staying focused on that next step—while keeping an eye on the future—will help you and your business keep going.



Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky.


Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation



Supply Chain Disruption_Sized.jpgby Rieva Lesonsky


While every national or global crisis has it's own specific challenges, it’s clear many small businesses can experience a delay or complete interruption in their supply chains when things go wrong.


Whether it’s the needed supplies to run your business, such as paper goods or cooking oil, or actual merchandise to sell, the unknown nature of the global pandemic will continue to make finding suppliers a challenge.


The Fragile Supply Chain


This most recent global health crisis has revealed the fragility of the supply chain. According to an article in The Atlantic, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) found nearly “75 percent of the businesses it contacted in late February and early March reported some kind of supply-chain disruption due to the coronavirus. And 44 percent of the companies didn’t have a plan to deal with this kind of disruption.” ISM’s CEO, Tom Derry, told The Atlantic, that while this is “a little have to realize there’s almost no industry sector—[in] manufacturing and nonmanufacturing—that isn’t reliant on China in the United States.”


What normally took a few days to move across the world or the country can take weeks or months. Even Amazon is feeling the effects from a shortage of stock, the increase of online orders and not enough workers to fulfill them all.


To get around the delays in normal supply operations, many small business owners are turning to local suppliers to keep inventory in stock.


When one Southern California sunglasses wholesaler found his orders from Chinese factories delayed by more than 45 days, he quickly contacted alternate sources to fill his orders. Adam Rizza, cofounder of Sunscape Eyewear, already had a backup network of local suppliers to call on when his regular international suppliers faced weeks of delays.


“We sourced goods from local distributors,” says Rizza, although he admits “it did affect our margins.”


A good backup plan is key to surviving a crisis situation.  Part of that is establishing supportive, friendly relationships with others in your industry.


“We had good relationships with other eyewear distributors before we became one ourselves,” says Rizza. If you haven’t developed those relationships yet, start now—even if it’s with your competitors. “Most business owners are well aware of all the competitors in their space,” says Rizza, so it can be easier to start with them. “The one thing we have seen during this difficult time is that our competitors are coming together and helping one another.”


Finding New Supply Sources


In addition to reaching out to other local businesses for supplier recommendations, contact your city, county or state’s economic or business development offices. Check with the local chamber of commerce in your area for member lists. You can also get assistance from your local Small Business Development Center or SCORE office. Although face-to-face appointments are not available now, SCORE is offering remote mentoring appointments.


Online marketplaces are a good place to source products, just be sure to check stock levels and delivery estimates for the best outcome. Websites such as Shopify, Amazon Business, and Alibaba all have both international and domestic suppliers ready to make deals.


When you’re creating a new supplier network, investigate new suppliers in North and Central America as well as around the world. Choose new suppliers from different regions so you’re not stuck in case of a regional disaster. Establish these relationships as soon as you can, you don’t want to wait until the next calamity to get to know these suppliers.


You also need to check in with your current transportation providers. Do they offer multiple methods of getting your products to you? If not, consider expanding your transportation network as well. It’s important to do business with a company that can pivot from one transportation method to another when necessary.


No one knows when the coronavirus pandemic will start to abate globally.  Take the time explore and expand your supplier contacts so the next time supply chains freeze up, you’ll be prepared.



Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky.


Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2020 Bank of America Corporation

To help taxpayers weather the economic fallout of the coronavirus, the IRS has extended the April 15 federal income tax filing and payment deadline by three months to July 15.helloquence-OQMZwNd3ThU-unsplash.jpg


“During the three-month postponement, taxpayers won’t be subject to interest or penalties for filing after April 15,” says Mitchell Drossman, National Director of Wealth Planning Strategies for the Chief Investment Office of Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank.


Here are answers for some key questions you may have about the extension and your personal taxes, according to the Chief Investment Office of Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. As always, it’s best to consult your tax advisor for guidance on what the tax extension might mean for you.


Who qualifies for the postponement?


The relief applies to any taxpayer with income tax returns and payments usually due on April 15. That includes individuals, trusts, estates, partnerships, associations, companies and corporations. There are no limitations on the amount of tax that may be postponed, and taxpayers do not need to make a formal request in order to take advantage of the postponement.


What tax filings and payments are or aren’t covered?


The provision applies to all 2019 federal income taxes. Self-employed people may also postpone filing and paying their estimated quarterly taxes for the first quarter of 2020, normally due on April 15, until July 15. But self-employed taxpayers should keep in mind that their estimates and payments for the second quarter will still be due on the usual date of June 15. And note that filings and payments for gift taxes are not postponed.


Does this mean more time to contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement plan or HSA?


Yes, at its coronavirus site the IRS states that the deadlines for 2019 contributions to IRAs, company-based retirement accounts and health savings accounts will all be extended from April 15 to July 15.


Are state and local taxes postponed as well?


“States generally follow the federal due dates, but it is best to check with your individual state,” Drossman says. For example, while California has extended its filing and payment deadline to July 15, Massachusetts suggests that residents use existing provisions to request extensions. Other states have yet to announce extension plans.


Can taxpayers file for an automatic extension beyond the July 15 deadline?


Tax payers have traditionally been able to request a 6-month tax extension by filing the proper paperwork by April 15—a move that’s particularly useful for filers whose taxes are complex. However, they’ve still been required to pay their taxes by April 15. Under this year’s tax postponement, the deadline for requesting this 6-month extension is now July 15. Taxes are still owed on July 15, 2020, and the filing deadline becomes Oct. 15.


Is there any reason not to take advantage of the federal extension?


If you believe you have a refund coming this year, filing your return on April 15 rather than taking the postponement could mean you receive your check sooner. Whatever your situation, it’s important to speak with your tax advisor before making any decisions.


For More Information visit the coronavirus site at

Cut Overhead and Keep Employees_Sizedjpg.jpgby Steve Strauss


As you well know, starting and owning your own business is expensive – rent, labor, insurance, etc. It all adds up. And in times of economic uncertainty, cutting back is likely high on your to-do list.


The question though is, can you do so without cutting back essential services?


Cutting employees might seem like a good way to trim your costs, but the fact is, laying off staff comes with its own set of problems - among them, a possibility for reduced productivity, loss of morale, loss of operational knowledge, and potentially, loss of customers.


The point: Business owners often say their most valuable asset is their employees. And most mean it. If that is true, what makes the most sense right now is retaining that asset and getting creative by cutting elsewhere and in unexpected places.


Here are three ways you can cut the fat without gutting your business and laying off staff:


Reduce hours and adjust schedules


In Portland, Ore., there is a beloved store called Kitchen Kaboodle. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, business fell off a cliff, and the owners were faced with tough choices: Close or fire almost everyone.


In the end, they did neither.


Instead, for the next few years, the store went to a shortened schedule, staying open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Ideal, no, but no one was let go and the store eventually came back stronger than ever.


So yes, one way to lower payroll costs is simply reducing hours. Offering full-time employees a part-time position is a win-win for everyone when the alternative is not having a job at all. Most people would rather work with their employer than lose all their income.


For you, it provides your business full coverage, though with a reduced staff, for a part-time budget. Ultimately, this method also provides that your seasoned staff members can have job security and your customers can have the service you are committed to.


Another method for reducing costs is optimization of business hours. If you are open 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, you might not be using your time and money wisely. Instead, have a smaller staff for slower days, and a full staff for the busier times. If some days are not profitable at all, do what Kitchen Kaboodle did and consider closing those days.


Improve operational efficiency


The next option is to consider how your business can operate more cost effectively while maintaining - or even improving - its efficiency.


This can look a few different ways:


  • For one, you should call suppliers and renegotiate your contracts, looking to pay less for your supplies. No doubt that today, vendors will be willing to have that conversation.


The coronavirus is an opportunity for your business to be hypervigilant in its own practices. In tough times, a little goes a long way, and either renegotiating with your suppliers or reforming in-house policies and behavior can save costs in the long term.


Think differently


Time to get creative. Instead of continuing to use that high-priced marketing consultant, consider bringing marketing and advertising in-house. Find out who on your team best knows social media and unleash their creative powers. This option will cut costs while still providing your business some much needed marketing muscle.


Or what about that basement space you’re using to store old items? Instead of letting the space go to waste, perhaps try to clean it and sublet it out to another business who could use the discounted space.


Bottom line: Each new crisis will end at some point, and you will be glad you kept the band together to make some new, beautiful music when the time comes.



Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Steve Strauss.


Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2020 Bank of America Corporation


The Paycheck Protection Program is a federal relief program established by Congress and implemented by the U.S. Treasury Department and the SBA with rules, requirements, protocols and processes that all participating banks, including Bank of America, must follow.


In order to ensure an orderly flow of these government-provided funds, we will follow the intent of the U.S. Treasury guidance, including what has been posted at the U.S. Treasury website, that small businesses that plan to apply should do so with their current business loan provider.


Small Business clients with a business lending and a business deposit relationship at Bank of America are eligible to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program through our bank. A client’s pre-existing lending relationship with us may include small business credit cards, conventional business loan or lease, business lines of credit, business auto loans, practice solutions loans, trade and asset-based loans.


Small Business owners who do not have a business lending and business deposit relationship with us should contact their current business loan provider as soon as possible, if they plan to apply for the federal Paycheck Protection Program. This is the best and fastest method for applying for federal relief, based on the U.S. Treasury requirements and guidance.


All applications, information and correspondence about the Paycheck Protection Program at Bank of America will occur online and through email, including the application process, submission of required documents, and follow up correspondence.

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