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National Cyber Security Awareness Month

By Davidh, SBA Official
Published: October 16, 2014 Updated: October 23, 2014

Note: This blog is co-authored by Jerome Nash, Information Technology Specialist at SBA

“Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility”

With the rapid and amazing development of computer and communications technology, the Web has become the main stage where most of the world’s events seem to take place … and computers rule. From seemingly pedestrian activities such as online games, to fulfilling basic tasks such as shopping, to the more enhanced Department of Defense guiding a drone to launch an attack, cyberspace is where everything happens and thus the most vulnerable element in our daily lives.

Some pundits have “prophesized” that the next big war will be waged in cyberspace. In fact, they may be late, as there is a huge “war” going on right now with rogue individuals and countries trying to get access to our most vital information, be it through the so-called personal identity theft, to digging out our closest guarded military secrets with the intention of harming our national security.

As the Department of Homeland Security has stated, “The Internet is part of everyone’s life, every day. We use the Internet at work, home, for enjoyment, and to connect with those close to us. However, being constantly connected brings increased risk of theft, fraud, and abuse. No country, industry, community, or individual is immune to cyber risks. As a nation, we face constant cyber threats against our critical infrastructure and economy. … cybersecurity is one of our country’s most important national security priorities, and we each have a role to play—cybersecurity is a shared responsibility.”

October is the eleventh anniversary of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, in cooperation with the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center. (Click here for more information http://www.dhs.gov/national-cyber-security-awareness-month.)

Through a series of events and initiatives across the country, organizers engage public and private sector partners to raise awareness and educate Americans about cyber security.

This 11th anniversary, the initiative looks ahead to the cyber security challenges for the next ten years, dedicating each week of the month to a different cyber security issue:

Week Two: October 6-10. Secure Development of IT Products.  Building security into information technology products is key to enhancing cybersecurity.

Week Three: October 13-17. Critical Infrastructure and the Internet of Things.  Looking at the importance of protecting critical infrastructure and properly securing all devices, including household items that are connected to the Internet.

Week Four: October 20-24. Cybersecurity for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses and Entrepreneurs. Showcasing what emerging and established businesses can do to protect their organization, customers, and employees.

Week Five: October 27-31. Cyber Crime and Law Enforcement.  Working with law enforcement to combat cyber-crime and educate the public on how to protect themselves from online crime.

In addition, the SBA is offering a free online course to help small business owners protect their business information online. Cyber Security for Small Businesses will help businesses to learn how to avoid breaches in data, measure their vulnerabilities, and what best practices to use to protect their business and your customer information.

The events listed above, are part of a widespread effort to raise awareness about the growing importance of cybersecurity. To access a complete list of related events, visit http://www.staysafeonline.org/ncsam/events.

About the Author:

David J. Hall

SBA Official

Hi, my name is David and I'm serving as a Moderator for the SBA Community. Our goal is to continually improve this site to meet your needs, so we appreciate your feedback and participation.

Lending Money to Your Employee

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: October 16, 2014 Updated: October 16, 2014

From time to time, an employee going through a rough financial patch may turn to an employer for help. As member of your small business family—which is how many owners view their staff—you want to be helpful. But lending money to an employee should only be done after considering all the issues.

Practical concerns

There’s no right or wrong answer when someone asks you for a loan. Your decision to help out often depends on the particular facts and circumstances. But before you make a loan to someone on your payroll, here are some of the questions you might want to ask:

  • Do you have serious concerns about being repaid? If you aren’t repaid, will the loss materially impact you or your business?
  • What happens if you need to terminate the worker before the loan is repaid (e.g., your business contracts; the employee’s performance becomes unacceptable)?
  • Will you be setting a dangerous precedent and become an easy mark for other employees? (Don’t think that word about the loan won’t get around, because people talk.)
  • Do you want to have the business lend the funds or make it a personal loan

Alternative ways to help

If you don’t want to become a lender, consider other ways to help a needy employee.

  • Advise about loans from your retirement plan. If the employee has an account in your 401(k) and the plan allows loans, the business doesn’t have to become a lender. Instead, the employee can borrow up to 50% of his/her account balance (up to a maximum of $50,000). The plan must charge a reasonable rate of interest and repayment must be made in level payments over a period of no more than five years (there’s an exception to this repayment period for loans to buy homes). But caution the employee that if he or she leaves the job—voluntarily or otherwise—the loan must be repaid in full (usually within 30 or 60 days). The failure to do this results in having the outstanding balance treated as a taxable distribution; if the employee is under age 59-1/2, the distribution is taxable and subject to a 10% penalty. Find details about plan loans from the IRS.
  • Advance one paycheck. If there is a short-term need that can be met by simply accelerating the payment of wages that will become due soon, consider suggesting an advance. Make sure you, and your employee, understand what an advance means; it’s just a timing issue for payment. You might also warn an employee about taking a “payday” loan from a commercial lender because these short-term loans entail very high borrowing costs.

Make it formal

If you decide to lend funds to an employee, be sure that the employee signs a promissory note to repay the loan. The note should spell out repayment terms (frequency of payments; interest rate; what happens in case of a default). There are numerous templates online that you can use to create a binding promissory note, but you might want to run it by your attorney to make sure you protect yourself.

Be sure to carry the loan from your business as such on your books. This ensures that loan repayments from the employee won’t be reported as income.

If you want to be magnanimous when setting interest, keep the below-market loan rules in mind for tax purposes. If your business lends money to an employee and fails to charge interest at the applicable federal rate, or AFR (an interest rate set monthly by the IRS and which varies according to the length of the repayment period), you are treated as having received phantom income (the uncharged interest, which is the difference between the AFR and interest, if any, that has been charged). This must be reported as income for your business. However, there is an exception: there’s no imputed interest if the loan is below $10,000 and tax avoidance is not the main purpose of the loan arrangement. And, if you personally lend the money, different rules apply to so-called gift-loans. Note: Currently, AFRs are low because the low-interest environment, but if the Federal Reserve acts to raise interest rates in the future, expect to see AFRs rise as well. Find AFRs here.

Conclusion

It’s great to be helpful to your staff, but this is a business and needs to be run as such. If you have any concerns, to quote Nancy Reagan, just say no. And as always, check with your lawyer or accountant for guidance.

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: @BigIdeas4SB or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

6 Essential Elements of Any Internship Program

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 15, 2014 Updated: October 15, 2014

Internships represent a burgeoning market. According to Internships.com, 67 percent of 2013 graduates completed at least one internship during college, and a separate study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that approximately 90 percent of student interns said they’d accept an offer for a full-time job from their internship employer.

If you’re looking for enthusiastic, low-cost labor, internships can provide your small business with many benefits. After all, internships don’t just help you meet your immediate work needs, they can also help you test drive talent and assess potential future employees.

Internships are also great for your brand and demonstrate that you’re giving back to the community and its students.

If you’re serious about hiring interns, then it’s time to implement an internship program – one that ensures you attract the right talent for your needs, keeps them busy, drives development and covers all your legal bases.

Here are six essential tips for doing just that.

Paid or Unpaid Internships

Let’s start with the money.

If you’re serious about your internship program, then it’s a good idea to compensate your intern(s). What’s the going rate? Ask around and research current trends based on your expectations of the intern and their duties. As a guideline, the average hourly rate for bachelor’s degree level interns is $16.35. Remember that your state’s minimum wage requirement also applies to paid interns.

Unpaid internships are also an option, but the U.S. Department of Labor puts very firm limits on the work that can be performed in these situations. You can read more about these restrictions here. In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know about what an unpaid intern can and can’t do:

  • Unpaid interns can’t do any work that contributes to your business’ operations. This includes any tasks that help you run your business, like documenting inventory, filing papers, answering emails, etc.
  • Unpaid interns can shadow other employees and perform duties that don't have a business need. For example, a bakery may allow an apprentice/intern to decorate a tray of cookies that will not be sold to customers. Because the task was only a training exercise for the apprentice/intern and the bakery did not receive any benefit from that work, the bakery would not have to pay that student worker for that time.

Understand What You’re Getting Into

As you approach the process of hiring an intern, it’s important to understand how an internship is different than a full-time, part-time or even volunteer-based position.

Primarily, an internship is a learning experience for the intern. As such, the experience should complement the student’s field of study, be structured as a mentoring relationship (you’ll need to appoint a dedicated supervisor to assume this role) and has distinct learning goals throughout the course of the program. Keep these considerations in mind as you craft your program, which leads to our next point.

Define Your Needs

Certainly your student intern will have needs and goals, but as the hiring company, you’ll have some too. Take a look at your business and its needs and capabilities in light of how you can an intern can mutually benefit from your program:

  • How will you pay or otherwise compensate an intern?
  • How can an intern help you with your business goals?
  • Do you have enough work to support an intern? Think about short-term and long-term assignments.
  • Do you have enough work for multiple interns?
  • Is everyone bought into the idea (because they need to be)?
  • What’s the best time of year to hire an intern and for how long?
  • Who will supervise and mentor your intern? Can they carve out enough time to take on the task?
  • What ramp-up and ongoing training can you provide?
  • Do you have available office space and other resources?

Don’t Ignore Labor Laws

Spend some time familiarizing yourself with employment laws in your state. If you have legal counsel, talk to them as well. You want to make sure you and your intern are clear on worker’s compensation issues, workplace safety, harassment and discrimination laws, benefits, etc. Your legal counsel can also help you put together a contract of employment for your intern(s).

Put Together Your Program

Aside from compensation, it’s important to clearly define your program. This will not only help attract and nurture the right talent, but it’ll ensure that the program proves to be a success.

For example:

  • Outline what the learning objectives of the role will be. If you’re hiring a marketing intern, perhaps one of the key objectives will be providing the intern with a basic knowledge of email marketing best practices.
  • Then list out daily responsibilities. Remember, students are used to being given clear direction and a task list will also ensure you have all your needs covered.
  • Add in any short- or long-term projects or assignments that you need help with.
  • Finally, be clear on how you’ll evaluate performance.

Don’t forget the basics too – work hours, business ethics, code of conduct, new hire orientation. Everything you do for a regular new hire should also apply to an intern.

Recruiting

Once again, don’t skip the basics. Put together a formal job description and include the specifics about the role, responsibilities and learning opportunities.

In addition to posting the position on your website and usual recruitment channels, take advantage of specific intern-recruitment sites like Internships.com, AfterCollege.com, CareerRookie.com, Youth.jobs and MonsterYouthJobs.com. Each of these organizations also participates in the government’s Youth Jobs+ program, an initiative designed to bring together elected officials, local businesses, non-profit organizations and faith institutions to create pathways to employment for young Americans.

You can also reach out to your local college and/or school career service office or even your own alma mater. Many operate internship programs (in return for credits, but not always).

For more information, check out the many resources for employers on these sites:

  • Internships.com – Includes guides on recruiting, hiring, and running an internship program, as well as sample internship job descriptions.
  • AfterCollege.com – Includes information on promoting your internship program, getting more from on-campus recruiting events, and even scholarship sponsorships.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

33 Creative Ideas for Small Business Holiday Marketing

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: October 7, 2014

The holidays are coming, and we all know what that means for retailers. But retailers aren’t the only ones who can get in on the holiday shopping game. Whether you own a store, restaurant, service provider or even a B2B company, smart marketing can boost your holiday sales, too. Here are 33 marketing ideas to get your holiday sales sizzling.

  1. Invite B2B customers to a thank-you dinner or other special event.
  2. Invite B2B prospects to a “getting to know you” party.
  3. Stand out by holding your holiday party before Thanksgiving, or after the New Year when customers are more business-minded and thinking ahead to 2015 budgets.
  4. Stand out (and save money) by holding a holiday breakfast or luncheon instead of a full-scale evening party.
  5. Join forces with other small business owners in the area to hold a weekend “sidewalk sale.”
  6. Cross-promote your business with cards, brochures and flyers in complementary businesses’ locations.
  7. Put discounts or coupons for other nearby businesses’ products or services in customers’ shopping bags, and have them do the same for you.
  8. Hold a special sale for your best customers only, at a time when you’re normally closed.
  9. Choose a charity to get involved with, and get customers involved too. Offer a discount or free gift card for customers who volunteer a certain amount of time to the charity or donate a certain amount.
  10. Join other businesses to host a gift-giving tree. Find a local charity, put a tree in the business district or shopping area, post Christmas wishes on the tree, and have customers pick a wish and buy the desired gift.
  11. Exhibit at holiday shows. See if local crafts fairs or gift shows accept commercial vendors and, if so, rent a booth.
  12. Hold a Black Friday sale for your B2B business. (It doesn’t have to be on the real “Black Friday”—pick another Friday during the holiday season.)
  13. Send real holiday cards, not e-cards. They’re more likely to get noticed.
  14. Send Thanksgiving or New Year’s cards. They’re also more likely to get noticed than cards sent during the Christmas season.
  15. Hold a holiday open house for prospects. More relaxed than a regular party, it offers an opportunity for them to drop by at their convenience and learn more about your business.
  16. Capture customers through their kids. Hold a kids’ contest like a make-your-own-ornament contest or holiday coloring contest. Give a big prize or just give everyone small prizes, like candy canes.
  17. Make any business kid-friendly by providing a kids’ space with toys or books to keep tired, fussy children occupied while parents shop.
  18. Get listed in local bloggers’ holiday gift guides. It’s too late for most print gift guides, but there’s still time to get your products or services spotlighted by relevant bloggers. Reach out with a free sample.
  19. Feed the crowd. Hand out free cookies or beverages to energize tired shoppers.
  20. Make them comfy. Provide seating so shoppers’ companions can sit down if they don’t want to shop.
  21. Give it away. If your business is located in a mall or shopping area, station an employee outside to give away free samples of your product or service to passersby.  
  22. Hire masseuses to give shoppers free foot or shoulder rubs in your store if they buy something.  
  23. Have Santa come to your business. If you’re in a shopping district, join with other businesses to hire a Santa. You can even set up a photo booth and have photos taken with Santa and ask for donations.
  24. Hold a “12 Days of...” sale, event or contest. Give away a different prize every day, offer a different discount every day or spotlight a different product every day.
  25. Give away useful items with each purchase, like good-quality tissue paper or ribbons for gift-wrapping. Put your business’s name on it and you’ve got a marketing tool, too.
  26. Give away gifts with purchase. Offering items that can serve as stocking stuffers makes customers more likely to buy so they can get the gift.
  27. Try a two-for-one sale. This works great for subscription items; offer customers a free gift subscription or half-price gift subscription when they renew their own membership or subscription.
  28. Get personal. Instead of holding a big party for clients, take them out to lunch individually during the holidays (or early in the New Year if they’re too busy).
  29. Provide entertainment. Hire musicians to play in your store or restaurant, or right outside to attract customers in.
  30. Display holiday-themed art by local artists in your restaurant, coffee shop or bar and offer it for sale.
  31. Sell gift cards for shoppers who can’t make up their minds. Be sure to keep them by the point-of-sale as a last minute impulse buy.
  32. Create personalized food gifts by printing your business logo on M&Ms, candy bars, cookies or candy wrappers.
  33. Print a personalized 2015 calendar to give out to your clients. A restaurant could include photos of popular dishes; a dog wash could showcase cute dog breeds.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

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