Managing

5 Best Risk Management Strategies

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: June 12, 2018 Updated: June 12, 2018

Being in business is exciting but it also means facing challenges and risks every day. These risks and threats to your business can come from innumerable sources, including economic conditions, lawsuits, competitors, and the weather. In order to be able to sleep at night, it’s essential that you adopt a variety of risk management strategies. These are designed to avert catastrophe and provide you with protection to the extent possible. There’s no single action to shield you from the consequences of risks to your business. You need to take a holistic approach and cover your bases. Here are five strategies to consider.

1. Choice of entity

You start a business to make money, but things don’t always work out as planned. If, for example, you can’t pay the remainder of your lease, you may be personally liable for what’s owed. One way to protect your personal assets—your home, your personal car, your personal bank account—is to use a business entity that provides personal liability protection.

A sole proprietorship or general partnership does not provide personal liability protection, but a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation does. The cost of setting up an LLC or incorporating and complying with other administrative tasks associated with having the entity is small compared with the potential personal liability exposure for not having the entity.

2. Insurance policies

There are many statistics showing that it’s not a matter of if but rather when you’ll experience an occurrence that could have been covered by insurance. Carrying adequate insurance coverage can go a long way in protecting you from property losses as well as liability claims. Consider the following types of policies for optimum protection:

  • Business owners policy (BOP). This policy for small businesses provides protection for your property (except for excluded events and amounts over the policy limit) as well as liability protection for claims by third parties (e.g., a customer slips and falls on your premises). The policy may also cover employee theft and other occurrences.
  • Professional liability coverage. This policy protects professionals from client claims of mistakes (malpractice), negligence, or unfinished work.
  • Business interruption policy. This policy provides funds to cover your fixed costs (and possibly loss of profits) following an event that shuts you down (e.g., a hurricane).
  • Workers’ compensation insurance. This protects the business for claims when employees have a job-related injury or illness.
  • Employer practices liability insurance (EPLI). This covers you for claims by employees and former employees for such actions as discrimination and wrongful termination.

3. Contracts and agreements

Put it in writing…whatever you consider important to your business. This can be requiring employees to sign nondisclosure agreements protecting your trade secrets (client lists, pricing, etc.).

In some cases, you can’t even sue unless you have a written contract:

  • Sale of goods over $500
  • Leases over $1,000
  • Agreements creating a security interest (e.g., a right to collateral)

If you draft contracts and agreements yourself, be sure to have an attorney review it so you’re protected to the extent you expect.

4. Disaster preparedness plans

What will you do when disaster strikes? What steps will you take to recover from a disaster? These actions should be specified in a plan you create for your business. The SBA offers guidance on crafting a preparedness plan.

5. Best business practices

All of the actions listed above are best business practices, but this list isn’t exclusive. There are numerous business practices that you can use to minimize risk. Here are some ideas to get you started in developing your own list of best business practices:

  • Hire right. Be sure to find the right person for your job opening. For example, if you’re hiring someone who’ll be driving on company business, check the driving record.
  • Enhance safety in your facility. This will minimize accidents by customers and staff.
  • Check your computer security. Avoid ransomware and other threats that can damage your data and cost you a lot of money to repair.
  • Stay compliant. Federal, state, and local laws are constantly changing, but you must stay up to date so you can remain compliant.

Conclusion

Be an offensive player when it comes to running your business to minimize your risks. Work with knowledgeable professionals, such as an attorney and an IT person to help you in this regard. Stay vigilant!

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BarbaraWeltman or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

Five Strategies for Winning at Working Solo

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: May 14, 2018

Eighty percent of all U.S. small businesses have no employees. The number of non-employee businesses is expected to grow in coming years, due in part to the expansion of the gig economy (e.g., Uber, TaskRabbit, Thumbtack) and favorable economic conditions. Being in business with no employees means you don’t have to deal with payroll, minimum wage rules, and other employer-related responsibilities. But it doesn’t mean you are relieved of all business-owner obligations. You must wear all the hats in your business and see that what needs to be done gets done.

Here are five strategies you can use to make your business work — even though you don’t have any employees working with you.

1. Outsource daily chores

There are only 24 hours in a day, and you can’t work every one of them. You have to let others handle certain matters for you. This may be doing your bookkeeping, handling your calendar, or dealing with customers. Outsource to individuals or companies that can address your needs. For example, consider engaging a virtual assistant who can spend the hours you require each month on your business activities.

Also, be sure to arrange good help (including backup) with personal responsibilities—caring for a child, an elderly parent, or a disabled spouse. This will free you to concentrate on your business.

2. Put together a team of experts

As a one-person business, you don’t have a legal department, an accounting department, a marketing department, or an IT department. But you likely need the help of experts in each of these and other areas. I recommend a team that includes:

  • Attorneys. Likely you’ll need different ones for different purposes (e.g., ones specializing in contracts, in intellectual property, in employment-related matters).
  • CPA. You need an accountant to provide financial guidance to your business. This expertise extends beyond filing tax returns. It covers business practices you can use to improve your bottom line.
  • Insurance agent. You can to discuss the coverage you have and what you need, especially if your business changes over time.
  • Banker. It’s helpful to establish a relationship with your local banker. It may help you if you ever need a loan, and your banker likely is a good source of referrals to experts in your location.
  • IT. It’s essential today for a business to have an information technology expert on call. This person or company can advise on cybersecurity and handle problems with hardware and software.

 

3. Automate whatever you can

Your time is limited. The more you can automate your activities, the more time you’ll have for other matters. Today’s apps enable you to do all sorts of tasks from a mobile device wherever you are that used to be done manually in an office. Some examples:

  • Banking (e.g., making deposits remotely)
  • Customer relations
  • Email marketing
  • Invoicing
  • Scheduling appointments, meetings, etc.
  • Social media marketing
     

4. Stay connected

Working alone can be isolating. Yes, you may spend time with customers and clients. But you don’t necessarily have the same connection you do with colleagues and associates. Working alone may keep you from hearing about what’s going on in your industry or with your competitors. Staying connected can be easily remedied by being proactive. Consider:

  • Joining a local chamber of commerce (meet other business owners in your area and learn about local developments that may affect your business, such as a new road or the arrival of a megastore)
  • Network via trade associations and business groups
  • Schedule lunches, or even just coffee, with colleagues
    ​​​​​​​

5. Separate yourself from your business

When working alone, it’s all too easy for your personal and business lives to get tangled up. Keep things separate. First and foremost, separate your finances by using a business bank account and credit card solely for your business activities.

Also, be sure you’re not working every waking hour. Shut the door, don’t check email continually, don’t answer a business call after hours, and take a Saturday, Sunday, or other day off each week. It may take effort to make personal time, but you can’t survive for the long term without it.

Final thought

It’s great to run solo, if you take steps to make it work. Most important: take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

 

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BarbaraWeltman or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

What Is a POS and Why Does Your Business Need One?

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: May 9, 2018

The term Point of Sale (POS) describes the place where retail transactions are made. Think of it as the equivalent of a cash register. POS includes the hardware and software related to transactions, such as the cash drawer, credit card swipe bar, barcode scanners, receipt printers, and more. 

POS is an important feature for all businesses that sell products, whether it’s in a store or online. But a good POS does more than just ring up the customer. Today’s POS systems are often integrated with other systems, streamlining operations. A POS can also automatically help with merchant transactions, and assist with analyzing data in your business for greater success. 

Investing in a POS system is hailed as being one of the best things you can do for your business.

Here are six benefits of a good POS and why your business needs one.

1. Increase Functionality

POS systems are comprised of various hardware, software, and levels of sophistication and complexity. However, as Investopedia notes, even the most basic POS systems, which include an electronic cash register and software to coordinate sales data, allows businesses to increase their functionality.

With a modern POS system, businesses can improve their flow and function.

As Yamarie Grullon, of POS provider ShopKeep, explained “Modern POS systems do more than just offer flexibility when processing daily transactions. They improve a merchant’s chances of success by providing them with the tools to streamline business operations.”

2. Streamline Sales from Multiple Locations

A mobile POS system enables you to conduct business and sell products from multiple locations — and still be streamlined. By investing in a mobile POS system, you can expand the reach of your business and products, selling to consumers from locations other than a physical store.

Mobile POS software — together with a simple swipe device — can effectively turn your smartphone into a retail POS system, allowing you to accept transactions remotely, and consequently expanding business operations. Mobile POS systems can be useful for accepting credit cards and selling at fairs, craft shows, and farmers markets.

3. Track Real-Time Data About Sales Performance

POS systems simplify business data management related to sales. You can log, track, and access real-time data quickly, efficiently, and securely.

Rather than requiring you to transfer data from one system to another, a good POS will be integrated and offer real-time dashboards to see sales performance and metrics at any moment. 

4. Improve Inventory Control

Modern POS systems are comprised of a database which enables merchants to keep track of the items they have in stock. With advanced inventory data stored within the POS software, retailers can use their POS to look up previous transactions, track their best-selling items, and reorder products when they get low in stock. Look for a POS that either integrates with your inventory system or offers its own centralized inventory management.

5. Get Greater Control of Employee Management

POS systems can be an effective way to track sales by individual employees. As well as the employer monitoring the performance of sales teams, employees can use such systems to track their own sales statistics. By tracking sales statistics, employees become more aware of their own personal sales targets and objectives.

As well as being a powerful motivator in achieving individual sales targets and objectives, a POS can act as an effective tool in identifying where sales can be improved, through means such as improving customer service.

6. Manage Taxes

Managing taxes can be time-consuming, complex, and confusing. An advanced POS system for retailers calculates the tax for you, including across states, providing simple tax management and therefore saving you time. It will help you reduce errors, too.

A modern POS system will help make your business more cost-focused, will save you time, can improve your relationships with customers, make your business more flexible and mobile, and record vital inventory and revenue data.

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

How Much Energy Do You Need to Own and Operate a Franchise?

By FranchiseKing, Guest Blogger
Published: April 26, 2018

There’s hard work, and there’s really hard work. Owning and operating a franchise business falls under “really hard work.” Are you prepared for it?

 

Owning a Franchise

If it was so easy, everyone would do it.” That’s a true statement, especially when it comes to being the active owner of a franchise business. Most franchises require their owners to be active — to be working in the business. But some, like these, don’t. In this post, I’m going to focus on active, full-time franchise owners.

 

Leadership

When you own and operate a franchise business, you’re going to put in very long hours — especially at first. That’s because you need to oversee many aspects of your business, including:

  • Interviewing and hiring employees
  • Planning your grand opening
  • Ordering inventory/supplies
  • Setting up the technology
  • Doing “dry-runs” with employees before you open

 

If you own a franchise that requires employees, they’ll need leadership. Initially, that leadership will come from you. You’ll set the tone. You’ll let your employees know what you expect from them, and what they should expect from you, as the owner.

After some time, you may be able to delegate some of the management/leadership aspects of the business to an employee. Doing so can free you up to other thingshandle other business matters, like business-building.   

 

The Hours

For the most part, expect to put in 10-12 hours a day, six to seven days a week, depending on the type of business you own. For example, if you own a food franchise, 12 hours a day is pretty much the norm. And most of those hours are going to be spent on your feet, since food-service work is very physical at its core.

Similarly, retail franchise ownership requires lots of 12-hour days, with most of those hours being in an upright, standing position.

On the other hand, if you own a B2B franchise, although there is physical work involved, you’re probably not going to be working 12 hours a day. Plus, since most B2B franchise businesses tend to only be open Monday through Friday, your total hours will be less than a food franchise or a retail franchise business.

Tip: As you search for a franchise to own, ask the franchisors you contact about the hours you’ll have to work in order to be a successful owner.

 

On Energy

Working long hours requires you to have lots of energy. But owning and operating a successful franchise business requires more than just physical energy. You’ll also need:

1. Mental energy

You’re going to need a lot of mental energy to get you through the daily twists and turns all franchisees experience. Things like equipment breakdowns, employee no-shows, and technology problems — to name just a few — can and do happen. You’ll need to handle them quickly and professionally.

2. Positive energy

To be a successful franchisee, you need to be positive. You need to believe in your business, and the products/services you offer. You need to believe in your talents, and in the talents of your team.

Because when you are positive, your employees and your customers will feel the positive energy you’re putting out. The result: Your employees will be more cooperative and more energetic, and your customers will gladly hand over some of their money.

The bottom line: If you have the physical and mental energy needed to run a franchise business, and you can tap into your leadership abilities, the sky is the limit.

About the Author:

FranchiseKing
Joel Libava

Guest Blogger

The Franchise King®, Joel Libava, is the author of Become a Franchise Owner! and recently launched Franchise Business University.

5 Challenges for Family-Owned Businesses

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: April 16, 2018 Updated: April 16, 2018

SCORE found that of the 28.8 million small businesses in the U.S., 19% are family-owned businesses (any business in which two or more family members operate the company and the majority control lies within the family). These businesses employ 60% of the U.S. workforce and generate 64% of America’s gross domestic product (GDP). Yet these businesses face unique challenges. Here are five to consider, and what to do about them:

 

Setting compensation and benefits

Keeping things in the family can be a good thing, but paying the owner’s child for doing little work, no work, or bad work can create poor morale among staff members who aren’t relatives. If the business employs both relatives and non-relatives, it is important that salary and benefits be set according to the position and not according to the relationship.

Suggestion: Analyze the work that each person is doing and fix compensation accordingly, without regard to family relations. Make it clear to all that there is a level playing field for rewards for good work.

 

Company culture

The values of the owner’s family often become the values of the business. One research report* suggests that “clan culture” is prevalent in family businesses where loyalty and traditions are highly valued. This type of culture can make it difficult for outsiders to remain and thrive.

Suggestions: Communicate the company’s values to all employees (related and non-related). Review these values to stay relevant in the marketplace so that non-relatives don’t feel excluded from what’s going on.

 

Separate business from pleasure

Small businesses are often like family, with co-workers caring about each other. But when that family is actually family because of relationships by blood or marriage, special problems can arise. It can be challenging to make business decisions and operate without bringing personal feelings into the mix.

Suggestion: Because the family continues to get together at the dinner table and on holidays and events, it is essential to keep business problems in the workplace. Make it clear from the start that family members will be held to the same standards as non-relatives (e.g., being timely, working efficiently) and will suffer the same consequences for bad performance (e.g., reprimands, termination).

 

Generational problems

When there are different generations within the family participating in the business, this can be a wonderful thing. Having younger generations in the business brings in new ideas. For example, the idea of implementing the latest technologies may be spurred by younger family members.

But there can be problems, too. A parent who starts a business may view it as his or her baby and may be resistant to having their actual children make changes in how things are done. Younger family members may feel frustrated in being held back from moving forward.

Suggestion: Each generation has something to offer to the other. Practice “active listening” where you not only hear the words but also listen to the message. Mindtools* lists five techniques for learning to be an active listener.

 

Succession planning

SCORE also reported that only 30% of family-owned businesses survive from the first to the second generation, and only 12% from the second to the third generation. Yet 47% of owners expecting to retire in the next five years do not have a successor.

Suggestions: As the current owner of the business, decide what you want to do with it when you retire or what happens when you die. You aren’t legally obligated to pass it on to your children. And they may or may not want it; they may have other interests that they prefer to pursue.

If the business is to remain in the family, be sure that the younger generation is prepared to take over. Involve them now in the management of your operations and inform them about financial matters so they can be ready for their future responsibilities.

Your business is a valuable asset, so also address death tax matters. Fortunately, the federal estate tax exemption is now substantial ($11.18 million for someone dying in 2018, and essentially double that amount if married). However, a number of states have death taxes, and some of these do not align with the federal exemption amount. For example, in Massachusetts and Oregon, the estate tax exemption amount for 2018 is only $1 million. This means you need to be prepared for the payment of state death taxes in a way that won’t cripple the business. Work with an estate planning attorney who can advise on measures to minimize estate tax problems.

 

Conclusion

Princess Diana said “family is the most important thing in the world.” When you mix family and business, you have challenges you need to address.

 

*denotes nongovernment website

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BarbaraWeltman or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

Which is Better - Hiring a Web Developer or Using a DIY Website Builder?

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: March 29, 2018

Today, many small businesses get a website up and running in one of two main ways. They either:

  • Hire a web developer to build them a custom website, or
  • Build their own website using one of the do-it-yourself platforms (such as Jimdo, Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace, or GoDaddy Websites).

There’s no right method for every business. For some businesses, the right answer will be to hire a web developer to build a custom website to your specifications. For others, the right answer will be the do-it-yourself approach. 

Which method you choose depends on a number of factors including your budget, needs, timing, and internal capabilities. Let’s take a look at pros and cons to help you choose the method of getting a website that’s right for your business.

                                                           

Hiring a Website Developer

 

Hiring a web developer is often the choice of businesses that already have a website.  Businesses like this are usually looking to upgrade. They need more than a basic five-page website. Their website may have proven return on investment already. So these businesses see the value of investing in a better website.

 

Here are some advantages of a custom website:

  • Your website will be exactly what you want, to your specifications. It may include advanced functionality.
  • A professional does the work for you.
  • You have someone to contact for ongoing changes and fixes. Most development firms provide support on an hourly rate or fixed-fee basis.
  • Use your own domain name. This is important for credibility.

 

And here are some downsides of a custom website:

  • Cost is significantly higher than a DIY website. A typical custom website price starts at $2,000 — and can go into five figures.
  • You have to spend time communicating your needs to your developer. If this is your first website, identifying your needs could be harder than it sounds because there are many things you’ll be thinking about for the first time.
  • Your business is responsible for hosting, upkeep, and protecting your site from breaches. This can mean your business will incur ongoing costs and a bit of complexity.

 

Using a Do-it-Yourself Website Builder Tool

 

Building your own website using a DIY website builder platform is often the choice for startups and entrepreneurs getting their very first site. This method is also a good choice for businesses in a hurry — you can literally have a website live in a few hours. And for those on an extremely tight budget, the DIY method is ideal as the costs are spread out with a low monthly fee.

 

Here are some advantages of DIY websites:

  • You get professional designs. Most also have mobile templates or responsive designs that display well on all screen sizes.
  • Inexpensive! It’s possible to get a “free” website, although you should opt for a paid plan as it won’t have ads and you can use your own domain address. Paid plans typically run less than $30 a month.
  • Content can be updated instantly – you can even switch designs on the fly. Simply log on to your DIY dashboard and make changes. No need to put in a request to your developer.
  • Hosting, security, and software fixes are handled by the platform.

 

But before you decide, consider the downsides of DIY websites:

  • The limited customization available may not meet your needs. Usually you get a package with pre-determined features or a few à la carte add-ons. 
  • The DIY approach is easy, but does require you to be hands on and takes time.
  • You may be limited to online help pages or email for support. Telephone support may cost extra — or may not be available.
  • If you stop using that particular DIY platform, you have to start over again somewhere else. You can’t take your site with you.

 

One final tip: try before you buy. Most DIY website builder platforms have a free plan or at least a free trial. It’s a good way to see if the DIY approach is for you.

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

Could a Semi-Absentee Franchise Opportunity Be Right For You?

By FranchiseKing, Guest Blogger
Published: March 29, 2018 Updated: March 29, 2018

Wouldn’t it be great if you could literally do two things at once?

Well you can, through franchising. I’ll explain.

 

A Typical Franchise Opportunity

Today’s typical franchise opportunity requires franchisees to be actively involved in running the business.

For example, if you owned a retail franchise business, you’d be involved in things like:

  • Ordering products
  • Inventory
  • Financials
  • Sales
  • Training
  • Hiring

And most of those duties require your presence on a daily basis.

In other words, you’d be working a lot of hours.

As a matter of fact, most franchise businesses need to have their owners on-site most of the time. But you knew that, right?

Be that as it may, what if there was a way to own a franchise, and not have to be there all of the time?

Keep reading.

 

An Unconventional Franchise Opportunity

I’m going to share a franchise opportunity that:

A. Doesn’t require long hours

B. Allows you to keep your job

The opportunity I’m referring to is a semi-absentee franchise.

Specifically, a franchise business that’s setup to have a manager in place-from day one. As opposed to a franchise business that requires the franchisee to operate the business from day-one, but who can eventually add a manager to assist her in the daily operation of the business.  

But here’s the deal: there aren’t a huge number of franchise opportunities available that are truly semi-absentee. 

 

An Example Of A Semi-Absentee Franchise

 Fitness franchises such as 24 Hour Fitness are attractive to prospective franchise owners, because in most cases, you can open one of these fitness franchises without having to leave your job.

The reason you’re able to keep a full-time job when you own a fitness franchise comes from the ability for franchisees to hire part-time fitness coaches to help oversee things, and to signup new members.

In this case, the ultimate goal as a franchisee is to own several of them, and leave your place of employment when enough income’s coming in. (And buy even more units if you can.)

 

Other Semi-Absentee Franchises

Here are several other franchise types that are usually semi-absentee.

  • Frozen Yogurt/Ice Cream franchises
  • Hair Salon franchises
  • Tanning salon franchises
  • Vending franchises
  • Car Wash franchises

 

Qualifications Needed

As attractive as semi-absentee franchise ownership sounds, it’s not for everyone.

For example, you’ll need to have above-average financial resources.

That’s because multi-unit franchise ownership is almost always required with these franchise opportunities. For example, if you commit to 3 franchise units, your total outlay could be $500,000 or more. (Over time.)

Secondly, you’ll need to have a good job. As in, well paying.

That way, you’ll be able to meet your personal obligations as your new business ramps up. Plus, you may find it easier to obtain loans for your future locations.

Going forward, a trend I predict* will be that more and more franchisors will start offering semi-absentee ownership options. Especially if our unemployment numbers remain low, as people won’t want to leave their jobs-but some of them will still be interested in starting businesses. 

*Non-U.S. Government link

About the Author:

FranchiseKing
Joel Libava

Guest Blogger

The Franchise King®, Joel Libava, is the author of Become a Franchise Owner! and recently launched Franchise Business University.

4 Ways Mom and Pop Businesses Can Outshine Their Bigger Competitors

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: March 8, 2018

March 29 is National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day—a day to celebrate the value that family-owned small businesses bring to their communities. These days, Mom and Pop businesses face many challenges as they compete against larger retailers and service providers with expansive budgets. But Mom and Pops have some strengths bigger companies don't. By leveraging them, they cannot only compete successfully but also excel.

Here are 4 advantages small businesses have over big businesses:

First-name Basis

This brings to my mind some lyrics from the theme song for the television show, “Cheers.”

“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…”

I think we all can relate to how wonderful it feels when we walk into businesses where the owners or staff call us by name and make us feel valued.

Unlike many large corporations, mom and pop businesses have opportunities to really get to know their customers—and vice versa. It's not just business; it becomes personal as small business owners and their employees develop friendships with the people within their communities. Customers that know and like the people running a business will naturally be more inclined to visit again and again.

How can you make the most of this strength? Make an effort to learn about your customers. Do your best to commit to memory their preferences and key bits of information they give you about what's happening in their world. So, the next time they stop by your business, you can deliver personalized service and show you care by asking them about how their child’s school play went or what adventures they’ve had with their new puppy. Acknowledging your customers as individuals builds trust and goodwill—and can lead to referrals.

Nimble and Flexible

Large corporations often have a lot of red tape and tiers of buy-in to get through before launching new products or services and making improvements in answer to customer feedback. In contrast, with their simple management structure that allows for fast approval, mom and pop businesses can respond to market demand and customer needs more quickly.

And with no messy hierarchy and bureaucracy to navigate, mom and pop businesses can more adeptly cater to special requests from customers and offer more than customers are expecting. With their quick decision-making capabilities, mom and pop businesses are well positioned to nurture customer loyalty, earn repeat business and gain referrals.

How can you make the most of this strength? Treat every buyer interaction as an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge, improve your offerings and enhance the customer experience. Critical to the process is keeping a close eye on trends in your industry and what competitors are offering. Also, seek to learn—and closely listen to—what your customers like and dislike about your products and services. Industry blogs, joining your local chamber of commerce, staying tuned into your competitors’ social media accounts and issuing customer surveys can help you recognize the changes you should consider acting on. 

Also, listen to your customers' needs and go above and beyond to deliver personalized service. If you have employees, empower them to make decisions to do a little something extra when a prime opportunity for building customer loyalty presents itself. For example, think of the goodwill a mom and pop coffee shop might generate by giving its employees the authority to extend an occasional on-the-house cup of Joe to busy professionals who visit your location before work every morning.

Part of the Community

Mom and pop business owners have many opportunities to demonstrate their sense of social responsibility in supporting causes within their communities. And with 55 percent of consumers willing to pay more for products from socially responsible companies, giving back can have a direct result on a small business’s bottom line.

How can you make the most of this strength? As someone who lives and works within your local community, seek to be a part of making life better for those in need in your area. Keep a pulse on the causes that matter to your customers. Coat and food drives at your location not only serve a social need, but they also make your store a destination for new customers. You might also consider donating a portion of your profits for a limited time to a chosen charity. Other ideas include sponsoring a charitable event or a local sports teams. And giving your time to lend a hand at a nonprofit event can give the organization some much-needed assistance while strengthening your business’s reputation.  

Small and Local

“Shop Small” and “shop local” have become prominent mantras across the United States, raising awareness of small businesses' contributions to their local communities. Mom and pop businesses often provide unique artisanal products and offer one-of-a-kind experiences that draw visitors from other locations. Also, family-owned businesses account for 64 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and 78 percent of new jobs created each year. Cognizant of small businesses’ impact on the local economy, people have a renewed interest in doing their part to keep their dollars in the local community.

How to make the most of this strength: The American Express® Small Business Saturday website offers many tips and tools for promoting your local business year round. It also provides ideas for how you can use Small Business Saturday (which falls on the Saturday after Black Friday) to boost customer motivation to buy from local businesses as the holidays arrive. You can also leverage the Shop Small® movement by partnering with other local mom and pop shops in your community. By recommending each other to customers and cross-promoting each other’s products and services, you can all gain more exposure and make more revenue.

Need help with Your Mom and Pop Business?

SCORE mentors have experience in all aspects of starting and running a business, and mom and pop business owners anywhere throughout the United States can take advantage of their insight and guidance.
 

About the Author:

bridgetwpollack
Bridget Weston Pollack

Guest Blogger

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.

8 Business Plan Myths That Can Hurt Your Business

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: March 2, 2018 Updated: March 2, 2018

The need for good business planning is as strong as ever, and the potential benefits are as important as ever. Every business owner ought to have a business plan. But the best strategies for business planning are different than they used to be.

With that in mind, I’ve identified 8 pervasive myths that stand between you, the business owner, and the planning your business ought to have.

1. A business plan has to be long

Not necessarily so. A business plan can take whatever form is most useful, even if that’s just a few lists and tables.

2. A business plan is hard to make

It doesn’t have to be. List your key strategy points and key tactics, and a few important major milestones (like deadlines, tasks, the new launch or new website, and necessary hires). Include projected sales, costs, expenses, and cash flow. Voila! You have a business plan.

3. Nobody creates business plans anymore

Well-run businesses use business planning the right way. They keep a simple, lean plan up-to-date and refreshed. The review and revise it monthly. In straw polls I’ve taken for years at management workshops, the best 20% or 30% of the companies represented have a management process that includes a lean business plan as well as regular reviews and revisions.
 
Smart startups use basic business planning to help them see starting costs, projected early sales and spending, cash flow, and key strategy points and milestones before they launch. Then, they review these monthly.

4. Business plans are for only startups

True, well-run startups generally use business planning to help figure out which steps they need to take, and which resources they need. But that doesn’t mean mature businesses can’t use business planning to constantly set milestones, strategy reminders, and forecasts. Mature businesses keep a business plan up-to-date, and review and refresh it often. The more a business grows, the more it can benefit from good business planning.

5. You can’t plan because change comes too fast

In the real world, a good business plan manages change. It isn’t voided by change. You keep the plan current by making revisions as real events unfold.
 
It’s like dribbling in basketball: if you plan to go a certain direction, and the other team blocks you, then you go a different way. Having a plan means that you’ll have the information you need to make quicker, easier, and more natural revisions.  

6. Business plans require market research

I read and review lots of business plans from mature businesses that don’t include fancy market research. Business owners have to know their market, and taking a step back to review your market is a good idea. But with good planning process in a business, you can stay on top of your market. You don’t need to include market research in every version of your business plan.
 
Only in special cases will you need market research to prove your market to outsiders. For example, startups looking for investment, or businesses applying for loans, might need market research. Mature businesses know their market and plan without the research requirement.

7. Investors don’t read business plans

I was in an angel investment group for eight years. We didn’t read business plans for all the proposals that came in. We rejected many on the basis of summaries alone. For those that interested us, we invited them to present their pitch decks. From there, we narrowed the list down further.
 
For those that remained, the business plan was a vital part of due diligence. And for all of them, they should have had their bare-bones business plans made before they wrote their summaries and pitch decks. Without the business plan, the pitch and the summary are like movies made without scripts. Ultimately, seeking investors without a plan doesn’t work.

8. Nobody needs a business plan

Does every business need a plan, strictly speaking? No. But every business would benefit from good business planning.
 
People, even experts, still say nobody needs a business plan, but only because they are locked into the decades-old mentality of the big business plan document. If we redefine the business plan the way it should be, as a flexible record of key strategy points, tactics, milestones, and essential numbers, then all those experts would agree with me – that every business deserves a business plan.

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

5 Things to Know about Year-End Bonuses

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: December 7, 2017 Updated: December 7, 2017

According to Bank of America’s Fall 2017 Small Business Owner Report, 35%of small businesses plan to offer year-end bonuses. These bonuses are an important way to retain good employees, especially during this increasingly tight job market. The size of these bonuses varies by industry and company, as well as the way they are figured (tied to performance or a flat amount) and when they are paid to employees (this year or next). Here are 5 things to know about year-end bonuses.

 

1. Be fair, be clear

Unless an employee has an employment agreement spelling out any required bonus, it’s within the company’s discretion to give a year-end bonus. These holiday-time rewards are an expression of gratitude by the employer for a job well done. Companies want employees to be happy about receiving bonuses and not grumble that payments to some workers are unfair. Consider:

  • Giving all employees the same type of bonus (e.g., a week’s wages).
  • Fixing bonuses to performance. Be sure that employees understand how this works.
  • Paying bonuses based on longevity with the company (e.g., a dollar amount per year of employment).

 

2. Pay what you can afford

Not every small business is giving bonuses this year. But with profits up for many companies, it may be easier this year than in recent years to give bonuses. Because bonuses are discretionary, companies don’t have to put themselves in the red just to be generous at holiday time. But with that said, don’t overlook the real cost of giving. In addition to the gross amount of the bonus, don’t ignore:

  • Employer’s payroll taxes. Depending on what the total payments to the employee for the year have been, the employer share of FICA can be 7.65% of the bonus amount (e.g., $765 on a $10,000 bonus).
  • Employee benefits keyed to compensation (e.g., employer contributions to a company’s qualified retirement plan)

 

3. Factor in payroll taxes

Bonuses are taxable compensation subject to income tax withholding and FICA. They’re treated as supplemental wages. This means employers can:

  • Lump the bonuses in with regular pay and figure withholding in the usual way
  • Withhold at a flat 25% (no other rate is allowed). However, for bonuses over $1 million (not likely in a small business), the flat withholding rate is 39.6%.

The rules for payroll taxes on bonuses are in IRS Publication 15.

 

4. Withholding for the additional Medicare tax

If a year-end bonus puts taxable compensation to an employee over $200,000, the employer must withhold for the 0.9% additional Medicare tax on earned income. This is so regardless of the employee’s marital status or whether he or she will ultimately owe this tax when the income tax return for 2017 is filed.

 

5. Declare now, pay later?

Calendar-year companies that are on the accrual method of accounting can declare year-end bonuses by December 31 and pay them later. As long as bonuses to rank-and-file employees are paid by March 15, 2018, they’re deductible on the 2017 return. But bonuses to owner-employees have different rules. For S corporations, bonuses aren’t deductible in most cases until actually paid (i.e., when owners have to include the bonuses in their income).

 

6. Conclusion

Are you a Santa or a Grinch? At this time of the year, small business owners can show appreciation and generosity to their staff in ways other than bonuses. Consider giving employees time off, closing the office, increasing compensation for the coming year, or any other tangible or intangible benefit you can offer at holiday time. A big, genuine thank you is always welcome.

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BarbaraWeltman or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

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