small business

Small Business Owners: 14 Things You Need to Know

By Rieva Lesonsky

Happy Holidays!

1—4 Ways to Give Back This Holiday Season

jjMy friend JJ Ramberg, the host of MSNBC’s Your Business TV show and cofounder of Goodshop Give, the world’s first shopfunding platform shares four ways you can give back—for free—this holiday season.

  • Start a shopfunding campaign with your employees. Let’s face it—your employees are going to be shopping online during work. We all do it!  Well, you can mobilize all that shopping to help a local cause. Simpy start a Goodshop Giveshopfunding campaign for something that matters to all of you. What’s shopfunding? Once you start the campaign, you simply add a button to your browser and then every time you visit a store online, the best coupons and deals are served up to you and a portion of what you spend at participating stores like Toys R UsGap and Target are donated to your campaign.
  • Have a used clothing drive. Ask your employees to bring in their used clothing and drop them into a used box. The site Giveback boxwill then send you a free shipping label to send it all to one of their partner organizations. The second benefit is that box gets a second life!
  • Have a letter writing lunch. Get out some holiday cookies and encourage your staff to send a message to our troops overseas to thank them for their service and remind them there are people back home thinking of them. You can do this through the  You can also send a note to an elderly person to wish them happy holidays through Love for the Elderly.
  • Host a student for the day. Invite a student from an economically disadvantaged neighborhood to spend the day at your office during their winter break. This is a great way to introduce someone to a career they may not otherwise know or have the opportunity to learn about.

 

2—Holiday Gifts

Struggling to find just the right gift to give to entrepreneurs and small business owners? We’ll be publishing our first annual gift guide soon, but if you’re ready to shop now, check out this gift guide from 99 Designs.

 

3—Will You be Overwhelmed by Social Messages?

According to new data from Sprout Social, the average retailer will receive 3,140 social messages this holiday season—30% more than last year. And the report shows social media’s influence is not just for dealing with customer service issues, but is “now an integral part of the research and gift-buying process.” In fact, 33% of consumers surveyed admit that social media impacts their gift purchasing and requesting behavior during the holidays. And once they’ve unwrapped their presents, 30% are likely to post about a gift they receive on social media. Check out the article, there’s loads more info there.

4—Are You a Credit Ghost?

Guest post by Levi King, CEO and cofounder of Nav, a free source for business and personal credit scores. You can find him on Twitter @kinglevi.

As a small business owner, you’ll likely need a business loan or credit card at some point. But that can be nearly impossible to obtain when you’re a “credit ghost,” or someone who is practically invisible to the credit bureaus.

I’m defining a credit ghost as anyone who has a personal credit score below 620, despite having no derogatory information on their credit report. What’s keeping their score low is not bad credit, but lack of credit activity—they either have zero revolving credit accounts or only one.

If you think you might be in this category, you’re not alone. At Nav, we’ve found almost 35% of small business owners who actively looked for lending options in our financing marketplace between January and October are ghosts to the personal credit bureaus.

Credit ghosts can run into big problems, especially when applying for financing or a credit card, both business and personal, or securing a rental unit or commercial space. You might pay higher rates on loans or even insurance premiums. Fortunately, these ghosts don’t have to stay invisible for long—here’s how you can get on a path to building better credit scores.

How to Find Out If You Are a Credit Ghost

Do you know credit bureaus are not informed of your existence until the day you need to borrow money? This is an inconvenient way to learn you have a thin file, especially when you need a loan.

The best way to find out where your credit stands before you need it is to get a copy of your credit report and scores to find out exactly what accounts are reporting, which could include an existing loan, rent payments, credit card payments and more.

All small business owners should check their business credit reports as well—since there might be a chance your business doesn’t exist to business credit reporting agencies. Accounts that may report to business credit reporting agencies include loans, lines of credit, business credit card payments, accounts with vendors and suppliers, and any other trade accounts with companies like Home Depot, Staples or other retailers.

How to End Your Ghost Status

What’s the next step? You can start by establishing a few credit accounts and making on-time or early payments on all your accounts. Getting a credit card is the simplest option for most people. Gas cards and store credit cards are usually the easiest cards to get approved for. Charge cards are a killer option as well because they must be paid in full each month, thus they help you keep your spending in check.

A secured credit card is generally a good option for those with poor credit. With these cards, you pay a deposit that is equal to or more than your credit limit. As you use the card to make purchases and then make payments the lender will report your payments to the credit bureaus, which can help your score increase over time. As your credit score starts to rise, you should be able to qualify for—or get better rates on—unsecured credit cards or loans.

Business owners should consider opening a business credit card in the name of their businesses, establishing accounts with suppliers and vendors. If you already have such accounts, consider asking your suppliers or vendors if they are reporting to business credit reporting agencies—unlike personal credit, fewer report on a regular basis. (Here are some options for business credit cards for bad credit.)

During this time, you should be monitoring your credit. At first, you might notice your score drop by a few points because of credit inquiries—a hard inquiry is made on personal credit when you apply for credit, including personal or business loans or credit cards. Inquiries shouldn’t have a huge effect on your score—they will only affect your score for about 12 months. Payment history is the most important factor influencing your score, so once you start making timely payments, you’re likely see your score go up dramatically over time.

Credit ghosts, never fear. I used to be one, too, and I turned it around by following the simple steps suggested above. Nav.com allows you to access and monitor your scores for free—both personal and business credit—so you can bring your credit reports back to life.

 

5—Small Business Update

Bank of America recently issued its semi-annual study, the Small Business Owner Report, exploring the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners across the country.

The fall report found small business owners rely on their family and friends for financial, emotional and/or operational support. And that support from family, friends and local communities has proven to be a bright spot in an otherwise challenging business environment. While optimism in the economy is improving, it remains low.

Key insights from the fall 2016 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report include:

Small business owners are getting by with a little help from their family, friends & community

  • 38% have received financial gifts or loans from family or friends to fund their businesses
  • 53% rely on family to serve at least one important role in their businesses, including: partner or co-owners, employee or strategic advisor
  • 62% report their communities actively support local businesses, and 47% say their local community plays an important role in the success of their individual enterprise

Small business owners are lukewarm on the economy, revenue, growth & hiring

  • 52% of small business owners expect their revenues to increase and 25% plan to hire more employees within the next year
  • 55% plan to grow their businesses over the next five years
  • 37% are confident their local economies will improve over the next 12 months; 31% feel the same about the national economy
  • 75% are concerned about the impact of health care costs
  • 64% are concerned about the effectiveness of the U.S. government

Small business owners report shifting sources of capital over the lifetime of their businesses

  • During the startup phase the top funding resources for small business owners were: personal savings (76%), personal credit cards (36%), bank loans (25%) and family and friends (21%)
  • Once established, the top resources are: bank loans (43%) and personal credit cards (42%), but only 7% rely on support from family and friends

Small business owners expect to hit year-end revenue targets, but fewer are offering holiday perks than before

  • 68% expect to hit year-end revenue targets
  • 51% of entrepreneurs in the retail, consumer products and wholesale industries expect to generate more holiday revenue this year than they did in 2015
  • 72% plan to offer at least one perk to employees this holiday season, but to make these perks possible, 37% will make some type of sacrifice

 

6—Are You Ready for Retirement?

According to a new report from BMO Wealth Management, not many small business owners are financially prepared for retirement. The survey found 75% of business owners had socked away less than $100,000 in retirement funds. A mere 8% had saved more than $500,000 dollars—which in most cases isn’t enough to comfortably live on for more than a dozen or so years post-retirement. And those in the upper age bracket, ages 45-64 were only slightly more prepared than the others, with 68% having saved less than $100,000.

Check out the infographic below for more information.

bmo_infographic_business_retirement_plan_us

 

7—Staples Adds More Business Services

Staples, Inc. recently announced a new strategic partnership with Managed by Q, a web-based technology platform that connects businesses with the services they need to run a workspace. Staples will now provide customers in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco access to Managed by Q’s suite of office services. The platform lets users hire, communicate with, pay and review providers of over 100 different services, from cleaners and handymen to IT support and even workplace yoga. Staples and Managed by Q expect to expand the service and create more solutions that make it easy to run the office in the next few months.

With this partnership, Managed by Q will get access to Staples growing customer base of small and medium sized businesses, while Staples customers can now access a significantly expanded suite of office services.

 

8—4 Benefits of Working with a PEO

Guest post by Matt Thomas, President of WorkSmart Systems
As a small business owner you are responsible for keeping track of many integral details that keep your business running. You might already know that a PEO can offer help, but do you know just how they can benefit you?

A Professional Employer Organization (PEO) is an integrated, total HR solution for small to medium size businesses. A PEO can provide a complete suite of human resource services including the management of payroll, employee benefit programs, and human resource functions. Through a co-employment relationship, a PEO provides clients with a fully staffed, expert HR department and the type of superior employee benefit programs that are typically only available to large companies.

Here are just a few advantages your business could see as a result of partnering with a PEO:

  1. Efficient Human Resources: Large companies generally have entire departments dedicated to human resource tasks. SMBs, on the other hand, may not have the time or talent to handle the many and varied duties that fall under the human resources umbrella. A PEO’s trained HR professionals are able to cover every aspect of human resources for your business, which helps you save time and reduce costs.
  2. 2. Affordable Payroll Management: No matter the size of your business, payroll is a time-consuming job. Running payroll isn’t the type of task you can just set to an automated rotation, especially if your business offers flexible hours and bonuses. A PEO is an affordable option for companies looking to outsource the payroll management process. Many would argue that the cost to outsource payroll processes is far more economical than spending hours handling every payroll aspect yourself.
  3. Access to Better Benefits: In order for businesses to attract and retain talent, it’s essential to offer some level of benefits to employees. Businesses who offer no benefits, or not enough, risk losing employees to competitors who offer better perks. How does an SMB afford to offer competitive benefits, though? A PEO is an ideal partner in this respect. Because PEOs represent so many people, they are able to obtain and offer better rates on a variety of benefits, which ultimately means your employees will receive better benefits while your business saves money—a win-win scenario.
  4. Compliance Experts on Hand: PEOs have compliance professionals who stay on top of changes in labor laws, regulations and health care, all of which seem to gain in complexity every day. Keeping your business in compliance with labor laws and government policies actually requires a lot of time and energy. What if your business falls behind? Noncompliance can result in costly penalties.

When you partner with a PEO, you can rest assured that the legal end of your business is covered by compliance experts. PEOs can review your current policies, recommend changes, and ensure that every aspect of your business is in line with government compliance laws.

Working with a PEO can improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of your business operations. Controlling health insurance costs, admin, payroll and HR tasks are critical for your organization. Do you need things like employee skills testing, management training programs, regulatory compliance, and risk management programs? It’s a lot to handle and will require in-depth resources, knowledge, time and expense. Working with a PEO expands your options and can relieve a lot of your stress.

 

9—Promising Paths to Growth

The risks posed by competition and changes in consumer behavior are greater causes for concern among U.S. small and medium-sized businesses than their global counterparts, according to Zurich Insurance’s 4th annual global SME survey. Conducted in various countries, industries and sectors, Zurich’s research highlights risks and opportunities facing U.S. businesses today.

Risk awareness has risen across the board for U.S. businesses. Lots of competition and lack of consumer demand/overstocking are perceived as the two highest risks facing small to medium-sized enterprises in 2016. Technology failures and vulnerabilities are ranked in the top three risks in the U.S., which is significantly higher than in the other regions surveyed, suggesting cybersecurity in the U.S. lags that in Europe and other regions. Fears about cybercrime and customers’ or employees’ health and safety increased in the short term. SMBs across industries will likely have to invest in infrastructure, cybersecurity, and focus on financial innovation to remain competitive

To make matters more challenging, while businesses face many risks, the opportunities for growth may be dwindling. Cost and expense reduction (44%) is perceived as the most crucial business opportunity, with new customer segments (36 %) and new sales channels (33%) coming next. Only 6 percent of medium-sized businesses believe investing in their workforce would help them to grow, a much lower percentage than in other parts of the world.

U.S. businesses stood out from their global counterparts when it came to the potential to grow by exploring new sales channels—almost twice as many as in other regions. And while expansion to foreign markets has become less relevant for medium-sized businesses around the world, it ranked highest in the U.S., coming in as the 5th most popular opportunity.

 

10—Using Technology to Help Spark Collaboration in The Workplace

Guest post by Mayur Ramgir, founder and CEO of Zonopact Inc., creator of the Clintra cloud-based software platform allowing businesses to store and access all their data in one location.

Most businesses recognize that employee collaboration is a must for a productive and efficient workplace. But many companies aren’t set up properly to take the greatest advantage of one of their best tools for promoting that collaboration—technology. Most businesses have their data segmented. One department has client information stored in a particular location, but other departments either don’t have access to it or can’t easily find it. That deters rather than promotes collaboration.

While there can be reasons to limit access to some data, business leaders need to understand they are missing the effective ways to let technology encourage teamwork in the workplace. Employees become frustrated if there’s a file they need, but they have to spend too much time searching through a disorganized system to locate it.

When used the right way, though, technology helps strengthen existing communication channels and identify new collaboration opportunities. Some companies do get it. For example, when we were developing Clintra, we kept hearing from businesses about their need for an integrated system to manage projects, sales, clients and prospects more efficiently. So sometimes business leaders know what they want from technology; they just aren’t always sure how to get there.

There are numerous ways technology can help businesses improve teamwork among employees, including:

Email and videoconferencing. These are a couple of the most basic ways technology can be used. They are especially helpful when employees who need to work together are scattered at remote locations. Sometimes people criticize the use of email when a face-to-face conversation would be just as easy—and email is overused at times. But it’s also an efficient way to quickly share important information with several co-workers at the same time without calling everyone away from their desks. Videoconferencing, such as Skype, is especially helpful when there is visual information that needs to be shared, such as demonstration of a new product.

Centralized work groups. Even email and Skype have limitations, especially when different departments within a business are involved. Developing centralized groups to make sharing client information easier can greatly improve both communication and collaboration. With the right technology, teams can brainstorm, share ideas, create and manage projects, and divide tasks and activities.

Online training courses. Teamwork requires that everyone understands their roles and the goals of the company, which means employee training is essential. But handing employees an imposingly large training manual may not be the best way to accomplish that goal. They may not read it. Even if they do, they may not retain much of what they read. It’s more effective to make use of online training courses that are interactive, requiring that the employees be engaged. A quiz at the end can help ensure employees learned the key lessons.

When you use technology to improve teamwork, you’re very likely to see a boost in productivity, performance and profitability.

 

11—EMV Update

Although it’s been a year since the U.S. began enforcing EMV credit cards, many small businesses have yet to make the switch to chip credit cards, according to a new Manta poll. Some of the main findings from the poll:

  • Small business owners exhibit an awareness gap of EMV technology: 61% of SBOs are unaware of the fraud liability shift for EMV credit cards while just 39% are aware of it.
  • EMV adoption is still lagging: Though small businesses have had a year to comply, 62% don’t currently accept chip credit cards, while 29% have updated their payment systems.
  • Despite low adoption, many small businesses couldn’t survive fraud liability: 47% of owners say their business couldn’t withstand the expense of being liable for fraud without EMV technology.
  • Low use of credit cards: Among those who haven’t made the switch, 65% say their businesses don’t process payments from credit or debit cards, while 19% don’t see enough customers using chip-enabled cards to make the transition worthwhile.

 

12—Improving Access to Capital for Minorities

A unique collaborative of organizations and institutions has launched a small business lending program to help African American and minority businesses create and maintain jobs for residents and build community wealth.

With a focus on bringing capital to underserved groups, the National Urban League’s Urban Empowerment Fund (NUL-UEF), Morgan Stanley, National Development Council (NDC) Urban League of Greater Cleveland (ULGC), and Cuyahoga County have come together to offer the Capital Access und of Greater Cleveland (CAF).

CAF is a three-year program that provides minority business owners with access to capital offering 50 loans totaling $8 million as well as pre- and post-loan counseling to ensure the success of those small business borrowers.

 

Cool Tools

13—New Marketing Automation Solution

Salesfusion, a leading provider of marketing automation for SMBs recently launched a Marketing Concierge Program, which allows Salesfusion marketing experts to act as an extension of a company’s team. Salesfusion can provide very specific support, such as template design, or manage the entire tactical marketing plan and marketing operations for clients.

Since many marketers lack the bandwidth, budget or experience to modernize, the Marketing Concierge Program enables better collaboration with customers to ensure marketing automation success.

With marketing success dependent not just on technology, but also on expertise, processes and people, Salesfusion clients gain access to a team of marketing experts who are eager to collaborate to ensure results.

 

14—Choosing the Right Insurance

Do you need help choosing the right insurance? According to Insureon, 75% of businesses have the wrong coverage. Take the 2-minute diagnostic here and find out what kind of insurance you need.